A kinesiology degree can lead to a rewarding career spent using exercise techniques to improve people's lives.
If you're an extrovert with a love of fitness and a career in the health sciences interests you, consider pursuing a degree in kinesiology. Kinesiology is the study of the body's movement. Kinesiology specialists use their knowledge of human physiology and movement to help recover patients' mobility and improve their lives through exercise.
Read on to learn more about how earning a kinesiology degree can launch your career in an expanding and fulfilling field.
What Kinds of Kinesiology Degrees Are There?
Aspiring professionals can pursue kinesiology degrees at every education level. Learners at the bachelor's level can obtain athletic trainer certification, while others enter doctoral programs to pursue research related to kinesiology and exercise science.
Associate Degree in Kinesiology
An associate in kinesiology is best suited to those pursing entry-level work in the fitness training industry. The degree generally takes 1-2 years to complete, depending on whether you take courses at a full- or part-time pace. Coursework explores introductory anatomy and physiology, exercise science, and psychology.
Graduates of kinesiology associate programs can transition directly to working as fitness consultants, personal trainers, and fitness instructors. With additional training, they can also work as massage therapists and physical therapists.
Bachelor's Degree in Kinesiology
A bachelor's in kinesiology, which typically takes four years to complete, goes into further depth on the study of human movement and exercise than an associate degree. Students explore how fitness trainers, physical education educators, and therapists use exercise as a form of medicine.
Coursework covers topics like principles of motor skills, women's health and exercise across the lifespan, and exercise physiology. Concentrations include integrative physiology, physical education, and health and fitness leadership.
A bachelor's program is best suited to students who want to become certified athletic trainers or work as physical education teachers. Bachelor's degree-holders can work in community recreation and clinical settings, pursuing more specialized, education-related roles than fitness trainers who only hold associate degrees.
Master's Degree in Kinesiology
Many future coaches, sports administrators, and certified trainers have master's degrees in kinesiology, which usually take 2-3 years to earn. This degree covers the clinical aspects of exercise science, kinesiology, and physiology, along with advanced sports medicine topics.
Coursework explores advanced biomechanics of human motion, issues in athletic training, and the history and philosophy of sports. Concentrations include sports management, exercise physiology, and sports medicine.
A master's in kinesiology prepares learners for employment as strength and training coaches, athletic program administrators, and exercise physiologists. The degree is often a minimum qualification for working as a coach or athletic administrator. Graduates can also pursue postgraduate study in kinesiology and physical therapy.
Doctoral Degree in Kinesiology
Students interested in research, education, and other advanced topics in kinesiology can pursue doctoral degrees in kinesiology. A doctoral kinesiology degree takes four years to complete and covers advanced topics in biomechanics, exercise physiology, and research methods for kinesiology.
Students can pursue specializations like motor control, rehabilitation science, or sports psychology. The degree also requires a research-based dissertation. Graduates with doctoral degrees in kinesiology are prepared for highly specialized work as sports psychologists, kinesiology research scientists, and university professors.
While many of these positions are in academia, sports psychologists can also work in the professional sports industry. The degree can also prepare graduates for executive-level sports administration careers.
At the moment, there is no widely recognized general licensure for kinesiology professionals. However, several career areas encompassed by kinesiology do have specific licensure requirements.
For instance, athletic trainers need to obtain licensure to work. In nearly every state, athletic trainers must secure licensure by earning the certified athletic trainer credential from the Board of Certification or completing a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
Many undergraduate kinesiology majors eventually pursue work as physical therapists, which requires a doctoral degree and licensure. However, students pursuing this route need doctorates in physical therapy. A doctorate in kinesiology does not prepare graduates for physical therapy licensure.
What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Kinesiology Degree?
Kinesiology jobs offer modest earnings at the entry level, with the potential for greater earnings upon moving into administrative positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that fitness instructors earned a median salary of $40,390 in 2019, while sports managers made almost twice that at $73,740.
