Are you wondering whether an exercise science degree is right for your career?
Or perhaps you already have an exercise science degree and wondering about the next steps?
In this article, we cover the following topics related to a bachelor of science degrees in exercise science:
- Exercise science degree options
- Career opportunities for college exercise science degrees
- Best electives for exercise science students based on top careers for exercise science degrees
- Job breakdowns of the top exercise science jobs
- Entry-level, graduate programs, and master of science considerations
- Job opportunities for exercise science degrees
By the time you finish reaching, you will know which exercise science degree could be right for you, the jobs available to people with exercise science degrees, and the average salary for exercise science degrees, among other related topics.
Most importantly, you will be able to answer the question, “what can exercise science degrees do?”
So with that said, let’s get right into it.
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What is an Exercise Science Degree?
Exercise science programs encompass a range of different accredited bachelors of science, graduate school, graduate degree, and doctoral degree programs that focus on a variety of anatomy, health sciences, and exercise physiology-related degrees.
Topics and coursework in exercise science include the following:
- Physical therapy and athletic training
- Human anatomy and the human body
- Cardiac rehabilitation
- Fitness assessment
- Exercise testing
- Human performance
- Public health promotion and physical activity
- Clinical exercise physiology
Sports exercise science degrees and kinesiology are focused on the understanding of human movement science or biomechanics. This allows practitioners to provide corrective therapy or implement performance enhancement protocols.
Unlike health and fitness certifications, which only allow candidates a relatively narrow scope of practice, degree holders can diversify and up-scale their operation and significance within organizations as well as private practitioners.
The time and intensity of earning a degree in fitness allow a great deal of leverage, and with it comes a wealth of opportunity and income.
The top exercise science degrees include:
- Exercise science
- Exercise physiologists
- Sports exercise science degrees
Trainers and coaches with degrees rank amongst the top earners in the fitness industries due to their ability to leverage their credentials and their potential to assume lucrative and authoritative positions in sports, health, and fitness.
After getting your bachelor’s degree, you can consider graduate school programs for exercise science degrees.
Of course, having a degree means nothing without any passion or dedication to the field of practice.
It’s very common for highly qualified individuals to sit on their qualifications and never advance themselves beyond academic savviness.
So getting a degree is certainly a step in the right direction, but harnessing the power it provides is still up to the hard work you choose to do.
Let’s look at some common examples of career fields where exercise science degree holders can operate.
Exercise Science Degree Careers
The top jobs for exercise science degrees include:
- Personal trainer
- Athletic trainer
- Exercise and Sport Psychologist
- Occupational Therapist
The most popular career field in health and fitness is, of course, that of a personal trainer.
As a personal trainer, your job is to assess the exercise readiness of a client, identify and establish realistic goals, and the planning and instruction exercise and fitness programs.
The entry barrier for the job description of a personal trainer is pretty low, you need a personal training certification–that’s how to become a personal trainer–and as a consequence, the industry is fairly saturated and competitive.
That’s because the scope of practice of a PT is more on an advisory and guidance level when it comes to exercise science.
Having a degree in exercise science can certainly provide some much-needed leverage, as well as expand what you are allowed to do as a PT.
Just citing your credentials alone can open doors and gain you access through mere pre-selection bias.
Pre-selection bias is a concept in social psychology whereby a person’s status is determined using presumed indicators of success as opposed to having them present their own value.
Having a degree does this in many cases.
What that means is as a personal trainer, you would be able to leverage employment opportunities into higher positions than usual.
For example, a certified PT applying for a position in a gym would only hope to start on the floor and work their way up, but a PT with a post-grad qualification could easily land a managerial or even executive position within the gym or the organization as a whole.
PTs with degrees also have the potential to tap into higher income bracket client prospects and higher personal trainer pay.
As a personal trainer, having a degree allows you to stand head and shoulders above your competition, both due to market perception of your value and the significant surplus in knowledge and skill.
Having said that, being a PT after having done the work and time to graduate from college may be considered low-hanging fruit in a sense.
