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2023 Best Online Master's in Physical Education

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 6/12/2023
2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in Physical Education Badge

The following list presents the best online master’s degree in physical education in terms of alumni's annual salary rate. Prospective students have a variety of specialties to choose from, such as physical education, kinesiology, and dance education. A master’s in physical education prepares students for a career teaching others about the lifelong benefits of physical activity in schools, fitness centers, and other group fitness settings. Some programs also tailor their coursework to meet the requirements for taking state licensing and certification exams. Graduates are prepared to enter the workforce in engaging, hands-on positions, including roles in schools and various agencies. For those wanting to take a different route than teaching, a master’s degree in physical education can prepare them for a career as an exercise physiologist, which has an annual salary of $47,940.

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#1 Ohio University - Main Campus

  • Salary Score: 88
  • Median Starting Salary: $51,871
  • Locations: Athens (OH)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Ohio University (OU) is a large, public institution offering a Master of Science in Recreation and Sport Sciences, Coaching Education. Totaling a minimum of 30 credits hours, this program is designed for students interested in coaching careers, such as teaching youth sports, intercollegiate athletics, or even Olympic sports. Some of the core courses students take during the program include Coaching Symposium, Foundations of Coaching, Ethics and Diversity, and Injury Prevention and Risk Management. In addition, to complete the program, students are required to complete a coaching performance evaluation portfolio for their capstone project.

OU hosts nearly 8,000 fully online students. Online students at OU utilize the Blackboard digital learning platform to engage in discussion forums and complete assignments. The coursework is asynchronous, which means that students can set their own study schedules.

#2 Central Washington University

  • Salary Score: 81
  • Median Starting Salary: $47,842
  • Locations: Ellensburg (WA)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

Central Washington University (CWU) offers an online Master of Science in Health and Physical Education for educators looking for a flexible program to fit their schedules. The program lasts for two years (or five quarters), with 45 credit hours. Students can expect to take courses like Psycho-Social Perspectives in Health & Physical Education, Skills-based Health Education, Program Promotion & Grant Writing in Health & Physical Education, and Instructional Models in Physical Education.

CWU's program is facilitated in an asynchronous format on Canvas, a digital learning platform, with students required to take at least two classes each quarter. Applicants must apply to CWU’s graduate school and possess a bachelor’s degree in education or a related field to enroll.

#3 Canisius College

  • Salary Score: 79
  • Median Starting Salary: $47,188
  • Locations: Buffalo (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Canisius College is a small, private nonprofit offering an online Master of Science in Physical Education and Athletics. This program, housed within their School of Education & Human Services, offers two paths for prospective students: (1) Physical Education - Professional Certification for those wanting to receive a certification and (2) Physical Education & Athletics. Each program is 30 credit hours with part- and full-time options available. Students must complete a physical education portfolio, mission statement, updated resume, sample lesson plans, and all assignments to receive a degree at the program's culmination.

Students in the program will take online courses through the instructional program, Desire2Learn. Online students at Canisius can use this integrated learning platform to interact with their professors and peers through discussion boards, collect and turn in assignments, and see their grades.

#4 Georgia Southern University

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

Georgia Southern University (GS) — a public institution — offers two online degree programs relating to physical education: (1) a Master of Science in Kinesiology and (2) Master of Arts in Teaching Health and Physical Education Grades P-12. The Master of Science in Kinesiology is a 36-credit-hour program offered online, and it's designed for physical education teachers who want to renew their teaching certificate in Health and Physical Education. GS's online Master of Arts in Teaching Health and Physical Education is a 36-credit-hour program that meets all requirements for a Georgia T-5 Health and Physical Education Certification (P-12). While the program is entirely online, students must complete internship and teaching requirements in Georgia.

At GS, the entire graduate program is fully online. And similar to traditional, in-person programs, graduate students are offered advisement from faculty.

#5 University of South Florida Online

  • Salary Score: 74
  • Median Starting Salary: $44,824
  • Locations: Tampa (FL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of South Florida (USF) is a large, public institution that offers a fully online Master of Arts in Physical Education. The program requires 30 credit hours, which includes six core courses, 18 content specialization courses, and six elective courses. Some of the program’s courses include Foundations of Measurement, Clinical Supervision in Physical Education, Sport Psychology, and Analysis of Research in Physical Education. At the program’s completion, students will be required to take a comprehensive exam in order to graduate.

The courses for this degree program at USF are 100% online through the learning management system called Canvas. This digital tool promotes online collaboration between students and professors. Additionally, online students can access tutoring services, test preparation resources, career services, and the counseling center.

#6 University of Northern Colorado

  • Salary Score: 73
  • Median Starting Salary: $44,599
  • Locations: Greeley (CO)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of Northern Colorado (UNC) is a medium-sized, public institution offering two programs related to physical education: (1) a Master of Arts in Dance Education and (2) Master of Arts in Physical Education/Physical Activity Leadership. The Master of Arts in Dance Education is a 33-credit hour program requiring a thesis. Students will learn instructional methods for choreography, dance performance, and injury prevention. In addition, two in-person workshops on UNC’s campus are required during the summer semesters. UNC’s Master of Arts in Physical Education/Physical Activity Leadership is a 30-credit-hour program lasting 18 months. Coursework includes Assessment in Sport Pedagogy, School-based Nutrition and Wellness, and others.

