Sports Science Majors Guide

Table of Contents

What Does it Mean to Study Sports Science?

The study of sports medicine and sports science involves applying medical and scientific principles to sports, exercise, and the ability of the body to perform physically. These two fields are broad and can lead to many different educational and career opportunities.

Exercise and sports science is the scientific study of physiology and biomechanics in relation to the ability of the human body to adapt to motion, movement, and physical activity. Because graduates of exercise and sports science programs generally have strong educational backgrounds, they may find work in both clinical and academic settings. Alternatively, a degree in sports science can also lead to career opportunities in fitness instruction, scientific research, and nutrition.

Sports medicine focuses more on the medical aspects of physical activity. Sports medicine professionals specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of injuries that happen during sporting events, athletic training and physical activities. Not only will your sports medicine degree likely involve courses in injury prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and management, but it will also involve understanding how illnesses and disease impacts health and physical performance. A degree in sports medicine can lead to career opportunities in athletic training, physical therapy, coaching, sports psychology and nutrition.

Regardless of your degree or specialization, as a sports scientist, manager or medical practitioner, you'll work with a team to help active people and athletes maintain optimal health and maximum performance.

Preparing for Sports Science and Sports Medicine School

Most professional careers in this field require a health or medical related college degree. Healthcare professionals specializing in sports draw heavily on the scientific knowledge and applied practice gained in a degree program. The best programs combine math, medical, and science courses with quality hands-on training. Before you make the decision to enroll in a sports science or sports medicine degree program, however, you should give careful consideration to your personal interests, your preferred learning format (on-campus or online) and your career goals.

Students are often drawn to the field of sports science and sports medicine because they have a love for sports. While this can certainly be a boon to your career, this should not be the primary motivation. You should also have a sincere interest in science and medicine and be willing to dedicate your studies to serving the needs of others.

Successful sports healthcare professionals enjoy helping others, have an affinity for physiology and science, and possess a strong commitment to advancing and improving the health and physical capabilities of others.

A degree in sports science or sports medicine will involve intense and advanced studies of biology, biochemistry, physiology, anatomy, and other fields of science and math. Strong foundational skills in the sciences will help you thrive in a sports science or sports medicine college degree program.

Job opportunities in the field are plentiful and diverse-it can often be difficult to decide exactly which aspect of sports science you would like to study. If you're having trouble deciding exactly which path to take, try shadowing sports healthcare professionals in the workplace. You can take this opportunity to ask the professional questions about the field. The professional you follow may be able to offer advice, guidance and ideas about job opportunities in the field. This can help you focus your own studies and choices.

In fact, the insights gained by gathering field experience could prove to be the most valuable information you get as you consider a career path. Actively engaging in this sort of career probing and shadowing is sure to provide a more thorough picture of future possibilities in the field of sports medicine and sports sciences.

Once you make the decision to pursue a career in this field, compare and contrast sports science and sports medicine degree programs to find the one that is most appropriate to your interests and goals. Performing this type of research is a valuable way to discover what you seek in a program. Using this research, you will also be able to generate a list of questions to ask admissions counselors. The more information you can gather about your options, the better informed your decision will be.

Types of Sports Science Degrees

Degree programs in sports and fitness help students develop the skills required by employers in the field. With many different concentrations available, students enjoy a variety of career choices. Whether you're new to the field or are a sports professional seeking credentials for a raise or promotion, career training in sports science, medicine or fitness can be extremely beneficial.

Online degree programs in sports and fitness are particularly appropriate for students who can't give up their jobs in order to study full-time. By completing courses online, students all over the world can earn a quality education, whether they live near a good college or not. Online sports science degrees enable students to fuse a personal desire to pursue a healthcare career with the information, training and skills necessary to function as essential figures in the fun and exciting field of sports science and sports medicine.

Students enrolled in a distance learning or online degree program in sports science and sports medicine virtually engage in online tutorials, web seminars, and interactive training. Degree programs which require clinical practice may require a brief residency, or may help the student arrange a local practicum.

Certificate Programs

Sports and fitness certificate programs are worthwhile options for both new students and current athletic trainers, nutritionists, and other professionals who want to develop a certain set of skills. Certificate programs teach students how to apply current physical and psychological theory to the world of sports. Some of the most popular online certificate programs focus on fitness or nutrition.

Most professional careers in this field require a college degree, but in many cases students can transfer the completed certificate credits toward an associate or bachelor's degree program.

Browse certificate programs in sports science and sports medicine.

