Graduate Programs in Physical Education

Individuals interested in physical education (P.E.) can pursue master's degrees, graduate certificates, and doctoral degrees. Some programs focus on teaching at the K-12 level, while others focus on topics like physical education research and policy.

Essential Information

Graduate certificate and master's degree programs in physical education primarily prepare individuals for public school teaching. On the other hand, Ph.D. programs prepare students for university-level research or teaching careers. Doctoral degree program students can often specialize in sub-fields. Applicants to doctoral programs often need a master's degree in physical education or a similar field. Some programs also require teacher licensure.

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.

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. Some course topics covered in the program include:

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

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.

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. Some common course topics for physical education master's degree programs include:

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

Doctoral Degree in Physical Education

Available areas of concentration in physical education Ph.D. programs include pedagogy, athletic training, exercise science, and sports administration. Core skills and knowledge, like history of sports, health benefits of exercise, and development of P.E. curricula, are taught in most physical education doctoral degree programs.

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.

The specific curriculum of a doctoral program in P.E. depends on the program's area of concentration, though common topics include:

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

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 careers as a personal trainer, health education specialist, physical education curriculum developer, health and wellness consultant, and community college teacher.

The advanced physical education knowledge gained in a doctoral degree program can qualify graduates to work in 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, and public health advocacy.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Most graduate certificate programs in physical education are intended to prepare graduates for careers as elementary, middle, and high school physical education teachers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), overall job prospects for teachers depend on the location of the school. P.E. teachers can expect to earn salaries comparable to other teachers. Elementary teachers earned a median of $54,890, middle school teachers earned a median annual salary of $55,860, and high school teachers earned a median of $57,200, as of May 2015, according to the BLS (

Graduate-level students seeking careers in physical education can earn master's degree, graduate certificate, and doctoral degree programs. These programs in health-related pedagogy can lead to careers in physical education teaching, personal training, and more.

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