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2023 Best Online Master's in Exercise Science Degrees

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 5/18/2023


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An online Master’s in Exercise Science can help you learn the skills you need to succeed in careers as a kinesiologist, personal trainer, exercise physiologist, or other positions in the health and wellness industry. Jobs in this sector are projected to continue growing over the next decade, including a 23% growth rate for fitness trainers and instructors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The best online exercise science programs in exercise science feature rigorous coursework, robust student support and educational resources, and satisfied alumni with a high starting salary. These programs help students gain mastery over a range of topics, including nutrition, psychology, sports medicine, biomechanics, and more.

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Online Exercise Science Master's Degrees You May Be Interested In

2023 Best Online Master's in Exercise Science Degrees

RankSchool Salary Score Median Starting Salary
# 1 #1 Concordia University - Irvine 99 99 $55,913
# 2 #2 American Public University System 98 $54,121
# 3 #3 United States Sports Academy 95 $51,420
# 4 #4 Texas Woman's University 91 $49,391
# 5 #5 Texas A&M University - Commerce 80 $46,564
# 6 #6 Georgia Southern University 77 $45,899
# 7 #7 Point Loma Nazarene University 77 $45,822
# 8 #8 University of Florida 74 $45,356
# 9 #9 California Baptist University 72 $44,989
# 10 #10 University of Northern Colorado 70 $44,599

#1 Concordia University - Irvine

  • Salary Score: 99
  • Median Starting Salary: $55,913
  • Locations: Irvine (CA)
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

Concordia University – Irvine (CUI) is a small private institution that offers an online Master of Science in Coaching & Exercise Sciences. In general, the curriculum teaches students about coaching, sports, and exercise physiology. Some core classes for this degree include Ethics and Sport, Principles of Coaching and Leadership, and Legal Aspects of Sport. To graduate, students must complete a culminating project. Program graduates may go on to explore careers in coaching, athletics administration, and fitness instruction.

At CUI, classes for this program can be completed entirely online through a digital learning platform. Students have access to resources, including summer intensives and help building a professional portfolio.

#2 American Public University System

  • Salary Score: 98
  • Median Starting Salary: $54,121
  • Locations: Charles Town (WV)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The American Public University System (APU) is a large, private, for-profit, institution that offers an online Master of Science in Sports and Health Sciences requiring 36 credit hours. The curriculum delves into human bioenergetics, nutrition, exercise science, and movement. Some core classes include Advanced Exercise and Sport Psychology, Motor Learning, and Nutrition for Sports Performance. To graduate, students must complete a culminating capstone project. Then, graduates can feel prepared to enter careers as professional trainers, fitness instructors, performance enhancement specialists, and more.

At APU, courses use Open Educational Resources and are completely asynchronous. This means that students have the opportunity to study remotely at their own pace.

#3 United States Sports Academy

  • Salary Score: 95
  • Median Starting Salary: $51,420
  • Locations: Daphne (AL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The United States Sports Academy (USSA) is a small, private institution that offers a Master of Science in Exercise Science requiring 33 credit hours. The faculty design the curriculum to teach exercise, sports, and health fields. Some possible concentrations for this degree include Recreation Management, Sports Psychology, Personal Training, NCAA Compliance, Sports Hospitality Management, and Esports Management. Students also have different options for educational pathways, including internship, thesis, and non-thesis options. Graduates of the program may go on to explore careers as fitness instructors, coaches, and kinesiologists.

At USSA, classes for this program are entirely online and asynchronous. This means that students, such as working professionals, can study at their own pace. The program typically takes 15 months to complete when studying full time.

#4 Texas Woman's University

  • Salary Score: 91
  • Median Starting Salary: $49,391
  • Locations: Denton (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Texas Woman’s University (TWU) is a medium-sized, public institution that offers an online Master of Science in Kinesiology in Coaching and a Master of Science in Kinesiology in Sport Management, each requiring 36 credit hours. The curriculum focuses on coaching, team management, and sport marketing. Some core classes include Methods of Research, Applied Statistical Principles, and Sport Psychology. Students typically take 12 to 18 months to complete these degrees when studying full time. Program alumni may pursue careers as coaches, athletic directors, trainers, sports administrators, and managers.

At TWU, classes for this degree are entirely online. Online students may experience a varied and diverse sports industry if they live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. TWU also offers professional support, specifically for women in the sports field.

#5 Texas A&M University - Commerce

  • Salary Score: 80
  • Median Starting Salary: $46,564
  • Locations: Commerce (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Texas A&M University – Commerce is a medium-sized, public institution that offers an online Master of Science in Health, Kinesiology, and Sports Studies requiring 30 credit hours. The curriculum covers sports coaching, conditioning, and physical fitness. Students may also pursue a core concentration in Sports Coaching. It typically takes one year to complete this program when studying full-time. Graduates may become coaches, athletic administrators, sports trainers, and more.

