Recreation Certification and Certificate Program Information

Apr 24, 2020

Essential Information

Two types of recreation-related certificate programs are available. An outdoor recreation certificate program prepares students for positions as activity and program organizers. A therapeutic recreation certificate program teaches students how to help rehabilitate special needs patients through sports and leisure activities. Nationally and state-recognized certification examinations and credentials are offered for both professions.

Therapeutic recreation programs may require previous coursework or certification in outdoor recreation.

Outdoor Recreation Certificate

Outdoor recreation certificate programs emphasize education through sports and recreational activities. The core classes in the program teach theoretical approaches to recreation, as well as the impact recreation has on the environment. In addition to required classes, students can take electives in related sciences, such as geology, weather, astronomy or environmental science. Students may also learn to become instructors in various sports, including rock climbing, kayaking and skiing.

The curriculum in an outdoor recreation certificate program focuses on group management, program planning and general physical fitness. Typical classes include:

  • Outdoor recreation principles
  • Leadership and safety
  • Leisure lifestyle development
  • Theories of recreation and play
  • Budgeting and fiscal responsibility

Certificate in Therapeutic Recreation

A certificate program in therapeutic recreation prepares students to work with disabled, injured, ill and elderly patients. The classes are focused on the use of recreation to rehabilitate patients with chronic physical, mental and social conditions. Upon completion of the program and the required certification, therapeutic recreation specialists, aka recreational therapists, can work in a variety of environments, such as nursing homes, day care centers, rehabilitation centers, correctional facilities and group homes.

The curriculum in a therapeutic recreation certificate program integrates the study of physical and mental health issues with classes in recreation and leisure. The following topics are covered in therapeutic recreation coursework.

  • Leadership in therapeutic recreation
  • Gerontology
  • Psychology
  • Administration and programming for therapeutic recreation
  • Recreational therapy techniques
  • Recreation and leisure services

Salary Info and Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (, recreation workers will see a job growth of 8% between 2018 and 2028. Most of the opportunities should be for part-time, temporary and seasonal workers. Full-time career positions in recreation will see the most competition. Full-time recreation workers earned a median salary of $26,350 per year as of May 2019.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that job growth will be 7% for therapeutic recreation specialist positions between 2018 and 2028. Employment opportunities are expected to be strongest with the school-age and elderly populations. The median annual salary for recreational therapists was $48,220 as of May 2019.

Continuing Education and Professional Certification

One of the leading recreation certification programs is Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP), a credential that is administered by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). Professionals seeking a recreation certification can prepare for this exam with the help of self-study aids or by enrolling in a training course. Individuals are eligible to take the exam if they have a combination of a bachelor's degree and experience or a high school diploma and 5 years of experience. Individuals who have been certified must take two continuing education credits every two years in order to renew their credentials.

State and national certification are often required for employment as a recreational therapist. The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) exam is available to anyone meeting the eligibility requirements. Successful completion of the exam results in a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist credential. The CTRS must be renewed every five years via continuing education courses and professional work experience.

Students interested in recreation can earn a certificate in outdoor recreation to oversee sports and recreational activities or a certificate in therapeutic recreation to help rehabilitate disabled or injured patients. While voluntary certification is available to outdoor recreation workers, state and national certification is usually required for therapeutic recreation specialists.

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