Home Blog Is an Exercise Science Degree Really Worth It? – Part 1

Is an Exercise Science Degree Really Worth It? – Part 1

Written on November 6, 2011 at 8:47 pm, by Eric Cressey

Today’s post is going to rub some folks in academia the wrong way.  Therefore, I want to preface the piece that follows by saying:

a) I am a huge advocate of a multi-faceted education, encompassing “traditional” directed study (e.g., classroom education), self-study, internships, and experimentation.

b) I loved my college experience – both undergraduate and graduate.  I benefited tremendously and made a lot of valuable connections.

However, it didn’t come easily; I got out of it what I put into it.  To be candid, there are a lot of my peers who took the exact same courses and got the exact same degrees who didn’t walk away having gotten their money’s worth.

But, then again, does anyone really get their money’s worth?

College isn’t cheap nowadays. Check out the following statistics from CollegeBoard.com (as of 2011; this is sure to increase in the years to come):

  • Public four-year colleges charge, on average, $7,605 per year in tuition and fees for in-state students. The average surcharge for full-time out-of-state students at these institutions is $11,990. 
  • Private nonprofit four-year colleges charge, on average, $27,293 per year in tuition and fees.
  • Public two-year colleges charge, on average, $2,713 per year in tuition and fees.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account the cost of books, travel, food, accommodations, and the $5,000 in on-campus parking tickets you’ll end up paying.  Educations can run upwards of $220,000 - and that's before you consider student loan interest and the opportunity cost of investing that money.

Assume 24-30 credits per year (12-15 per semester), you’re looking at a per credit hour cost of $399.66-$499.58 for public, out-of-state.  It’d be $253.50-$316.88 for public, in-state.  Public two-year colleges would be $90.43-$113.04. Finally, private would be $909.77-$1137.21. Sorry, Mom and Dad; I’ve never in all my years heard a kid say that an hour with one of his professors – even in a one-on-one context – was worth over a grand.


They also charge you to do internships elsewhere.  In other words, you have to pay to get credits accepted – which means that the cost per hour you actually spend with college faculty is, in fact, even higher.

Many folks go to college to figure out what they want to do.  Others go because it is a social experience that is both fun – and helpful in maturing them as individuals.  That’s fine.

However, it is becoming tougher and tougher to consider it an investment, especially since the “success gap” between college graduates and those who don’t attend college is getting smaller and smaller.  Along these lines, if you haven’t read it already, I’d strongly encourage you to read Michael Ellsberg’s New York Times piece, Will Dropouts Save America?

The exercise science field is one in which this success gap is arguably smaller than in any other.  The barrier to entry to the personal training field is incredibly low; independent of schooling and previous experience, one can become certified in a matter of a few hours via an online test, and many gyms will hire people who aren’t even certified or insured.  In fact, as I wrote a few years ago, Josef Brandenburg, a great trainer based in Washington, D.C., actually got his pet pug certified.  The sad truth is that he could probably do a better job than most of the trainers out there who are pulling $100/hour.

Of course, I’m preaching to the choir here.  Most of the folks reading this blog are educated and highly motivated to be the best that they can be.  You seek out the best reading materials, DVDs, seminars, and colleagues from which you can learn.  Personal training means a lot to people who grew up and went to college wanting to eventually help people get healthy, improve quality of life, optimize sports performance, or simply be more confident.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that our profession as a whole has become a “fall-back” career.  It can be what college kids decide to do over summer vacation to make a few bucks, or what extremely well-paid lawyers or accountants take up when they get sick of long hours at desk jobs.

That doesn’t make them bad people; it just means that the minimal regulation in our industry has rendered a college education in this field a trivial competitive advantage in the workplace.

Additionally, this doesn't mean that college professors aren't qualified or doing their jobs sufficiently. It just means that the curricula that typifies an exercise science degree simply isn't sufficient to provide a competitive advantage over non-college-educated candidates in the workforce. There are exceptions, no doubt,in the form of outstanding professors who go above and beyond the call of duty to help student, but I can't honestly say that I've ever heard of a college kid coming out of any undergraduate exercise science program boasting of a competitive advantage that was uniquely afforded to him/her because of the education just completed. The closest thing might be a program with a strong alumni network that provides easier access to job opportunities.

Of course, the cream will rise to the top in any field – and that’s certainly true of exercise science as well.  The industry leaders are, for the most part, people with college educations in exercise science (or closely related fields) – but the question one must ask is, “would these people have been successful in our field even without the courses they took in their undergraduate studies?”

Don’t you think Mike Robertson’s drive for self study would have sustained him in a successful career in this field even without a degree?

Don’t you think Todd Durkin’s energy, charisma, and passion for helping people would have shone through even if he hadn’t gotten a degree?

Moreover, I can list dozens of bright minds making outstanding headway in this field with “non-exercise-science” college degrees.  John Romaniello (Psychobiology/ English), Joe Dowdell (Sociology/Economics), and Ben Bruno (Sociology) are all successful, forward-thinking trainers who come to mind instantly, and they’re just the tip of the iceberg.

