Gearing Up for Grad School

November 20, 2014 by JordanG

By Thad Walker, MS, ATC
Millikin University

As an undergraduate AT student, you are nearly finished with the fall semester and in all likelihood, your collective attention is focused on new courses, clinical assignments and perhaps your fantasy football roster. It is without a doubt the right time to start planning for grad school. And no, I’m not talking to those seniors who are nearing graduation. I find that sophomores and juniors typically don’t think about the grad school process much - if at all - but I encourage you to start exploring your options.  No major life-changing decisions are going to be made at this stage of the game, but it’s never too early to start looking around and assessing your options.
Where do I start?
This is the most common question I get from undergraduate AT students as they embark on this process of deciding whether they want to further their education. When confronted with this question, I typically respond with a number of questions of my own. Here are a few questions to help you start collecting the information you’ll need to look for the right program:

  1. What are your career goals? Where do you want to go as an athletic trainer?
  2. What areas of further learning or specialization do you wish to obtain?
  3. What skills do you need in order to land the job you want? What do you need to do to obtain those skills?
  4. What sort of school, program or graduate assistantship is going to help accomplish your goals?

What I’m looking for in asking these questions is for you, the student, to gain a basic understanding of your own professional goals and desires. Graduate programs come in many shapes and sizes, and so do the opportunities, skills and experiences that they provide. Having an awareness of your desire to work professional sports as opposed to being in the high school or collegiate settings should influence the types of programs or graduate assistantships you seek.
The second step I recommend to students is an exploration of the institutions and programs that may fulfill their needs. There is no shortage of variables to consider in this process. Some will prove to be professional, while others are personal. Look to leverage all the information at your disposal; while Googling a school and dissecting a program’s webpage is a good start, don’t forget the human element! Talk to fellow students, recent graduates, professors and other professional mentors.

During this process you should start getting an idea of what programs may prove to be a good fit and, in doing so, what you will need to do to apply. Track the details: Do you need to take the GRE? Is there a formal application process for a graduate assistantship separate from the graduate program? When do you need to submit the application?
Once you’ve honed in on a few options, it’s time to start planning action steps to get you to the finish line. Consider when you need to take testing such as the GRE (and don’t forget to give yourself some time to prepare for the test), budget your time to fill out applications and put together applicant essays if they are required, and start firming up your resume and reference list.  Doing this weeks or even months in advance of deadlines will be much less stressful and more effective than a last minute, late night push.
There is a great deal of information to consider when planning out something like a graduate program and it can certainly be overwhelming at times. By starting early and laying out a game plan, the entire process is much more manageable and typically proves to be more successful in the end.
The most important piece of advice I can pass along, however, is to make sure you use the people who are around you and waiting to help. Most academic advisors, faculty or mentors don’t typically spend hours searching for the right program for each of their students but when students come and ask for help they will provide insight, help research, make phone calls and do anything else that may be needed.  I truly enjoy providing this assistance and there are undoubtedly mentors around you, right now, who do as well. 
The Checklist

Junior Year (or earlier!)

  • Career goals and professional desires
  • Research potential programs and schools
  • Talk to your professional network!

Spring/summer before senior year

  • Develop a timeline for application materials and requirements
  • Prepare for and take GRE (if necessary)
  • Brush up that resume and put together cover-letters, applicant essays, etc.

Senior year—you are ready to go!

  • Apply to programs/schools researched
  • Apply to graduate assistantships
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for more opportunities!

Posted by Jordan Grantham on behalf of blog author Thad Walker, MS, ATC.