Kinesiology is the scientific study of body movement and a field with many career opportunities. A kinesiology major can pursue a job as a physical or occupational therapist, a coach, an athletic trainer, or even as an orthopedic. Your use of a kinesiology degree depends largely upon your interests and skills and the level of degree you want to pursue.
A kinesiology degree gives you a foundation in nutrition, physical conditioning, the psychology of exercise as well as teaches you hands–on techniques and therapies. Depending on your interests, you might focus on subjects like nutrition, pathology, or biomechanics while also learning about anatomy and physiology, motor function, and overall wellness. As part of the ever–growing healthcare field, kinesiology jobs are diverse and in demand.
If you want to help people recovering from injury or illness, then you could pursue a career as a physical or occupational therapist in a hospital or rehab facility. If you enjoy motivating others, then consider becoming a personal trainer or an athletic coach. If you’re interested in how dietary decisions can impact our health, then you might want to become a nutritionist. A kinesiology degree offers numerous pathways to help people, support public health, and earn a good salary.
An important note before we proceed—much of the information presented here applies not only to your kinesiology degree but to many similar, sometimes even interchangeable, courses of study. Alternative names include exercise science, physical education, and athletic training. Your options, and the name of your degree program, may vary from one school to another.
Earning a degree in any of these related fields requires an enthusiasm for fitness, an intellectual curiosity about the potential of the human body, and a desire to leverage your knowledge to benefit others. If this sounds like the right career for you, consider earning a certification or degree in kinesiology.
What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?
Accreditation is the process by which colleges and universities are evaluated and validated. Colleges and universities that have earned accreditation have met the standards set by accrediting organizations. These organizations are comprised of faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Legitimate regional and national accrediting organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Typically, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the same institutions, although CHEA recognition isn’t mandatory. A college or university must be accredited by a Department of Education-recognized accreditor in order for its students to receive federal financial aid.
For a detailed look at the differences between regional and national accreditation, check out What Do I Need to Know About College Accreditation?
- What is Regional Accreditation?
- Regional accreditation is the signifier of quality education; this includes the currency of curriculum, credentials of educators, and credibility of degrees. Regional accrediting agencies only accredit institutions in their geographical area.
- The Six Regional Accrediting Agencies
- Middle States Commission of Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE)
- The Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
To find out if a college or university on your list is regionally accredited, check the Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
- What Is National Accreditation?
- National accreditation is often perceived as a less rigorous standard than regional accreditation and is governed by educational accreditors agencies that are not restricted by region or geography. This means that one such agency can provide accreditation to any college or university in the U.S. that meets its criteria. National accreditation is commonplace among trade schools, religious schools, and for–profit colleges.
Most regionally–accredited colleges do not accept or recognize credits or degrees earned from colleges that lack regional accreditation. However, national accreditation may be a useful indicator of quality for students pursuing vocational training, competency-based education, or other education models that operate under a for-profit model.
To learn more about National Accreditation, check out Understanding National Accreditation.
For help safely navigating the For–Profit Sector, check out our Guide to For–Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.
- What is Programmatic Accreditation?
- Programmatic accreditation certifies that an institution’s program, department, or college has met the standards of the programmatic accrediting agency. While programmatic accreditation agencies often have national jurisdiction, programmatic accreditation is not institutional national accreditation. In fact, programmatic accreditation often coexists with regional accreditation. In some disciplines, a degree with programmatic accreditation may even be required to earn a license or enter professional practice.
It is not essential that you complete a kinesiology degree program with program–specific accreditation. There is no single requisite national accreditor for the kinesiology course of study.
There are some accrediting groups specific to kinesiology, exercise, and health, including:
A stamp of approval from any of these accrediting groups means that the school meets a certain set of criteria and standards put forth by that group. It may be an indication of quality and credibility. However, the absence of a program–specific accreditation is not a deal–breaker in kinesiology.
Your top priority should still be to seek a stamp of approval from one of the regional accrediting associations listed in the section above. If your college or university of choice is recognized by one of these agencies, you can be sure that your kinesiology degree program holds up to the standards of quality and credibility put forth by the Department of Education.
The easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice, or visit the website for any of the above accreditation agencies. Each provides a searchable database of accredited institutions and degree programs. You can also look at the Department of Education’s database of all recognized accreditors within its purview.
Or, to learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?
What Kinds of Kinesiology Degrees Are There?
