Job Options With an Exercise Science Degree

Sep 29, 2019

A degree in exercise science can lead to several different career options. High school graduates can become personal trainers, while coaches usually require a bachelor's degree. Meanwhile, in order to become a physical therapist or sports medicine physician, a doctoral degree is required.

Essential Information

Exercise science is the study of how exercise affects the human body on all levels - from the physical to psychological. A degree in exercise science may be qualification for, or a first step toward, a broad range of career options.

Career Personal Trainer Coach Physical Therapist Sports Medicine Physician
Required Education High school diploma; degree is becoming common Bachelor's degree Doctoral degree Doctoral degree
Other Requirements Certification Certification Licensure; optional certification available Licensure; optional board certification
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 13% (fitness trainers and instructors) 11% (coaches and scouts) 22% 7% (physicians and surgeons)
Median Salary (2018)* $39,820 (fitness trainers and aerobics instructors) $33,780 (coaches and scouts) $87,930 $201,100 (family and general practitioners)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Options

Personal Trainer

Personal trainers develop and implement exercise plans to suit the fitness goals and needs of their clients. These programs are designed with consideration for the client's age, physical ability and any additional health issues. The exercise program can also include a dietary component that is developed by the trainer. In addition to a degree in exercise science, personal trainers often earn certification through organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine and American Council on Exercise.

Personal trainers can be hired by private gyms, sports clubs and universities to help clients, students and athletes. Trainers can also be self-employed private trainers who are hired by individual clients. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), fitness trainers and aerobic instructors earned a median annual salary of $39,820, as of May 2018.


Coaches must know their players' abilities and limits in addition to knowing how best to utilize exercise to strengthen the team and avoid injuries. Coaches teach both the fundamentals and advanced aspects of sports and evaluate individual team members' performance. They then use that information to help their players maximize strengths and improve their weaknesses.

The BLS reported in May 2018 that coaches and scouts in general earned a median annual wage of $33,780, with the top-paid ten percent earning greater than $77,880 and the bottom-paid ten percent earning less than $18,970. Coaches can work for K-12 schools, colleges and universities or private sports teams. Some high school sports coaches also work as teachers, and must have a valid teaching license in order to work.

Physical Therapist

Physical therapists develop rehabilitative programs for people suffering from injury or chronic illness to relieve pain, improve mobility and increase strength. Physical therapists evaluate a patient's physical problems and abilities and maintain or improve their condition using exercises and therapy techniques. Professionals in this field also determine how effective the therapy is expected to be and make recommendations to doctors if, or when, to conclude the therapy. '

While an undergraduate degree in exercise science may be a good introduction to this career field, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that a graduate degree is necessary to become a physical therapist. According to the BLS, every state in the U.S. requires working physical therapists to be licensed. Requirements for this license vary by state, and may include passing the National Physical Therapy Examination and taking continuing education classes. Physical therapists earned a median annual income of $87,930, according to the BLS in 2018.

Sports Medicine Physician

Sports teams of all kinds require physicians trained in the treatment and prevention of injuries associated with sports, including bone, joint and muscle injuries. Sports physicians also help athletes with conditions like asthma that are not caused by sport, but impact athletic performance. A sports physician may evaluate a player's predisposition to injuries and his ability to participate in the sport before joining the team and after a major injury.

A degree in exercise science alone isn't sufficient preparation for this career. Sports medicine doctors need to attend medical school and earn their medical license before practicing medicine. Some medical degree programs may allow students to focus their studies on sports medicine topics like orthopedics and exercise nutrition. According to the BLS, family and general practitioners, including those practicing in sports medicine, earned a median annual income of $201,100 as of May 2018.

With an exercise science degree and certification it is possible to begin a career as a personal trainer or coach. Personal trainers develop exercise plans for their clients in order to help them meet their personal goals, while coaches teach players the sport and lead exercises and training designed to improve the team's performance. With continued studies it is also possible to pursue a career as a physical therapist or sports medicine physician.

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