Online Exercise Science Degree Programs

Find the best online programs, review course details, and see what it takes to begin your career with an online exercise science degree.  

Last Updated: 10/09/2020
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Helping others become healthier and more active is your ultimate goal. Now you need the education and training to make it happen. But where do you begin? An online exercise science degree program could be the perfect starting point. Not only will you gain the skills necessary to help others make positive life changes, but you’ll walk away with a degree that opens the door to a wide range of careers in personal training, coaching, and healthcare.

If you’re ready to start the journey to your new career, there is no better time to begin than now. From understanding your education options to breaking down cost accreditation, keep reading to find the top online exercise science degree programs and take away the information you need to make an informed decision.

Best Online Exercise Science Degree Programs of 2020

With more people taking action to improve their physical health, the demand for exercise science professionals is likely to grow. Today’s online exercise science degree programs can help meet this increased demand. While this is good news for the field, it’s important to remember that not all education programs are created equally.

To help you in your search, we’ve compiled a list of the best online exercise science programs in 2020. These schools provide affordability, flexibility, and the accreditation needed to seek certification and/or licensure after graduating. Check out two of the top options for this year below.

California University of Pennsylvania

California Uni.

CAL U provides an online bachelor of science in exercise science for students looking to start their careers in this growing field. After completing all requirements and graduating, you can qualify for both the Certified Personal Trainer certification provided by the National Academy of Sports Medicine and the Certified Speed Coach certification from the National Association of Speed and Explosion.

This program operates as one of only 30 degrees recognized by the National Academy of Sports Medicine and can be completed fully online in as few as three years. Some of the topics you’ll explore include contemporary issues in wellness and fitness, human anatomy and physiology, and business aspects of fitness.

New students are admitted in the spring, summer, and fall as part of cohorts. Admission requirements include completion of an online application, payment of an application fee, official high school transcript or GED, SAT or ACT scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal essay. The last three components are optional but encouraged.

Aurora University

Aurora Uni

Aurora University in Illinois provides an online M.S. in exercise science that requires zero visits to the main campus. In addition to general exercise science topics, you can also specialize your studies in sports performance or clinical exercise physiology. Regardless of your chosen concentration, you’ll complete 30 credits over the span of 24-48 months, depending on your schedule. The program offers several start dates to work with students’ busy schedules.

Some of the courses you will take include research methods in exercise and sport, applied sports and exercise psychology, management in exercise and sport, and nutrition for sports performance. All students must also complete either a capstone project or internship. Prerequisites for starting the program include anatomy and physiology, college algebra, and physiology of exercise.

Admission requirements include a regionally accredited bachelor’s degree in exercise science or a related subject, official transcripts, 3.0 or higher GPA, and a criminal background check.

Online Exercise Science Degree FAQ

Whether you’re just starting your academic journey or you’re a seasoned professional looking at graduate programs, plenty of online exercise science degree options exist at every level to meet your needs. Getting to know a program before you apply is essential. To help you make an informed decision, we answer some of the most common questions about the process below.  

What are the different online degrees in exercise science?

Online exercise science degree programs exist at every academic level to help students across the career spectrum get the training they need to compete for jobs. The requirements, timelines, and outcomes vary by degree, but we provide an overview of each below.

  • Associate of Applied Science in Exercise Science: These foundational degrees take two years to complete either online or in person. They serve as a great option if you think you want to work in the field but aren’t ready to commit to a bachelor’s degree.
  • Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science: An online bachelor’s degree in exercise science typically takes four years to complete and prepares you for a variety of roles working with individuals across the lifespan. They can easily be found as both campus-based and online programs.
  • Master of Science in Exercise Science: Pursuing a master’s in exercise science allows you to take on high-level leadership roles, participate in research initiatives, and seek out jobs requiring advanced education, such as occupational therapy or physical therapy. These programs usually take two years to complete.
  • Doctorate in Exercise Science: As the highest degree level available in the discipline, a doctorate in exercise science program takes between three and five years to complete, depending on full- or part-time learning status. After graduating, you can apply to research and/or academic teaching positions alongside C-Level roles.

What do you learn in an online exercise science degree program?

The lessons learned in an online exercise science degree program varies by school, degree level, and program focus. That being said, many degrees provide some courses and learning outcomes that overlap with other institutions, including studies in anatomy and physiology, the business of exercise science, and coaching approaches. Here’s what you can expect in terms of learning outcomes and common courses.