What we mean by this is that a successful and lucrative PT career doesn’t require a degree. Having a degree allows you to engage with other more exciting and higher-earning career prospects such as training athletes.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median 2020 salary for personal trainers is $40,150.
If you do decide to pursue personal training, you should consider the American College of Sports Medicine or National Strength and Conditioning Association personal trainer certifications, they are both NCCA personal trainer programs, which adds to their clout.
Check out the following to help you add more value, experience, and recognition to your degree certificate.
The NSCA personal training program is great for learning program design and how to train general population clients.
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As a qualified degree holder, working as an athletic trainer is more in line with the potential your credentials hold.
Elite athletic performance requires meticulous attention to detail, a significant level of knowledge, and a diverse array of skills, the level of which a mere certification won’t afford you.
That’s why jobs in athletic performance usually have an exercise science degree as a one of the strength and conditioning coach requirements for applicants.
Working with athletes focuses on three primary aspects.
The first one is performance enhancement. Focusing on an athlete’s current abilities and unearthing the latent ones for better stats and performance on the field is goal number one.
Second to this is injury prevention, colloquially referred to as “prehab.” This is a system of training, usually based around strength and conditioning protocols aimed at fortifying the musculoskeletal system against injury.
Injuries will happen, but as a specialist in your field, your job is to minimize the risk as well as the recovery time.
Lastly, an athletic trainer is tasked with rehabilitation.
As we mentioned, athletes will get injured, but when that happens, you need to be equipped to deal with working them back to their former glory and beyond.
Rehabilitative protocols are essential for an athletic trainer to have in their repertoire, but for the next career path, rehab is pretty much the name of the game.
The strength and conditioning coach job description is similar to an athletic trainer except it’s all on your head. You are the coach.
Athletic trainers are also required to certify through the National Athletic Trainer’s Association (NATA) as Athletic Trainers (AT).
Holding a certification in strength and conditioning will further enhance your qualifications and job experience.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median 2020 salary for Athletic Trainers is $49,860. Strength and Conditioning Coach salary is in range with that as well.
You should check out the S&C certifications from the following certifying bodies:
You might also look into our NSCA CSCS review. The NSCA CSCS exam is one of the highest rated S&C tests but also more challenging, but that shouldn’t be a problem for most people with exercise degrees. To pass it look at our practice CSCS questions and CSCS exam prep.
A physical therapist or physiotherapist is a rehab, recovery, and corrective exercise specialist. This is another one of the ways to make money in fitness.
Physiotherapy is typically implemented as a recovery protocol for victims of trauma but is also used for those recovering from illness as well as disabled people.
While manual therapy (biomechanical manipulation, fascial release, exercise instruction) is the primary form of therapy, a physio’s job might be as simple as providing advice and education.
Physiotherapy is aimed at injury recovery and correction of dysfunction, but sometimes can be implemented as an ongoing or maintenance-based treatment.
A career in physiotherapy is very lucrative since it aligns you within the field of healthcare practice.
Healthcare practitioners are often in the highest income bracket of society, and when it comes to physiotherapy, there’s no shortage of opportunities.
Being a physio also puts you in line to work within another lucrative industry. That industry is professional sports.
With the heavy physical toll and high rate of traumatic events, physiotherapy is valued and sought after in the world of top-flight sports.
This translates into one of the highest-earning potentials in this article, especially considering how closely linked physiotherapy is to medical practice.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median 2020 salary for Physical Therapists is $91,010.
Exercise and Sport Psychologist
Speaking about sports, one aspect that is necessary for success in the field besides physical preparedness is psychological readiness.
Getting an athlete’s head in the game is just as crucial, if not more so, than getting their body ready to compete.
As a sports psychologist, you won’t just be working with the athlete or athletes in question; you will also advise and instruct coaches, managers, dieticians, and physiotherapists.
Sports psychology works on optimizing an athlete or team’s attitude towards competition, as well as boosting morale in times of failure or defeat.
