Physical Education Degrees: Bachelor, Associate & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with an associate's or bachelor's degree in physical education? Find out degree program requirements, online options and info on courses and physical education career possibilities.
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Studying Physical Education: Degrees at a Glance

An associate's degree in physical education is not adequate if you wish to teach physical education. It can, however, provide you with the necessary certifications to coach teams at various levels. Other physical education concentrations are generally built around preparing you to transfer to a bachelor's degree program.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that the job growth outlook for athletic coaches and team scouts is 29%, which is much faster than average, between the years 2010 and 2020. Job requirements for coaches can vary from purely experiential (having played the sport) to requiring a bachelor's degree.

Bachelor's degree programs are available to become a physical education teacher or athletic trainer or to obtain other exercise science or administration positions. According to the BLS, the following increases in job openings were expected between 2010-2020: 30% for athletic trainers; 20% for dieticians and nutritionists; 17% for middle and elementary school teachers; and 7% for high school teachers.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Students looking to become coaches or fill other sports or recreation positions Individuals who wish to teach physical education at the K-12 level or obtain other exercise science or administration positions
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) Coach ($36,000)*
-Physical education teacher ($55,000-57,000)*
-Athletic trainer ($45,000)*
-Dietician/nutritionist ($55,000)*
Time to Completion Approximately 2-3 years, full-time Approximately 2-3 more years after the associate's degree, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements Roughly 60 credit hours
-Roughly 125 credit hours
-Licensure/certification (for either teaching or training)
-Student teaching or clinical hours
-Other certifications (like first aid and CPR)
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED
-High school diploma or GED
-Criminal background check (for teaching)
-Demonstrated commitment to health and fitness
Online Availability Some courses might be available online Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate's in Physical Education

An associate's degree in physical education is most frequently a stepping stone toward earning a bachelor's degree. There are, however, terminal programs built around coaching and other sports and recreation positions. These are generally offered at community colleges. While obtaining an associate's degree in these areas might make you more qualified to fill some positions, it is important to note that the majority of these positions only require a high school diploma or equivalent as a prerequisite.

Pros and Cons


  • Earning your associate's degree from a community college then transferring to a four-year school to complete your bachelor's can save on tuition costs
  • Job growth outlook for coaches and scouts is faster than average (29% increase expected between 2010 and 2020)*
  • You will be contributing to the health and fitness of our next generation


  • Degrees don't make you eligible for many more positions than just a high school diploma does
  • The cost of the degree might not benefit or improve your salary opportunities
  • Often, experiential qualifications outweigh academic qualifications when potential employers hire in this field

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Courses and Requirements

Courses generally include various coaching and safety classes, dance classes, and health and physiology classes in addition to general education requirements. Some classes you might take at the associate's degree level include the following topics:

  • Healthful living
  • Sports management
  • Exercise physiology
  • Coaching
  • Weight training
  • Sports injuries

Your courses will vary depending on the concentration you choose. Kinesiology concentrations tend to have more science and math requirements than do coaching concentrations but might not have some of the same field requirements that coaching concentrations do.

Online Degree Options

Due to the nature of this program, being present to engage in physical activity is necessary for many of its classes and required training. There are a few programs that offer the majority of your coursework online but require you to attend training and internships in person. Accordingly, an accredited, completely online option for this degree program is not currently available.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

If you are pursuing a career in coaching, the BLS states that part of your responsibilities might include keeping track of student performance records. In all likelihood, this will need to be done on a computer, so choosing an introductory course in computer use as one of your electives might benefit you on the job.

Experience and involvement with sports is generally integral to obtaining most coaching positions. With this in mind, you should participate in the sport or sports you wish to coach as much as possible and at the highest level your abilities allow prior to going to school to earn your degree, as well as during your schooling.

Bachelor's in Physical Education

Bachelor's degree programs in physical education offer many concentrations, including teaching, exercise science, and health and wellness studies. There are also opportunities and sometimes requirements to obtain other special certifications like first aid and CPR, as well as diving, rock climbing and other athletic activities. In addition to certification(s), many schools will require that you engage in and have a record of physical activity and a healthy, fit lifestyle. Obtaining licensure or certification as a teacher, trainer or dietician is generally required by the state but might or might not be included in or required by the degree program.

Pros and Cons


  • Most occupations available with this degree are projected to grow as fast as or faster than average between 2010 and 2020 (30% increase expected for athletic trainers, 20% for dieticians and nutritionists, and 17% for middle and elementary school teachers)*
  • You will have the tools necessary to help people live healthier lives
  • Most state school systems offer tenure, which can increase job security


  • Athletic trainers and other positions common at colleges and universities often require a master's degree
  • There are frequently additional requirements and exams to become certified by the state for dietitians and trainers
  • Coaching and sports management positions often require long work hours and extensive travel

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Courses and Requirements

Like most degree programs, the concentration you choose as part of a bachelor's degree in physical education will significantly affect the coursework you need to complete. This is, perhaps, even more true with this degree program since the specifications are so distinct from one another. For example, if you are going for teaching credentials, you will have classes on teacher education. If you are in a health and wellness program, you will have many more classes on diet and nutrition.

Some classes you are likely to encounter at the bachelor's degree level are:

  • Advanced conditioning
  • Motor development and learning
  • Health curriculum and strategies
  • School health instruction and assessment
  • Teaching team activities
  • Structural kinesiology

Sports training, dietician/nutritionist and other exercise science concentrations generally require clinical hours or internships. Physical education teaching concentrations generally require student teaching or other practicum experiences as part of the degree program.

Online Degree Options

There are accredited online degrees available, but not in every physical education concentration. For example, health and wellness studies concentrations can be found as distance education programs, but exercise science concentrations generally cannot. There might be coursework for exercise science and other concentrations that can be completed online, but there are also requirements, including classes and internships, that must be completed on campus or in the field. Thus, online programs might be available, depending on your concentration.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

Athletic trainers need to be able to use the computers and the latest technology in preventing, diagnosing and treating sport injuries. Professional organizations like the National Athletic Trainers' Association offer seminars that often address technical topics, such as how to use functional and performance testing and ultrasound equipment, which could help you stand out in your field.

Some programs, like a Bachelor of Science in Education program, have a physical education major that includes a technology requirement to prepare you to use various types of computer hardware and software in your curriculum. Searching out a program like this could set you apart from other physical education teacher candidates.

People skills, including speaking and communication skills, are a very important aspect of employment in this field. Whether you are participating in one-on-one coaching or advising, motivating a team or leading a class in activities, these qualities all come into play. Developing them as well as becoming comfortable and acclimated with how to use them in different situations can give you an edge.

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