  • Application
    The ability to apply the fundamental principles of human movement and exercise physiology to a variety of settings across a spectrum of populations.
  • Reasoning
    An understanding of how qualitative and quantitative reasoning can help you solve problems with your clients, develop plans, and create interventions.
  • Human Anatomy Knowledge 
    A comprehensive understanding of how the human body is formed and functioned, with emphasis on how to use that knowledge when training or supporting clients.
  • Testing
    The ability to perform various diagnostic and aerobic tests to ascertain fitness, endurance, muscle strength, and flexibility levels before prescribing a plan of action.
  • Communication
    The ability to effectively and clearly communicate various exercise science topics to diverse populations, in both speaking and writing.

Common Courses

  • Nutrition and Wellness
    Usually taken in the first semester, this course provides exercise science students with an understanding of how nutrition plays a role in overall health and fitness. The course examines nutritional principles and provides examples of proper food selection across the lifespan.
  • Resistance Training and Cardiovascular Fitness
    Students are introduced to the cardiac, musculoskeletal, and respiratory systems at the start of this course before building on the principles and techniques of building strength and endurance. After completing this course, you may be able to receive certification in Resistance Training and Cardiovascular Fitness.
  • Sport Performance Science and Coaching
    A great elective if you want to go into sports performance, this course provides an overview of topics such as absolute speed, acceleration, movement preparation, multidirectional speed, and plyometrics. Students also learn about specific exercises for regeneration.
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology
    Taking this course provides you with an overview of how the body works and what it needs to maintain homeostasis. Some of the topics explored include the metabolism, cardiovascular system, immunity, energetics, acid and electrolyte balancing, and fluid intake. It is often paired with a lab component.
  • Exercise Science Internship
    While not always required, this is typically done in the final year of your students and provides the opportunity to build hands-on skills prior to graduation. Internship placements depend on the area in the field you want to work and include schools, colleges, fitness centers, recreational centers, or sports rehabilitation facilities.

Can you earn an exercise science degree completely online?

Many online exercise science degree programs can be done without ever visiting campus, especially those that don’t require any type of internship or clinical component. Degrees that do include this requirement allow students to complete their hours at an approved facility near their place of residence.

How long does it take to earn an exercise science degree online?

How long you spend working towards your online exercise science degree depends on several important factors. The type of program you pursue matters greatly, as different degree levels have different timelines. Whether you enroll in a full-time, part-time, or accelerated program also matters as this can speed up or slow down your timeline. If unsure how long a specific program lasts or what type of enrollment options exist, you should check with the admissions coordinator to learn about your options.

How much does an online exercise science degree cost?

The cost of your online exercise science degree program can vary widely depending on a number of factors.  When looking at public vs. private schools, know that public schools tend to offer cheaper tuition. If you’re not sure whether to attend part-time or full-time, know that tuition remains the same, but you’ll end up paying more in semester-based fees if you decide to attend part-time. We sampled the tuition of three top exercise science programs to give you an idea of what to expect.

Maryville Uni

Maryville University

Bachelor’s in Exercise Science

Total Credits: 128 credits

$500/credit

Concordia St. Paul

Concordia St. Paul

B.A. in Exercise Science

Total Credits: 49 credits

$420/credit

George Washington Uni

George Washington University

M.S. in Exercise Science in Strength and Conditioning

Total Credits: 36 credits

$1,750/credit

How do I get into an online program in exercise science?

As with other components of online exercise science degree programs, the requirements for admission vary based on individual institutions but you will usually see commonalities as you look at more and more options. Common admission requirements include:

  • Related degree from an accredited institution
  • Official transcripts
  • Minimum GPA
  • Resume/Evidence of work experience
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal essay/statement of goals
  • GRE scores (for some master’s programs)
  • Interview
  • TOEFL scores for international students

It’s important to keep in mind that the competitiveness of these programs depends on individual institutions, how many students they accept, and how well regarded the degree is within the industry.

What careers does an exercise science degree lead to?

Completing an online exercise science degree provides you with the skills and credentials to take on several fascinating roles within the world of health and wellness. Some of these include:

  • Exercise Physiologist
    These individuals help clients working to overcome illness or injury by creating customized fitness plans.
  • Athletic Trainer
    Trainers often work in academic or professional sports and use their skills to prevent injuries and treat them when they happen.
  • Recreational Therapist
    Working in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and recreation centers, these therapists create recreational treatment plans for those overcoming illnesses, injuries, or disabilities.

Paying for Your Online Degree in Exercise Science

Finding ways to save money on your online exercise science degree is a worthwhile endeavor, especially since the cost of higher education continues to rise each year. Making use of scholarships, grants, fellowships, and assistantships can help save money while student loans can bridge the gap of your remaining balance. Here are your financial options.

1

Scholarships & Grants

Colleges and universities, health and wellness organizations, professional associations, foundations, and government agencies all provide a variety of scholarships and grants. Since these don’t need to be repaid, they should be your top option. You can learn more about scholarship and grant options via our guide.

