Kinesiology Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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What can you learn in a kinesiology graduate degree program? Read about program requirements, pros and cons of master's and PhD programs and potential careers.
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Studying Kinesiology: Degrees at a Glance

Kinesiology is the study of body movement. With a graduate degree in kinesiology, you might choose to work in preventative exercise, rehabilitative exercise or recreational exercise. A master's degree in kinesiology can prepare you for a career as an exercise specialist, wellness instructor, athletic trainer, recreation therapist or biomechanist, while a PhD in Kinesiology can prepare you to become a professor or researcher. Overall, students can expect faster-than-average job growth in this field due to a growing baby boomer population, growing obesity rate and public interest in reigning in health care costs.

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? - Individuals interested in teaching or pursuing doctoral studies in kinesiology, physical therapy or medicine
- Individuals interested in working with elite professional athletes
- Individuals interested in exercise research or postsecondary teaching
-Students pursuing a career in physical activity epidemiology
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Athletic trainer ($42,000)*
- Coach or scout ($28,000)*
- Middle school PE teacher ($53,000)*
- Postsecondary teacher ($58,000)*
- Exercise science researcher (not available)
Time to Completion 3-5 years full time 4-6 years full time
Common Graduation Requirements - Thesis or cumulative project- Practicum
- Comprehensive exam
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Teacher certification eligibility for physical education-focused programs
- Bachelor's or master's degree
- Coursework in kinesiology and other supporting subjects (depending on area of concentration)
Online Availability Yes No

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

Master's in Kinesiology

In a master's degree program in kinesiology, you'll learn techniques to optimize physical health and performance. You'll also learn to use exercise as a remedy for certain ailments and illnesses. In some schools, you can choose a concentration, such as exercise science, health promotion, biomechanics, exercise physiology, exercise psychology or physical education teaching. Courses may take place in facilities with state-of-the-art equipment designed to record and analyze movement of muscles during exercise.

Pros and Cons


  • Kinesiology is a broad field, and you can choose from many areas of concentration, including research, epidemiology, public health and education
  • As awareness and knowledge of sports-related injuries increases, the need for athletic trainers will increase, specifically in youth sports*
  • Job growth for fitness and athletic trainers is expected to be faster than average between 2010 and 2020*


  • Coaching positions usually require experience playing the sport, and you don't need a master's degree for these positions
  • Additional certification or licensing may be needed to pursue careers in training, medicine or teaching
  • Athletic trainers may have to work outdoors in all weather conditions

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Your coursework can vary greatly depending on your concentration. Common courses relate to how exercise affects the body. You'll learn how muscle builds and repairs itself. You'll also learn how to administer exercise tests and to use equipment to measure body movement. You'll learn to apply exercise principles to children and adult athletes and those recovering from illness or injury.

Students interested in pursuing a career in physical education instruction will take courses in education techniques, while students interested in health and wellness programs will take courses in public health and administration. You can find both thesis and non-thesis programs. With a non-thesis option, you can expect to complete a mandatory research project.

Online Degrees

You can find accredited online degree programs in kinesiology with concentration options. In addition, you may find programs that only focus on one area, such as coaching, sports management or physical education. Your coursework will be similar to that of on-campus programs and may be designed by the same faculty who lead in-person instruction.

Stand Out with This Degree

Once you have an idea of the area you'd like to pursue, take steps to gain knowledge and insight about that career path.

  • Gain experience. For jobs that don't require an advanced degree, experience may be a deciding factor. For example, aspiring coaches will need experience playing the sport. Thus, you might look for opportunities to coach a local sports team.
  • Prepare for certification. There are a variety of organizations that offer certification for fitness instructors. Even when it's not mandatory for employment, certification can give you a competitive advantage over those without it. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employers prefer to hire certified recreational therapists.
  • Know your audience. You can choose to work with children, adults, injured clients or the elderly. Volunteer with these groups to build your communications skills and learn how to relate to your future patients.

Alternative Degrees

If you're interested in working with patients recovering from injury, but you want a career with a higher salary potential than that of an athletic trainer, you might want to complete a master's program in physical therapy. According to the BLS, employment for physical therapists was expected to increase by 39% from 2010 to 2020, which was faster than average. The median annual salary for physical therapists was about $78,000 as of 2011. You'll take similar courses to those in an athletic training program, and you'll complete a residency. There aren't many master's degree programs in physical therapy, so programs will likely be competitive. Physical therapists must obtain a state license.

PhD in Kinesiology

PhD in Kinesiology programs are primarily for individuals who want to become professors and conduct research in the field. You'll likely have the opportunity to choose a concentration, such as sports sociology and sports psychology, exercise movement or biomechanics. Upon graduation, you might conduct research for government organizations, such as the National Institutes of Health, or work in private industry for a business that manufactures and/or sells sporting goods. With a PhD, you can work in the research and development of competitive consumer goods.

Pros and Cons


  • You can focus your research on one of several areas related to exercise science
  • Some consumer brands have developed sports research labs, providing opportunities for researchers in private industry
  • The number of nontraditional students (working professionals attending school) is expected to grow from 2010 through 2020, creating a demand for more postsecondary teachers*


  • PhD students must pass a qualifying exam after their first year of study
  • If you work with teams during sporting events, you might travel often on evenings or weekends
  • Some professors have difficulty balancing teaching with conducting research; time management may be a challenge for this type of work

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

You can expect your program to be steeped in research, which will culminate in a dissertation. Most PhD in Kinesiology programs give you the opportunity to work closely with an adviser and customize your research. You will also have the opportunity to choose a concentration from a variety of areas.

Online Programs

PhD programs in kinesiology aren't typically offered solely online because coursework includes labs. However, you might use online and electronic tools to interact with your adviser and to work on your dissertation, therefore mitigating your need to be on campus all the time.

Get Ahead with This Degree

While you're studying, look for ways to gain a competitive edge, such as the following:

  • Institutions may prefer to hire professors with teaching experience. Look for experience as a teaching assistant or volunteer.
  • Choose a minor. Some schools offer minor studies with a PhD. Take advantage of the opportunity to add an additional layer to your research area.
  • Continue professional development. Attend seminars and thesis defenses to build networks and stay aware of what your peers are doing in the field.

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