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Students with a passion for health and fitness that they’d like to share with others can use an online bachelor’s in physical education to work as a fitness trainer or teacher. This degree incorporates elements of human physiology and development with teaching theory and exercise science so participants can convey fitness and wellness principles to people of all ages, especially youngsters and teens.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth of 19% (much faster than average) for fitness trainers and instructors from 2021 to 2031, with a median annual salary of about $41,000. This data shows the field of community health education specialists growing at 12% during these years, with a median yearly salary in 2021 of about $49,000. Meanwhile, the BLS projects 4% job growth for kindergarten, elementary school, and middle school teachers and 5% for high school teachers, all with a median annual salary in 2021 of about $61,000.

An online bachelor’s in physical education requires about 120 credits. Most students complete a bachelor’s degree over four years, but this depends on how many credits you take per semester. As for tuition costs, schools charge anywhere from about $170 to roughly $500 per credit, depending on whether you’re an in-state or out-of-state student. Generally, undergraduate tuition for two- and four-year programs cost an average of about $14,000 a year for 2020-2021 (the most recent statistics available).

How to Choose an Online Bachelor’s in Physical Education Degree Program

Choose your area of study

The first step in choosing an online bachelor’s in physical education program is deciding on goals. While this degree is required to become a licensed physical education teacher, students might want to specialize in specific topics, such as nutrition, injury prevention, the mind-body connection, or team sports coaching. They should select a school that aligns with this specialty.

Research schools and programs

As you research programs and schools, consider whether a reputable entity accredits the school. Students pursuing an online bachelor’s in physical education to become teachers should be aware that their teaching license will require that they hold a degree from an accredited school. Accreditation impacts whether the school receives federal financial aid and ensures that the program meets specific educational standards. Many schools are accredited through the U.S. Department of Education, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, or a regional organization such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Because of the teaching element, even an online program will have the capacity for on-site fieldwork or a student teaching rotation. Where does this take place at each potential school?

You’ll also want your educational experience to be as well-rounded as possible. What support services for online students does the school offer? Are there networking opportunities available? The school’s website, social media profiles, and marketing materials often have this information. Students can also talk with program representatives to get answers to these questions.

Prepare for tests and applications

Each program varies in its application requirements and process. However, most bachelor’s degree programs in physical education require:

  • A high school transcript or GED test scores
  • Standardized test scores from the SAT or ACT
  • A personal essay or letter of intent outlining the student’s goals
  • Letter(s) of recommendation

Depending on the program’s focus to which you’re applying, there might be other prerequisites, such as studying one year of a foreign language, laboratory science, social sciences, or math.

Select your program

Some students apply to a single program tailored to their interests and needs, while others submit multiple applications to increase their chances. Whatever you choose, most schools charge an application fee, which can add up if you apply to several schools. If you need financial assistance, contact the school to ask about a fee waiver.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Every school with an online bachelor’s in physical education program specifies the financial support students can receive, including work-study, fellowships, scholarships, grants, and assistantships. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines eligibility for federal student loans and need-based institutional aid. Students interested in teaching from kindergarten through high school can also check out financial programs for prospective teachers, such as the TEACH Grant Program.

Working students can check if their employer will cover some costs through employer tuition assistance benefits. For more detailed information about how to pay for your degree, talk with the school’s Financial Aid office.

Best 50 Accredited Online Bachelor’s in Physical Education Programs

Best Online Bachelor's in Physical Education Programs Badge

University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Eastern New Mexico University

William Carey University

University of Arkansas at Little Rock

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How we rank schools

This list features some of the best online bachelor’s in physical education programs at top colleges nationwide. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for post-secondary institutions. Many schools on our list have been accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) or the  Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

We evaluated each school’s program on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, reputation, and the student resources provided for online students. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared this comprehensive list of online bachelor’s in physical education to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like the U.S. News & World Report, among others, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

What Can You Expect from an Online Bachelor’s in Physical Education Degree Program?

Online bachelor’s in physical education programs vary based on the school, but students can expect a core curriculum based on healthy living, effective communication, leadership skills, and classroom management. Expect to learn about state and national physical education standards and to create and present lesson plans.

Because this degree provides a foundation for other health-related careers, each student’s chosen specialty also will come into play. They might have classes that relate to wellness counseling or fitness coaching, substance abuse and health issues, or nonprofit work.

