physical ed emblem eced 01

A Master’s in Physical Education can serve as as an excellent foundation for a career in sports coaching, athletic training or consulting, or organizational coaching. Unfortunately the higher education industry in America has become slightly unpredictable in recent years. Partially due to the rising costs of tuition, the factors of economic strain, and the constraints on federal education spending, schools are not hiring teachers like they were once able to, which is especially true in the case of physical educators. This does not mean you cannot use your Master’s in Physical Education to earn your ideal position within a top-tier school, however, it simply means the job market is a highly competitive one–one where an advanced degree and experience are all the more necessary. And luckily, the physical education degree is a highly dynamic one. In the right hands it can prove to be an asset to countless industries and job types. Traditionally, advanced physical education degrees have been primarily associated with either the coaching, management, or training of sports teams at the various levels of competition, which still holds true today. A Master’s in Physical Education is powerful leverage for entering the sports industry. Though there are other emerging trends that demonstrate the vast applicability of this degree.

Professionals are using their Master’s of Physical Education degree to take on positions as life coaches, health consultants for large corporations, or wellness directors for team-based businesses. Essentially these professionals are taking the framework of physical education and applying it to business, general wellness, and to human and organizational efficiency. The success of these endeavors has been significant enough for many schools to begin offering physical education degree specializations in such areas. So whether you’re interested in treading the traditional route into sports and athletics, or looking to carve a more innovative profession, the prospects look positive in both directions. The only caveat is that job experience reigns supreme as the primary determinant for career trajectory regardless of whether it’s within the bounds of education, sports, or on a more creative track. For this reason, many of the country’s best physical education programs are offered entirely online so that students can continue to hold down their jobs and build real-world experience while earning their degree. In this article we explore the online degree programs that best provide this flexibility while also delivering on the rigorous curriculum that make students into the dynamic professionals who can pursue individual goals. You can find a more thorough breakdown 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 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 crediting 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 score of combined rankings and/or reviews of prominent education review entities such as US News & World Report and The Princeton Review.

1.) University of Nebraska

nebraska kearney e1488402903829

Founded in 1905, the Nebraska State Normal School at Kearney was originally developed to educate teachers. Today the University of Nebraska is a prestigious university comprised of four distinct institutions, each with unique goals and strengths that work collaboratively to provide more than the sum of their parts. Through Nebraska Online Worldwide, the school remains true to its roots in teacher education through offering online master’s of education programs and specializations in pedagogy. According to U.S. News & World Report, these programs are counted among the highest quality in the country. Nebraska Online Worldwide posits that the online degree programs provide the ideal platform for students to take advantage of their world-class faculty, because they have more extensive access to their educations through online courses than they would through traditional course structure.

The University of Nebraska offers a fully online Master of Education in Physical Education with an Emphasis in Pedagogy. The Emphasis in Pedagogy is designed for educators who seek a greater skillfulness in delivering instruction, while mastering the ability to assess student learning and design curriculum accordingly. The Pedagogy Emphasis prepares graduates with advanced knowledge and competencies in the physical education of students in elementary to post-secondary school. The second degree specialization option is an Emphasis in Special Populations, and prepares students to provide physical education to students with disabilities. In both degree path, online students receive instruction from the same renowned faculty who teach on-campus. These instructors represent industry leaders, innovators, and published researchers. And the University’s online degree programs are designed to maximize the engagement between instructors and students, so even though they lack a real classroom they create strong bonds of fellowship and mentorship.

  • Homepage
  • Average Tuition Cost: $415
  • Flexibility enhancing features: Two degree emphasis options: Pedagogy, or Special Populations.

2.) The University of Arkansas

arkansas e1480271585853

Originally founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas is a large and well-known public institution that is consistently ranked among the nation’s finest public research universities, and praised for its strong value systems. Foremost among these value systems, is the university’s commitment to honoring its culture and heritage. The University employs numerous traditions to bring this commitment to life, and most unique among these is the “Senior Walk,” where graduates walk more than three miles of sidewalks engraved with more than 175,000 names of students who came before them–dating back nearly 140 years. The University also emphasizes a student-centered approach, and ensures small class sizes so that students receive personalized mentoring.

The University of of Arkansas offers a Master of Education in Physical Education that can be completed through 33 credit hours of fully online coursework. While the program’s admissions does have strict GPA requirements and an undergraduate degree in a related field, applying students are exempted from the GRE. The program can also be completed in a quick 2 years, making it one of the most efficient programs in this article. Likely responsible at least in part for this efficiency is the program’s use of an asynchronous schedule so that students can progress through coursework at times that best suit their schedules. The program is also strongly rooted in traditions of academic research. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the university as having “the highest possible level of research,” which places the program in the top 2 percent of colleges and universities nationwide. These research projects help students to establish their unique area of expertise, which upon graduation can help them to stand out amid the competition of the job market.

  • Homepage
  • Average Tuition Cost: $410
  • Flexibility enhancing features: 2 year completion time; Asynchronous schedule.

