Exercise science is an exciting and growing field, with career opportunities ranging from athletic training to physical therapy. If you’re interested in helping people improve their health, fitness, and performance through exercise, an exercise science degree can provide the ideal foundation.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Some of the best schools for exercise science degrees include the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Pittsburgh, Iowa State University, Springfield College, and the University of Florida.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the top colleges and universities for obtaining an undergraduate or graduate degree in exercise science. We’ll look at factors like program reputation, research opportunities, internships and career support, program customization, and affordability.

What is Exercise Science?

Exercise Science is a multidisciplinary field that focuses on the study of human movement and physical activity. It combines elements of biology, anatomy, physiology, psychology, and biomechanics to understand how the body responds and adapts to exercise.

Exercise Scientists analyze the effects of exercise on the body and develop strategies to optimize performance, prevent injuries, and promote overall health and well-being.

Definition and overview of the field

Exercise Science encompasses a wide range of topics, including exercise physiology, sports nutrition, biomechanics, motor control, and psychology of physical activity. Professionals in this field work with individuals of all ages and fitness levels, from athletes looking to enhance their performance to patients in cardiac rehabilitation programs.

Through research and practical application, Exercise Scientists aim to improve the quality of life for individuals by developing evidence-based exercise programs, conducting fitness assessments, and prescribing appropriate exercises to meet specific goals.

They may also work in settings such as fitness centers, sports teams, healthcare facilities, and research institutions.

Common career paths

Graduates with a degree in Exercise Science have a variety of career paths to choose from. Some common career options include:

  • Exercise physiologist: working with patients to develop exercise programs for rehabilitation or improving overall fitness.
  • Strength and conditioning specialist: working with athletes to enhance their performance through targeted exercise and conditioning programs.
  • Personal trainer: helping individuals achieve their fitness goals by designing personalized exercise programs and providing guidance and motivation.
  • Sports nutritionist: providing dietary advice and guidance to athletes to optimize their performance and recovery.
  • Researcher: conducting studies and experiments to contribute to the advancement of knowledge in the field of exercise science.

Skills needed

Professionals in Exercise Science should possess a combination of technical knowledge and interpersonal skills. Some essential skills for success in this field include:

  • Strong knowledge of human anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics.
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills to effectively work with individuals from diverse backgrounds.
  • Ability to design and implement exercise programs tailored to meet specific goals and needs.
  • Analytical skills to interpret and analyze data from fitness assessments.
  • Continuous learning and ability to stay updated with the latest research and trends in the field of exercise science.

For more information on Exercise Science programs and career opportunities, you can visit websites such as American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and Exercise Science Guide.

The Best Undergraduate Programs

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers one of the top undergraduate programs in Exercise Science. Students at UNC have access to state-of-the-art facilities and cutting-edge research opportunities.

The program provides a comprehensive curriculum that covers topics such as exercise physiology, biomechanics, and nutrition. Graduates from UNC’s Exercise Science program have gone on to successful careers in fields such as personal training, physical therapy, and sports medicine.

University of Pittsburgh

The University of Pittsburgh is another top choice for students interested in pursuing a degree in Exercise Science. The program at Pitt focuses on the scientific foundations of human movement and prepares students for careers in fields such as exercise physiology, cardiac rehabilitation, and strength and conditioning.

The university’s strong community partnerships provide students with valuable hands-on experience in real-world settings.

Iowa State University

Iowa State University boasts a highly regarded Exercise Science program that emphasizes hands-on learning and research opportunities. Students at Iowa State have the chance to work closely with faculty members who are leaders in the field.

The program offers a variety of specialized tracks, including exercise psychology, athletic training, and fitness management.

Springfield College

Springfield College in Massachusetts is known for its strong focus on health and wellness education. The Exercise Science program at Springfield College combines classroom instruction with practical experience, allowing students to apply their knowledge in real-world settings.

The program also offers opportunities for research and internships, helping students build a strong foundation for their future careers.

Ohio State University

Ohio State University offers a comprehensive Exercise Science program that prepares students for a wide range of careers in the field. The program provides a strong foundation in exercise physiology, kinesiology, and biomechanics.

Students at Ohio State have access to state-of-the-art facilities and can take advantage of research opportunities with renowned faculty members.

Other excellent programs

While the above universities are among the top choices for Exercise Science degrees, there are many other excellent programs available across the country. Some notable mentions include the University of Florida, University of Texas at Austin, University of California, Davis, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

These programs offer rigorous curriculum, hands-on learning experiences, and opportunities for research and internships.

Top Graduate Programs

University of Florida

The University of Florida offers one of the top graduate programs in exercise science. Known for its strong research focus, the program provides students with comprehensive knowledge and skills in areas such as exercise physiology, biomechanics, and sports psychology.

Graduates from the University of Florida’s exercise science program have gone on to successful careers in sports performance, clinical exercise physiology, and academia.

University of Northern Colorado

The exercise science graduate program at the University of Northern Colorado is highly regarded for its emphasis on practical experiences and hands-on learning. Students have the opportunity to work with athletes and clients in real-world settings, gaining valuable skills and knowledge in exercise prescription, nutrition, and injury prevention.

The program also offers specialized tracks in areas such as strength and conditioning and clinical exercise physiology.

University of Kansas

At the University of Kansas, the exercise science graduate program focuses on preparing students for careers in research, teaching, and clinical practice. The curriculum includes coursework in exercise physiology, motor control, and research methods, as well as supervised practical experiences.