In general, students will also likely have to complete several weeks of hands-on classroom teaching where they can demonstrate their ability to develop appropriate lesson plans, assess students, and so on. This requirement will be challenging if you balance a full-time job or need to work on this degree part-time. You should speak to an admissions counselor at the school about your particular circumstances.

Potential courses you’ll take in an online bachelor’s in physical education program

  • The Psychology and Philosophy of Coaching. The basic concepts of coaching sports are critical to a physical education degree. Students learn about coaching principles and ethics, how to work with people of different physical abilities and backgrounds, and how to motivate individuals and teams.
  • Kinesiology. A course of this type builds students’ knowledge of the body’s skeletal, muscular, and neurological systems and how these impact movement. Expect to learn about mobility and balance and how to prevent and treat injuries. Students may have a separate class that covers anatomy and physiology.
  • Life Fitness Concepts. Students learn the concepts, values, and principles of physical fitness, proper nutrition, and lifestyle factors like stress management. They’ll also discuss how varied factors can positively and negatively impact the body and one’s wellness.
  • Teaching and Assessing Health Education. A course like this explores the materials and tools for planning and organizing instruction and selecting activities to meet learning objectives. The course also might delve into approaching sensitive topics such as mental health, human sexuality, and substance abuse.

What Can I Do With an Online Bachelor’s in Physical Education Degree?

A bachelor’s degree in physical education mainly prepares individuals for roles as physical and health education instructors in primary, middle, and secondary school settings. Graduates with this degree can go on to work in public and private schools, teaching students about physical fitness and health.

However, there are also opportunities outside of teaching for individuals with a physical education degree. These can include working in education settings as an athletic coach, athletic or activities director, or health and wellness coordinator.

In non-educational settings, physical education graduates can work as personal trainers, fitness instructors, recreational sports directors, youth camp fitness coordinators, or educational consultants for health and wellness organizations or government agencies.

Career outlook

  • Kindergarten and elementary school teachers — Instruct students in kindergarten through sixth grade in physical fitness and health in public and private schools.
    • Median annual salary: $63,680
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 1%
    • New jobs projected: 109,000 per year
  • High school teachers — Focus on physical education for 9th-12th grade students in public and private schools. May also serve as head or assistant coaches for school sports teams.
    • Median annual salary: $65,220
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 1%
    • New jobs projected: 67,100 per year
  • Fitness trainers and instructors — Lead, instruct, and motivate individuals or groups of all ages and skill levels in exercise activities, including cardiovascular workouts, strength training, and stretching.
    • Median annual salary: $46,480
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 14%
    • New jobs projected:  69,000 per year

Online Bachelor’s in Physical Education Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to an online bachelor’s in physical education program?

Many schools have online portals to accept student applications. Others allow for a streamlined admissions application system, such as the Common Application or Common App, which helps students apply to multiple schools through a central hub. Just be sure to have digital or electronic versions (such as PDFs) of all the required information, including relevant transcripts, test scores, an essay, and letters of recommendation. Talk with a school admissions counselor to verify you have the correct submission deadlines and all required material in the appropriate format and file size.

How much does an online bachelor’s in physical education cost?

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) says an undergraduate degree costs an average of about $14,000 a year for 2020-2021 (the most recent statistics available). This cost includes tuition and fees for both four-year and two-year programs.

These records show that the average undergraduate tuition for a public institution was about $7,600 a year, a fraction of the average undergraduate tuition for a private institution at about $32,000 a year.

That said, all school costs vary depending on their charge per credit, the credits per course, fees, and other expenses. For instance, some schools charge about $170 to roughly $500 per credit, depending on whether you’re an in-state or out-of-state student. Other costs include books, technology or equipment purchases, or student-teaching expenses.

How long does it take to earn an online bachelor’s in physical education degree?

While this depends on the curriculum and the school, most schools say their online bachelor’s programs in physical education take about four years to complete. Many schools require a total of about 120 credits. The total number of credits you take each year impacts the program’s length, as does attending part-time instead of full-time. Some students, especially those already employed, appreciate a hybrid or blended course format, combining online classes with in-person fieldwork.

Is an online bachelor's degree in physical education worth it?

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts little or no change in the employment of elementary, middle, and secondary school teachers throughout the next decade, there will still be roughly 218,000 job openings per year in these fields through 2032. Schools will need new educators to replace those who retire or leave the profession. In most states, a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for a teaching license and most teaching positions, making this degree a necessity for those who want to enter the education field.

Individuals with a background in physical education will also have opportunities for roles beyond teaching, including coaching, coordinating health and fitness programs, personal training, and more.

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