What Can You Do With an Exercise Science Degree?

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by Tessa Cooper

Updated April 25, 2022

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What Can You Do With an Exercise Science Degree?


Individuals with a passion for helping people achieve optimal health through movement often thrive in exercise science careers. An exercise science degree can lead to countless opportunities. Regardless of the degree level, these majors can benefit from careers with a positive projected job outlook.

The exact salary for these professionals varies. For starters, educational level can affect pay. Position type also influences salary. Common exercise science jobs include exercise physiologists, athletic trainers, and fitness trainers and instructors.

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This guide explores careers more in-depth and the general career outlook for this field.

How Much Does an Exercise Science Professional Make?

Exact pay for exercise science careers varies based on a few factors. For starters, years of experience can determine salary.

According to November 2021 data from Payscale, exercise physiologists with less than one year of experience earn an average of around $19 per hour. The same professionals with more than 25 years of experience earn nearly $26 per hour. For reference, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that the average pay for all health and education professionals is around $30 per hour.

Employer type plays a role in earning potential as well. Exercise science professionals working for small businesses may earn less than those working for bigger corporate companies.

Location also influences salary. Employers in large cities may pay more than those in rural towns.

What Jobs Can You Get With an Exercise Science Degree?

People with an exercise science degree have many options to choose from when it comes to career paths. In this section, we highlight the types of industries that offer jobs in exercise science. We also discuss the top exercise science jobs in general. Then, we note specific jobs for each degree level. We briefly mention some of the best locations to earn jobs with this degree as well.

Top Exercise Science Jobs

Exercise Physiologists

People working in this role oversee exercise programs to help clients enhance their health. They use data like health history, blood pressure, weight, and pulse to create a tailored plan. Around half of exercise physiologists work as self-employed individuals. Others work for medical offices or hospitals. They earn a median annual income of $50,280, as of May 2020. The BLS projects a job growth of 13% between 2020 and 2030 for these professionals.

Athletic Trainers

These professionals help athletes prevent and heal from injuries. They also provide emergency first aid during sports events and practices. About 38% of athletic trainers work for educational institutions. Athletic trainers earn a median annual income of $49,860, as of May 2020. The BLS projects a job growth of 23% between 2020 and 2030 for athletic trainers.

Fitness Trainers and Instructors

Fitness trainers and instructors lead workouts for individuals or groups. Around half of people working in this role work at fitness and recreational sports centers. These professionals earn a median annual income of $40,510, as of May 2020. The BLS projects a job growth of 39% between 2020 and 2030 for fitness trainers and instructors.

Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides

People working in these roles assist with exercises to help individuals regain movement after an injury or illness. These individuals mostly work in medical offices or hospitals. Others make visits to clients' homes. These professionals earn a median annual income of $49,970, as of May 2020. The BLS projects a job growth of 32% between 2020 and 2030 for physical therapist assistants and aides.

Kinesiotherapist

Kinesiotherapists use body-movement mechanics to help people who have difficulty moving. They assess a patient's current state. Then, they design an exercise treatment plan accordingly. These professionals also perform administrative tasks like recording patient data and ordering special equipment. They often lead group exercises, like aquatics workouts. Kinesiotherapists who work for federal veterans associations earn a base pay between $34,320 and $60,880.

Athletes and Sports Competitors

Professional athletes participate in organized and official sporting events. Around 42% work as self-employed individuals. At the same time, 36% work at spectator events. Athletes and sports competitors earn a median income of $50,850. The BLS projects a job growth of 38% between 2020 and 2030 for athletes and sports competitors.

Top Industries for Exercise Science Jobs

A degree in exercise science can lead to many opportunities. A variety of industries employ talented exercise science professionals. In this section, we highlight industries that often hire these graduates. We also discuss the median salary and job outlook for each.

Healthcare

Exercise science professionals who work in the healthcare industry may pursue jobs as physical therapists or kinesiotherapists. People in the healthcare industry — those working as practitioners and in technical occupations — earn a median annual income of $69,870, as of May 2020. The BLS projects employment in this industry will grow by 16% between 2020 and 2030. The BLS attributes this projected growth to an aging population and their need for increased healthcare services.

Entertainment and Sports

Exercise science graduates may decide to pursue jobs in the entertainment and sports industry. They work as professional athletes, athletic trainers, or coaches for leagues like the NFL or NBA. People working in the entertainment and sports industry earn a median annual income of $47,080, as of May 2020. The BLS projects employment in the field to grow by 22% between 2020 and 2030.

Education and Training

The education and training industry hires exercise science majors. Common jobs for these majors include coaching and athletic training on the high school or collegiate level. Other professionals in this industry may become personal trainers. People working in education, training, and library occupations earn a median annual income of $52,380. The BLS projects the industry to grow by 10% between 2020 and 2030.

