Physical Education Degree Programs with Course Descriptions

Apr 24, 2020

Essential Information

To become education professionals, physical education teachers may pursue several degrees. In general, these professionals need at least a bachelor's degree and a teaching license. At the bachelor's level, students may also choose to specialize in areas like coaching, outdoor recreation or physical education teaching. Each of these specializations includes different coursework that will lead to a different career path.

Providing a general education, an associate's degree program in physical education can prepare graduates to work as fitness trainers or coaches. Master's degree programs delve deeper into subject areas than associate's or bachelor's courses and can prepare students to work as school administrators.

Associate's Degree in Physical Education

This degree prepares students for entry-level positions in physical fitness and physical education professions. Associate's degrees usually last two years and equip students with a general education background. Students can expect to develop theoretical knowledge in physical education and learn about physical education practices, especially those regarding lifetime wellness, sports, and general health. Programs typically emphasize training students to work with people of all demographics, focusing on helping people improve their quality of life through exercise.

Associate's degrees in physical education typically don't have any prerequisites beyond a high school diploma or GED; however, most programs note that the most successful students have a background in biology, anatomy, nutrition, or sports.

Coursework in these programs usually combines general education classes, physical education theory, and physical education practice. Here are some examples of classes you might see:

  • English composition
  • Cardiovascular exercise
  • Introduction to physical education
  • Psychology
  • Introduction to anatomy

Bachelor's Degree in Physical Education

Bachelor's degrees in physical education usually last four years and can be completed on campus or online. There are several specialties students can choose. For example, students might wish to specialize in coaching, which incorporates classes like sports theory and group psychology. Some specialties, like outdoor recreation, might require students to get an additional certification, like the Wilderness 1st Responder certification, in order to graduate. Finally, one of the most popular specialties, physical education teaching, requires more interdisciplinary and pedagogical courses.

Applicants to these programs will have to submit their high school diploma, high school transcripts, and standardized test scores. Most schools recommend backgrounds in biology, anatomy, physiology, or sports as well.

Much like associate's degree programs in this field, coursework for this degree combines classroom lectures with practical physical education exercises. Here are some courses you might find in this degree program:

  • Anatomy
  • Psychology
  • Badminton
  • Aerobic dance
  • Sports theory

Master's Degree in Physical Education

Master's degree programs in this field further the skills students learned in associate's and bachelor's degree programs. Students also learn how to develop relevant, contemporary curricula and extracurricular programs for community settings. Master's degree holders often take leadership positions as well, often sitting on educational boards, taking positions as program directors, or even becoming principals.

Students wishing to apply to master's degrees in this field must have a bachelor's degree. In some cases, programs will accept students with associate's degrees who have substantial work experience. Applicants should expect to submit GRE scores, letters of recommendation, college transcripts, and a personal statement. In some cases, applicants may have to submit a resume.

Courses in this program focus on advanced education techniques and educational theory in addition to advanced science classes. Here are some examples:

  • Educational planning
  • Advanced pedagogy
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Fitness and community
  • Nutrition

Popular Career Options

An associate's degree in physical education prepares its holder for employment in schools, gyms, or other fitness facilities, although some may require further certification. Here are a few available career options:

  • Coach
  • Fitness center employment
  • Sporting goods vender
  • Fitness team leader

A master's degree in physical education qualifies graduates for leadership positions with secondary schools, sports team, or gyms. Here are some jobs available to these graduates:

  • Physical fitness program director
  • Personal trainer
  • Coach
  • Sports program administrator
  • Physical education teacher

Career Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS,, employment opportunities for teachers in secondary education, which includes physical education teachers, are expected to grow as fast as the national average, by 4% from 2018 to 2028. The median annual salary for secondary education teachers was $61,660 as of May 2019. The lowest 10% earned around $40,540, while the top 10% bring home upwards of $99,660.

Individuals interested in physical education careers have a number of degrees available to them depending on what kind of position they want to hold. Careers as fitness instructors or physical education teachers are available to students who complete associate's or bachelor's degree programs, while those who graduate from master's degree programs may choose to pursue administrative roles in the field.

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