A sports psychologist is especially important when it comes to rehab and recovery for injured athletes.
The excessive pressure of competition and expectations from fans, teams, and investors, such as sponsors, requires a dedicated mental health maintenance approach.
With this in mind, a career as a sports psychologist can put you in line for some big earnings.
According to the Psychology School Guide, the salary for sports psychologists range from $60,000 to $80,000.
An occupational therapist is a professional health and wellness coach who deals with promoting good lifestyle habits as they relate to specific occupations, career fields, or population groups.
As an occupational therapist, you will essentially be helping people do better at their job or their current lifestyle, whatever that may be, by optimizing their approach to health and fitness.
Health and wellness are amongst the biggest factors when it comes to productivity and job performance.
As an OT, you could potentially land yourself a position as a corporate wellness specialist in a successful company.
Silicon Valley tech companies have an established tradition of incorporating dedicated wellness departments and activities as part of their employee management.
Occupational therapy has one of the broader scopes of practice in comparison to other careers in this article.
Besides exercise and nutrition, you will be dealing with: medical, social and psychological, and cultural issues, helping enhance these aspects for better attitudes towards the work environment.
Fields that OTs commonly operate in include:
- And many more
With this variety in scope, the potential earnings for an OT can vary tremendously depending on which field you end up pursuing.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median 2020 salary for Occupational Therapists is $86,280.
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Physical Education Teacher
As a physical education teacher, you will be working with children for the most part. From kindergarten to senior high, you are what many commonly refer to as the gym instructor.
The big burly, physically intimidating member of the teaching staff, perpetually dressed in sportswear, is how this career field is often portrayed in popular media.
The reality of a phys ed teacher is, however, a bit more complex and significant than a high school movie portrayal.
Your understanding of childhood development and the physiological and psychological factors that affect children in sport is crucial.
You will essentially be guiding children through their musculoskeletal development, which will dictate their biomechanics as adults, as well as molding their attitudes towards teamwork, discipline, and competition.
This makes physical education a much more significant responsibility than the archetype of a gym teacher would suggest.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median 2020 salary for High School Physical Education Teachers is $62,870.
Additional Career Considerations for Exercise Science Degrees
Aside from these seven career options, there are a lot of things to think about in and around getting a degree in exercise science, so let’s take a look.
Exercise Science Areas of Specialization
One thing to consider when looking at jobs for exercise science majors is the area of specialization you need to follow.
That’s because exercise science is more of a foundational focus than a specific field; you will need to branch out and specialize in your preferred practice.
Some of the most common jobs with exercise science degrees include:
- Medicine (Doctorate)
- Occupational Therapy
- Developmental Psychology
- Sports Medicine
As you can tell from this list, most of the career fields we mentioned require specialization to be eligible for exercise science major jobs.
That means to truly harness the professional potential of exercise science. You will need to further your studies, essentially making it a prerequisite to more advanced qualifications.
Another important consideration is the fact that earning a degree often has several levels of qualification required before you can be a licensed practitioner in a given field.
A bachelor’s degree is one thing, but you might need a master’s degree or even a doctorate (Ph.D.), depending on which path you choose to follow.
For instance, a physician assistant, physiotherapist, or occupational therapist are all fields that require post-grad studies to qualify as a licensed professional.
In some cases, you will also need to undergo some form of apprenticeship or internship before you can spread your wings and engage in a career.
But then, you can start your career from the basics by getting a certification which is easy to pass, if you obtain your study materials through Trainer Academy.
These study materials are by-products of intense research accumulated from years of experience spent in the personal training industry to help you ace your exams in flying colors.
Click the links below to get started.
- NASM MVP Study Package
- ACE MVP Study Package
- ISSA MVP Study Package
- NSCA CSCS MVP Study Package
- NSCA MVP Study Package
- ACSM MVP Study Package
Salary and Income Potential for Exercise Science Degrees
When entering the health and fitness field, or any career field for that matter, understanding how much you could earn is an important first consideration.