Associate of Kinesiology
An associate degree in kinesiology will provide you with a foundation in the study of body movement. You’ll study introductory–level anatomy, biology, and basic health, as well as courses in exercise science, first aid, and coaching. You’ll likely also take several humanities and liberal arts courses alongside your kinesiology focus. This 60–credit degree program, which typically takes two years to complete, will prepare you for immediate work in certain health and fitness environments. Popular career options include fitness instructor, athletics coach, personal trainer, and physical therapy aide. You’ll also have a head start if you’re planning to continue into a bachelor’s program in kinesiology. It bears noting here that you will need your bachelor’s degree in kinesiology in order to earn you certification, which can add credibility to your title and provide greater upward mobility in your career.
What Kinesiology Courses Will You Take in an Associate Program?
- Human Anatomy and Physiology
- Introduction to Exercise Science
- Introduction to Sports Medicine
- Nutritional Science
- Communication and Coaching
Bachelor of Kinesiology
Your bachelor’s degree in kinesiology will incorporate science, psychology, and the practice of exercise. You’ll study nutrition, aging, strength training, conditioning, and the connection between body, brain, and motor skills. Your course of study will likely also include a practicum aspect, which may involve hands–on techniques, treatments, and therapies. You’ll also have a chance to refine your focus, whether your interest is in physical education, massage therapy, sports management, or any other aspect of kinesiology.
It’s especially important to note that the bachelor’s degree in kinesiology is the basic threshold for earning a certification in kinesiology. This certification will qualify you to work at the clinical level. This means that you’ll need to complete this 120–credit program, which typically takes a minimum of four years, in order to work in a clinical rehabilitation facility, instruct fitness in a senior living facility, or provide athletic training support for a professional sports organization.
What Kinesiology Courses Will You Take in a Bachelor’s Program?
- Advanced Biomechanics
- Exercise Science
- Health Promotion and Behavioral Science
- Pathology, Injury and Rehabilitation
- Physical Culture and Sports
- Sports Psychology
- The Business of Sports
- The Science of Applied Movement
What’s the Difference Between a BA and a BS in Kinesiology?
A bachelor of arts (BA) degree in kinesiology will typically combine your concentration in exercise science with an array of liberal arts and humanities courses. By contrast, a bachelor of science (BS) degree in kinesiology will give you a chance to dive a little deeper on advanced science topics. This may be an appealing option if you plan to apply your skills in a clinical, healthcare, or rehabilitation setting.
Master of Kinesiology
A master’s degree program in kinesiology will typically take two years to complete and will include advanced courses in the physical sciences, an assortment of courses focused on your area of concentration, and a research thesis on a subject of your design. A master’s kinesiology degree is ideal if you’re hoping to advance your knowledge and credentials in a specific area. For instance, a master’s in kinesiology with a concentration in athletic training, sports administration, or physical education is often valuable, sometimes even required, in order to advance in your field. Most states require a master’s degree and consequent certification as a basic threshold for teaching physical education or coaching sports in a public school setting. This could also be a pathway to athletic administration, whether in public or private schools, youth leagues, higher education, or even at the professional level.
What Kinesiology Courses Will You Take in a Master’s Program?
- Athletic Talent Scouting
- Evidence–Based Sports Medicine
- Exercise Technology
- Occupational Therapy
- Sports, Business, and Ethics
- Sports Management and Administration
- Teaching Methodologies
- The Psychology of Rehabilitation
Doctorate of Kinesiology
A Ph.D. in kinesiology will give you the chance to conduct research in an area of your choosing. You’ll spend much of your time during this four–year program working in practical or laboratory settings, where you’ll advance your scientific understanding of body movement, physical health, and athletic performance. You’ll typically work toward the completion of a dissertation on a research subject of your own design. This is your opportunity to study and add new insight into any number of related subjects like sports psychology, ergonomics, or rehabilitation, to name just a few. Completion of your doctoral kinesiology degree program will qualify you to work for a private, government, or non–profit research group. You could also use your kinesiology degree to become a professor, teaching kinesiology, exercise science, or your specific area of concentration at a college or university.
What Kinesiology Courses Will You Take in a Doctoral Program?
- Applied Research in Movement
- Exercise Physiology
- Healthcare Technology and Administration
- Innovations in Sports Technology
- Research Methods
- Sports Psychology
What Kind of Licensing or Certification Do I Need?
Certification is important when it comes to kinesiology. While you can work in fitness, health outreach, and coaching without a certification, this can limit your opportunities for advancement and earnings, not to mention your appeal to potential employers. A certification in kinesiology allows you to begin working at the clinical level in physical therapy, rehabilitation, and healthcare settings.
In order to earn a certification in kinesiology, you must have earned, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology or a related subject. The certification program is typically a one–year commitment that concludes with the completion of a licensing exam. A variety of schools and institutions may offer certification programs. Before entering a licensing or certification program, be sure that it is awarded by a reputable association or group. Most associations or groups will require you to complete an education program or workshop to earn your certification.