Associate Degrees

Two-year associate degrees may provide a broad introduction to the fundamentals of sports science, or they may train you for a specific sector, such as exercise science, wellness and/or fitness. For more advanced careers, a bachelor's degree is typically required, but as with certificate programs, it may be possible to transfer your credits and shorten your time to degree. Associate degrees usually qualify graduates for entry-level positions in sports and fitness; many students choose to earn these degrees, move directly into the workforce and then earn a bachelor's degree part-time or online.

Browse associate degree programs in sports science and sports medicine.

Bachelor's Degrees

For most sports professions, a bachelor of science degree is the minimum requirement for employment. Generally, earning a B.S. in sports science or a related field requires four years of academic study. These degree programs emphasize the general concepts of physiology, medical science, nutrition, health and related training. Many schools offer different specializations such as physical therapy, medicine, athletic training and nutrition, among others. Online bachelor's degree programs in sports and fitness give students the opportunity to obtain a thorough education online, making it possible to earn a college degree from the comfort of home.

Browse bachelor's degree programs in sports science and sports medicine.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Sports Science?

The many different degrees available in sports and fitness lead, of course, to many different careers. All jobs in the field of sports medicine and sports science combine the efforts of athletes, coaches, and the spirit of sports competition with the necessity of quality medical and health treatment, management, and training. Healthcare professionals who work in sports medicine and science truly play an important role in all levels of athletic competition.

Athletic Trainers

An athletic trainer works with high school, college, and professional sports teams to treat, prevent, and manage the injuries of athletes. Educational requirements vary by location and type of position. In most states, however, athletic trainers must be licensed and must pass the National Athletic Trainers' Association certification examination.

Personal Trainers

A personal trainer typically works with an individual or a group interested in maximizing physical health, strength, and endurance. Physical trainers plan and supervise conditioning programs to improve a client's health or sports performance. Trainers can work independently or in a gym or health club setting. To work as a personal trainer, a college degree and certification, such as the ACSM or ACE, is a must.

Physical Therapists

The job of a physical therapist involves helping individuals rehabilitate from injuries or diseases of the muscles, joints, nerves, and bones. To qualify for this line of work, most physical therapy schools require an additional two to three years of education after college. A physical therapist must also pass a national examination to become licensed. Physical therapists generally find jobs in hospitals and clinics.

Strength and Conditioning Coaches

It is common for high school, college, and professional athletic teams to hire strength and conditioning coaches. Their main function is to develop and monitor a training plan that improves and enhances the agility, strength, endurance, flexibility, and power of athletes. Employment in this field usually requires a master's degree as well as certification by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Sports Medicine Physicians

A sports medicine physician is highly trained in the diagnosis and treatment of sports-related injuries. After medical school, a physician interested in sports medicine will get specialized training in sports medicine, orthopedics, cardiology, or other areas. Each has three to five years of internship and residency training and maybe an additional one to two years of fellowship training. Most sports medicine doctors are employed by professional teams, clinics, or hospitals.

Dietitians and Nutritionists

Nutritionists and dietitians guide athletes and individuals in planning and coordinating the best diet for their level of activity. These healthcare professionals study dietary patterns, metabolism, and nutrients for sports performance and disease prevention. They must obtain a degree in dietetics or nutrition. Dietitians and nutritionists find employment in many different settings, including hospitals, clinics, sports complexes, school systems, and public health facilities.

Exercise Physiologists

An exercise physiologist studies acute and chronic physiological responses and adaptations that result from differing levels of physical activity. Generally, exercise physiologists work in commercial, clinical, and workplace settings for the purposes of increasing the health, fitness, and quality of life of the general population. To work as an exercise physiologist, a student must obtain an undergraduate degree. A master's degree is often necessary, and obtaining certification is also important.

As athletes at the professional, college, and high school level continue to push their bodies to perform better, faster, and stronger -- and as the popularity of personal trainers and nutritionists increase -- there will be ample opportunities for employment in this healthcare field.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts job opportunities for fitness and recreation professionals will grow faster than average over the next decade, and job opportunities for athletes and coaches will also continue to grow. Physical therapists and athletic trainers will find that their job opportunities will grow faster than average, while careers for nutritionists and dieticians will grow at an average rate.

Sports Science Certification, Licensure and Associations

Certification in almost any area of sports medicine or sports science is a necessity. Students should certainly plan to obtain the certification available for their chosen field of sports medicine or sports science. The most popular sports certifications include: the Board of Certification (BOC) certification for athletic trainers, the American College of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer certification (cPT) and the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification.

Sports Science and Sports Medicine Associations and Certification Bodies:

Return to the top


"Athletic Trainers and Exercise Physiologists," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/athletic-trainers-and-exercise-physiologists.htm

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