Recreation Degree Programs with Career Information

Learn about associate's, bachelor's and master's degree programs in recreation. Find out about career options for each degree, as well as salary and employment outlook info for the field.

Essential Information

Students who wish to pursue careers in recreation can enroll in programs at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels. These recreation degree programs focus on the use of recreational activities in a variety of environments. Associate's degree programs usually have a therapeutic focus and prepare graduates for work as fitness instructors or consultants. Bachelor's degree programs prepare graduates for leadership positions in recreation, such as park rangers or camp directors. Those who pursue master's degrees in recreation can seek leadership positions in a specialized area of recreation, such as recreational therapy.

Associate of Science in Fitness and Recreation

An associate's degree program in fitness and recreation introduces student to the field of physical education. Students enrolled in an associate's degree program will take a number of general education and physical activity classes. The physical activity classes cover topics such as rock climbing, strengthening of muscles, aerobics and cardiovascular exercises. Some associate's degree programs may include instruction on how these physical exercises can help assist people who are trying to rebuild their strength after losing muscle function due to an accident. These programs may include supervised clinical experiences.

Educational Prerequisites

A high school diploma is required for admission into an associate's degree program. In the event an applicant does not have a high school diploma, a GED certificate will be accepted. Some community colleges may request scores for the ACT standardized exam.

Program Coursework

Classes provide a general introduction to the different types of physical activities. Other courses focus on how these activities should be taught. Some possible courses include:

  • Rock climbing
  • CPR and first aid
  • Personal training
  • Weight training
  • Stretching
  • Fitness walking
  • Adventure education
  • Water aerobics

Possible Career Options

Graduates of an associate's degree program in physical fitness and recreation can find work with many different companies and organizations. Some of these include fitness and wellness clubs, spas and community centers. Possible careers include:

  • Fitness instructor
  • Wellness consultant
  • Recreational therapist

Bachelor of Science in Recreation

A Bachelor of Science in Recreation degree program typically allows students to choose an area of specialization. Some common areas of emphasis include recreation therapy, recreation and tourism management and outdoor recreation. However, before beginning coursework in a major area of study, core recreation courses must first be completed. Some of these classes may cover topics such as leadership of activities, legal liability, applications of research and technology, recreation administration and planning activity programs. The goal of these core courses is to major areas of recreation management since many graduates pursue leadership positions. An internship typically concludes a bachelor's degree program.

Educational Prerequisites

A high school diploma is required for admission into a bachelor's degree program in recreation. A university may also request scores for the ACT or the SAT standardized exams. In cases where a student does not have a high school diploma, a GED certificate will be accepted.

Program Coursework

Core classes introduce students to the broad field of recreation. Classes taken in the final years of enrollment will focus on a particular specialty of recreation. Some potential classes include:

  • Recreation therapy assessment
  • Human function and structure
  • Recreational therapy program design
  • Developmental psychology
  • Commercial tourism and recreation
  • Travel resources
  • Recreation resources and maintenance
  • Outdoor recreation

Popular Career Options

A bachelor's degree program opens up leadership opportunities in recreation that are not available to graduates of an associate's degree program. Health care institutions, national parks and fitness companies provide the best opportunity for employment. Some possible career outcomes include:

  • Recreational therapist
  • Park ranger
  • Camp director
  • Health club manager
  • Adventure travel coordinator

Master of Science in Recreation

Much like a bachelor's degree program in recreation, a master's degree allows students to choose an area of specialization. Some areas of concentration include commercial recreation, recreational therapy, leisure marketing, tourism and community services. The goal of a master's degree level program is to develop leadership and management qualities that can be transferred to a specific aspect of the recreation industry. Core courses also provide instruction on research design, the benefits of recreational activities and theories of recreation. Students begin work on a master's degree thesis while taking elective courses in their major area of study. A comprehensive examination may also be required to complete the degree.

Educational Prerequisites

Many schools prefer that applicants hold a bachelor's degree in recreation. However, some universities will accept applicants who have a degree in a closely related area such as physical education, park planning or public administration. Additionally, applicants must submit scores for the Graduate Records Examination (GRE) and submit letters of recommendation. A personal interview and a statement of purpose may also be required.

Program Coursework

The core classes for a master's degree program in recreation will cover areas of research, administration, leadership, theoretical foundations and the quality of life. Some coursework provide students with an opportunity to gain practical experience. Possible courses include:

  • Recreation and research methods
  • Professional development
  • Leisure services management
  • Principles of leisure
  • Private recreation administration
  • Eco-tourism
  • Event planning
  • Aerobic exercises

Job Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (, the employment of recreation specialists and workers is anticipated to increase by 19% for the 2010-2020 period. The median annual salary for recreation workers, also reported by the BLS, was $22,240 in 2012. Recreation therapists earned a median wage of $42,280 in 2012, and job opportunities were expected to rise by 17% from 2010-2020.

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