Physical Education Majors Guide

What Does it Mean to Study Physical Education and Health?

An education degree in physical education and health is an important component of earning a position related to:

  • general exercise
  • recreation
  • games
  • sports
  • fitness
  • nutrition
  • hygiene

Though some of the program content for these degree programs quite literally involves “fun and games,” students seeking a physical education and health degree also enroll in serious academic courses on subjects such as kinesiology, morphology, and physiology (studies related to motion, body structure, and function). The science and art of teaching also play an important role in the curriculum of a physical education and health degree program.

Preparing for Physical Education and Health Studies

Before launching into a physical education and health degree program, a student should consider as many aspects of this career as possible. One way to do this is by asking coaches and P.E. teachers about the challenges and rewards of their position.

The courses that make up a physical education or health sciences curriculum may surprise some students. Most physical education and health programs include classes on the science of motion, function and body structure. The details of fitness, nutrition and hygiene receive critical context through more complex courses in various sciences. In other words, if you think going into health will allow you to ignore science classes, you should probably reconsider your approach.

It helps to be a “people person” in this career. Instructing pupils in gym classes or on a field requires interpersonal skills such as good communication, leadership and discipline. While teachers in other subjects may focus on a text or an abstract idea that can be thought out well in advance, instructors in physical education and health must engage their students in a personal, dynamic way that cannot really be scripted.

You should also consider the amount of public attention in the community that coaches often attract. Physical education and health majors should develop a level of comfort in the spotlight, especially when dealing with the news media, sports fans, booster clubs, etc.

Physical Education and Health Degree Programs

Online Degrees in Physical Education and Health

Students can take advantage of online degree programs in physical and health education, cutting down on campus commutes and residency requirements. These e-learning programs can be especially useful for working educators who don’t want to step off the tenure track in order to earn their degrees.

Even in this highly physical and experiential discipline, there is plenty of health-related theory and research that students should learn, which can be conveyed through an online degree program in physical education and health. Many online degree programs allow students to complete necessary residency and teaching requirements at nearby campuses or other facilities.

Certificate Programs in Physical Education and Health

A certificate program usually consists of a course or a series of courses designed to teach students about a specific field, such as exercise science or sports management. The curriculum for these programs can vary wildly, as different certificates specialize in different aspects of health and fitness. However, some of the more common topics to see in these programs are:

  • Curriculum planning
  • Mental health
  • Disease
  • Sexuality
  • Various other health issues

Associate Degrees in Physical Education and Health

Associate degree programs in physical education and health are often found at community colleges, where they can be taken by students who are looking to further their education, but aren’t ready or able to set aside four years for a bachelor’s program. Such situations might apply to trainers looking to earn specific certification; gym instructors; or fitness leaders program leaders. Some health education venues, such as public outreach organizations, may also accept associate’s degrees as sufficient qualification for a position.

Furthermore, students who have earned an associate degree may be able to return to school, even after an absence (i.e. to work and earn money for school), and transfer some, most, or even all of their associate degree credits into a bachelor’s degree program, as long as the credits are approved by the bachelor’s program.

Bachelor’s Degree Programs in Physical Education and Health

Although each college seems to offer a different title for this type of degree, a bachelor’s degree program in health and exercise generally focuses on the tools needed to teach these subjects in K-12 classes. Experienced coaches may qualify for employment in college athletic departments after earning this degree, although earning a master’s degree in a topic such as sport psychology or human movement might be preferred. Teaching college courses in this field requires an advanced degree in health education or a related field.

In addition to the core curriculum (math, science, English) required by most bachelor’s degree programs, a physical education and health degree program generally focuses on:

  • Learning how to analyze human performance
  • The effects of muscular and skeletal functions on performance
  • Kinesiology (human movement studies)

What Can You Do With a Physical Education and Health Degree?


From kindergarten to college, a physical education and health degree qualifies graduates to teach. Instruction involves not only gym or field time but often classroom instruction, depending on your specialty. Demand for online teaching grows every semester, affording talented instructors the opportunity to expand their scope by producing webcasts and videos of their lectures.


At one time or another, many graduates who have earned a physical education and health degree find themselves coaching. Often, teachers who coach receive supplemental pay for their extra time, especially at the college level.


Beyond the training required in both individual and team sports, physical education graduates may work as trainers in private gyms, aerobic centers, recreation centers and many other establishments, teaching others about performance analysis and movement study.

Performance Analysis

Many amateur and professional athletes search for an instructor or mentor or trainer who can break down their performance into its various components and analyze how they can increase speed or find more efficiency in their movements. A physical education and health degree can supply the required skills for this function.

Sports and Recreation Management

With a recreation or leisure studies degree, a graduate can coordinate of the myriad activities at a sports or recreation center, as well as in a municipal recreation program.


Especially at the doctoral level, a physical education and health degree can launch a research career. This career track appears most often in the field of kinesiology, or study of human movement.

Other Specialties

These include activities director, camp director, nutrition specialist, occupational exercise scientist, spa/health club manager, corporate fitness instructor, rehabilitation specialist, and many more.

Physical Education and Health Certification, Licensure and Associations

Before they can teach at the K-12 level, physical education and health majors must still participate in the usual certification processes required in their state and district. In addition, they may be required to receive special certification for some teaching or coaching jobs related to health or sports.

Many states have professional associations for teachers specializing in physical education and health. These and other associations supply teachers with information and encouragement on an ongoing basis. Some organizations for coaches and trainers include:

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