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Students who have served on the Student Affairs Committee (SAC) have written the viewpoints on many subjects students and young professionals face in their education and academic careers. Learn about choosing a graduate program, writing your CV and more.

A Step by Step guide to ACSM Certifications

By Becky Kudrna, MS
Student Rep:  Central States Regional Chapter

Professional certifications can help you to stand out on an application, can help you advance your career, and can even be a job requirement.  Whatever your reason for considering a certification, it is important to get the greatest value from your certification dollar. In this brief letter I will lay out a step by step process to determine if  ACSM certifications are right for advancing you career.

1.   Step One:  Should I become ACSM certified?

This can be a pretty complicated question for some students I like to think about this in terms of benefits as an undergraduate student, benefits as a graduate student, and benefits for young professionals.  First let’s consider the benefits of an ACSM certification as an undergraduate student.  If you are a student working your way through school an ACSM certification can increase your opportunities to work ‘in the field’.  There is nothing wrong with holding down a part-time job in retail or at a restaurant, but there are plenty of jobs that you can get while you are a student, that might apply more directly toward your career field.  Often times all that stands between you and such a job is a certification.  You can use entry level fitness jobs to build your résumé and graduate with much more experience than other students.  Students who are applying to graduate programs might find that a certification can increases your chances of getting a graduate teaching assistantship.  Take my word for it; graduate school is better when someone is paying you to attend.  The most obvious time that a certification will benefit you is as a young professional.  When résumés and CVs are sent out ACSM certifications help you to stand out and get noticed.  The ACSM is also a great organization provides great opportunities networking and continuing education.   

2.   Step Two: Why choose an ACSM certification?

There are many certification advertised within health, sport, fitness, and exercise.  It is important to choose wisely.  Some certifications are run as a business; they take your money and give you a piece of paper in return.  It is important to look for a certification that has value.  A good certification will identify you as someone who is knowledgeable, qualified, and effective.  The ACSM has exactly that kind of certifications.  The ACSM certifications have value because the ACSM is well respected and universally identified by employers within the health, exercise, and fitness fields. The ACSM is the leader in exercise is medicine and sets the most widely accepted exercise guidelines.  The ACSM also gives you a value, because of the benefits associated with being an ACSM member.  The ACSM also offers conferences, continuing education, collaboration, and networking opportunities just to name a few.  Those things add value to a certification.

3.   Step Three: Which ACSM certification should I choose?

Health, Sport, and Exercise is a very broad field, and one certification certainly doesn’t fit all.  That is why the ACSM offers a variety of certifications that will meet your needs, education level, and career aspiration.   You may find that you want to advance through the certifications until you reach the certification that best matches your career goals.  For starters let’s look at the certification categories and the certifications within each.

•   Health Fitness Certifications:  These certifications are perfect for those wanting to work in gyms, health clubs and community physical activity programs.  These include:
o   ACSM Certified Personal TrainerSM (CPT)
o   ACSM Certified Health Fitness Specialist (HFS)

o   ACSM Group Fitness Instructor **( coming soon)

The ACSM CPT and the soon to be released group fitness instructor certification are great first certifications: perfect for students wanting to get jobs in this setting.  The ACSM HFS is more difficult to get, and requires a bachelors degree in an exercise related major.  That makes ACSM HFS the perfect certification for graduating seniors applying to graduate schools and those who would like management positions within gyms and health clubs.  (Just a side note,  you can take the test the semester before you graduate, so you can include it on applications, résumés, and CVs.)  

•   Clinical Certifications: These certifications are perfect for those wishing to work in hospitals, clinics, cardiovascular and pulmonary rehabilitation, or those working with high risk or diseased populations.  There are two certifications in this category:
o   ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist®  (CES)
o   ACSM Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist® (RCEP)
The ACSM CES requires a bachelor’s degree and an internship, while the ACSM RCEP is for graduate students and clinical professionals with logged hours of experiences.

•   Specialty Certifications:  These are certifications to help you prepare and develop the skills needed to work with specialty populations or in special settings. These certifications include:
o   ACSM/ACS Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer (CET)
o   ACSM/NCPAD Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer (CIFT)
o   ACSM/NSPAPPH Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist (PAPHS)

4.   Step Four: Where can I get more information?

Of course you need more information!  You can read more about the certifications, the requirements for each, and how to sign up for a test on the ACSM website.  Just go to and click on the certification tab at the top of the page.  You’ll also find a test tutorial, list of study materials, as well as webinars and seminars that can help you to prepare for the certification exam.  






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