Courses for this degree are fully online and asynchronous, meaning that students can study at their own pace. Online learners also have access to professional training and mentoring from distinguished faculty.

#6 Georgia Southern University

  • Salary Score: 77
  • Median Starting Salary: $45,899
  • Locations: Statesboro (GA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The Georgia Southern University (GSU) is a large public institution that offers an online Master of Science in Kinesiology with an exercise science concentration and a Master of Science in Kinesiology with a coaching education concentration. Each requires 36 credit hours and take approximately 14 months to complete with a full-time schedule. The curriculum for these programs aims to provide students with a broad understanding of physical education, coaching, biomechanics, sports performance, and more. Some core classes for these degrees include Scientific Foundations of Human Performance, Human Performance and Nutrition, and Data Analysis in Kinesiology. Students must also complete a thesis, or comprehensive exam, for the exercise science concentration and a practicum in coaching for the coaching education concentration. Graduates of the program may go on to explore careers as coaches, exercise therapists, fitness instructors, and more.

At GSU, online students have access to useful resources, including graduate advisors and program coordinators.

#7 Point Loma Nazarene University

  • Salary Score: 77
  • Median Starting Salary: $45,822
  • Locations: San Diego (CA)
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) is a medium-sized, private, Christian college affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene. It offers an online Master of Science in Kinesiology in Integrative Wellness and an online Master of Science in Kinesiology in Sport Management. Both programs require 30 credit hours each and can take one year at a full-time pace. The curricula emphasize health and wellness, lifestyle medicine, coaching, and physical education. Some core classes include Foundations in Kinesiology, Mind-Body Medicine, and Lifestyle Medicine and Integrative Health. To graduate, students must complete a research project or applied project. Alumni may become coaches, sport scientists, athletic directors, personal trainers, and health educators, to name a few.

PLNU offers online students access to spiritual counseling, career tools, and support from faculty and staff.

#8 University of Florida

  • Salary Score: 74
  • Median Starting Salary: $45,356
  • Locations: Gainesville (FL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of Florida (UF) is a large public university that offers an online Master of Science in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology requiring 30 credit hours. The curriculum covers exercise physiology, athletic injury prevention, biomechanics, motor control and learning, sport and exercise psychology, strength and conditioning, and sport management. Some optional specializations for this degree include athlete development and integrative strength and conditioning. To graduate, students must complete 30 credit hours, which can take as little as one year with a full-time schedule or 1.5 years with a part-time schedule. Graduates may go on to enter careers as personal trainers, exercise physiologists, strength and conditioning specialists, and more.

At UF, students use Canvas to access online coursework, which is asynchronous. Students have access to online resources including video chats, message boards, academic advising, free professional development, and counseling.

#9 California Baptist University

  • Salary Score: 72
  • Median Starting Salary: $44,989
  • Locations: Riverside (CA)
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

California Baptist University (CBU) is a medium-sized, private institution that offers an online Master of Science in Kinesiology requiring 30 credit hours. The curriculum trains students in biomechanics, exercise and sport psychology, performance nutrition, exercise and fitness education, and advanced exercise physiology. To graduate, students must complete a "culminating experience," which may consist of a thesis, comprehensive exam, or graduate project. Graduates may enter fitness, sports, and health and wellness industries.

At CBU, classes for this program are entirely online and take the form of virtual lectures, HD videos, and instructor tutorials. Students typically complete the source of study within 12 months when studying full-time.

#10 University of Northern Colorado

  • Salary Score: 70
  • Median Starting Salary: $44,599
  • Locations: Greeley (CO)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of Northern Colorado (UNC) is a medium-sized public institution that offers an online Master of Science in Sport and Exercise Science requiring 30 credit hours. The curriculum aims to impart students with knowledge about port finance, program management, marketing, law, events and facilities, and fundraising. Some core classes include Sport Promotion and Marketing, Sport Facility and Event Management, and Critical Thinking and Ethics in Sport Administration. To graduate, students must complete all program requirements, including either a comprehensive examination or a thesis. Graduates may choose careers in team organizations, sponsorship, apparel and licensing, and more.

At UNC, classes for this program are fully online. Students have access to resources including graduate advisors, tutoring, and career support.

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Online Master's in Exercise Science Degree Overview

An online master’s program in exercise science prepares graduates to support and enhance healthy lifestyles through the application of strategic physical activity. The field also focuses on enhancing physical performance among athletes, as well as resolving physical injuries and preventing disease through exercise.

Students who have completed a bachelor’s degree in exercise science or a related program may want to pursue an online master’s degree in exercise science to advance their knowledge and improve their skill set. Earning a master’s in exercise science may also be a valuable networking opportunity, giving students the ability to interact with and learn from recognized industry professionals in their field.