Additional licenses or certifications may be required for your chosen area of concentration. For instance, fields like physical therapy, occupational therapy, and physical education all require state–specific licensing. The terms surrounding licensing will vary from state to state. Learn more about the certification or licensing requirements specific to your state and area of concentration.
What Can You Do with a Kinesiology Degree?
If you are wondering “What can I do with a kinesiology degree?” there are plenty of options. Your kinesiology degree can open the doorway to a wide range of careers relating to health, fitness, and athletics. Where you decide to apply your skills depends entirely upon your area of interest. Here are a few of the top careers in your field:
- Athletic Trainers
- Massage Therapists
- Occupational Health and Safety Specialists
- Occupational Therapists
- Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides
- Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides
- Physical Therapists
- Recreational Therapists
What Kind of Salary Can You Earn With a Kinesiology Degree?
Your earning potential will depend both on your specific concentration and the level of your degree. As noted here throughout, earning a certification—which can only be done once you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree—can make a significant difference in your salary prospects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides information on median annual salaries for some of the top jobs in your field as of 2018:
|Coaches and Scouts||$33,780|
|Fitness Trainers and Instructors||$39,820|
|Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides||$48,090|
|Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides||$57,620|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Are There Professional Kinesiology Associations or Societies You Should Join?
Professional associations are a fantastic way to make connections in your field, learn about valuable seminars or certifications, and improve your own credentials. The association or associations you choose to join will depend to an extent on the career path you take. Look for kinesiology and fitness associations that correspond with your academic or professional concentration.
- American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)
- American Council of Academic Physical Therapy (ACAPT)
- American Coaching Association (ACA)
- National Athletic Training Association (NATA)
- American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSMM)
- American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSMM)
The 10 Best Online Master’s in Kinesiology
Below are the best online kinesiology degree programs, taken from our 29 Best Online Master's in Sports Medicine Programs ranking.
1. George Washington University, GW Online
Washington, District of Columbia
GW’s master of science in exercise science in strength and conditioning trains students in the theory and practice of resistance training, building the skills to improve athletic performance and prevent health-related issues. Students of all backgrounds can apply to the program, and GW only requires the completion of one undergraduate course in exercise physiology. This primarily online master’s in sports medicine uses a synchronous online delivery format that mimics the classroom environment and enables live collaboration between students and faculty.
While most coursework is online, the program does require candidates to visit campus for a three-day capstone course held at the end of the second year. The curriculum prepares graduates to sit for the certified strength and conditioning specialist designation and the level one weightlifting coaching course.
George Washington University, GW Online is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
2. University of Southern Mississippi
Based in Hattiesburg, Southern Miss remains a major education center in Mississippi, serving over 14,000 students annually. The school’s master of science in kinesiology with an emphasis in physical education offers support for teachers, coaches, and other instructors seeking to improve their physical education practice. Offered in a fully online format with no campus visits, the program requires a minimum of 36 credits, with both thesis and non-thesis options available.
Students complete 30 core credits, studying motor learning, corrective and adaptive physical education, foundations and trends in kinesiology, program design in physical education, and legal aspects of sport. Thesis candidates complete six credits of thesis work, while non-thesis candidates complete a three-credit special problems course and one additional three-credit course.
University of Southern Mississippi is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
3. Indiana Wesleyan University
A private Christian college based in Marion, IWU offers a master of science in athletic training that builds theoretical and clinical knowledge in athletic healthcare. This post-professional program serves applicants who have already completed an undergraduate degree in athletic training accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education. Candidates can complete the 33-credit curriculum in a year, with courses covering psychosocial issues in athletic training, health information technology, and epidemiology in athletic training.
This primarily online master’s degree in sports medicine requires a two-week residency session that occurs at the beginning of the program in July. This intensive residency includes two major courses: athletic training/clinical anatomy and advanced prevention and emergency management techniques. Both courses take advantage of the on-campus format to offer experiential learning opportunities. The remaining course material occurs completely online.
Indiana Wesleyan University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
4. Georgia Southern University
One of the largest colleges in the state, Georgia Southern serves more than 27,000 students through multiple campuses and a substantial online program. While not a traditional sports medicine program, the program’s master of science in kinesiology emphasizes the scientific aspects of coaching education. This teaches professional athletic coaches about the advanced practices of administration, performance enhancement and athletic training. The program requires 36 total credits and the curriculum includes 12 courses covering topics like teaching analysis, team dynamics, sports biometrics and sports physiology.
