Physical Education Degree Programs
Physical education (or PE) plays a core role in the curriculum in American K-12 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.
- There are 928 colleges and universities with physical education programs.1
- 136 schools offer a certificate in physical education.1
- 225 schools offer an associate’s degree in physical education.1
- 625 schools offer a bachelor’s degree in physical education.1
- 213 schools offer a master’s or advanced degree in physical education.1
For not-for-profit colleges and universities.
Table of Contents
- Physical Education Degrees and Certification
- Top-Ranked Physical Education Degree Programs
- Best Value Schools with On-Campus Physical Education Programs
- Best Value Schools with Online Physical Education Programs
- Select Physical Education Degree Programs
- Physical Education Degree Requirements and Coursework
- Additional Resources
- Frequently Asked Questions
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 physical education is to get a degree. Since a bachelor’s degree is typically the minimum requirement for becoming employed as a PE teacher, the majority of programs are found at the bachelor’s level, but the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports many PE programs at the associate and graduate levels as well.1 PE programs are often grouped with kinesiology, exercise science, or health studies degrees. Many bachelor’s in education programs offer a focus (also called specialization, concentration, specialty, or emphasis) in physical education, preparing teachers to become certified or endorsed in that area.
Like most other teachers, physical education teachers must become certified educators in their state 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.2
Top-Ranked Physical Education Degree Programs
Niche’s Best Schools with Physical Education Degrees 2020
- University of Michigan–Ann Arbor (#23; on campus)
- Emory University (#30; on campus)
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (#43; on campus)
- University of Texas–Austin (#51; on campus)
- William & Mary (#56; on campus)
- University of Wisconsin (#63; on campus)
- University of Georgia (#66; on campus)
- Brigham Young University (#78; on campus)
- Purdue University (#83; on campus)
- University of Minnesota–Twin Cities (#89; on campus)3
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 of the schools on our list are 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.
|School||Undergrad Degree(s)||Grad Degree(s)||US News Undergrad Teaching Rank4||US News National Rank5||Grad Rate1||Cost Per Grad Credit Hour||Net Price1|
|University of Washington-Seattle Campus||—||M.Ed. Intercollegiate Athletic Leadership||NR||#62 tie||84%||$756||$9,765|
|Purdue University||BS Health and Kinesiology||MS Health and Kinesiology;|
PhD Health and Kinesiology
|#23 tie||#57 tie||81%||$420||$11,898|
|Brigham Young University-Provo||BS Physical Education Teaching/Coaching K-12||Master of Athletic Training (MAT);|
MS Exercise Sciences;
PhD Exercise Sciences
|University of Wisconsin-Madison||BS Physical Education||MS Kinesiology||#76 tie||#46 tie||87%||$807||$14,169|
|University of California-Davis||Minor Coaching Principles & Methods;|
Minor Exercise Biology;
Physical Education Program (PHE)
|University of Maryland-College Park||—||Physical Education Master’s Certification Program (PE-MCERT)||NR||#64 tie||86%||$731||$16,790|
|University of Michigan-Ann Arbor||BS Applied Exercise Science||MS Movement Science;|
MS Sport Management;
PhD Movement Science;
PhD Sport Management;
Certificate Physical Activity & Nutrition (for PhD students)
|Ohio State University||Minor 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 tie||84%||$723||$18,694|
|University of Vermont||Minor Coaching;|
Minor Sports Management;
BSEd Sports Leadership and Physical Education
|MS Physical Activity and Wellness Science;|
Post-Baccalaureate Teacher Preparation (PBTP)
|University of Connecticut||BS Exercise Science||MS Athletic Training (MSAT)||NR||#64 tie||85%||$723||$1,811|
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 an undergraduate net price below $21,000. We have included degrees offered at the graduate level only (since very few undergraduate degrees in phys ed are offered online) along with US News & World Report 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.