2

Student Loans

Federal and state governments provide a variety of student loan options based on your degree level and whether you are dependent or independent of your parents/guardians. After exhausting other funding options, student loans can help you cover any remaining amounts.

3

Other Options

After filling out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you may qualify for work-study funding. This allows you to take a digital job at your university and earn an hourly wage. At the graduate level, you may qualify for research and/or teaching assistantships. These usually provide tuition remission and/or a stipend. Lastly, it may be possible that you find a paid internship or fellowship but know that these are always highly competitive.

Accreditation Standards for Online Exercise Science Degree Programs

Within the world of programmatic accreditation for online exercise science degree programs, there are several names to know. These include the National Association of Sports Medicine (NASM), the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), and the Committee on Accreditation for the Exercise Sciences (CoAES).

In addition to programmatic accreditation, you also need to ensure you find a college or university that maintains institutional accreditation. It exists in both national and regional forms, with the latter typically being more rigorous and favored by four-year institutions. National accreditation, conversely, is often sought by vocational colleges and trade schools. If unsure whether your school or program has accreditation, you can search the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Getting Your Professional License & Certification After Your Online Exercise Science Degree Program

Here’s what you need to know about licensure and certification for some of the top careers an exercise science degree can lead to.

  • Fitness Trainers & Instructors: A wide variety of certifications exist to help fitness instructors demonstrate their proficiencies in many different types of exercises. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies sets accrediting standards for certifying agencies and provides a list of approved organizations.
  • Coaches & Scouts: Certification requirements typically vary by employer, with many public high schools requiring coaching staff to be certified. Some colleges may also request candidates complete this step. The National Association of State Boards of Education provides information specific to individual states.
  • Recreational Therapist: After completing your bachelor’s degree and supervised internship, you can qualify to take the Certified Therapeutic Specialist examination provided by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. The council provides specialty certifications in physical medicine/rehabilitation, behavioral health, geriatrics, developmental disabilities, and community inclusion services.
  • Exercise Physiologists: Louisiana is the only state currently requiring exercise physiologists to hold licensure, but many professionals prefer certified professionals. Both the American Society of Exercise Physiologists and the American College of Sports Medicine provides options.

Careers & Salary Outlook for Exercise Science

The job market for exercise science degree graduates looks promising over the coming decade as more individuals focus on their health and wellbeing. Here’s what you can expect to earn in some of the most common careers for exercise science degree holder.

  • Fitness Trainers & Instructors: Roles for fitness instructors will grow much faster than the average for all jobs between 2019-2029 at 15%, leading to 57,600 new jobs.
  • Coaches & Scouts: More than 34,300 new coaching and scouting jobs are projected to join the U.S. economy, leading to a 12% growth in the career.
  • Recreational Therapist: Expect to see an 8% growth in recreational therapy jobs over the coming decade, increasing openings by 1,700.
  • Exercise Physiologists: Jobs for these professionals are projected to grow by 11%, leading to the creation of 2,200 new jobs.

How much can you make with an online exercise science degree?

Exercise science graduates may earn less than other individuals in the healthcare industry, but still bring home healthy pay each year. Those who possess certifications can typically command a higher salary than those who don’t. Here’s what to expect.

  • Fitness Trainers & Instructors: Average earnings for 2019 topped $40,390.
  • Coaches & Scouts: In 2019, these professionals brought home median salaries of $34,840.
  • Recreational Therapist: The median pay in 2019 for recreational therapists was $48,220.
  • Exercise Physiologists: Exercise physiologists earned median annual salaries of $49,170 in 2019.

Degrees Related to Exercise Science

After completing your online exercise science degree program, you may decide you want to pursue something a little different for your next degree. Plenty of related degrees exist in both campus-based and online formats, giving you lots of options to consider. Some of the most popular options are highlighted below.

Related Degrees to Consider

  • Kinesiology
    Studying kinesiology provides you with a knowledge of how human bodies move and how those movements can improve or weaken our health and fitness. They often help athletes determine how to improve performance outcomes. These programs exist at every academic level, with many offered through distance learning.
  • Exercise Physiology
    While similar to kinesiology, this degree focuses more on how our bodies respond to physical activities rather than what it takes for us to move in healthy ways. Associate through doctorate programs can be found both online and in-person.
  • Sports Management
    If you’re interested more in the administrative side of the health and wellness industry, a sports management degree could provide you the necessary education. These programs help you develop skills needed to manage athletes, act as a recruiter, and perform other business-level activities. You can attend an online or campus-based program.

Resources for Exercise Science Students & Professionals