Online and Campus Physical Education Degree Programs

Physical education (or PE) plays a core role in the curriculum in American schools, and with a nationwide effort to fight obesity and to promote a healthier way of living for today’s generation, PE has also become one of the most important classes. Because of the ever-growing importance of physical education to current and future generations, the need for qualified, educated physical education teachers has risen. To learn more about how to become a physical education teacher, see our career guide.

Physical Education Degrees & Certification

A physical education degree can be the first step in a rewarding, lifelong career for those with a passion for teaching and helping shape students’ lifestyles. The first step to a career in phys ed is to get a degree. Choosing the right physical education degree program for you depends upon your career goals and whether you want to study on-campus or online. The time you invest in researching your options now will improve your chances of choosing the best school for you. Like most other teachers, physical education teachers typically must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and become certified before they can begin working in the public school system. While about 75% of all schools in the US are public and require certification, some private schools may not require certification for teachers.1 Since a bachelor’s degree is typically the minimum requirement for becoming employed as a PE teacher, the majority of US programs are found at the baccalaureate level, but the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports many PE programs at the graduate level as well.2

Every college and university, whether on-campus or online, is different when it comes to the physical education degrees offered. Some PE programs culminate in a health studies degree, which means students will also focus on health topics, giving them the opportunity to teach health classes as well.

Best Value Schools with On-Campus Physical Education Programs

The table below shows the best value schools offering a program in physical education at the undergraduate and/or graduate level. All schools are public or private and not-for-profit, and have an undergraduate graduation rate of 75% and above and an undergraduate net price of less than $20,000. For comparison, we have also included the cost per credit hour for graduate programs at applicable schools, the programs offered, and US News & World Report rankings. While we include in-state cost per credit hour, be sure to check with each school because most schools charge more for out-of-state students.

SchoolUndergrad Degree(s)Grad Degree(s)US News Undergrad Teaching Rank3US News National Rank4Grad Rate2Cost Per Grad Credit HourNet Price2
University of Washington-Seattle CampusM.Ed. Intercollegiate Athletic LeadershipNR#62 tie84%$756$9,765
Purdue University-Main CampusBS Health and KinesiologyMS Health and Kinesiology;
PhD Health and Kinesiology
#23 tie#57 tie81%$420$11,898
Brigham Young University-ProvoBS Physical Education Teaching/Coaching K-12Master of Athletic Training (MAT);
MS Exercise Sciences;
PhD Exersixe Sciences
NR#77 tie86%$430*$13,120
University of Wisconsin-MadisonBS Physical EducationMS Kinesiology#76 tie#46 tie87%$807$14,169
University of California-DavisMinor Coaching Priciples & Methods;
Minor Exercise Biology;
Physical Education Program (PHE)
#61 tie#3986%N/A$15,724
University of Maryland-College ParkPhysical Education Master’s Certification Program (PE-MCERT)NR#64 tie86%$731$16,790
University of Michigan-Ann ArborBS Applied Exercise ScienceMS Movement Science;
MS Sport Management;
PhD Movement Science;
PhD Sport Management;
Certificate Physical Activity & Nutrition (for PhD students)
#13#25 tie92%$1,442$16,856
Ohio State University-Main CampusMinor Coaching Education;
Minor Physical Activity Specialist;
Licensure Health Education;
BSEd Exercise Science Education;
BS Health Promotion, Nutrition and Exercise Science;
BS Physical Education, Sport and Physical Activity;
BS Sport Industry
MS Kinesiology, Physical Education;
Ed.D. Kinesiology, Physical Education;
PhD Kinesiology, Physical Education
#23 tie#54 tie84%$723$18,694
University of VermontMinor Coaching;
Minor Sports Management;
BSEd Sports Leadership and Physical Education
MS Physical Activity and Wellness Science;
Post-Baccalaureate Teacher Preparation (PBTP)
NR#121 tie76%$683$19,261
University of ConnecticutBS Exercise ScienceMS Athletic Training (MSAT)NR#64 tie85%$723$1,811

See Table Notes and References at bottom of page.