Entry-level kinesiology jobs remain in high demand. For instance, BLS data projects that employment for athletic trainers will grow by 16% from 2019-2029.
|Career||Median Annual Salary||Job Growth
|Typical Degree Needed|
|Fitness Instructors||$40,390||15%||High School Diploma or Equivalent|
|Coaches and Scouts||$34,840||12%||Bachelor's|
|Exercise Physiologists and Kinesiotherapists||$49,170||11%||Bachelor's|
What Can You Do With a Kinesiology Degree?
Kinesiology is a versatile area of study that prepares professionals for many different career options. For some, the degree provides a credential to pursue work in physical education, while others find employment as athletic directors. Some undergraduates treat kinesiology as a pre-med major.
The following section details the most common career paths chosen by kinesiology degree-holders, many of which relate directly to health services.
Kinesiology Specializations and Career Paths
Kinesiology careers are usually related to fitness, sports, or health and wellness. Here are some common career paths for kinesiology graduates.
Exercise and Fitness
Most kinesiology graduates use their degrees to build careers in exercise and fitness, helping people meet fitness goals. Many graduates become personal trainers, working one-on-one with clients. Graduates with more experience might want to pursue careers as exercise physiologists, helping people recover from injuries or illnesses.
- Personal Trainer: Personal trainers help clients meet fitness goals through exercise and lifestyle changes.
- Fitness Instructor: These professionals teach exercise routines to large groups of clients at health clubs, gyms, and similar settings.
- Fitness Manager: These managers direct the activities of employees at health clubs, gyms, and similar settings.
- Exercise Physiologist: Exercise physiologists develop fitness and exercise regimens for people recovering from injuries and illnesses.
- Club Manager: Club managers own or operate health clubs and gyms, often designing the services offered and directing employee activities.
Sports and Coaching
A kinesiology degree is also relevant to the field of sports and coaching. Many kinesiology majors work for professional sports teams as coaches, where their knowledge of human bodily capability comes in handy. They may also work as athletic directors, overseeing budget and management concerns for schools' athletic departments.
- Assistant Coach: These coaches fulfill administrative and supervisory duties, working underneath a head coach. They may specialized in a particular skill related to their sport.
- Strength and Conditioning Coach: A strength and conditioning coach designs and supervises strength and conditioning programs for athletes, either as individuals or as a group.
- Head Coach: These professionals are the main strategists for their teams, providing support to their players, building training and recruiting programs, and designing effective plays for game day.
- Certified Athletic Trainer: A certified athletic trainer collaborates with sports physicians to help athletes recover from injuries and improve their fitness.
- Athletic Director: These professionals coordinate and oversee all athletic activities of an organization, such as a postsecondary school, public nonprofit, or club.
Health and Wellness
Kinesiology degrees can also translate to employment in the health and wellness field. Many corporate and public companies employ wellness consultants to help ensure workers' happiness. A kinesiology major's foundational knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and nutrition allows them to educate and directly help people by fostering healthy daily practices.
- Corporate Wellness Coordinator: Wellness coordinators and consultants coordinate physical activities for the benefit of a company's employees. This can include organizing wellness retreats or implementing employee exercise programs.
- Community Health Worker: These workers usually find employment in nonprofits and health services organizations, conducting outreach for underserved populations.
- Health Coach: A health coach advises clients on how to foster healthy habits in their everyday lives.
- Public Health Educator: These professionals educate communities on healthy life habits and practices, often working in schools, nonprofits, and health service centers.
- Health Services Manager: A health services manager performs administrative duties for health services centers, departments, or clinics.
Advanced Degree Career Paths
Your options for what to do with your kinesiology degree will expand if you are open to pursuing education outside of kinesiology. The following career paths require additional education beyond a kinesiology degree, though they use the same building blocks.
Many kinesiology majors pursue work in rehabilitation therapy as physical therapists, occupational therapists, or chiropractors.
- Physical Therapist: These professionals help people manage and overcome injuries and chronic conditions using exercise, special equipment, and massage therapy. You need a doctorate in physical therapy to work as a licensed physical therapist.
- Occupational Therapist: This type of therapist helps clients manage limited mobility due to chronic conditions and disability. Candidates need a master's in occupational therapy to work as a licensed occupational therapist.
- Chiropractor: A chiropractor manipulates the spinal column and other joints to help restore people to proper skeletal alignment and health. A doctor of chiropractics degree is required to work as a licensed chiropractor.
