How to Get a PhD in Sports and Fitness

If your ambition lies in the sports and fitness field, consider pursuing a PhD in sports and fitness. This versatile doctorate degree opens the door to a variety of career options, including sport marketing, coaching or teaching, fitness training, nutritional therapy, and sport management.

Doctoral students in sports and fitness study movement and human fitness at the highest level, culminating in original research that adds a new voice to the existing body of theory. By earning a PhD in health with a specialization in sports and fitness, you may prove your value to the industry you study.

PhD students across the full range of kinesiology specializations are interested in everything from sports education in schools, to anatomical health and wellness, to sports management and business and beyond. Begin your research into doctoral programs in sports and fitness, and you will understand the wide scope of the profession and its potential academic inquiries.

What Is a PhD in Sports and Fitness?

The PhD in sports and fitness, exercise science, or human performance challenges students to perform advanced research and theoretical discussion in a fitness category that interests them. A doctoral program in sports or human performance may emphasize one or more of the following subcategories:

  • Physical education
  • Clinical biomechanics
  • Exercise physiology
  • Motor control
  • Sport biomechanics
  • Sport management

PhD programs are generally designed to prepare students for research or academic jobs in sports and fitness academic departments. However, graduates are also known to move into the professional field as high-level researchers, consultants, or administrators.

Earning a PhD in Kinesiology

While still rooted in theory, a PhD in kinesiology is likely to focus more on the scientific, sociological, and psychological aspects of human movement. A kinesiology doctoral degree candidate might specialize in one of the following categories:

  • Biomechanics and neural control
  • Exercise physiology
  • Human factors/ergonomics
  • Motor learning/motor development
  • Sport and exercise psychology
  • Sport sociology
  • Adapted physical education

As with a PhD in exercise science or sports and fitness, the advanced kinesiology degree prepares students to research, teach, or work at a high level in the professional world.

Earning a Business PhD in Sport Management

Combining a high level of theoretical business training with sport management fundamentals, a PhD in sport management prepares students to become educators, academic athletic program administrators, and researchers. Here is a sampling of typical coursework in a sport management PhD program:

  • Management in sport and fitness environments
  • Budget and finance in sport organizations
  • Human resources management in sport environments
  • Facilities planning and management
  • Public relations and information systems in sport

Graduates deliver a thesis, showing their original research and contribution to the field of sport management, and enter the workforce as highly trained experts in the industry.

Alternative Sports and Fitness Doctoral Programs

If you’re interested in the marketing, communication, or education side of sports, a targeted doctoral degree program could offer the training that benefits your future career. Take a look at a few alternative doctoral programs related to sports and fitness:

  • PhD in sport marketing
  • PhD in sport communication
  • EdD in kinesiology

The PhD is generally considered a research-based degree, while an EdD focuses more on educational and administrative careers. For higher-education teaching, either a PhD or an EdD is considered appropriate.

Requirements for a PhD in Sports and Fitness

No two PhD programs are alike, as evidenced by the range of doctorate degree titles available. When it comes to prerequisites, doctoral programs continue to differ. Admission to a PhD program in sports and fitness may require some or all of the following requirements:

  • A Master of Science (MS) degree in the area of specialty
  • Professional experience in the sports and fitness industry
  • A minimum GRE score (verbal, quantitative, or analytical)
  • A TOEFL score (international students)
  • A minimum GPA for undergraduate and graduate coursework
  • Professional and academic letters of recommendation

In general, the more competitive a program is, the more likely that more of those requirements are requested from applicants. Contact the admissions department of each school to learn individual admission requirements.

Should You Pursue a Campus-Based or Online PhD in Sports and Fitness?

Choosing between an on-campus or online doctoral degree program means understanding your needs as a student and as a researcher. This decision can further personalize your doctoral degree experience. Take a look at some of the benefits of both campus-based and online doctoral programs:

  • Online EdD degrees in sports and fitness programs are a popular option, along with online PhD degrees in sport management and marketing, due in part to the relative lack of specialized research equipment required. An online doctoral degree program gives students the freedom to choose their own schedule for a self-paced learning environment. Students may even keep full-time jobs while earning an online doctorate.
  • Campus-based doctoral programs in sports and fitness have their own set of benefits. Students may enjoy face-to-face interaction from professors and peers, along with hands-on access to research laboratories. A doctoral program that includes a large research requirement may not offer an online doctoral equivalent.

The mode through which you earn your doctoral degree reflects on your strengths as a student. Self-motivated, independent workers may appreciate the freedom of an online doctorate, while those who benefit from teamwork and hands-on learning may thrive in a campus-based environment.