As mentioned, working in the health and fitness industry can be leveraged for higher income opportunities, either by allowing access to better-paying positions or leveraging your credentials as a value that places a premium on your services.
The salaries for sports and exercise science degrees vary widely depending on experience and the job or position you find.
In terms of common jobs and occupations you can do with an exercise science degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2024 median salaries statistics for exercise science degrees are the following:
- Physical therapist – $91,010 per year
- Chiropractor – $70,720 per year
- Athletic trainer – $49,860 per year
- Exercise physiologist – $54,020 per year
- Fitness trainer – $40,510 per year
- Group fitness instructor – $40,510 per year
- Dietician and nutritionist – $63,090 per year
As you can see, the highest-earning job prospect as a degree holder in exercise science is that of a physical therapist, followed by a chiropractor, both of which require additional years of post-graduate schooling.
It’s that a career as a healthcare or medical practitioner is one of the highest-earning paths you can take, and the stats prove it.
We also find that being a personal trainer is one of the highest income prospects despite being a field that doesn’t actually require a degree as the others do.
Working as a phys-ed teacher is the lowest paying job opportunity in our spotlight, but in many cases, it can also be the most rewarding if you consider the long-term social benefits you’re providing. A career as a phys-ed teacher is also often a stepping stone for greater things.
Income is influenced by several factors aside from just your credentials.
The level of experience can change how much of an income you can net. Having experience is one of the most bankable traits in your possession.
Another way income is affected is based on location. Working in fitness centers in a high-income metropolitan area vs. operating in a low-income area directly impacts how much you can hope to earn.
In that case, relocating for better opportunities is a fair enough consideration and can pay off in a big way with all other things in place, or you could consider taking your fitness business online to reach an even wider audience.
Note that the figures above are simply median salaries and do not reflect the upper earnings potential when leveraging your exercise science degree. When it comes to what can exercise science degrees
There are many successful people with exercise science degrees who blast these numbers out of the water.
For example, if you take your exercise science degree towards one of the following directions, you can make substantially more than average:
- Trainer or coach for professional athletes
- Celebrity trainer or influencer
- Gym or fitness center owner
- Research labs using exercise science degrees
Additional Exercise Science Degree Career Options
Aside from the seven we’ve mentioned, qualifying exercise science can place you in numerous other fields of practice. Here are a few of those.
- Athletic Director
- Cardiovascular Rehabilitation Director
- Community Program Director
- Exercise physiologist
- Exercise Science Lecturer/Professor
- Health Coach
- Fitness trainers
- Massage Therapist
- Recreation and Sports Director
- Registered Dietician
- Registered Nurse
- Sports Coach
- Sports Management
- Strength and Conditioning Coach
- Chiropractic Care
As you can tell, the possibilities are many when it comes to a career in exercise science.
One interesting one to consider is being the very person who educates future exercise scientists as a university or college lecturer.
As with many other careers, your degree in exercise science would serve mainly as a foundation or prerequisite to the fields of study required to level up as any one of these specialists.
Regardless of what you plan to do with your exercise science degree, you will have to continue boosting your credentials and gaining experience before you reach the apex of your career.
Pros and Cons of Exercise Science Degrees
What we like:
- Wide applicability to healthcare, athletics, and fitness careers
- Excellent launch point for additional higher education
- Good selection of majors depending on your career goals
- High earning potential after additional education
What we didn’t like:
- Exercise science degrees largely require additional credentials to launch a career
- Starting pay for a bachelor’s degree is not much higher than regular fitness certifications
- Recommend knowing ahead of time what your long-term career goals are
Is an Exercise Science Degree Right for You?
As much as a degree can boost your credentials, which you can then leverage into other opportunities, it might not be necessary, and in fact, might be holding you back in terms of time and financial resources.
We are all aware of the perils of student loan debt and how this can essentially throw a curveball at your life ambitions. It can lead you to question what to do with an exercise science degree when faced with such a limiting factor.
So careful consideration must be made when entering into the world of higher learning for the sake of a health and fitness career.