Even online students must spend two weeks on UNC’s campus during the program. Each program requires two short face-to-face summer workshops. For dance master's students, the workshops delve into choreography and learning dance forms, while PE leadership students will continue to learn about advanced pedagogy techniques and physical activity promotion.

#7 University of Wyoming

  • Salary Score: 72
  • Median Starting Salary: $44,149
  • Locations: Laramie (WY)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of Wyoming (UW) offers an emphasis for distant learners in their online Master of Science in Kinesiology and Health division: Physical Education Teacher Education. This program is designed for teachers who have already obtained a bachelor’s degree and licensure for physical education. The program, which is a minimum of 30 credit hours, requires a culminating paper or case study presentation before a student can graduate with their degree. Prospective students must find a graduate faculty member to act as their academic advisor before applying to the program.

At UW, online degree options cater to working professionals with full-time schedules, allowing for maximum flexibility through an asynchronous format.

2023 Best Online Master's in Physical Education

RankSchool Salary Score Median Starting Salary
# 1 #1 Ohio University - Main Campus 88 88 $51,871
# 2 #2 Central Washington University 81 $47,842
# 3 #3 Canisius College 79 $47,188
# 4 #4 Georgia Southern University 77 $45,899
# 5 #5 University of South Florida Online 74 $44,824
# 6 #6 University of Northern Colorado 73 $44,599
# 7 #7 University of Wyoming 72 $44,149
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Online Master's in Physical Education Degree Overview

Students who are interested in pursuing a career in athletics as a teacher or coach should consider a master's degree in physical education. Graduate-level physical education degrees include a Master of Arts, Master of Science, and Master of Education. 

A Master of Arts focuses on artistic and social aspects of health and wellness, such as dance theory or community programs, while a Master of Science focuses more on the scientific aspects of health and wellness, such as anatomy and physiology. A Master of Education focuses on providing advanced teaching methods in order to prepare graduate students to become skilled educators.

Some master's programs in health and physical education are teacher preparation programs, which means they lead to licensure for students who aren't teachers yet. Other graduate programs are designed for teachers who are currently licensed to help them build on their current knowledge and experience.

Many current teachers earn their master's in education to help them become better teachers, make them more employable, advance their careers, and earn higher salaries, which a graduate degree can often qualify them for.

Physical Education Program Requirements

Admission requirements will vary depending on the program; some programs require a bachelor’s degree in education, kinesiology, physical education, or a related field such as athletic training, while others simply require a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college.

Other program requirements may include a minimum GPA, GRE or other test scores, letters of recommendation, or a background in teaching. Most online programs require 30-36 credit hours, which can be completed in around one to two years when enrolled full time.

Master's in Physical Education Curriculum

The curriculum for a physical education program will also vary depending upon the focus but may cover health and wellness, teaching methods, curriculum development, physical education assessments, social psychology, or controversial health issues. 

Programs may include online courses such as Motor Learning, Risk Management in Physical Education and Athletics, Sport Psychology, and Statistics in Education and Health Professions. 

Students may be required to complete some type of final research project, and students in teaching programs may be required to complete fieldwork in the classroom.

Physical Education Specializations

While most physical education programs prepare students to be PE teachers in the K-12 school system, there are a few concentrations for people to pursue particular interests. 

Choosing a specialization can uniquely prepare students for a career in their chosen field, and can differentiate them from other job candidates by their credentials and experience.

Adapted physical education

Teachers trained in adapted physical education specialize in inclusive curriculums and coaching methods for students with disabilities. Programs will cover physical education and activities for students with disabilities, design and implementation of effective curriculums, and may include courses on development of motor skills or legal issues in special education.

Sport coaching

Coaching programs equip students with the skills necessary to meet the needs of school, community, and club sport teams. Coaches can work with professional teams or individual athletes, and may focus on specific sports such as football or basketball. Programs may cover coaching techniques, sport psychology, motor development, and creating healthy competitive environments.

Sport management or sports administration

Sport management master's programs are geared towards students interested in the business side of athletics. These programs prepare students for a wide range of positions in the sport industry. Graduates may pursue careers in sales, marketing, event management, or athletic administration, for example, and may work for college or professional sport teams.

Curriculum development

Programs with an emphasis on leadership and the use of research to enhance teaching methods will prepare students to create effective physical education programs. While most physical education degree programs include courses on curriculum development, some programs focus on how to conduct, interpret, and implement research to improve student learning.

What Can I Do With an Online Master's Degree in Physical Education?

With a master’s degree in physical education, a teaching career is the most common end goal. Teachers can be employed in a K-12 grade setting, after acquiring a public school teaching certificate, or at a college, university, or community center teaching health and physical fitness. 

Here are some career options for physical education majors, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and curriculum information from SHAPE America:

Elementary School Teachers

Median Salary: $61,350 per year
Job Growth: 4%

PE teachers who work with kindergarten and elementary school students focus on developing motor skills and performing continuously more advanced physical activities depending on the age level. Children typically start with skills like hopping, running, and skipping, and work their way up to activities like distance running or active games like soccer. Students also learn about the importance of physical activity and health.