Exercise Science Program Requirements

Students interested in pursuing an online master’s in exercise science must first complete a bachelor’s degree. Depending on the school, only those students who maintained a minimum 2.5 to 3.0 grade point average (GPA) in their bachelor's program may be accepted. To be successful in any graduate exercise science program, students should have taken courses in anatomy, physiology, nutrition, and exercise physiology as undergraduates. Passing test scores from graduate admissions tests, such as the Graduate Records Examinations (GRE) or Praxis test, may also be required for admission.

Master's in Exercise Science Curriculum

Online master’s programs in exercise science typically include core courses, such as applied physiology and kinesiology, needs assessment and program development, fitness strength and training, and health behavior. Some online master’s programs also include a research component, which involves courses in research and statistical methods and may require a research project. Master's programs often end with some type of final experience, such as a capstone project, thesis, or exam.

Exercise Science Master's Concentrations

Within many exercise science master’s degree programs, students can select one or more areas of concentration related to their career goals. Some of the optional concentrations include the following:

Sports Coaching

This concentration is a good choice for students who aspire to work with high school, college, and professional athletes. A coaching program usually involves a diverse array of courses. These cover topics, like coaching theories and techniques, individual and team athlete development, sports psychology, and business management.

Sports Psychology

Graduates with expertise in sports psychology may work with teams or individual athletes to enhance their physical performance. Courses in a sports psychology concentration cover topics such as motivation, confidence, and goal setting. 

Sports Administration

A sports administration concentration allows students to focus on the business side of managing a college or professional sports team. Learners study general principles of sport management, finance and accounting, and legal issues, such as NCAA compliance.

Looking for the most affordable online master's degree programs? Discover your options with our 2023 rankings lists of affordable exercise science master's degrees, affordable nutrition master's degrees, and affordable physical education master's degrees.

What Can I Do With an Online Master's Degree in Exercise Science?

Graduates with online master's degrees in exercise science can use their scientific knowledge of human anatomy and movement in a range of different occupations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some of these occupations only require a bachelor's degree for entry-level positions. However, professionals with a master's degree may be able to command higher salaries.

Coach and Scout

Annual Median Salary:  $38,970
Job Growth Rate: 20%

Coaches work with athletic teams at all levels from K-12 to college and professional sports. Not only do they assess and develop each athlete's abilities, they strategize the team's efforts, conduct practice sessions, and recruit new team members. In addition to a college degree, coaches may need certification and an in-depth knowledge of the sport they're coaching.

Recreational Therapist

Annual Median Salary:  $47,940
Job Growth Rate: 4%

After assessing a patient's history and current needs, recreational therapists develop a recreation-based treatment plan that will help the patient achieve physical and emotional well-being. Recreational activities within each patient's plan may include sports and exercise, the arts, and community outings. Recreational therapists often need certification to work in government agencies and medical facilities.

Athletic Trainer

Annual Median Salary:  $48,420
Job Growth Rate: 17%

Athletic trainers may find employment in educational institutions, healthcare facilities, and fitness clubs. One of their main responsibilities is to prevent injuries among athletes, but if injuries occur, athletic trainers can provide emergency care. Many athletic trainer positions require applicants to have a master's degree and certification from the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE).

Rehabilitation Counselor

Annual Median Salary:  $38,560
Job Growth Rate: 11%

Rehabilitation counselors help people with disabilities learn to develop their strengths so they can live independently. They usually work for government and social services agencies or for healthcare facilities. Most positions require candidates to have a master's degree and possibly certification or a state license.

Occupational Therapist

Annual Median Salary:  $85,570
Job Growth Rate: 14%

Occupational therapists work with people who have illnesses, injuries, or disabilities. After evaluating a patient's condition and goals, they develop a plan of activities and exercises that help the patient recover from their medical conditions or learn to be more independent. Occupational therapy positions require a master's degree and possibly a doctorate. All states require occupational therapists to be licensed.

Exercise Science Certifications

After completing an exercise science degree program, many graduates go on to earn certification in a particular skill or occupation. Certification demonstrates your expertise in the field and your commitment to professional growth. It may also improve your job prospects as some employers only hire applicants who are certified. Below are some possible certifications:

Certified Personal Trainer

A certified personal trainer who has been certified by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) usually works one-on-one with a client. After assessing the client’s goals, needs, and fitness level, the trainer develops and implements a customized fitness plan that will help the client meet specific objectives, whether it’s losing weight, building strength and endurance, or simply maintaining health and fitness. 

Certified Athletic Trainer

Sponsored by the National Athletic Trainer Association (NATA), a certified athletic trainer often works in tandem with athletes, coaches, and other healthcare professionals to help athletes achieve peak physical condition. This typically involves assessing each athlete’s condition, assisting in goal setting, and creating and implementing fitness and nutrition regimens. 

