Exercise Science Degrees: Associate, Bachelor & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in an exercise science degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Studying Exercise Science: Degrees at a Glance

Degree programs in exercise science involve the study of movement and physical performance. As a student in this field, you will learn about the treatment and prevention of sports injuries, health/wellness promotion, disease prevention and management, creating strength training programs and teaching physical education classes or group fitness classes. You will also learn about the effects of various exercises on the human body.

Graduates of this field are prepared for positions in numerous health and fitness settings, including private businesses, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, sports medicine facilities, high schools and colleges. Job opportunities for fitness trainers and instructors is expected to increase by 24% from 2010-2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is a rate that is much faster than average in comparison to other occupations.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Students interested in health and fitness or those looking to transfer to a 4-year degree program Students interested in health and fitness who want to continue their education and enhance career opportunities
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Personal trainer ($53,000)*
- Athletic trainer ($39,000)*
- Coach/Scout ($36,000)*
- Fitness instructor ($47,000)*
- Fitness center director ($76,000)*
- Exercise specialist ($41,000)*
- Wellness program manager ($73,000)*
- Wellness program administrator ($56,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements Internship Internship
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED High school diploma or GED
Online Availability None found at this time None found at this time

Source: *Salary.com (figures from 2012).

Associate in Exercise Science

An associate degree in exercise science prepares you for entry-level employment in settings related to health and fitness. The degree program also provides you with the educational foundation for advancing your education with a bachelor's degree. In addition to taking general education courses in English, mathematics and the social sciences, you will gain knowledge in anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, nutrition and kinesiology.

As you evaluate schools, keep in mind that many schools offering this degree program do not include an internship as a component of their curriculum, although it is possible to find some schools that require students to complete an internship. The internship provides you with the opportunity to gain supervised experience working within a fitness facility. If you feel you would benefit from gaining this type of supervised experience, you should consider attending a school that requires students to complete a supervised practicum.

Pros and Cons


  • Prepares you for entry-level employment in the field
  • Students can transfer credits to a 4-year program
  • Curriculum allows you to gain practical skills
  • Prepares students for certification exams


  • Many schools do not offer internships
  • May not qualify you for jobs that require an advanced degree
  • Fitness trainers and instructors may have a work schedule that includes nights, weekends or holidays

Common Courses and Requirements

As a student in an associate degree program in exercise science, you will take classes in exercise and wellness, kinesiology, athletic training, nutrition, fitness assessment, training methodology and creating and implementing exercise programs. Some schools may also require you to complete an internship. Courses typically consist of lectures and labs where you will work on skills training. Topics in common courses include:

  • First aid
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Exercise for special populations
  • Strength training and fitness
  • Personal and family nutrition

Online Degree Options

Online learning is usually not an option for this degree program. It may be possible to find general education courses that you can complete online, but completing required courses within the degree program may be difficult. If you are interested in online learning, you can check the class schedules of colleges you are considering to see what classes are offered online.

Stand Out with This Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of employers prefer to hire graduates who have become certified to work as a fitness trainer or instructor. To improve employment opportunities, you can consider certification opportunities that are offered by numerous organizations. For example, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NCSA) and the American Council on Exercise (ACE) all offer certification opportunities for becoming a certified personal trainer. Achieving this certification will make you more marketable to potential employers.

Self-employment and ownership or management of fitness facilities are additional employment opportunities that are available to graduates of this field. While many schools offer a business course as a component of their curriculum, taking extra business courses will allow you to learn how to operate as a self-employed fitness instructor and gain the knowledge necessary to successfully manage a fitness facility.

Bachelor's in Exercise Science

Bachelor's degree programs in exercise science will educate you about exercise physiology, exercise leadership, fitness/wellness assessment and biomechanics. The program is heavily focused on the sciences and the application of movement science in health, fitness and preventing injuries.

As a student in this degree program, you will be required to complete an internship. This typically occurs during your senior year and can take place in a variety of settings, including community health and fitness facilities, wellness organizations, clinical or rehabilitative programs, private fitness facilities and athletic programs. During this time, you will be able to practice the skills you have learned while under the direct supervision of professionals in the field. Even with a bachelor's degree, many employers will want applicants to obtain certification.

Pros and Cons


  • Internship allows you to practice real-world work skills
  • Program prepares you for a variety of certification exams
  • Numerous employment opportunities available after graduation


  • Admission to some programs may be competitive
  • Students are responsible for costs associated with travel to internships, clothing and insurance
  • Work hours may include holidays, nights and weekends

Courses and Training Requirements

Your required coursework will span human anatomy and physiology, exercise physiology, biomechanics and the theory and application of movement science. In addition to competing general education requirements in the arts and sciences, you will also participate in an internship. Topics in common courses include:

  • Physiology of exercise
  • Sports psychology
  • Fitness testing and exercise prescription
  • Health promotion
  • Motor skill learning

Online Course Info

Most bachelor's degree programs in exercise science are not offered online. If you are considering a career in the field of exercise science or are planning to further your studies with a graduate degree, you will benefit from the opportunities to gain practical skills through an internship.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that increasing numbers of the aging population will lead to job growth within nursing homes and residential care facilities for fitness trainers and instructors. To improve job prospects, you may want to consider an internship that involves working with the elderly, teaching yoga or working with families or young people who are interested in starting an exercise regimen. You may also want to take special topics courses involving these age groups.

It is also expected that employment prospects will be the highest for graduates with professional certification, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Through the ACSM, you can pursue a variety of professional certifications, including Clinical Exercise Specialist (CES), Health Fitness Specialist (HFS), Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist (PAPHS) and Group Exercise Instructor (GEI). You can greatly improve employment possibilities by becoming certified in a number of areas.

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