Recreation Studies Degree and Certificate Program Summaries

Oct 13, 2019

Recreation studies programs are offered at the associate's, bachelor's, and master's degree levels. Students learn navigation and wilderness skills for potential careers as park employees.

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Essential Information

Allowing opportunities for hands-on learning, associate's-level programs emphasize navigation and wilderness skills. They prepare students to become tour guides or public park employees. Bachelor's program students learn how to incorporate activities for disabled or aged participants. Students also complete internships. Master's degree recreational studies programs offer opportunities for specialization. Students perform research and work on thesis projects.

Associate's and bachelor's degree programs require a high school diploma or equivalent for admission. The student also has to take placement tests before starting classes. Students who have already earned an associate's degree may also apply for bachelor's programs, and they are able to transfer some credits into the 4-year program. Candidates must hold a bachelor's degree to apply to a master's-level program, and schools require applicants to have a minimum GPA in their undergraduate coursework. Scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) are also required.

Online courses and programs are available.

Associate's Degree in Recreational Studies

Offered at some community colleges, these 2-year programs combine coursework, practical experience, and certification to prepare students for careers in adventure tourism and parks.

Specific courses depend on the program's location; for example, a boating course is included if the campus is near a body of water, and an aquatics course is available if the facilities include a pool. Native plants and animals, and the history of the region are examined. Other course topics include:

  • Navigation
  • Wilderness skills
  • Tourism
  • First aid
  • Environmentalism

Bachelor's Degree in Recreational Studies

An undergraduate degree in leisure or recreation is offered as a Bachelor of Science. A recreation bachelor's program includes practical courses and internships; recreation studies students intern at facilities as diverse as hospitals, correctional institutions, and community centers. Earning a minor in recreational studies is also an option.

Many recreational studies programs include classes explaining how to adapt physical education for the disabled and the elderly. Some programs have a specific focus within recreation, such as therapeutic uses of exercise. Classes in a recreational studies degree cover diverse topics, including:

  • Psychology and biology
  • Social work
  • Tourism
  • Outdoor leadership techniques
  • Diving
  • First aid

Master's Degree in Recreation Studies

A Master of Science in Recreation and Leisure Studies allows students to specialize in an area within recreation, such as management or working with a particular age group. Students focus on recreation studies applicable to working with children or the elderly, for example.

Graduate programs include coursework, electives, and a thesis, with the latter two components tailored to the student's area of interest. Course topics include:

  • Research
  • Statistics
  • Management studies
  • Statistical and behavioral topics related to recreation

Popular Career Options

Recreation and leisure degree programs can prepare students for job duties as varied as coaching children in sports to leading people on the adventure vacation of a lifetime. Specific disciplines of study, such as kayaking or all-terrain vehicles, offer graduates opportunities for specialized positions. Some common job titles include the following:

  • Tour guide
  • Camp leader
  • Park employee
  • Boat captain

Graduates can find careers in the recreation, leisure, hospitality and tourism industries. They may attain advanced leadership positions in existing companies, or some may choose to open their own businesses, such as an outdoor excursions company. Potential job titles include the following:

  • Recreation facilities manager
  • Adventure tourism entrepreneur
  • Event planner
  • Resort manager
  • Therapeutic program director

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) noted that job opportunities for recreation workers are projected to grow by 8% between 2018-2028. Further, the BLS explained that seasonal and part-time jobs in the industry are abundant, but applicants for full-time employment will have better opportunities if they have formal education in the field. The average salary for recreation workers in 2018 was $28,310 (

Continuing Education Information

While working toward an associate's degree in recreational studies, the student will have the opportunity to earn many certifications. The specific areas of certification depend on the program, but they may include CPR, first aid, wilderness first response, SCUBA and more. Class work may prepare the student to take additional certification exams independently. After graduation, a student may continue on to earn a bachelor's degree or pursue professional development courses given by organizations such as the American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation.

Although many degree programs include certification as part of the coursework, some jobs--especially those involving aquatics--may have separate certification requirements. The American Red Cross offers lifeguard training and water safety credentials. The National Recreation and Park Association offers three different certifications, leading to the designations of Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP), Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) and Aquatic Facility operator (AFO).

The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation also offers general as well as specialized certifications. Each has different requirements, but all necessitate a combination of education and experience, as well as professional references. Graduates of an accredited bachelor's degree program are qualified to take the certification exams.

Graduates of an accredited program are eligible to take various certification exams given by professional organizations such as the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation and the National Recreation and Park Association. Students may choose to go on to earn a doctorate in recreation and leisure studies or take professional development courses independently.

Individuals interested pursuing a career in recreation can study the topic in degree programs at the associate's, bachelor's, and master's levels. However, additional certification is often required.

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