Corrective Exercise Specialist

Many people suffer from muscular issues that impede their functional movement and often cause physical injury, particularly in the feet, knees, and hips. These issues can be resolved through corrective exercise. A corrective exercise specialist, certified through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), assesses and determines the root cause of these muscular weaknesses and develops a plan to fix the issues and prevent further injury.

Certified Specialist in Speed and Explosion

Certified by the National Association of Speed and Explosion (NASE), certified specialists in speed and explosion help athletes at all levels achieve their sports performance goals by strategically applying their knowledge of strength training, power training, and more. Certified specialists often design and help implement customized fitness programs that involve sprints, drills, and other forms of training.

Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Certified strength and conditioning specialists, as approved by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), typically work one-on-one with athletes in pursuit of enhanced athletic performance. Often applying sport-specific information and testing, these professionals use their scientific knowledge of physiology and kinesiology to offer guidance on strength training and conditioning, nutrition, and injury prevention.

Certified Exercise Physiologist

Also sponsored by the ACSM, certified exercise physiologists work with all kinds of individuals, from people with chronic health issues to professional athletes in peak condition. Using professional evaluation tools, an exercise physiologist assesses a patient’s condition and then designs an exercise prescription that will help the patient or athlete meet his or her goals, whether it’s dealing with a chronic condition or simply increasing strength, fitness, and flexibility.

How To Choose an Exercise Science Master's Program

When weighing options for master's programs in exercise science, it is important to consider their accreditation status. Accreditation signifies that an institution of higher education meets national education standards for all of its programs, faculty, and services. To make sure the school you have in mind has earned institutional accreditation, you can check the U.S. Department of Education or Council for Higher Education Accreditation directories.

It's also possible for professional organizations to provide accreditation for individual programs in a specific discipline. For exercise science — one of the health sciences — the authorized accrediting organization is the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). You can search the CAAHEP directory to find out if the exercise science master's program you're considering is accredited.

If you're thinking about earning your master’s in exercise science online, you may want to research several aspects of the program's format:

  • Will you need to work at least part time throughout your studies? If so, confirm that the program can be completed on a part-time basis so that you can balance work and school.
  • Are courses offered synchronously or asynchronously? With synchronous classes, you'll be required to log in at specific times to live stream lectures and participate in class discussions. Asynchronous classes may give you more flexibility.
  • Do you want to be a member of a cohort? Some programs assign a group of incoming students — a cohort — to go through the program together, which allows you to establish strong bonds and build your professional network.
  • Are you self-motivated and good at time management? Some students prefer the structure of on-campus programs to help them stay on track.

What Else Should You Consider?

In addition to your program's accreditation status and online format, there are several other considerations to explore before choosing a master's in exercise science program. For example, you'll want to determine the cost of earning the graduate degree and your budget in advance.

Budget concerns may impact your decision to earn an exercise science degree online. You may find that some schools charge lower tuition fees for distance education students. Also keep in mind that as an online student, you won't need to pay for college room and board or transportation. If you're concerned about saving money on your degree, be sure to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Online grad students are eligible for financial aid just like their on-campus counterparts.

The application timeline of the schools you'd like to apply to may influence your decision as well. Graduate programs typically start accepting applications about seven to nine months before the fall semester when classes begin. You'll most likely be asked to submit your official bachelor's degree transcripts, a personal statement, and letters of recommendation along with your application.

FAQs About Exercise Science Degrees

How Can I Finance a Master's in Exercise Science Program?

Although a master’s degree is an expensive investment, there are several financing resources available. These include financial aid, student loans, grants, and scholarships. The American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine offer limited scholarships to exercise science students who meet their requirements.

How Much Can I Earn With an Online Master's Degree in Exercise Science?

Your salary after graduating with an online master's degree in exercise science can vary widely based on your occupation, employer, and experience in the field. To give you some examples of salaries for occupations that require master's degrees, athletic trainers earn a median annual salary of $48,420, rehabilitation counselors earn a median of $38,560, and occupational therapists earn a median of $85,570, according to the BLS.

What Jobs Can You Get With an Exercise Science Degree?

After completing a master’s in exercise science online, you can pursue a wide variety of careers in the health sciences and human performance fields. Career options include training, teaching, coaching, and research. You may find job opportunities in private health agencies and organizations, corporate or private fitness centers, nonprofit research centers, college athletic programs, and other educational institutions. If you want to further expand your knowledge and career prospects, you may want to enroll in a doctoral program in physical therapy or occupational therapy.

How Long Does an Exercise Science Degree Take?

An online exercise science master's program requires the completion of 30-36 credit hours. Full-time students may complete this program in about two years, although part-time students may need a little longer. A few accelerated online master's degrees in exercise science are available. These programs allow you to take courses year-round and finish in approximately one and a half years.

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