3.) University of Southern Mississippi

southern miss e1488402970861

Founded in 1910, the University of Southern Mississippi was a small teacher’s college. And today it has grown into a comprehensive doctoral, research-oriented institution with a student body of about 15,000 students that represent 74 countries and all regions of the United States. The University is a powerhouse of prestigious degrees, comprised of six colleges that collaboratively offer over 180 degree programs. All of these degree programs make use of the university’s extensive network of research centers and national research initiatives, which has classified it as an RU/H: Research University (higher research activity). Many of these research centers function as national, and even international, hubs for research and development, which means students have access to a extraordinarily resourceful network of professionals and academics.

The University of Southern Mississippi offers a Master of Science in Kinesiology (Physical Education) which can be completed entirely online. The program’s research-driven design is meant to prepare students so that they can create successful learning within their classrooms. The toolset acquired in this process, however, is noticeably diverse and alumni of the program have demonstrated how to dynamically apply it to various professions including: Physical Education Teacher, Fitness Consultant, Activity Program Director, Curriculum Specialist, Organizational Specialist, Program Director, and Sports Coach. Students can also enjoy this dynamic curriculum on their own time, and choose when and where to progress through course content in order to best accommodate their schedules. This allows for even the busiest of professionals to enroll in this degree.

  • Homepage
  • Average Tuition Cost: $589
  • Flexibility enhancing features: Asynchronous schedule; Dynamic curriculum.

4.) Illinois State University

illinois state e1488403015213

Illinois State University was founded in the late 1800’s and ever since has established itself as a premier public institution in Illinois. The University has earned many accolades over the years such as: Top 100 Public University, Top 10% Graduation Rate, Top 10% retention rate, and Military Friendly: One of the Country’s Best Schools for Veterans. Collectively the University’s colleges and academic departments offer over 160 degree program options. Among these is the College of Applied Science and Technology which houses the School of Kinesiology and Recreation. While many universities offer physical education and exercise science as distinct degree programs, few dedicate entire academic departments to the subject. The University’s Exercise Physiology Laboratory is an internationally renowned center for both research, study, and collaboration. And this is just one of the facets of the University’s dedication to this area of study.

The School of Kinesiology and Recreation offers a fully online Master’s of Physical Education Pedagogy. The program’s curriculum is designed around the concept of mentorship. That is, the program’s key points of curriculum are set in place, however, upon acceptance the student will meet with his or her mentor and academic adviser. After this, they will decide on a schedule and pacing that best suits the students proclivities and personal schedule. Then the student will devise a master’s thesis to work on throughout the program. The culmination of the this project leads to the program graduates having a professional and highly marketable thesis in their portfolio. Combined with the highly-focused research-oriented curriculums, students should graduate with mastery over their chosen area of unique expertise. This makes the program ideal for students looking to carve a more creative or atypical career path.

  • Homepage
  • Average Tuition Cost: $808
  • Flexibility enhancing features: Master’s thesis project; Self-paced learning.

5.) The University of South Florida

south florida e1488236111374

The University of South Florida (USF) is a robust public institution that offers degree programs at the associate, undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate level. As a relatively young university founded in 1956, it is all the more impressive that today it is comprised of 14 colleges and offers over 180 degree programs to its student body of over 36,000. These 14 separate colleges allow the University to offer students a variety of learning styles and environments. Among these is the College of Education, which has been ranked as one of the nation’s top education schools, and its online programs have been praised as among the most prestigious of their kind in the country.

The College of Education offers an online Master of Arts in Physical Education that is fully accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Because the College of Education has decades upon decades of experience educating teachers at all skills levels, the program is specifically designed to accommodate students at any level of expertise or prior knowledge. The curriculum, however, does employ a rather strict focus on the physical education of youth. So while students can certainly branch out through independent research projects and course electives, it is for the most part a traditional physical education degree program. Though this does allow the program to prepare students more completely in the traditional subjects of interest, and on this point the program is praised. Employers of program graduates have given public testimonials on the preparedness of students after graduating from the program.

  • Homepage
  • Average Tuition Cost: $704
  • Flexibility enhancing features: Self-paced schedule; Accepts all levels of expertise.

6.) The University of Alabama at Birmingham

uab e1488403070460

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) represents a story of incredible growth and evolution. Starting off as a simple extension center, and then transforming into a doctoral research university and academic medical center, UAB is one of the rare universities that leads students by example. This is even more the case with UAB’s School of Education, which employs countless research initiatives and community engagement projects to create positive change around the university. Both online students and traditional students of the School of Education enjoy opportunities to engage local communities either remotely, or face-to-face. The School of Education has earned prestige and pride from its community outreach programs.

The School of Education offers a Master of Science with a Concentration in Physical Education Teacher Certification. The program offers students teacher certification track options for both classification A or classification B, allowing students to graduate in as little as 3 semesters. Thought students may take as much time as they’d like to progress through the program curriculum as well. The program emphasizes coursework that doubles as a marketable portfolio upon graduation. Students can choose between a thesis and non-thesis option, but in either case they will have a full portfolio upon graduation. This program is ideal for students considering non-traditional teaching tracks, who may wish to use their degree to leverage their careers in new and creative ways.

