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    Exercise Science Major Overview

    By Zach Skillings

    Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: May 7th, 2024
    Exercise Science Major Overview

    Ever wondered how the body heals itself after injury? What about that mythical “runner’s high” you’ve heard about? As an exercise science major, you’ll learn about all this (and more). Students in this field study how physical activity and nutrition can contribute to a healthy lifestyle. 

    Also see: Scholarships360 college major guides

    What is an exercise science major?

    Exercise science is a subfield of kinesiology, which is a broader area of study focusing on the study of human movement as a whole. Exercise science, on the other hand, is specifically concerned with how the body adapts to exercise. Students in this field learn how to help people live healthier lives through exercise, rehabilitation, and nutrition.

    Don’t miss: How to pick a major

    Coursework to expect

    Students take a science-heavy curriculum focusing on topics like nutrition, strength and conditioning, and injury illness and prevention. They may also take courses that overlap with kinesiology, such as human anatomy, fitness testing, biomechanics, and sports physiology. Depending on the program, students may be able to concentrate in areas such as athletic training or sports management. Exercise science majors can expect a mix of classroom and laboratory studies. 

    Below are a few examples of courses you may encounter: 

    • Exercise Psychology 
    • Neuromotor Control
    • Biomechanics
    • Exercise Testing and Prescription
    • Human Anatomy
    • General Chemistry
    • Medical Terminology 
    • Strength Training and Conditioning 
    • Nutrition and Bioenergetics 

    Related: Top physical therapy scholarships 

    Opportunities after graduation 

    With a degree in exercise science, graduates can become fitness trainers, athletic trainers, exercise physiologists, coaches, recreational therapists, and more. While a bachelor’s degree opens doors to many jobs, it’s also a great foundation for pursuing advanced studies. With a master’s or doctorate degree, graduates can pursue work as physical therapists, doctors, sports psychologists, and occupational therapists. 

    Also see: Kinesiology major overview

    Jobs you can get with a bachelor’s degree

    Below are a few examples of jobs you can get with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science: 

    1. Athletic trainer

    These professionals specialize in injury prevention and treatment for athletes. They commonly provide athletes with injury-preventive devices such as wraps and braces. When injuries do occur, trainers are often the first ones to perform an evaluation.

    2023 Median Pay: $49,860 per year
    Projected Growth (2022-2032): 23% (Much faster than average)

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    2. Fitness trainers and instructors

    Fitness trainers work with clients to promote cardiovascular health, muscle strengthening, and general well-being. They may train individual clients or lead group exercise classes. Trainers commonly work in fitness and recreational centers, or as self-employed freelancers. 

    2023 Median Pay: $57,930 per year
    Projected Growth (2022-2032): 14% (Much faster than average)

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    3. Health education specialists

    These professionals assess the health needs of individuals and communities and develop programs and events to promote wellness. For instance, health education specialists may distribute information about the availability of healthcare services. They may also advocate for improved health resources within their community.

    2023 Median Pay: $62,860 per year
    Projected Growth (2022-2032): 7% (Faster than average)

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    4. Exercise physiologist 

    Exercise physiologists help people with chronic diseases improve their overall health through exercise and fitness programs. Their patients commonly deal with heart disease and other chronic conditions such as diabetes or pulmonary lung disease. 

    2023 Median Pay: $54,860 per year
    Projected Growth (2022-2032): 10% (Much faster than average)

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    5. Coaches and scouts 

    These are the folks who work with athletes to help them perform to the best of their ability. Coaches and scouts typically break into the profession at the middle or high school level, and some go on to land jobs with college and pro sports teams. 

    2023 Median Pay: $45,910 per year
    Projected Growth (2022-2032): 9% (Much faster than average)

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    6. Recreational therapist 

    Recreational therapists offer outside-the-box treatment plans for patients with injuries or disabilities. While they use a variety of treatment methods (including arts and crafts, music, dance, and sports), someone with an exercise science background would likely rely on movement-based activities. For instance, they might prescribe their patients to engage in swimming or other forms of exercise. 

    2020 Median Pay: $47,710 per year
    Projected Growth (2022-2032): 10% (As fast as average)

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    7. Dietitians and nutritionists 

    These experts counsel clients on nutrition issues and healthy eating habits. They develop meal plans for their clients, taking their preferences and budgets into account, then document their progress and make changes as needed. 

    2023 Median Pay: $57,120 per year
    Projected Growth (2022-2032): 4% (as fast as average)

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    Jobs that require advanced degrees 

    Below are some exercise science-related careers that are obtainable with an advanced degree: 

    1. Chiropractor

    Chiropractors specialize in helping people manage back and neck pain. They use spinal adjustments and other forms of therapy to treat health problems related to nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. A Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree is required to enter this field. 

    2023 Median Pay: $76,530 per year
    Projected Growth (2022-2032): 9% (Much faster than average)

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    2. Physical therapist

    Physical therapists help people overcome injuries and chronic conditions. They develop individualized treatment plans that involve exercises, stretching maneuvers, hands-on therapy, and the use of equipment. A Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) is required to enter this field. 

    2023 Median Pay: $99,710 per year
    Projected Growth (2022-2032): 15% (Much faster than average)

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    3. Sports physician 

    This line of work involves diagnosing and treating injuries sustained by athletes. Sports physicians, also known as sports medicine doctors, are often employed by college and professional sports teams. They hold a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. 

    2023 Median Pay: $239,200 per year
    Projected Growth (2022-2032): 3% (As fast as average)

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    4. Sports psychologist 

    Sports psychologists work with athletes to help them improve the mental aspect of their game. When athletes have trouble maintaining focus, controlling their temper, or coping with the stress of high-level competition, they turn to sports psychologists for support. These professionals hold a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree. 

    2023 Median Pay: $92,740 per year

    Projected Growth (2022-2032): 8% (Faster than average)

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    5. Occupational therapist 

    This type of therapy involves helping people recover and develop the skills needed for daily living and working. For instance, they may show people with permanent disabilities how to use equipment such as leg braces or wheelchairs. Or they may help elderly patients lead more active lives. Occupational therapists need at least a master’s degree to enter the field. 

    2022 Median Pay: $96,370 per year
    Projected Growth (2022-2032): 12% (Much faster than average)

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    Also see: College majors for the future

    How do I know if this major is right for me? 

    If you’re considering a major in exercise science , ask yourself the following questions: 

    • Are you passionate about leading a healthy lifestyle? 
    • Do you enjoy helping others? 
    • Are you interested in science-based learning? 
    • Will a degree in exercise science help you achieve your career goals? 

    If you answered yes to most of these questions, then this major could be right for you!  No matter where you are on your major or career search, make sure that you apply for all the “free money” scholarships you qualify for!

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