Accreditation for a PhD in Sports and Fitness

In the accreditation process, a third-party accrediting agency monitors a school’s academic rigor, faculty credential, and financial practices. When a school earns accreditation, it ensures the value of the degrees offered to students. Here are a few accrediting agencies that focus on sports and fitness educational programs:

  • Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE)
  • Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • National Association for Sport & Physical Education (NASPE)

Instead of or in addition to specialized accreditation, schools may opt to earn regional or national accreditation. As a potential student, it’s your right and responsibility to determine accreditation status at every college or university that interests you. Accreditation may assure that your education stands up to other accredited degree programs and is respected by professionals in the industry.

Researching PhD Programs in Sports and Fitness

As you begin your search for the doctoral program that best suits your career goals, you should be aware of the directories, rankings, and listing services that make your research easier. Here are just a few resources for anyone considering a doctoral program in sports and fitness:

  • The American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical Education maintains a listing and ranking of doctoral programs in kinesiology on its site. Under “Evaluation of Doctoral Programs,” potential students may find listings of current and ranked doctoral degree programs.
  • Use’s directory of online PhD degree programs in sports. Popular sport management and education degrees at all levels are covered in the directory. As a bonus, you can easily make contact with the degree programs that interest you.

By establishing a list of potential PhD and EdD programs, you can begin the process of focusing your options to the degree programs and schools that suit your research and educational goals. After determining the accreditation status of schools on your list, reduce your options to the strongest contenders. From there, it’s easier to further focus your scope.

Category Options Within PhD Programs in Sports and Fitness

Use the following categories to help narrow down your list of potential PhD and EdD programs in kinesiology, exercise science, sport management, and more. Each category is applicable to any doctoral program in the field:

  • Faculty: Consider faculty members with extensive research and publication credits to their name. In addition, faculty members with experience in the professional world of sports and fitness can offer a useful perspective to your own study. Pay special attention to faculty who have completed research that aligns with your own interests.
  • Program: The program requirements in a doctoral sports and fitness program can speak volumes to your own future career path. Consider programs with coursework and requirements that match your goals. Take elective courses, publication requirements, and coursework equally into account.
  • History: Consider the accreditation and academic history of a PhD in sports and fitness before you apply. New schools may lack the alumni achievement record held by older programs, but they may have merits of their own, such as current research technology and resources.
  • Alumni: The graduates of a sports and fitness program help determine how the program is considered in the industry. Ask department chairs or admissions representatives for more information on alumni groups within the sports program that interests you. Moreover, active alumni may have a networking benefit for your future career.
  • Admissions: Competitive programs are likely to require more from potential students, while newer or lower-ranked schools may have a lower standard of requirements. Apply to schools that welcome your skills, and you’ll be more likely to garner a positive response from the admissions departments.
  • Community: A school’s community can mean the difference between an active, engaged student body and a more individually focused experience. Whatever your preference, look for doctoral programs that seem to match your personality.

Considering the qualities above can easily rule out programs that don’t fit with your goals as a student. From there, a condensed list helps save you time and money in the applications process. Researching individual schools is an essential part of being an informed student. As a reward, you can enter your doctoral study with confidence.

Use the Research Tools at

Learn more about a PhD in sports and fitness at The site offers free and helpful resources that work to make your degree research easier. Take a look at just a few of the pages found at the site:

  • Financial Aid. Find out more information about government grants and loans, specialized fitness and health scholarships, and more.
  • Guide to College Majors. Discover majors and minors related to sports and fitness as well as other majors at all degree levels.
  • Education Resources. Find general facts on accreditation along with information about campus-based and online PhD programs.

The materials at help you make an active and informed decision about your educational future. Consider the site to be the first step on your academic journey.

Becoming a Part of the Sports and Fitness Community

Making the leap to become an active professional in the sports and fitness community begins with a doctoral degree, but it doesn’t end there. Get active in the academic community by joining professional organizations, contributing to professional journals, and attending conferences that match your research interests.

In addition, joining the community may mean meeting other sports and fitness professionals and networking with them, which can result in valuable job opportunities. Here are just a few resources within the kinesiology, exercise science, and sports management fields:

  • Professional Organizations: International College of Applied Kinesiology, Touch For Health Kinesiology Association, Kinesiology Federation of UK, North American Society for Sport Management, and American Society of Exercise Physiologists
  • Academic Journals: International Journal of Exercise Science, Journal of Exercise Physiology, Athletic Therapy Today, The American Journal of Cardiology, Clinical Exercise Physiology, Coaching Science Abstracts, International Journal of Sport Nutrition, and Journal of Sport Management
  • Conferences: North American Society for Sport Management Conference, 6th Annual International Conference on Kinesiology and Exercise, International Kinesiology Conference, and American Society of Exercise Physiologists National Conference

Earning your EdD or PhD in sports and fitness gives you a chance to make a relevant, original contribution to the field you love. The experience goes far beyond a simple degree; your skills and knowledge have real value in the community.



  • American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical Education
  • Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education
  • North American Society for Sport Management
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