  • Homepage
  • Average Tuition Cost: $935
  • Flexibility enhancing features: Non-traditional certification options; Self-paced learning; and Marketable portfolios of coursework.

7.) Azusa Pacific University

azusa pacific university e1488403108378

Founded in 1899, Azusa Pacific University (APU) boasts a vibrant history, which is slightly different than other schools listed in this article. APU is devoutly evangelical Christian both in its foundation and in its education philosophy. APU is one of the largest Christian universities in the country today, and is a well-respected leader in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. U.S. News & World Report also consistently ranks APU as one of the best colleges in the country. Further distinguishing APU is its extensive and highly involved alumni network. Through providing an educational program where students can create a strong spiritual bond with the University, APU created the perfect focal point for peer networking and alumni engagement. Because Alumni have this bond with the University and its mission, they share in the interest of future classes’ success and thus provide new students with a caring and nurturing professional network.

APU offers a fully online Master of Science in Physical Education, which offers both convenience and flexibility to those with even the most demanding of schedules. Courses are designed intentionally to be quite small with highly interactive courses so that students can collaborate with each other, and also work more closely with instructors as they would in a small classroom setting. Students in the program have the option of earning their degree with an emphasis in Sport Management or Integrated Leadership. Students in the program can expect coursework and online learning technology designed specifically to facilitate group discussion and relationship building in order to create a rich learning environment. The connections you make in this program will likely be lifelong connections, which is what makes APU so powerful.

  • Homepage
  • Average Tuition Cost: $675
  • Flexibility enhancing features: Two degree emphasis options: Sport Management or Integrated Leadership; asynchronous learning format.

8.) West Virginia University

west virginia logo e1474755969362

West Virginia University (WVU) is a nationally renowned institution, recognized for its academic excellence, true innovation, and student-centered philosophies. Many of its degree programs have ranked nationally–too many to name here–and many have ranked in the country’s top 5. WVU is also ranked an R1 by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, which denotes the highest achievement in academic research. The University’s innovation in research has been proven many times over. WVU researchers developed the world’s first fully transportable heavy-duty vehicle emissions testing laboratory, created technology in environment protection before it was a hot topic, and is a leading innovator in sustainable coal mining technology.

WVU offers an online Master of Science in Physical Education Teacher Education through the College of Physical Activity and Sport Science. This degree is designed to prepare students to not only master the delivery of information, but also the perception of it. WVU’s Physical Education program is unique in that is clearly designed to do more than prepare students for teaching children about physical wellness. The program’s broad and sweeping course topics and curriculum point towards empowering students with dynamic tools needed to shape their own career–a hallmark of WVU’s programs.

  • Homepage
  • Average Tuition Cost: $519
  • Flexibility enhancing features: N/A

9.) North Dakota State University

ndsu e1488403196621

North Dakota State University (NDSU) is a land-grant, research university that emphasizes affordable access to top ranked degree programs, and combines teaching with research in a collaborative environment. NDSU is listed in the National Science Foundation’s Top 100 in several areas such as social sciences, agricultural sciences, physical sciences, chemistry, psychology and computer sciences. NDSU is a school that has been at the forefront of the evolving distance education industry, and with recent partnerships between numerous distance and continuing education programs have only strengthened the school’s position.

NDSU offers a fully online M.S. in Health, Nutrition, and Exercise Science: Leadership in Physical Education and sport. Students in this program will learn the best practices of the sports industry, and how to best implement individual, organizational, and mental changes to sports teams. While many degree programs in this article offer degrees aimed more towards teaching children, or mastering pedagogy, this program is designed to groom students for positions of leadership within the sports profession. The program is delivered asynchronously so that students can complete coursework when it best accommodates their personal schedules.

  • Homepage
  • Average Tuition Cost: $413
  • Flexibility enhancing features: Asynchronous learning format.

10.) Western Michigan University

western michigan univ e1488403246591

Founded in 1903, Western Michigan University (WMU) is a national research university that today enrolls nearly 24,000 students from across the United States and from over 100 other countries. WMU provides both a strong foundation in research opportunities and the personal attention and friendly atmosphere of a small college. Through the collaboration of seven degree-granting colleges, WMU offers 147 bachelor’s, 73 master’s, and 30 doctoral programs. Many of these programs rank among the nation’s best with numerous accolades of excellence and virtue for the university itself.

WMU offers an online Master of Arts in Physical Education Special Concentration. Students will emerge from this program as masters of physical wellness both for normal and special populations. This program is entirely funded by the U.S. Department of Education and prepares students for the rapidly increasing in-demand jobs throughout the states. While most all of the program occurs online, certain face-to-face requirements can be completed at any college near you. The program director states that the program’s cost may be covered either partially or totally by the government as well. So for gifted students with a passion for this line of work, this degree may be a one-of-a-kind offer.

  • Homepage
  • Average Tuition Cost: $617
  • Flexibility enhancing features: Potential for government funding; Asynchronous schedule.

Related Rankings: