The 10 Best Online Masters in Physical Education Degree Programs
American sports are a cornerstone of our country’s culture and historical identity. From die-hard football fans, to March Madness maniacs, to soccer fanatics–it would seem almost everyone has at least one sport they follow. And behind every sports superstar, Super Bowl team, or high school state champion is a team of gifted coaches who have helped both the individual and the team reach highest rungs of success. These coaches can specialize in the exercise science of Major League Baseball, the nutritional programs for triathlon athletes, or the fitness training for professional weight lifters. Many physical educators also seek further education to advance their careers working with student in the K-12 range in order to gain employment at larger or more prestigious schools. A Master’s degree in Physical Education, Teaching, or Coaching can position you to break into the sports and fitness industry and pursue your interests and passions. As a particularly open-ended degree, many schools encourage students to build professional expertise and knowledge through offering degree specializations or career-oriented course electives. This allows students to explore interests and passions that might not fit within the traditional bounds of the degree.
While a Master’s degree in Physical Education is highly important in reaching the upper echelons of the profession, real-world experience and expertise are crucial components of career trajectory. For this reason many physical education professionals are hindered from pursuing an advanced degree for fear of dropping their current job and losing career momentum. This is why for these professionals in particular the online master’s degree is especially valuable, as it allows these professionals to earn their degrees amidst busy work schedules, gaining expertise and expanding their knowledge base without shelving their jobs. In this ranking we explore the Top 10 online Master’s in Physical Education programs based on student and career success outcomes, affordability, and the academic reputation of the program. You can find a more in-depth explanation of the metric used to create this ranking below.
- Affordability (1/3): Combined analysis of overall tuition of the program, financial aid or scholarship assistance programs, and estimated cost per credit hour for in-state and out-of-state students.
- Flexibility (1/3): The number of flexibility-enhancing elements specific to the degree program including teaching philosophy concentrations, degree specialties, prior learning or life experience credit options, accelerated or self-paced courses, personalized student advisement/guidance, and competency-based credit options.
- Academic Prestige (1/3): The academic prestige of the parent institution operationally defined through the analyses of rankings and reviews of prominent education review entities such as US News & World Report and The Princeton Review.
The University of Arkansas is a historic institution dating back to its founding in 1871. Today the University services over 26,000 students with over 7,000 students taking online courses. At the University of Arkansas there is a strong commitment to removing the divide between online and on-campus students. Evidencing this is the “Senior Walk,” a three mile expanse of sidewalks where every graduate’s name is imprinted because according to the school “you are a Razorback, no matter how you studied.” The University is well known for its rigorous academics and competitive admissions requirements. While graduate students seeking admission can compensate for a poor GPA with demonstrable expertise, life or work experience, etc. these requirements foster an environment where academics thrive and peers can take pride in each other’s mutual talent and dedication.
The University of Arkansas offers a 100% online Master of Education in Physical Education program that can be completed through 33 credit hours–which translates into a completion time of about 2 years. The admission requirements are more relaxed than the University’s undergraduate and graduate programs with the exception of the GRE requirement. Instead admissions focuses on life experience, career goals, and demonstrable areas of passion. This makes the program an excellent choice for students who may be switching careers or areas of study. Students in the program will experience instruction from nationally renowned faculty, who have worked in the professional sports industry or in corporate fitness-oriented careers. And beyond this many of the faculty are involved in the Division I football team of the University, The Razorbacks, meaning students can watch and learn from some of the industry’s leading professionals.
- Average Tuition Rank (per credit hour): 3rd – $410
- Flexibility Enhancing Features: Personalized Advisement – From the day of enrollment until graduation students will be assigned to a personal academic adviser to help them make the most out of the program.
The University of Nebraska has recently developed a powerful presence in the arena of online education in Higher Ed. The University’s “Online Worldwide” program facilitates hundreds of online degree program options through the collaboration of the University’s four divisions: University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska at Omaha, and University of Nebraska Medical Center. These online programs are designed to meet the diverse needs of distance learners, and thus offers a high amount of flexibility and accessibility. The same faculty who teach the on-campus programs teach the online programs, and are trained specifically in online education and how to support and engage students in that environment. All of the programs are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission with many degree programs also holding prestigious associations in specific fields.
The University of Nebraska offers a Master of Arts in Education in Physical Education that is composed of 36 total credits, and is accredited by the Nebraska Department of Education and also ranked by US News and World Report for excellence in online education. The program offers students two degree emphasis tracks, so that students can build professional expertise towards specific career goals. The degree tracks are as follows: An Emphasis in Pedagogy which is designed for teachers who seek a deeper understanding of the delivery on physical education instruction; A Special Populations emphasis where students explore the advanced knowledge and practices required to teach physical education to students with disabilities. This second degree emphasis leads to an endorsement issued by the Nebraska Department of Education entitled, “Adapted Physical Educator.” For students interested in either of these degree paths, this degree program is an ideal choice.
- Average Tuition Rank (per credit hour): 5th – $415
- Flexibility Enhancing Features: Two Degree Emphasis Options – Pedagogy Emphasis, and Special Populations Emphasis.
Since 1965, North Dakota State University (NDSU) has established itself as a dynamic institution that maintains a high standard for its educational opportunities and services. Today the University offers a strong Distance and Continuing Education (DCE) program through which online students can earn a variety of accredited degrees. The tuition rate for these programs is recognized as some of the most affordable in the industry with the same price-tag for in-state and out-of-state students. Also the University is only one of a handful in the country to generously service non-degree seeking students; and allows them to take individual classes to supplement their personal and career interests. The University also facilitates incredible collaboration between businesses, alumni, faculty, and students–with conferences, Group Decision Centers, and other events that bring NDSU’s community together. Online students can even participate remotely through virtual presentations and access to live streams.
NDSU’s Distance and Continuing Education program offers a Master of Science in Health, Nutrition, and Exercise Science: Leadership in Physical Education and Sport Option. The degree program is designed for working professionals with busy schedules, so coursework is scheduled asynchronously–meaning that students can complete coursework when and where they can commit the most focus to their learning. The curriculum is delivered using the Blackboard Learning Management System with readings from selected textbooks and journals. The program also employs Blackboard Collaborate where students can enjoy peer collaboration in real time through chat rooms on current topics and issues, and interact with instructors through personalized email interactions. While the program’s curriculum is designed to meet the needs of diverse sets of students, career interests can be pursued through the program’s Master’s Thesis Program. In their Master’s Thesis students can explore in-depth any topics or areas of research pertaining to their individual career goals. This well-rounded degree coupled with its highly competitive tuition and community involvement make it an excellent choice for students looking to earn their online degree.
- Average Tuition Rank (per credit hour): 4th – $413
- Flexibility Enhancing Features: Master’s Thesis – Students can pursue scholarly research, career goals, and interests through this final project; Blackboard Learning Management/Collaborate – Students can use the program’s online learning technology to collaborate with peers and progress through course content at a pace that suits their schedules.
The University of North Georgia (UNG) is a school that is experiencing explosive growth in the past decade with the tuition growing anywhere from 10-20% for the 5 past consecutive years. This is likely due to the consolidation between North Georgia College & State University and Gainesville State College–which are two of the top performing schools in the University System of Georgia. UNG is also positioned in the fastest-growing region of the state and is comprised of five campuses united by the mission of turning students into leaders for the diverse global society. For online learners this means that they can expect science-based, multidisciplinary curriculums designed for real-world success.
UNG offers a Master of Science with a Major in Physical Education (MSPE) that explores in-depth topics pertaining to both the education and coaching aspects of the Physical Educator profession. Students will also delve into the methods of scholarly research that pertain to the field, that is, how to measure and evaluate the performance of individuals undergoing physical education or coaching. Students have the option to either complete 15 credit hours of coursework in addition physical education topics, or to establish a degree concentration in exercise science. Students seeking to delve into more specialized topics beyond these two track options can develop expertise through the program’s professional research project. This research project is the size of a normal course and requires online students to actively engage their communities, local business, schools, or sports teams in order to gather data and meet the high-standards of a master’s level research project. This project then serves as a marketable tool that showcases the student’s professional interests and talents.
- Average Tuition Rank (per credit hour): 1st – $317
- Flexibility Enhancing Features: Most Affordable – This school is the most affordable on this list and one of the most affordable of its kind in general; Exercise Science Concentration – Students can pursue either further study in physical education or develop this specialization; Master’s Thesis – Students can develop professional expertise in a certain topic or area through this large-scale project.
Emporia State University holds a long and rich history in teacher education programs, dating back all the way to the University’s first nationally acclaimed programs in 1863. In the past 40 years specifically the University has taken modern Higher Education by the horns, growing its degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral level, and offering a strong department of online degree programs. Beyond earning the same degrees of the traditional campus, online students can earn professional certificates and licensures to supplement their careers or current degree programs. Emporia is a career-oriented school that “will inspire you to be a leader so you can benefit the common good globally. As an Emporia State graduate, you will be prepared to be the change you want to see in the world.”
Emporia offers a Master of Science in Health, Physical Education, and Recreation that can be completed entirely online. As one of the first master’s degrees to ever be offered completely online to students, the program has a strong and evidenced tradition of academic excellence and student-oriented curriculum. The program is fully accredited by national bodies such as the Higher Learning Commission and the North Central Association Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (NCATE); and it has ranked as one of the top of online M.S. of Physical Education in the country. The program further distinguishes itself through student-oriented awards and incentives. Up to 5 graduate teaching assistantships are awarded each year, where students have teaching and laboratory assignments every semester. Though this requires about 20 hours of work per week, students are rewarded with full tuition waivers, semester stipends, and subsidized health insurance. For success-minded students this program is a top choice.
- Average Tuition Rank (per credit hour): 7th – $457
- Flexibility Enhancing Features: Graduate Teaching Assistantships – Students can earn highly valuable rewards and experience through this program.
The University of South Florida (USF) maintains one of the strongest education colleges in higher ed. USF’s College of Education has ranked as one of the top 100 “Best Education Schools” in the nation consecutively over the past decade. The College of Education has also met the evolving needs of working students head-on, and offers what “U.S. News & World Report” has ranked as the 36th most prestigious online programs in the nation. With more than 13,500 education degrees awarded the College of Education has graduated the second largest number of educators in Florida over the past decade. Students enrolling in these programs can take pride in their highly impressive, experienced program directors, the program’s nationally recognized “best-practices” in education, and the personal investment of faculty in student success.
USF’s prestigious College of Education offers a School of Physical Education & Exercise Science that boasts of over 40 years in experience delivering master’s level education of physical education. The School specifically offers a Master of Arts in Physical Education that can be completed entirely through flexible, 100% online coursework. The program is designed to advance the careers of teaching professionals or physical educators while also offering accommodations to those new to the field or who beginning a career change. In order to effectively serve both sets of students, the curriculum offers flexibility in coursework. A bulk of the required courses is completed through in-depth elective courses where new physical education students can develop knowledge where they are lacking and where teaching professionals can explore more in-depth topics pertaining to their career goals.
- Average Tuition Rank (per credit hour): 12th – $704
- Flexibility Enhancing Features: Flexible Elective Courses – Students can take these courses to obtain expertise and knowledge that is pertinent to their personal experience level and career goals.
- Average Tuition Rank (per credit hour): 11th – $675
- Flexibility Enhancing Features: Collaborative Learning – The program offers smaller courses designed around peer-collaboration software where students can work together on a consistent basis; Accelerated Program – Students who maximize their use of the program’s unique features can graduate in just 15 months.
Azusa Pacific University (APU) offers online degree programs that combine the distinction of attending a leading Christian university with the flexibility of a dynamic online learning environment that is oriented around the student experience. Students can complete school work asynchronously, so that they can choose exactly when and where they can commit the most focus to it. This flexibility in itself is a strength that empowers many students to achieve academic success that they would otherwise be unable to in traditional degree learning environments. Azusa places emphasis on the importance of quality faculty and student relationships, and so the same faculty who teach the on-campus courses teach the online version of the courses. Online faculty are also explicitly trained in the dynamics of online education, so students enrolled in these programs can enjoy confidence in knowing they are learning from highly prepared and specialized instructors.
APU offers a fully online Master’s of Physical Education that in the words of the program director, “offers convenience and flexibility–without sacrificing the comprehensive, relevant academics for which APU is known.” The program distinguishes itself through its emphasis on smaller, highly collaborative, and highly interactive courses that are meant to enhance the online learning experience and compensate for inherent limitations of distance learning. For example, students will progress through coursework with a cohort of peers–where they will collaborate on a consistent basis through virtual learning software to complete large-scale projects. Students making the most of these features can graduate in as little as 15 months, making it one of the fastest online graduate programs of its time. While the price tag for the program is slightly higher than others on the list, this is balanced by the significantly lower time investment required.
Wester Michigan University (WMU) was founded in 1903 as one of the oldest institutions of higher education in the state. Today the University is a national research university that currently services over 24,000 students from the U.S. and 100 other countries. WMU is a learning-centered, discovery-driven, and globally-engaged institution with an admirable core philosophy. This philosophy is centered around the fact that there are currently 4,600 institutions of higher education in America. This means that not only the university must stand out amid immense competition, but so too must its students. This refreshingly realistic perspective drives WMU to create success-oriented degree programs where students can graduate with the knowledge, tools, and drive to achieve the success they desire. WMU delivers on this perspective in its online programs through combining the resources of a major research university with the personalized attention and student engagement that is often associated with smaller colleges.
WMu offers a Master of Arts in Physical Education with a Special (Adapted) Concentration that can be completed entirely online, or on-campus. The same rock-star faculty teach both programs, so students enrolled in the online program can expect to learn from top-notch faculty members who have been trained at the world’s leading universities and will deliver a powerful global perspective to the virtual classroom. This global perspective is particularly valuable in the Special (Adapted) Concentration where many other countries have more advanced and less-stigmatized physical education practices for special populations. Though there is the built-in concentration of working with special populations, students can pursue further specialization and distinction through the program’s culminating Capstone Project. The project can either be completed through an in-depth scholarly research project or through a thesis, both of which are designed so that students can build expertise that aligns with their career goals.
- Average Tuition Rank (per credit hour): 10th – $617
- Flexibility Enhancing Features: Special (Adapted) Concentration – Students will explore graduate-level physical education from the perspective of serving special-needs populations; Capstone Project – Students will pursue expertise in a specific area through a thesis or research project.
The University of Northern Iowa (UNI) has a rich and vibrant history dating back 1866 and the Civil War, leading to its founding in 1866. Today UNI offers more than 90 degree majors to choose from all centered around a principle-driven philosophy that emphasizes the best practices in education, hands-on learning techniques, and community service. UNI also holds the highly impressive distinction of offering Iowa’s #1 teacher education program. Teacher education at UNI employs numerous multidisciplinary strategies so that graduates are prepared for continued success in their respective teaching careers and/or specializations. Teacher education is not the only area of national renown at UNI; U.S. News & World Report has put UNI among the top of numerous rankings. Thus students can remain confident that UNI’s high standards for excellence and achievement are present in all programs.
UNI offers a fully online Master’s of Physical Education where course content is delivered in flexible formats to meet the diverse needs of students’ various schedules. As a branch of the ‘teacher education’ department at UNI, the Master’s of Physical Education program adheres to the same standards of excellence that distinguished the University as Iowa’s leading teacher education institution. Thus students in the program will progress through top-quality course programs using the “Quality Matters” set of professional standards that are based upon research, best practices, and national standards for course design. The program’s central focus is meant to accommodate teachers currently working in a K-12 physical education setting, and prepares them to catapult their careers to the next level. For students less interested in branching out into specializations or non-traditional topics of study, who are instead more interested in pursuing the best traditional physical education program available, UNI’s program is one of a kind.
- Average Tuition Rank (per credit hour): 8th – $478
- Flexibility Enhancing Features: Quality Matters – Students will engage in coursework that has been designed according to some of the country’s highest standards.
The University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) is a massive school, known for its incredibly Division I football team and its equally impressive alumni network–both of which fuel a tremendous community of involvement and University pride. UAB’s School of Education “is working every day to transform lives and to optimize human potential.” The School’s cutting-edge programs are designed to meet the evolving needs of the real world, and thus offer students career-oriented curriculums that emphasize life-time skills. Students in these programs learn from faculty, who are not only leaders in their fields but are also excellent mentors who inspire their students to grow as individuals and maximize the knowledge and skillsets provided in their education. As a school that specializes in education, online students can expect degree programs that employ both national best practices specific to online learning and state-of-the-art distance-learning technology.
UAB’s School of Education offers a Master of Science in Physical Education that can be completed at a pace that is most comfortable to the individual student. Student who are able to dedicate the most time and effort to the program can complete course requirements in just three semesters. Students balancing multiple responsibilities, however, will have the freedom to complete the program at a more leisurely pace–with up to five years to complete the degree. The program distinguishes itself from similar programs through incorporating a certification option into the curriculum where students can earn a Class A Certification of Physical Education. Graduates of the program will also be eligible for Class A Professional Educator Certification through the State of Alabama Department of Education. Both of these certifications serve as a highly valuable and marketable tools for students entering the job market after graduation.
- Average Tuition Rank (per credit hour): 16th – $935
- Flexibility Enhancing Features: Certifications – The program is one of only a handful online graduate programs to incorporate numerous options for professional certifications.