Life, Physical, and Social Science

The life, physical, and social science industry also can provide job opportunities for exercise science majors. For example, individuals could pursue jobs as sports psychologists to help athletes perform their best. According to the BLS, people in this industry earn a median annual income of $69,760. The BLS projects this industry will grow by 8% between 2020 and 2030.

Personal Care and Service

Exercise science majors earn jobs in the personal care and service industry. Most commonly within this field, they work as fitness trainers and instructors. They may also work as recreation workers. People working in this industry earn a median annual income of $28,120, as of May 2020. The BLS projects this industry to grow by 22% between 2020 and 2030.

Top Locations for Exercise Science Jobs

The BLS provides data on which states hire the most exercise physiologists. Currently, Texas employs the most people in this field. The mean annual pay for this profession in this state is $50,610, as of May 2020. Other top states for exercise physiologists include Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and California.

Although other states may hire fewer exercise science professionals, they may pay more. For example, exercise physiologists in New York have the highest mean annual income at $68,740, as of May 2020. Nevada trails close behind at $66,470.

How to Start Your Career in Exercise Science

You may be able to begin your career in exercise science with a high school diploma. In fact, some entry-level jobs hire college students currently studying exercise science. For example, learners can earn part-time jobs as recreation worker assistants before becoming leaders at a recreation center with a bachelor's degree. Usually, most employers prefer at least a bachelor's degree.

Some jobs require more advanced degrees. Those more advanced jobs usually come with higher salaries. However, the job outlook sometimes isn't as strong.

What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Exercise Science?

A bachelor's in exercise science covers practical and foundational industry knowledge. This degree may qualify people for many non-healthcare jobs. More advanced positions in the medical field require at least a master's degree.

This degree covers topics like biomechanics and kinesiology. Learners also discover stress and fitness management basics, as well as nutrition.

It takes full-time students about four years to finish this degree. Here's a look at three exercise science jobs you may pursue with a bachelor's in exercise science.

Recreation Therapists

These professionals oversee activities that help people stay active at recreation centers, parks, and nursing facilities. Their goal is to lead fun, leisurely activities that benefit health. They also enforce safety rules and can administer first aid. Some recreation workers specialize in specific sports, like tennis or swimming.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $47,710


Coaches and Scouts

These workers lead professional and amateur sports teams. They design strategies and game plans. They also provide performance feedback to athletes and recruit top talent. This job requires a lot of weekend and night working hours. Many coaches and scouts work for educational institutions.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $36,330


Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials

People working in these roles help ensure athletes follow rules during sporting events. They also work to prevent coaches from interfering with the game. They handle participant complaints and oversee timeout requests. These professionals work many weekends and night hours. The exact educational requirements vary by employer type. More advanced positions usually require a bachelor's degree.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $28,940


What Can You Do With a Master's in Exercise Science?

A master's in exercise science can prepare students to work in movement-related medical positions. Students learn the science that guides the practice. Some master's programs require an undergraduate degree in a related field. Otherwise, applicants may need to take prerequisite courses before enrolling.

This degree takes most full-time learners two years to finish. Take a look at three jobs that graduates with a master's degree may pursue.

Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists help people improve or regain mobility for everyday tasks. These tasks include eating, getting dressed, and walking. Occupational therapists often work in nursing homes, hospitals, or schools. The BLS projects a 17% job growth for these professionals between 2020 and 2030.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $86,280


Rehabilitation Counselor

Rehabilitation counselors help people with physical, emotional, and developmental disabilities work toward independence. They often find employment in community rehabilitation centers and at centers for older adults. The BLS projects a 10% job growth for these professionals between 2020 and 2030.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $37,530


Physician Assistants

These professionals work on medical teams with physicians. They examine patients and diagnose health issues. Some physician assistants specialize in providing care for athletes. In fact, physician assistants often administer physical exams for student-athletes. The BLS projects jobs for these professionals will grow by 31% between 2020 and 2030.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $115,390

What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Exercise Science?

While earning a doctorate in exercise science, learners can conduct research that fills industry knowledge gaps. This type of degree offers a deep dive into the theories that influence the practice. Many people with this degree pursue jobs in the medical or higher education fields.

A doctorate in exercise science is the terminal degree for this field. It takes most people 4-6 years to finish this degree.

Some of the careers people with a doctorate in exercise science may pursue:

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists create care plans for patients and oversee the work of physical therapy assistants and aides. They primarily help sick and injured patients improve their range of motion. The BLS projects a 21% job growth for physical therapists between 2020 and 2030.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $91,010


Postsecondary Teacher

Graduates can become kinesiology or exercise science professors with a doctorate in this subject. According to the BLS, exact education requirements vary. However, most colleges and universities prefer to hire people with a doctorate. The BLS projects job growth for postsecondary teachers to increase by 12% between 2020 and 2030.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $80,560


Physicians and Surgeons

Certain physicians and surgeons specialize in providing care to athletes. They offer recommendations to prevent injuries and treat injuries in some cases. Physicians and surgeons must complete a residency in addition to earning a doctorate. According to the BLS, the projected job growth for these professionals will be 3% between 2020 and 2030.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $208,000


How to Advance Your Career in Exercise Science

Exercise science professionals can continue learning long after they earn their diplomas. Resources like virtual webinars and online scholarly journals make it possible. Putting an effort into lifelong learning allows people to advance in their careers.

Aside from earning a professional degree, individuals can learn more about this ever-changing industry through pursuing certifications and continuing education. This section highlights the benefits of these opportunities.

Certifications and/or Licensure

Earning certifications and licenses may create opportunities for even more job options. These accolades also can demonstrate advanced career knowledge to potential clients and employers. The requirements for certifications and licensure vary by position. For example, personal trainers have no legal obligation to earn a certification or license.

The American Society of Exercise Physiologists offers a chance to become certified. To earn this certification, professionals must pass an exam. This test covers topics like cardiac rehabilitation, exercise metabolism and regulation, and kinesiology. Professionals can also pursue a similar certification through the American College of Sports Medicine.

Continuing Education

Aside from earning additional certifications and licensure, exercise science professionals can continue their education in other ways. With more studies occurring each year, researchers constantly make new discoveries that have an impact on best practices for the field.

Joining professional organizations offers one way to stay on top of industry changes. Common organizations in this industry include the National Athletic Trainers' Association, the American Physiological Society, and the American Society of Exercise Physiologists. These organizations publish informative newsletters and bring professionals together through educational conferences.

In some scenarios, going back to school to earn an advanced degree may work as the best option to progress in the field. Many employers require advanced education, especially when it comes to exercise science jobs in the healthcare field. Other employers may cap raise earnings for people without a master's degree.

Frequently Asked Questions About Exercise Science Jobs

Is exercise science a good career?

Many people find exercise science jobs rewarding. These professionals make a positive difference in clients' lives. They also may earn a higher salary than the national average. For example, exercise physiologists earn a median annual income that is about $8,300 higher than the median annual income for all other occupations. Exercise science careers offer different work schedules. For example, people who don't want to work a typical 9-to-5 with this job can become self-employed fitness trainers. However, people who don't want to work nights and weekends can work a day shift at a recreational center or in a healthcare setting.

What exercise science jobs are in demand?

The BLS offers information on the career outlook for specific exercise science jobs. The average projected growth rate for all occupations between 2020 and 2030 is 8%. Luckily, many exercise science jobs could grow faster than this rate. For example, the BLS projects the job growth rate for athletic trainers will be 23% between 2020 and 2030. This is much faster than the projected rate for all occupations. Even more impressively, the BLS projects employment for fitness trainers and instructors will grow by 39% between 2020 and 2030. Job availability varies based on location. Aspiring exercise science professionals should research current job postings to familiarize themselves with the regional job market.

What are the highest-paying jobs in exercise science?

Exercise physiologists rank among some of the highest earners in this field. They earn a median annual income of $50,280, as of May 2020. To be an occupational therapist, you will need additional schooling, but these professionals earn even higher median annual salaries: $86,280. People with an exercise science degree can pursue careers in a variety of industries. These industries offer varying salaries as well. For example, the personal care and service industry offers a median annual income of $28,120, as of May 2020. At the same time, people working in the healthcare field earn a median annual income of $69,870. In general, jobs that require a master's degree or doctorate pay more than ones that just require a bachelor's degree.

Is exercise science an easy major?

The level of ease depends on personal skills and baseline knowledge. For example, learners who took anatomy and physiology in high school may find the foundational courses easier. Additionally, memorization of science-related topics may come easier to some students. Generally, students who prefer logical work rather than creative work find exercise science classes more enjoyable. However, all students must put in the effort to learn new concepts and keep up with demanding course paces. Some learners choose exercise science because they think it only involves practicing movements. However, students learn about the complex human body and the reasoning behind certain exercises.

Can I work in exercise science without a degree?

Some entry-level positions don't require formal higher education. The BLS reports people with a high school diploma can work as recreation workers. The same goes for fitness trainers and instructors. However, earning a degree may open even more opportunities in this field. Additionally, people may have more job opportunities in this field by earning certification. They can become certified personal trainers or performance enhancement specialists without formal education. No matter what, exercise science professionals should learn how to safely guide individual and group movements. This can happen through formal education or on-the-job training. These professionals have a responsibility to prevent injuries.


Feature Image: Tashi-Delek / E+ / Getty Images

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