Best Value Schools with Online Physical Education Programs

To help you find an online physical education degree that is right for you, we have put together the following table using the same criteria as above, except the schools below have a graduation rate of above 65% at the undergraduate level and a net price below $21,000. We have also included the degrees offered at the graduate level (very few undergraduate degrees in phys ed are offered online), US News rankings, percentage of faculty with tenure, and cost per in-state graduate credit hour. Keep in mind that some schools do charge more for out-of-state students, even for their online programs.

SchoolGrad Degree(s)US News Undergrad Teaching Rank3US News National Rank4Grad Rate2% Tenured Faculty5

Cost Per Graduate Credit HourNet Price2
University of South Florida-Main CampusMA Physical EducationNR#104 tie73%37%$461$10,460
SUNY CortlandMSEd Physical Education;
MSEd Physical Education Leadership
#17 tieNR71%30%$544$16,386
University of Nebraska-LincolnMAEd Physical Education Master TeacherNR#139 tie69%55%$367$17,315
George Mason UniversityM.Ed. Curriculum and Instruction: Physical Education Concentration#76 tie#153 tie70%27%$652$19,064
Illinois State UniversityMS Kinesiology and Recreation (KNR): Physical Education PedagogyNR#197 tie69%42%$404$19,489
Fresno Pacific UniversityAdapted Physical Education Added Authorization;
MA Athletic Training;
MA Kinesiology: Physical Education Emphasis
University of AlabamaMA Kinesiology: Sport Management P-12 CertificationNR#153 tie72%30%$420$20,465
Canisius CollegeMSEd Physical Education#28 tieNR68%38%$820$20,542

See Table Notes and References at bottom of page.

Profiles of Traditional Physical Education Degree Programs

Indiana Wesleyan University

Indiana Wesleyan University offers a Bachelor of Science (BS)in Physical and Health Education that can lead to a teaching license in P-12 physical education and middle to high school health. The program emphasizes the health of school-age children and methods of countering negative conditions including obesity and sedentary lifestyles through the teaching of movement skills and health concepts. An optional minor in coaching can be added to the degree program. The teaching certification track includes a practicum in elementary physical education, in which students complete a field experience in a school classroom. The majority of program courses are led by faculty who hold doctoral degrees in education and the health sciences. The Bachelor of Science in Physical and Health Education meets the standards set by the Indiana Department of Education, American Association for Health Education, and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

Purdue University

Purdue University’s Department of Health and Kinesiology (HK) offers a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Health and Kinesiology (which recently replaced the Bachelor of Science (BS) in Athletic Training) that prepares students to attend graduate school or professional school or to be sport instructors, personal trainers, and fitness coordinators. The BA uses experiential learning such as a hands-on lab, a departmental study abroad opportunity, and research experience with a professor. Coursework is taken in chemistry, physics, biomechanics, sport and exercise psychology, exercise physiology, applied clinical anatomy, and public health studies. Students may choose an optional concentration in Clinical Exercise Physiology, which replaced the school’s Applied Exercise and Health degree, and prepares students to be entry-level exercise specialists and/or pass the American College of Sports Medicine Certified Exercise Physiologist (EP-C) exam or the National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) Exam. Purdue also offers a master’s degree and a PhD in health and kinesiology.

University of Texas at San Antonio

The University of Texas at San Antonio awards the Bachelor of Science (BS) in Kinesiology with a Physical Education Concentration to students who complete its 120-credit-hour program. Graduates obtain the skills and knowledge necessary to obtain certification in teaching physical education from pre-Kindergarten to grade 12. Courses in individual activities, team sports, motor development, and exercise physiology provide students with a firm foundation in kinesiology for physical education instruction. In the final semester of study, students complete a student teaching field experience of full-day teaching in the certificate area sought, supplemented by seminars in teaching practice and related issues. Qualified students may enter the Department Honors program for opportunities for advanced study. A 15 credit hour certificate in Athletic Coaching can be added to the standard curriculum for students interested in coaching careers. The department also offers 18 credit hour minors in community health and wellness.

University of Vermont

At the University of Vermont, the Department of Education offers a Teacher Education program in Physical Education culminating in a Bachelor of Science in Education (BSEd). The 120-credit program requires coursework in general education as well as classes like Kinesiology, Exercise Physiology, Sport in Society, Exercise and Sport Science, Motor Skill Learning and Control, and the Philosophy of Coaching. The specialty courses are focused on “Moving and Learning” to provide a background to the field and students learn teaching skills that will allow them to work effectively with children of all ages. The program qualifies graduates to become licensed teachers in pre-K through grade 12. The program includes real-world laboratory experiences in schools, and students can choose to pursue a concentration in Exercise and Sport Science and a Coaching minor. The University of Vermont also offers a Post-Baccalaureate Teacher Preparation (PBTP) program for students who already have a bachelor’s degree and wish to become licensed as PreK-12 physical education teachers. Undergraduate minors in Coaching and Sports Management are also offered.

West Virginia University

West Virginia University offers a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Physical Education and Kinesiology through its College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences. This degree program provides students with a comprehensive skill set in physical education and leads to state-level teaching certification at the elementary and/or secondary levels in both physical education and health education. Graduates may also find career opportunities in student health and athletic coaching. The professionally-oriented coursework includes learning across developmental levels and differing student populations for a well-rounded understanding of physical education. Courses are sequenced to provide an integrated learning experience. Students may also be interested in adding one of the school’s physical education minors to their degree plan, such as adventure sports leadership, athletic coaching, group fitness, and personal training. The program is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).

Profiles of Hybrid and Online Physical Education Degree Programs

George Mason University

George Mason University’s School of Kinesiology offers a fully-online Master of Education (MEd) in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Physical Education. Designed for current teachers in health and physical education with at least one year of experience, this MEd degree includes core courses such as Education and Culture, Designing and Assessing Teaching and Learning, and Inquiry into Practice as well as concentration courses in Research Design and Statistical Reasoning, Curriculum and Assessment in Physical Education, and Mentoring and Supervising in Physical Education. Electives are also offered in Instructional Design, Advanced Exercise Physiology, Exercise and Sport Psychology, and more. A total of 30 credits are required for the degree, 12 of which are core courses and 18 of which are concentration courses. Coursework in the program is aligned with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and is designed to prepare future leaders in physical education.

Indiana Wesleyan University

Indiana Wesleyan University’s Transition to Teaching (TTT) program offers two pathways of interest to prospective physical education teachers: an endorsement in Physical Education or Health Education in grades P-12. To be eligible for admission, students must already hold a bachelor’s degree in any field. Out-of-state candidates should check with their state’s board of education since the licensure will be for Indiana upon graduating from the program. All courses take place online, though students must complete field experiences and a student teaching semester within the state of Indiana. The program is designed to be completed in 18 to 24 months. Courses in the program include Educational Psychology and Diversity for Secondary Educators; Assessment and Learning Processes in the Secondary Classroom; and Secondary Teaching Methods and Resources. All education programs at Indiana Wesleyan University are accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).

SUNY Cortland

The Physical Education Department at the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Cortland offers several programs in physical education, two of which are offered in a hybrid or online format. SUNY Cortland’s Master of Science in Education (MSEd) in Physical Education Leadership (PEL) is available in a fully-online format, aside from one two-week summer requirement that must be taken on campus. The MSEd in PEL prepares leaders and advocates for change in the profession and future physical educators employed in K-12 programs in New York and beyond. The program also prepares graduates for certification in New York State. SUNY Cortland also offers an MSEd program in Physical Education (PEC) with concentrations in Adapted Physical Education (ADPE) and Coaching Pedagogy (COAP); only the Coaching Pedagogy concentration can be taken in a hybrid format. The COAP concentration is taken over three consecutive summers and emphasizes coaching and teaching physical education, research methods, and the application of technology. Related on-campus traditional programs are a Master of Science for Teachers (MST) in Physical Education and a Bachelor of Science in Education (BSEd) in Physical Education with concentrations in Adapted Physical Education and Outdoor Adventure Education.

University of Arkansas

The University of Arkansas offers an online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Physical Education that is designed for currently certified teachers. This 100% online teacher education program can be completed in two years, with two courses offered online each semester. The program is designed to provide advanced training in health and physical education, with courses such as Professional Issues in Physical Education and Sport; Supervision in Physical Education; and Sport Skill Assessment and Instructional Strategies. An independent study capstone allows students to develop an in-depth research project on a topic of their choosing within physical education. To be considered for admission, students must have a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology or a related field and have a GPA of at least 3.0. The M.Ed. in Physical Education at the University of Arkansas is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). The program has also been ranked among the best online graduate education programs by US News.

Western State Colorado University

Western State Colorado University (WSCU) offers a fully-online teacher licensure program designed for prospective first-time teachers in Colorado who already hold a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology or a related field. During a one-year residency, students intern under a mentor teacher for 24 hours per week while taking online courses towards a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Physical Education. During the residency, students progress towards becoming an independent lead teacher and will teach full-time for the final five weeks of this segment of the program. Following initial licensure after the first year, students may elect to continue studying online to earn a further 16 credits to complete the master’s degree in education. In addition to a K-12 endorsement in physical education, this program can lead to endorsements in a range of other subject areas. In total, the program requires 33 credit hours and two years to complete. Courses include Creating Effective Online Learning Environments; Curriculum Development and Assessment; and Research and Critical Inquiry for Leaders.

Physical Education Degree Requirements and Coursework

Physical education degree programs are typically designed for those who wish to teach physical education, coaching, and related subjects in grades K-12. Certain degree programs may also prepare students to teach physical education at the adult level. Graduates may become teaching certified for entry-level careers or pursue graduate study in physical education or other education subject areas.

The curriculum for a physical education degree program involves learning about the human body, health, fitness, and education theory to prepare to teach students with diverse needs and abilities.

Some examples of typical courses in a physical education degree program include (ordered roughly from least to most advanced):

  • Introduction to Physical Education
  • Teaching Health & Physical Education
  • Organization & Administration of Physical Education Programs
  • Assessment in Physical Education
  • Anatomy and Physiology of Physical Education
  • Structural & Mechanical Kinesiology
  • Physiology of Exercise
  • Adapted Physical Education
  • Concepts of Coaching and Officiating

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) recommends that PE students take health-related courses and also obtain any health certifications available to them to increase their marketability and ability to teach in the gym and in the classroom.

Teaching and Education Programs

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Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Can I become teacher certified with a physical education degree?

Answer: Most degree programs in physical education include courses preparing students to become certified to teach at the state level as part of the curriculum, producing qualified teachers specializing in physical education. Check with your state’s board of education for a list of programs that will qualify you for certification.

Question: What career roles does a physical education degree lead to?

Answer: A degree in physical education can lead to teaching roles in athletic coaching and training, physical education, and sport activities in K-12 and adult school settings. Graduates may also find careers teaching in recreation programs and fitness centers.

Question: How long does a degree in physical education take to complete?

Answer: A bachelor’s degree in physical education typically takes four years to complete full time, while a master’s degree in physical education takes around one to two years to complete.

Question: Are online physical education degrees available?

Answer: Yes, many schools offer physical education degrees online. Students pursuing teaching certification can find usually find local field experience placement assistance through their departmental advising office. Many students opt to pursue an online degree in physical education because of its convenience and flexibility. Regardless of whether you choose an on-campus or online PE program, being diligent and conducting research will help you choose the best program for your career goals.

Table Notes and References:
*Price for Latter-Day Saint students.

1. Council for American Private Education (CAPE): https://www.capenet.org/facts.html
2. National Center for Education Statistics: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
3. US News & World Report Best Undergraduate Teaching National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities/undergraduate-teaching
4. US News & World Report National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities
5. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/