What Is a Kinesiology Degree?

Required coursework, job prospects, and average salaries for graduates

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Kinesiology is a popular undergraduate major focused on human movement and wellbeing. The field covers a broad range of activities, including sports, exercise, work, and day-to-day living. The field is interdisciplinary but has strong grounding in the biological sciences, and graduates tend to enter health-related professions.

Key Takeaways: Kinesiology

  • Kinesiology majors study human movement and wellness, and they tend to get jobs related to rehabilitation, fitness, and athletics.
  • Coursework for a bachelor's degree will have a heavy emphasis on biology, but chemistry, physics, math, and psychology are also important.
  • Job prospects for kinesiology majors are excellent with faster-than-average growth predicted for the field.

Careers in Kinesiology

Many kinesiology majors go on to master's and doctoral degree programs that prepare them for licensure in a range of allied health careers. Other students find jobs without advanced study. A degree in kinesiology will typically lead to a career related to exercise, athletics, or physical therapy. Below are just a few examples of career paths for kinesiologists.

Physical Therapist: Physical therapists are healthcare professionals who help sick or injured patients gain mobility and perform tasks with manageable pain. Work can range from helping a stroke victim regain use of limbs to rehabilitating an athlete after an injury.

Occupational Therapist: This is one of the fastest growing career options for kinesiologists, and it also has strong earning potential. Occupational therapists work with patients to assess their ability to perform essential daily tasks and then develop a rehabilitation plan to improve motor skills and mobility. Occupational therapists typically need an advanced degree, and a license is often required.

Exercise Physiologist: Exercise physiologists are health professionals who often work with patients who have chronic health challenges such as diabetes, lung problems, or heart disease. The goal is to develop exercise programs to improve health while carefully monitoring the patient's response to exercise.

Personal Trainer: Unlike exercise physiologists, personal trainers rarely work within the medical field. They work privately with clients to help them achieve their personal fitness goals.

Fitness Instructor: Like a personal trainer, a fitness instructor typically works outside of the healthcare system. Employers include gyms and recreation centers, and work can range from teaching classes in yoga to cardio kickboxing.

Coach: While a coaching career will require expertise in a sport, a kinesiology degree can provide an excellent skillset for a coach because of its emphasis on physical conditioning, weight training, and the prevention of injuries.

College Coursework for a Kinesiology Degree

The required coursework for earning a bachelor's degree in kinesiology will vary from school to school, and bachelor of arts programs will have a less specialized curriculum than bachelor of science programs. That said, many professions related to kinesiology and exercise science require examinations and licensing grounded in specialized information common to all programs.

Kinesiology is a multidisciplinary field because of the complexity of the human body. Students will need to take core courses in math, chemistry, biology, psychology, and physics. More specialized coursework typically includes:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Sport psychology
  • Biomechanics of human movement
  • Exercise physiology
  • Motor control principles and theory
  • Social psychology of physical activity

Finally, because kinesiology majors almost always have careers working directly with patients or clients, strong interpersonal skills are essential. Programs will often have requirements related to oral and written communication skills.

Best Schools for Kinesiology

Hundreds of colleges and universities offer a major in kinesiology or exercise science, but the schools below have popular programs that often top the national rankings.

Arizona State University: ASU's downtown Phoenix campus is home to the College of Health Solutions, where kinesiology majors learn alongside aspiring nurses, physicians, and others interested in health professions. Most majors go on to earn advanced degrees.

Indiana University-Bloomington: With nearly 400 students earning degrees in the field annually, kinesiology is the third most popular major at Indiana University. Students can choose between a focused exercise science degree and a more interdisciplinary sport marketing and management degree.

Michigan State University: Located in East Lansing, MSU graduates hundreds of kinesiology majors each year. The program takes advantage of the university's numerous centers and research facilities, including the Center for Physical Activity and Health, Human Energy Research Laboratory, and Institute for the Study of Youth Sports.

Penn State: At the main campus located in State College, Pennsylvania, Penn State's kinesiology program is housed within the College of Health and Human Development. This popular major focuses on the social and psychological dimensions of health in addition to physical health.

SUNY Cortland: The smallest university on this list, SUNY Cortland has a highly regarded kinesiology department that offers majors in coaching, exercise science, fitness development, and sport studies.

Texas A&M University: With over 3,000 undergraduate students, the Department of Health and Kinesiology enrolls more students than any other academic unit at the university. The department offers a broad range of concentrations including dance science, exercise physiology, motor behavior, and sport science.

University of Florida: Located in Gainesville, UF's Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology is home to the Center for Exercise Science, a major research center that hosts a seminar series and supports numerous laboratories related to human motion and health. Students in the BS program often go on to earn advanced degrees in therapy or medicine.

University of Iowa: With roughly 500 students earning a degree each year, Iowa's BA in Health & Human Physiology is the most popular major at the university. Students can concentrate in exercise science, health promotion, or health studies.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: UNC's undergraduate program in Exercise Science and Sport Science emphasizes hands-on learning through the university's numerous teaching and research labs dedicated to the study of exercise, movement, physiology, and sports medicine.

Average Salaries for Kinesiology Majors

Payscale.com lists the average salary for those who graduated with a BS in kinesiology as $61,010. Those with a BA in kinesiology have an average salary of $64,331. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides data based on different career paths for kinesiology majors. Exercise physiologists had a median pay of $49,170 in 2019, and fitness trainers had a median pay of $40,390. Professions that require schooling beyond a bachelor's degree have higher median annual pay: $89,440 for physical therapists and $84,950 for occupational therapists. The job outlook for nearly all professions related to kinesiology is good with growth over the next decade predicted to be significantly higher than average.