Graduates from the program have gone on to work in a variety of settings, including universities, hospitals, and private practice.

Ball State University

Ball State University offers a comprehensive exercise science graduate program that prepares students for careers in areas such as athletic training, cardiac rehabilitation, and corporate wellness. The program combines coursework in exercise physiology, biomechanics, and nutrition with practical experiences in exercise testing and prescription.

Graduates from Ball State’s exercise science program have a strong track record of obtaining employment in their desired field.

University of South Carolina

The exercise science graduate program at the University of South Carolina is known for its multidisciplinary approach, combining coursework in exercise physiology, biomechanics, and psychology. Students have the opportunity to work with faculty who are leaders in their respective fields, conducting cutting-edge research and gaining hands-on experience.

Graduates from the program often pursue careers in sports performance, rehabilitation, and academia.

Other notable graduate programs

  • Indiana University-Bloomington: The exercise science graduate program at Indiana University-Bloomington offers specialized tracks in areas such as sports nutrition and athletic training.
  • University of Texas at Austin: Known for its strong research focus, the exercise science graduate program at the University of Texas at Austin prepares students for careers in academia and research.
  • Ohio State University: The exercise science graduate program at Ohio State University provides students with a strong foundation in exercise physiology, biomechanics, and motor control.

These are just a few of the top graduate programs in exercise science. It’s important to research and consider factors such as faculty expertise, research opportunities, and career placement when choosing a program that aligns with your goals and interests.

Choosing the Right Program

Reputation and rankings

When looking for the top schools for exercise science degrees and careers, it is important to consider the reputation and rankings of the programs. A school with a strong reputation in the field of exercise science can provide you with a solid foundation and open doors to better job opportunities after graduation.

Look for schools that have consistently high rankings in national and international surveys. Websites like US News and Times Higher Education provide rankings that can be a helpful starting point in your search.

Research and hands-on learning

Another important factor to consider is the research and hands-on learning opportunities offered by the program. Look for schools that have well-equipped laboratories, research centers, and partnerships with local health organizations.

These resources can provide you with valuable practical experience and allow you to work on cutting-edge research projects. Additionally, consider the faculty’s expertise and their involvement in research and industry collaborations.

This can give you the chance to learn from experts and gain real-world experience.

Customization options

Every student has different career goals and interests within the field of exercise science. Therefore, it is important to choose a program that offers customization options. Look for schools that offer a wide range of elective courses and specializations within the exercise science curriculum.

This will allow you to tailor your education to your specific interests and career goals, whether that be sports performance, clinical exercise physiology, or community health promotion.

Cost and financial aid availability

The cost of education is a crucial factor to consider when choosing a program. Look for schools that offer competitive tuition rates and a variety of financial aid options, such as scholarships, grants, and work-study opportunities.

It’s important to carefully review the financial aid packages offered by each school to determine the affordability and feasibility of attending.

Location and campus culture

Finally, consider the location and campus culture of the schools you are considering. Think about whether you prefer a large, urban campus or a smaller, more intimate setting. Consider the climate, proximity to internships and job opportunities, and the overall vibe of the campus.

It’s important to choose a school where you feel comfortable and can thrive academically and socially.

Applying to Exercise Science Programs


Before applying to exercise science programs, it is important for prospective students to meet certain prerequisites. These prerequisites may vary depending on the school and program, but commonly include a high school diploma or equivalent, completion of specific science and math courses, and a strong GPA.

Some programs may also require prerequisite courses in anatomy, physiology, and exercise science fundamentals. It is crucial for students to research and understand the specific prerequisites for each program they are interested in.

Application requirements

When applying to exercise science programs, students typically need to submit a variety of documents to complete their application. These requirements may include official transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal statement or essay, and standardized test scores such as the SAT or ACT.

Additionally, some programs may require an interview or an audition as part of the application process. It is important for applicants to carefully review the specific application requirements for each program and ensure that they submit all necessary documents in a timely manner.


Every exercise science program has specific application deadlines that students must meet. It is crucial for applicants to carefully note these deadlines and submit their applications well in advance. Missing the deadline for an exercise science program can result in a student being unable to apply or being considered for admission.

To avoid any last-minute rush or potential complications, it is recommended to create a personal timeline that includes all the deadlines for the programs that you are interested in.

Preparing a competitive application

Competition for admission into exercise science programs can be intense, so it is important for applicants to prepare a competitive application. This includes showcasing their academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and any relevant work or volunteer experience.

Applicants should also take the time to craft a well-written personal statement or essay that highlights their passion for exercise science and their future career goals. It can be beneficial to seek guidance from mentors, teachers, or advisors who can provide valuable insights and help refine the application.

Ultimately, a strong and competitive application increases the chances of being accepted into a desired exercise science program.

For more information on applying to exercise science programs, you can visit reputable websites such as ACSM or NSCA which provide valuable resources and guidance for aspiring exercise science students.


An exercise science degree from a top-ranked program can be the ideal path for starting a rewarding career in health, fitness, and sports performance. With a degree’s strong foundation in science, research, and hands-on skills, you’ll be prepared to improve people’s lives through exercise and physical activity.

By considering factors like reputation, research opportunities, customization, affordability, and program culture, you can identify the undergraduate or graduate exercise science program that best fits your interests and professional goals.

With an informed choice and strong application, you’ll be on your way to an exciting future in this growing field.

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