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Colleges for Aspiring Physical Fitness Instructors: How to Choose

Physical fitness instructor programs exist at the certificate, undergraduate and graduate degree levels. Some schools offer online coursework, though the physical nature of the program typically requires classroom attendance; however, full-time and part-time programs are available.

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Aspiring physical fitness instructors can find certificate, bachelor's degree, master's degree, and Ph.D. programs in physical fitness and fitness training. Students can locate these programs at 2-year and 4-year schools through their health and recreation, health sciences and physical education departments.

10 Physical Fitness Schools

These ten schools offer strong programs in physical fitness in anything from the certificate through doctoral degree level. Undergraduate tuition rates are listed, based on the 2015-2016 academic year:

College/University Location Institution Type Degrees Offered UndergraduateTuition and Fees (2015-2016)*
James Madison University Harrisonburg, VA 4-year, Public Bachelor's, Master's $10,018 in-state, $25,152 out-of-state
University of Delaware Newark, DE 4-year, Public Bachelor's $12,520 in-state, $31,420 out-of-state
University of Georgia Athens, GA 4-year, Public Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral $11,622 in-state, $29,832 out-of-state
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign, IL 4-year, Public Bachelor's, Master's $15,054 in-state, $30,214 out-of-state
University of Massachusetts - Amherst Amherst, MA 4-year, Public Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral $14,171 in-state, $30,504 out-of-state
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI 4-year, Public Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral $13,856 in-state, $43,476 out-of-state
University of San Francisco San Francisco, CA 4-year, Private Bachelor's $42,634
University of Texas at Austin Austin, TX 4-year, Public Certificate, Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral $9,806 in-state, $34,676 out-of-state
University of Virginia Charlottesville, VA 4-year, Public Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral $15,192 in-state, $44,365 out-of-state
Wake Forest University Winston-Salem, NC 4-year, Private Bachelor's, Master's $47,682

Source: *National Center for Education Statistics

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Kinesiology and Exercise Science
  • Physical Education and Health
  • Sport and Fitness Management
  • Sports Medicine

College Selection Criteria

Listed below are some important considerations for anyone looking into physical fitness programs:

  • Students should check program prerequisites which may include certain vaccinations and even criminal background checks or drug tests, along with educational prerequisites.
  • Students should choose schools associated with fitness centers or those with membership in health care networks, which can lead to valuable experiential opportunities and internships.
  • Students should look for programs that follow the American College of Sports Medicine's guidelines, since they often help students prepare for professional certification exams.

Certificates in Physical Fitness Instruction

Preparation for various national certification exams and a background in physical fitness instruction are offered in these certificate level programs. Some programs also offer continuing education credits for professionals who are already certified. Certified students may find jobs as personal trainers or group fitness instructors in gyms, corporate facilities or community fitness centers. They may also launch their own personal training business.

Bachelor's Degree in Health and Fitness

These 4-year programs are good for students who want to enter teaching, coaching or physical therapy. Some programs offer specializations in aquatic fitness, team or individual sports, dance, physical conditioning and weight lifting. Students interested in pursuing a career in physical therapy or more advanced study in exercise science would need a more science-intensive degree program such as a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology.

Master's Degree in Exercise Science or Physical Education

These programs prepare students for teaching or administering health or fitness programs at private or public schools. Many of the courses can be taken online but usually at least some class attendance is required. Students may pursue emphasis areas in motor behavior, urban fitness programming or athletic conditioning.

To recap, physical fitness education can fall under a number of program types or names, including kinesiology, health science, exercise science, and more. Programs exist at every degree level, and the best offer opportunities for internships and preparation for national certification exams.

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