Middle School Teachers

Median Salary: $61,320 per year
Job Growth: 4%

Middle school teachers educate students in more advanced areas including dance, field games and sports, fitness knowledge, nutrition, and stress management. Physical education curriculum for grades six through eight are much more focused on complex games and sports to teach students skills like offensive and defensive skills, shooting, dribbling, passing, receiving, and serving in net games such as badminton or volleyball.

High School Teachers

Median Salary: $61,820 per year
Job Growth: 5%

High school students are expected to build on their previous physical education experience to develop advanced skills in specific sports or activities. High school teachers make sure their students are skilled in at least two physical activities that students can incorporate into their daily lives, such as hiking or other outdoor pursuits, weight lifting, net games, or other functional physical activities. High school students also should be well-versed in safety during physical activity, group activity, rules and etiquette, fitness knowledge, and other skills necessary to lead healthy active lives.

Coaches and Scouts

Median Salary: $38,970 per year
Job Growth: 20%

Coaches and scouts work directly with athletes or sports teams to help them train and practice for games, tournaments, or other sports events. Coaches often work part-time, and some teachers coach school teams on top of their regular job. Pay can vary widely depending on the team and sport. Those who work for colleges, universities, and professional schools tend to be the highest-paid with a median salary of $48,710 per year.

The job outlook for teachers in general is a projected increase of 7% through 2031, according to the BLS. For coaches and scouts during this same period, job growth is expected to increase much faster than average at 20%, though a master's degree is not required to enter these fields. 

However, career opportunities for graduates with a master's degree in physical education could involve working in recreational sports settings, community outreach programs, and fitness centers.

How To Choose an Physical Education Master's Program

When looking for an online master’s in physical education program, it is important to consider program and school accreditation, class flexibility, fieldwork or on-site requirements, licensure qualifications, and support and resources available for graduates, such as alumni networks or career services. 

The ability to choose a concentration or specific classes that match your career goals, such as a focus on sports management or coaching, can also be an important factor in choosing a college program.

If students are not currently licensed teachers, they should make sure their program will qualify them to be a licensed teacher in their state. Students should also ensure they have a plan for completing any required fieldwork or student teaching, and that it can be done at a convenient location. 

What Else Should You Consider?

When choosing an online degree, accreditation is one of the most important things to look for. Accreditation is a thorough and ongoing review that signals to schools, students, professionals, and employers that a program meets universal standards of quality. 

Going to an accredited school is a requirement for federal student aid, licensure, certification, and to transfer credits or build on their education through a doctorate or post-graduate certificate.

While entire colleges are accredited, there are organizations that grant accreditation to specific programs as well. Students looking to pursue a career as a physical education teacher will need to check licensure requirements for their state. Some states simply require students to complete their degree at an accredited college, while some students choose a program accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), formerly known as NCATE and TEAC.

Some programs were previously accredited by SHAPE America, formerly known as NASPE, which is no longer evaluating curriculums. The main accrediting body for physical education programs is now CAEP, but some program pages still have SHAPE or NASPE listed as a programmatic accreditor. These programs will remain accredited through CAEP until their status expires and they must renew accreditation.

Other physical education programmatic accreditors include the Commission on Sports Management Accreditation (COSMA) and the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE). 

FAQs About Physical Education Degrees

How Can I Finance a Master's in Physical Education Program?

Students considering a master's in physical education program have access to a variety of financial aid resources to help them pay for their degree. These resources include scholarships, grants, loans, and tuition reimbursement programs available through employers. The Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE America) provides a list of available resources, including scholarships for health and wellness degrees.

Students pursuing a career as a teacher may be eligible to have a portion of their federal student loans forgiven under the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program or the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Eligibility for these programs depends on the type of student loan you have and your employment after graduation. There are also many state-sponsored loan forgiveness programs for teachers. The American Federation of Teachers offers a tool to search for loan forgiveness and funding programs here.

Those looking to save money on their degree and keep student debt down should consider an affordable online master's in physical education or our list of the most affordable online master's degrees in exercise science.

Can You Get a Physical Education Master's Degree Online?

Yes, you can get a master's in physical education online. In fact, it's very common for teachers to earn their teaching degree online. While most teaching programs do require some in-person components necessary for licensure, such as student teaching, online students can often complete these requirements at a school in their local area.

Do You Need a Teaching Degree To Teach Physical Education?

The requirements for teaching vary depending on the state, but all states require teachers to be licensed to work in public schools. This means all potential physical education teachers who want to work in a public school will need to earn a teaching degree or credential of some kind. Private schools will also usually require licensure, although that can vary depending on the school.

How Long Does a Physical Education Master's Degree Take?

Master's degrees in physical education usually take one to two years to complete. This can vary depending on the type of degree you're looking for, however. Teachers with valid teaching certification can often finish their program in less than two years because they don't have to meet the same licensure requirements as new teachers. For those who are new to the profession, master's programs typically take at least two years to complete necessary coursework and internship hours. 

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