Because kinesiology and nutrition both fall under the health sciences classification, many kinesiology graduates transition into becoming nutritionists, dietitians, and nutrition therapists.
- Nutritionists: These professionals advise people on dietary strategies to help build healthy lifestyles. They usually hold bachelor's degrees in nutrition and must complete clinical requirements to obtain licensure.
- Dietitian: Dietitians help people who are struggling to maintain a healthy weight. These specialists need bachelor's degrees in dietetics and completed clinical hours to obtain licensure.
- Nutritional Therapist: These therapists help people improve their mental and physical health by assessing their nutritional needs. They usually hold bachelor's degrees in nutrition and must complete clinical hours to obtain licensure.
A kinesiology degree can serve as a pre-med qualification for certain careers in medicine, such as sports medicine, sports psychology, and pharmacology.
- Sports Physicians: A sports physician treats athletes recovering from serious injuries. They must earn a doctor of medicine degree to practice.
- Sports Psychologists: Sports psychologists help athletes cope with stress and the pressures of high-level competition. They need a doctoral degree in psychology to practice.
- Pharmacist: Pharmacists advise patients on the safe use of medical drugs. These health providers need doctoral degrees in pharmacology to practice.
Kinesiology degree graduates can also find work as educators in a variety of settings, usually in physical education or related subjects.
- Physical Education Teacher: A physical education teacher teaches K-12 students about sports, safe exercise, and team values. Most physical education teachers need teaching licensure to teach K-12, especially in public schools.
- University Professor: Earning a postgraduate kinesiology degree can lead to employment as a university professor specializing in kinesiology. These professors need teaching licenses, and they usually have doctoral degrees in kinesiology.
- Outdoor Adventure Teacher: These teachers help people enjoy recreational outdoor activities while safely staying within their limits. They need extensive outdoor experience and fitness to work in this position.
Kinesiology Professional Organizations
- American Kinesiology Association AKA offers networking events, free webinars, and leadership awards for kinesiology professionals. It also offers recognition for student members with an annual student award ceremony. Recent graduates can access its online career center, which features job listings and resources to help professionals pursing specific careers.
- National Academy of Kinesiology Founded in 1926, NAK fosters the study of kinesiology through scholarship. It also reviews kinesiology doctoral programs designed for professionals pursuing careers in research and education, ensuring a high academic standard. Student members can attend annual meetings and read its annual review of doctoral programs.
- National Association for Kinesiology in Higher Education NAKHE is a leader in the kinesiology field, offering publications, job help services, and mentorship development programs. Students can use its annual conference to share scholarly work and apply for student awards and grants, such as the Hellison Interdisciplinary Research Grant.
Accreditation for Kinesiology Programs
All students should ensure the accreditation status of their prospective programs before applying. Currently, CAAHEP handles programmatic accreditation for kinesiology programs. Attending a kinesiology program with CAAHEP accreditation guarantees that you receive a high-quality, hard-science-based education. Graduation from a CAAHEP-accredited program is a prerequisite for professional certification as an athletic trainer.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Does a Kinesiologist Do?
Kinesiologists study the biomechanical processes of the body, exploring how managing those processes can contribute to human health. They then prescribe exercise-related practices as medicine for their clients.
What's the Difference Between Kinesiology and Physical Therapy?
Physical therapy requires a doctoral degree and applies exercise, use of special equipment, hands-on therapy, and medical imaging to improve patient mobility and treat specific problems. Kinesiology also uses exercise activities to promote wellness, but it is more holistic, addressing general movement issues. Kinesiology does not require a doctoral degree.
Is a Degree in Kinesiology Worth It?
If using exercise and movement education as a tool to help people interests you, a degree in kinesiology may lead to a fulfilling career.
Is a Degree in Kinesiology Hard?
Earning a kinesiology degree does not involve as much of the hard sciences as other health science degrees, but it does require an interest in human anatomy and biology. Successful kinesiology majors usually have a good grasp on social science and work well with people.
What Kinesiology Jobs Make the Most Money?
The highest-earning jobs in kinesiology are administrative positions in sports, fitness, and health and wellness, such as sports managers, fitness managers, and athletic directors.