Graduate Programs in Physical Education

Read about graduate-level certificates and degrees in physical education. Get information about required courses and career opportunities pursued by graduates. See employment outlook and salary information for physical education teachers.

Essential Information

There are several graduate-level education options for those interested in physical education (P.E.), including master's degrees, graduate certificates and doctoral degrees. Some physical education graduate programs focus on teaching at the K-12 level, while other programs focus on topics like physical education research and policy.

Graduate certificate and master's degree programs primarily focus on teaching. Students in these types of programs will learn coaching techniques, sport psychology and nutrition. Doctoral degree program students can often specialize in sub-fields, like sports administration or exercise science. Applicants to doctoral programs often need a master's degree in physical education or a similar field. Ph.D. program graduates are prepared for university-level research or teaching careers.

Graduate Certificate in Physical Education

Earning a graduate certificate in P.E. is a good way to prepare for a career as a physical education teacher in elementary, middle or secondary school. Students in these programs follow curricula designed to prepare them for teaching licensure exams. Skills taught usually include coaching techniques, methods for teaching children and curriculum development.

Educational Prerequisites

The minimum required qualification to enter most graduate certificate programs in physical education is a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. Some certificate programs accept graduates of any major while others require that students have a bachelor's degree in physical education or a similar discipline.

Program Coursework

Graduate certificate programs in physical education are generally short and focused on preparing students to become licensed teachers. Basic teaching and exercise topics are covered, including courses in:

  • Professional issues in physical education
  • Coaching technique and methods
  • Child development K-12
  • Exercise nutrition
  • Psychology of sport

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Most graduate certificate programs in physical education are intended to prepare graduates for careers as K-12 physical education teachers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), overall job prospects for K-12 teachers depend on the location of the school. P.E. teachers can expect to earn salaries comparable to other teachers, with BLS data showing that, as of 2012, middle school teachers earned a median annual salary of $53,430, high school teachers earned a median of $55,050 and elementary teachers earned a median of $53,400 (

Master's Degree in Physical Education

Available master's-level physical education degrees include Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.), Master of Arts in Education (M.A.Ed.), Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S.) programs. Skills taught may vary by degree program, with teaching programs focusing on physical education pedagogy and M.A. or M.S. programs focusing more on P.E. research. Overall, students in master's degree programs tend to study exercise science in addition to teaching techniques.

Educational Prerequisites

Admissions requirements for master's degree programs in physical education depend on the goal of the program. Some programs are designed for students who are licensed teachers with established careers, while other programs are aimed at students with no teaching experience or credentials. The basic minimum requirement for master's degree programs in physical education is generally a bachelor's degree in physical education or a related discipline. Programs requiring prior teaching experience and licensure may make exceptions for otherwise qualified applicants.

Program Coursework

Though some physical education master's degree programs have a specific focus, most include instruction in teaching, science and research. Some common course topics for physical education master's degree programs include:

  • Research of physical education
  • Instructional design in physical education
  • Sports culture
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Physical education for children and adolescents

Popular Career Options

Though graduates of physical education master's degree programs often work as physical education teachers in public school systems, there is a range of career options available to physical education master's degree holders. Depending on their coursework, graduates of master's programs in physical education may be eligible for the following careers:

  • Personal trainer
  • Health education specialist
  • Physical education curriculum developer
  • Health and wellness consultant
  • Community college teacher

Doctoral Degree in Physical Education

The degree most commonly awarded in physical education doctoral programs is the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree. Available areas of concentration at this degree level include pedagogy, athletic training, exercise science and sports administration. Core skills and knowledge, like history of sport, health benefits of exercise and development of P.E. curricula, are taught in most physical education doctoral degree programs.

Educational Prerequisites

Doctoral degree programs in physical education usually require applicants to have completed a master's degree program in physical education or a related discipline. Some areas of concentration may have special admissions requirements. For example, applicants to P.E. doctoral degree programs concentrating on science and training may need to have prior instruction in anatomy, physiology and biology to qualify for admission.

Program Coursework

The specific curriculum of a doctoral program in P.E. depends on the program's area of concentration. For example, education programs tend to include more education theory topics in their curricula. In general, P.E. doctoral programs cover advanced physical education topics like:

  • Education statistics
  • Motor skill development
  • Sociology of physical education
  • Physical education research
  • Anatomy and physiology

Popular Career Options

The advanced physical education knowledge gained in a doctoral degree program can qualify graduates to work in advanced fields other than education, including science, therapy and public policy fields. Some possible career tracks for graduates of P.E. doctoral degree programs include:

  • Sports psychology and therapy
  • Athletic administration
  • College and university teaching and research
  • Exercise physiology
  • Public health advocacy

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