Recreation Therapy Degrees by Degree Level

Get details on undergraduate and graduate degree programs in recreation therapy. Learn about academic prerequisites and the curriculum at each degree level, and see employment options and potential earnings in the field.

Essential Information

Recreation therapists plan and implement sports and recreational activities that assist with the rehabilitation of physically, mentally, and socially disabled people. Programs in recreation therapy or therapeutic recreation are available at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels.

Two-year associate's programs can prepare students for entry-level work as recreation therapy assistants or for enrollment in bachelor's programs in the field. Students who want to work as certified recreation therapists need to complete a four-year bachelor's program. Both of these undergraduate programs include lecture-based classes and hands-on clinical experiences.

Master's programs can lead to research or upper-level administrative roles in the recreation therapy field. Applicants to these programs who don't have a bachelor's degree in recreation therapy may need to complete prerequisite foundational coursework.

Associate's Degree in Recreation Therapy

The most basic of recreation therapy degrees, the associate's degree in recreation therapy, qualifies students for entry-level jobs in the recreation therapy field. Students in this two-year program study patient interaction and the historical, practical, and theoretical aspects of recreation therapy. Some programs may require field work, which allows students to gain hands-on experience for class credit.

Educational Prerequisites

Prospective students submit a completed application in addition to a high school transcript or GED certificate. Many programs require students to be 18 years of age or older. Students who have attended college previously submit official transcripts. In some cases, proficiency tests may be required to determine a student's placement in English and math classes.

Program Coursework

In addition to the core recreation therapy courses, students can take relevant classes in music, drama, social dance, and art. Typical courses in a two-year recreation therapy degree program include:

  • Therapeutic recreation techniques
  • Sociology
  • Recreation therapy program planning
  • Recreation leadership skills
  • Recreation for special needs
  • Counseling

Popular Careers

While a bachelor's degree is required to become a certified recreation therapist, the associate's degree opens up a number of entry-level career options. The following jobs are available with a two-year recreation therapy degree:

  • Recreation therapy assistant
  • Rehabilitation activity director
  • Special recreation program leader
  • Adult activity coordinator
  • Assisted living program service coordinator

Continuing Education

An associate's degree on its own provides very few opportunities for advancement in the recreation therapy field. Students who desire certification can continue on to a Bachelor of Science in Recreation Therapy program or a similar therapeutic recreation program. Most employers in the health care or human services fields hire recreational therapists with bachelor's degrees and certification.

Bachelor of Science in Recreation Therapy

The Bachelor of Science in Recreation Therapy is a four-year degree program that prepares students to become certified recreation therapists. Students are usually required to complete internships and volunteer work under the supervision of a certified therapeutic recreation specialist. Graduates of a B.S. in Recreation Therapy can pursue higher-paying jobs, such as a child life specialist or adapted physical education coordinator.

Educational Prerequisites

A high school diploma or equivalent is required for acceptance into a bachelor's degree program. Prospective students are usually required to submit a completed application, high school transcript or GED certificate, ACT or SAT scores and transcripts from any previously attended postsecondary schools. Those with associate's degrees may not have to submit high school transcripts.

Program Coursework

The curriculum in a B.S. in Recreation Therapy program generally covers topics in therapeutic recreation, physical and behavioral sciences, and recreation and leisure administration. Typical classes include:

  • Therapeutic recreation for the elderly
  • Recreation therapy administration
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Human development
  • Therapeutic recreation for the disabled
  • Client assessment

Certification and Continuing Education

Students who complete this degree program are eligible to become Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists (CTRS). Certification can be acquired by successfully completing the exam administered by The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification ( Those who wish to further their education can pursue a master's degree in recreation therapy or therapeutic recreation.

Master of Science in Recreation Therapy

A Master of Science in Recreation Therapy degree allows graduates to move into administrative roles in the field. Most students can complete this program within one to two years. The curriculum covers the assessment and evaluation of patient health, human development, and program planning study. Students also do field work and advanced research in recreation therapy. Many programs require completion of a master's thesis or major project.

Educational Prerequisites

Completion of a bachelor's degree is required for admission into a master's degree program. Students who do not have an undergraduate degree in recreation therapy may have to complete additional classes. Materials to support an application to the graduate school and department generally include official college transcripts, GRE scores, a personal essay, writing samples, and letters of recommendation.

Program Coursework

An M.S. in Recreation Therapy curriculum focuses on management and administration in addition to types of therapy. Students should expect to study topics that include:

  • Art therapy
  • Recreation and leisure research methods
  • Leisure management theory and practice
  • Therapeutic recreation program development
  • Recreation and leisure trends and issues
  • Recreational therapy finance management

Career Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), recreational therapy positions are expected to increase about 17% from 2010 to 2020. The most demand is anticipated in positions that require working with children and the elderly. Recreational therapists earned an average of $44,280 annually as of May 2012, per the BLS.

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