|School||Grad Degree(s)||US News Undergrad Teaching Rank3||US News National Rank4||Grad Rate1||% Tenured Faculty5||Cost Per Graduate Credit Hour||Net Price1|
|University of South Florida||MA Physical Education||NR||#104 tie||73%||37%||$461||$10,460|
|SUNY Cortland||MSEd Physical Education;|
MSEd Physical Education Leadership
|University of Nebraska-Lincoln||MAEd Physical Education Master Teacher||NR||#139 tie||69%||55%||$367||$17,315|
|George Mason University||M.Ed. Curriculum and Instruction: Physical Education Concentration||#76 tie||#153 tie||70%||27%||$652||$19,064|
|Illinois State University||MS Kinesiology and Recreation (KNR): Physical Education Pedagogy||NR||#197 tie||69%||42%||$404||$19,489|
|Fresno Pacific University||Adapted Physical Education Added Authorization;|
MA Athletic Training;
MA Kinesiology: Physical Education Emphasis
|University of Alabama||MA Kinesiology: Sport Management P-12 Certification||NR||#153 tie||72%||30%||$420||$20,465|
|Canisius College||MSEd Physical Education||#28 tie||NR||68%||38%||$820||$20,542|
Select Physical Education Degree Programs
Ohio State University’s (OSU) College of Education and Human Ecology offers a Bachelor of Science in Education (BSEd) in Sports Coaching, Recreation, and Physical Education with an optional specialization in Physical Education Teacher Education that leads to becoming a licensed physical education teacher in preschool through grade 12. The program focuses on how to adapt physical education resources for children and adolescents at the elementary, middle, and high school levels as well as students with disabilities. Graduates will be able to help children develop their motor skills from a young age and encourage them to build a healthy lifestyle including physical activity. Field experience working in physical education in schools of all levels is required, and in the on-campus adapted activities lab, students will be able to work with children with disabilities. Core requirement courses include Concepts of Fitness and Wellness, Mental Performance for Youth Sports, Coaching Effectiveness, and Sociocultural Issues in Sport, Recreation & Physical Education. A minimum GPA of 2.75 is required for admission into the major and 120 total hours are required to graduate.
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 professors. 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 (ACSM) Certified Exercise Physiologist (EP-C) exam or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) Exam. Purdue also offers a master’s degree and a PhD in health and kinesiology.
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.
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 PreK 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 (WVU) 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).
Online and Hybrid Programs
George Mason University’s School of Kinesiology offers a fully-online Master of Education (M.Ed.) 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 M.Ed. 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 (NBPTS) and is designed to prepare future leaders in physical education.
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 to see if this degree will meet certification requirements since the built-in licensure is for Indiana. 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).
The Physical Education Department at the State University of New York College at Cortland (SUNY 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 include 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.
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 by taking two courses 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 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 (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 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.
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:
- Adapted Physical Education
- Anatomy and Physiology of Physical Education
- Assessment in Physical Education
- Concepts of Coaching and Officiating
- Introduction to Physical Education
- Organization & Administration of Physical Education Programs
- Physiology of Exercise
- Structural & Mechanical Kinesiology
- Teaching Health & Physical Education
- National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE): A nonprofit professional organization within SHAPE America that guides physical education teachers and others on physical education standards, professionalism, and technology.
- National High School Coaches Association (NHSCA): An organization dedicated to providing leadership and resources to high school athletic coaches and the programs they run.
- Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE America): National organization with over 200,000 professionals in health and physical education as members that provides the National Standards for K-12 Physical Education that offers guidelines for physical education programs in the United States.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Can I become a certified teacher 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 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.
*Price for Latter-day Saints students.
1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. Council for American Private Education (CAPE): https://www.capenet.org/facts.html
3. Niche Best Colleges with Physical Education Teaching and Coaching Degrees: https://www.niche.com/colleges/search/best-colleges-with-physical-education-teaching-and-coaching/
4. US News & World Report Best Undergraduate Teaching National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities/undergraduate-teaching
5. US News & World Report National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities
6. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/