Beginning in the summer semester, this fully online kinesiology degree uses a cohort format in which students move through a set course sequence together as a group. The program includes a required practicum in which students apply course learning to their own coaching practice. Degree candidates must be employed as coaches while enrolled in the program.
Georgia Southern University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
5. University of Northern Colorado
Located in Greeley (about an hour north of Denver), UNC serves around 12,000 students through both on-campus and distance education programs. The school’s master of arts in sports and exercise science with an emphasis in sport coaching combines academic theory and applied practice to train coaches in all types of sports. Requiring a total of 30 credits, the degree covers major topics in sport pedagogy, injury prevention, sport psychology, training and conditioning principles, and applied coaching research.
Students benefit from a primarily online format designed to accommodate full-time or part-time coaching schedules, as the program expects candidates to be employed as athletic coaches. The degree concludes with an action research project in which degree seekers apply program concepts to their own coaching practice and analyze the results. Most students complete their sports medicine degree online in 18 months.
University of Northern Colorado is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
6. Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
The largest and most comprehensive college in Louisiana, LSU serves more than 30,000 students through its Baton Rouge campus. The college’s master of science in kinesiology with a specialization in sport management offers an interdisciplinary curriculum that emphasizes interdepartmental collaboration and communication, giving students a holistic perspective on the field of sport management.
This 36-credit program includes a total of 12 courses, with six core classes that cover topics in administration, organizational behavior, social issues, finance, and sport law. Students select an additional four elective courses that explore specialized topics in the field, such as facilities management or governance and policy development. Degree candidates also can opt to perform an extended independent study into a sports management topic of their choice. Students can complete their online master’s in sports medicine in 12 months of full-time study.
Louisiana State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
7. North Dakota State University
Fargo, North Dakota
One of North Dakota’s largest colleges, NDSU enrolls more than 14,000 students annually through both a main campus in Fargo and a distance education program. The school's master of science in health, nutrition, and exercise science with an option in leadership in physical education and sport emphasizes content knowledge, teaching skills, and leadership practice, training candidates to serve as physical educators, coaches, athletic directors, and activity directors.
This 30-credit online master’s in sports medicine covers major topics, including sport governance, sport skills instruction and acquisition, leadership and entrepreneurship, and the role of sport in American society. All courses use a fully online, asynchronous format with no required campus visits, though students must complete observation activities in a K-12 or university athletic environment. The degree concludes with one of three final projects: a practicum, a master’s paper, or a master’s thesis.
North Dakota State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
8. Concordia University - Saint Paul
Saint Paul, Minnesota
A Christian university, CSP operates a traditional campus and an extensive online learning program, which includes a master of science in exercise science. The degree focuses on the application of exercise principles to human health, training students for work in the exercise science industry. Applicants to the program must possess a bachelor’s degree in a related field and demonstrate either professional experience or research related to exercise science.
Combining theoretical approaches and practical application, the online sports medicine degree curriculum includes topics in biomechanics, applied exercise prescription, nutrition and metabolism, and sport psychology. This 33-credit degree offers fully online courses in flexible seven-week blocks, making it convenient for working students to balance schoolwork and professional obligations. The program concludes with a master’s capstone that synthesizes and assesses overall student learning.
Concordia University - Saint Paul is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
9. Fresno Pacific University
A Christian college based in Fresno, California, FPU offers two sports medicine online degree programs: a master of athletic training and a master of kinesiology -- physical education. Both programs feature fully online, asynchronous courses with no required campus visits, along with start dates in the fall, spring, and summer. The athletic training program prepares candidates to serve as trainers at the high school, university, or professional level, stressing teaching and training techniques, rehabilitation practices, and clinical teaching skills.
The degree requires 30 total credits and typically takes between 18 and 22 months to complete. The physical education program helps working coaches and physical education teachers develop their professional competencies, building both technical proficiency and leadership skills. The program requires a total of 36 credits and typically takes 17-19 months to complete.
Fresno Pacific University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).
10. Texas A&M University - Commerce
Located about 65 miles outside of Dallas, A&M-Commerce hosts an online master of science in health, kinesiology, and sport studies with four concentration options: athletic administration, health promotion, exercise science, and physical education pedagogy. All four tracks offer fully online courses with no required campus sessions. Both the exercise science and health promotion concentrations offer thesis and non-thesis options.
The athletic administration track caters to full-time coaches and teachers and takes just one year to complete. The health promotion track prepares students for careers in the wellness field, including the corporate, commercial, and community sectors. The exercise science track explores topics in physiology and conditioning, training students for rehabilitation and wellness work. Finally, the physical education pedagogy track trains certified physical education teachers in curriculum development, teaching strategies, sports psychology, and research.
Texas A&M University - Commerce is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).