As we mentioned, being a personal trainer is one career avenue that doesn’t require a degree. Sure, having one is leverageable, but there are many easy ways to boost your value as a trainer and earn top dollar without having to go through the work and get a degree.
Your ability to market your value and niche your brand is tantamount to success and high income.
Similarly, many exercise science-based careers don’t require a degree. A simple certification and some entrepreneurial drive can help you up the food chain with the following careers:
- Aerobics Instructor
- Bodybuilding Coach
- Fitness Coach
- Fitness Facility Manager
- Group Fitness Instructor
- Massage Therapist
- Nutrition Coach
- Physiotherapy Assistant
- Transformation Specialist
To work in any of these fields, you simply need to gain the relevant certification.
We advise that you combine getting certified along with some sort of business-related training such as marketing, sales, or business management. This is especially important if you’re going the private route instead of working as an employee.
Having a degree in these fields is not pointless; it just requires a careful assessment before making such a big investment.
Is exercise science a hard major?
Exercise science or degrees in a related field are challenging majors especially when it comes to getting a high GPA.
Undergraduate programs will include practicum on anatomy and physiology with an additional focus on general science. Graduate study and other advanced programs, especially those with licensure, will be even more demanding.
Are exercise science degrees worth it?
If you have a passion for exercise, sports, or anatomy and want a career in a related field, an exercise science degree is an excellent investment.
Do you need a license for real-world exercise science work?
Many basic exercise science jobs do not legally require you to hold a professional license.
However, more experienced jobs, particularly those in the healthcare sector, typically have professional licensing requirements.
What is the highest paying job with a kinesiology degree?
Assuming you use your kinesiology degree towards a higher level professional career, being a physical therapist is one of the highest median salary jobs in kinesiology-adjacent fields.
Other high-paying jobs include working as a coach or health professional for professional sports teams or corporate settings.
What is the difference between sports medicine and exercise science?
Sports medicine focuses on injuries, rehabilitation, and medical issues that arise during training and playing sports.
Exercise science is a broader category that includes sports science but encompasses other, non-medical and non-sporting aspects of human movement and exercise.
What do exercise science majors do?
Exercise science majors can work in a wide variety of fields in health, fitness, recreation, and other sectors. Additionally, an exercise science degree is an excellent backbone for graduate-level studies in related fields.
Are exercise science and kinesiology the same thing?
Exercise science covers the entire scope of biology, chemistry, and physics as it relates to human physical activity.
Kinesiology is a discipline in exercise science that focuses on the mechanics of human movement itself.
Is there a demand for kinesiologists?
Kinesiology and exercise science degrees are growing in demand.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many fitness industry jobs are projected to grow over 15 percent between 2018 and 2028, which is faster than average.
Can you get online exercise science degrees?
Many universities offer bachelor’s degrees in exercise science that you can take primarily or entirely online.
What colleges offer exercise science degrees?
When it comes to colleges offering exercise science degrees, you have a great selection.
Virtually every major city will have colleges that offer exercise science degrees. Additionally, many people without access to university can earn exercise science degrees online.
We hope you gained some valuable insight from our article on careers with exercise science degrees.
At the end of the day, no matter which field you choose to work in, whether or not there is a degree involved, you need to get a baseline qualification.
Stay tuned as we bring more insight into jobs for exercise science majors and many other useful topics.
- Carrard J, Gut M, Croci I, et al. Exercise Science Graduates in the Healthcare System: A Comparison Between Australia and Switzerland. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living. 2022;4. doi: https://doi.org/10.3389/fspor.2022.766641
- Faghy MA, Arena R, Stoner L, et al. The need for exercise sciences and an integrated response to COVID-19: A position statement from the international HL-PIVOT network. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. 2021;67:2-10. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2021.01.004
- Madrigal N, Reyes JJ, Pagaduan J, Espino RV. Exercise Science Academic Programs and Research in the Philippines. International journal of exercise science. 2010;3(4):157-164. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4738868/