2020 Best Online Master's in Physical Education Degrees
A master’s in physical education will prepare students for a career teaching others about the lifelong benefits of physical activity in schools, fitness centers, and other group fitness settings. Graduates of online master’s in physical education programs will be prepared to enter the workforce in engaging, hands-on positions.
Proper accreditation is critical for physical education students looking to teach. The main accrediting body for teaching programs is the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Read more about the importance of program accreditation and discover the best master's in physical education degrees, careers and specializations below.
2020 Best Online Colleges Offering Master's in Physical Education Degrees
The 5 best value online master's programs in physical education can be found at these colleges and universities. At #1, West Virginia University charges $7,635 per year for their MS in Physical Education Teacher Education. Graduates of West Virginia University reported the highest mid-career salary, at $80,900. SUNY College at Cortland, ranked #2 on the list overall, offers an annual tuition of only $14,445 and has a reported alumni salary of $68,900.
2020 Online Colleges Offering Physical Education Degrees - Ranking Details
What can you do with a master's in physical education degree?
With a master’s degree in physical education, possible career paths include teaching physical education, coaching, and scouting. Teachers can be employed in a K-12 grade setting or at a university teaching health and physical fitness. A teaching certification is required to teach in a public school. Coaches and scouts can work for teams or individual athletes. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019, the median annual salary of kindergarten and elementary school teachers was $59,420. Middle school teachers earned $59,660 a year, while high school teachers earned an annual salary of $61,660. By contrast, coaches and scouts earned a median salary of $34,840.
Teacher employment is expected to grow 3-4 percent through 2028 and 11 percent for coaches and scouts during this same period. Other career opportunities could involve working in recreational sports settings, community outreach programs, and fitness centers.
Online Master's in Physical Education Degree Overview
Graduate-level physical education degrees include Master of Arts, Master of Science, and Master of Education programs. Master of Arts programs focus on artistic and social aspects of health and wellness, such as dance theory or community programs, while Master of Science programs focus more on the scientific aspects of health and wellness, such as anatomy and physiology. Master of Education programs focus on providing advanced teaching methods to prepare graduates to become skilled educators.
Students who are interested in pursuing a career in athletics as a teacher, personal trainer, or coach should consider a master's degree in physical education. Admission requirements will vary depending on the program; some programs require a bachelor’s degree in education, physical education, or a related field such as kinesiology or 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 credits, which can be completed in one to two and a half years.
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 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.
How to Choose a Program
When looking for an online master’s in physical education program, it is important to consider program and school accreditation, class flexibility, the variety of credits offered, fieldwork or on-site requirements, and support and resources available for graduates. The ability to tailor credits to fulfill your specific career aspirations, such as a focus on sports management or coaching, can also be an important factor in choosing a program.
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. Alumni networks and career services offered through the school can also benefit graduates interested in networking or finding assistance with job placement.
The Importance of Accreditation for Master's in Physical Education Programs
Accreditation is a thorough and ongoing review that signals to schools, students, professionals, and employers that a program meets universal standards of quality. Students who attend accredited programs are more likely to be eligible for scholarships, grants, federal student aid, licensure, certification, and to transfer credits or continue their education.
Students should pursue programs with national or regional accreditation to ensure their credentials will be considered legitimate in their chosen field. While institutions seek accreditation as a whole, 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 an accredited program, while some require programs to be 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). For students who would like to check that their program is accredited by a legitimate organization, a full list of approved accrediting bodies can be found here.
What kinds of master's in physical education specializations are available?
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. Seeking a specialized degree 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. This degree will prepare graduates to work in general and adapted physical education settings, such as elementary schools or with adapted sport teams. 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. Graduates will be ready to enter the changing field of athletics with the experience needed to train teams and athletes. 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/administration: Sport management 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. Coursework may include sports marketing and finance, public relations, social, cultural, and ethical aspects of sports, and legal issues in sports administration.
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 degrees include courses on curriculum development, some programs focus on how to conduct, interpret, and implement research to improve student learning. Courses will likely cover leadership, curriculum construction, research methods, and technology use in physical education.
Frequently Asked Questions
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 resources to help them finance 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.
How should I choose a program?
When looking for an online master’s in physical education program, it is important to consider program and school accreditation, class flexibility, the variety of credits offered, fieldwork or on-site requirements, and support and resources available for graduates. The ability to tailor credits to fulfill your specific career aspirations, such as a focus on sports management or coaching, can also be an important factor in choosing a program. 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. Alumni networks and career services offered through the school can also benefit graduates interested in networking or finding assistance with job placement.
What professional industry associations are available for physical educators?
Joining a professional network can benefit students while in school and long past graduation. Professional associations allow students to make connections, provide opportunities for career development, and can help ease the transition from program to employment. Many of these organizations offer discounted student membership prices and can help students develop additional skills, knowledge, and professional contacts to achieve their career goals.
American Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE America): SHAPE America is a leading national organization that actively promotes quality physical education from preschool to university levels. Their K-12 PE standards are used in school districts across the United States to shape curriculums. They provide members with educational resources, tools, and programs for educators to better meet the unique needs of students in physical education.
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM): The American College of Sports Medicine is an excellent resource for sports medicine students and professionals. Their members include trainers, academic researchers, and physicians. ACSM members gain access to academic journals, continuing education materials, a sports medicine podcast, and other resources for a range of professionals in the field. They also have a members-only career portal with resources for resume writing and career development.
American School Health Association (ASHA): The American School Health Association advocates for creating collaborative, coordinated healthy school environments. They promote quality nursing, health and physical education, counseling, social services, and nutrition to best support school-aged children. Members gain exclusive access to the Journal of School Health, discounts on their annual conference and other educational support resources, and free Continuing Education credits through webinars, conferences, and self-studies.
The Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE): SOPHE is a nonprofit organization that works to improve public health through education and advocacy. They emphasize a holistic approach to public health by connecting behavioral science and health education. SOPHE members can participate in the larger public health education conversation, access journals and resources to continue education, become trained in public health advocacy, and connect with other professionals in the field.
National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA): The NRPA supports public health by supporting parks and recreation organizations. They emphasize conservation, health and wellness initiatives, and equal access to programs. Individuals and organizations can become NRPA members and gain access to educational resources, professional development tools, volunteer and leadership opportunities, and grant and fundraising support.
- Bureau of Labor and Statistics Coaches and Scouts Occupational Outlook Handbook. Accessed 21 July 2020. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/entertainment-and-sports/coaches-and-scouts.htm
- Bureau of Labor and Statistics Education, Training, and Library Occupational Outlook Handbook. Accessed 21 July 2020. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/home.htm
- SHAPE America Grants, Awards & Accreditation. Accessed 21 July 2020. https://www.shapeamerica.org/grants/default.aspx
- SHAPE America Physical Education. Accessed 21 July 2020. http://caepnet.org/accreditation/caep-accreditation/spa-standards-and-report-forms/shape-america-physed