Some of my best interns have come from undergraduate majors like English Literature, Acting, and Biology.  We’ve had others who didn’t even have college degrees and absolutely dominated in their roles at Cressey Performance.

Guys like Nate Green, Adam Bornstein, Sean Hyson, Lou Schuler, and Adam Campbell don’t have college degrees in exercise science (although Campbell did get a graduate degree in Exercise Physiology following his undergraduate in English).  However, from their prolific writing careers and by surrounding themselves with the best trainers on the planet, they’ve become incredibly qualified trainers themselves – even if they don’t have to train anybody as part of their jobs.

With all these considerations in mind, the way I see it, you’ve got three options to distinguish yourself in the field of exercise science – and I'll share them in part 2 of this article.  If you’re a high school or college student contemplating a career in exercise science, this will be must-read material.

In the meantime, you may be interested in checking out Elite Training Mentorship, our affordable online education program for fitness professionals.


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83 Responses to “Is an Exercise Science Degree Really Worth It? – Part 1”

  1. Greg Spatz Says:

    The fact that a dog is certified is indicative of the points you’re making about our industry – and also cracks me up.
    I agree completely and would relate it to any other field how the best will be the ones who really want it the most with the work ethic to get there. However, to be the best surgeon you’ve gotta be extensively educated WITH EXPERIENCE while any 18-year-old with internet access can be trusted with the health and wellness of anyone willing to be overcharged by their local healthclub.
    Good work again, I’ll be back for part 2.

  2. Brad leshinske Says:

    As an owner of two facilities and an adjunct professor this is a great piece. Just like certs they are just letters and passion drives success in any field. I will say the university I teach at really allows us who are in the field share real life experience of how the field really is and what to expect. Also if you do look at success in our biz its people with passion, people willing to work 90-100 hrs with little pay but the reward is more than you can ask for. That is why you surround yourself with people with passion, always keep learning and learn from your mistakes and you will be great not only in our field but more importantly life. Again great piece

  3. Jeremy Says:


    Great stuff! This post was a must-read for me personally and couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m a student majoring in biomedical engineering, but am looking to use that to get involved with the sports medicine and strength and conditioning fields. Apparently, not many people choose that route. Then again, not many people majoring in subjects like sociology, psychobiology, or English spurn that to become successful in the field! Looking forward to part 2!


  4. Kristen Thomson Says:

    I loved college. At the time, I would have said it was worth it at any price.

    However, the whole college thing today scares me to pieces. I’m raising two young girls and contributing yearly to their college education, but I’m wondering about the value. It seems that a college degree has been devalued as a commodity while at the same increased in cost. If you can’t be sure of what you’re getting out of it, you can hardly afford to enter into the process with any doubts.

    Once I was a college-junkie, but then I worked in a university and found that the quality most needed to get through a PhD program was perseverance. Not to discount that very important quality, but it surprised me that high intelligence and talent were much lower on the list of qualities needed for a PhD.

    Now I appreciate a more nuanced intelligence – one that is practical, yet explorative. A person who leaves themselves open to learning all the time at the demise of their ego. :} A degree does not guarantee this quality.

  5. John Phung Says:

    Personally I think an exercise science degree is a commodity & not really worth the investment.

    In the examples you mentioned, it’s not even required to become a recognized expert, effective trainer, and ultimately pay the bills.

    Someone who has a degree doesn’t mean they’ll get hired over someone else who does not have an exercise science degree.

    Also, it doesn’t mean that they’ll know what they’re talking about (Einstein said “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school”), or practice what they preach.

    At best, I think it’s more of a heuristic for employers and potential clients to quickly screen out someone who is ‘qualified’ and someone who is not.

    The degree is a huge investment that requires a lot of time, money & energy. It will probably leave most people in debt, and there’s no guarantee for a job. There’s not even a competitive advantage. Degree holders are a dime a dozen and do not stand out from the crowd.

    And there’s more effective ways to establish oneself as an expert in a field, such as prolific writing, real world experience, testimonials from clients, networking skills and public speaking to name a few.

    I have heard/read somewhere that the most important skill for a personal trainer is sales, specifically, the ability to close.

    After all, what it all comes down to is making $. Closing sales will make the money.

    Combine that with being an effective trainer (which does not require a degree) and getting clients the results they want would increase the chances of the clients renewing their sessions, giving you referrals, and testimonials…which would lead to more clients and more $.

    These do not require a degree. But it does require effort, experience and a continuing education.

  6. Norman Says:

    Fantastic piece … very much appreciated, especially coming from someone who has a degree from UConn 🙂 I look forward to part 2.

  7. Cort the Sport Says:

    Excellent article with so many great points. College can be a good way to improve general habits of mind, critical thinking, and problem solving. It’s not the only way. [I believe in general there is far too much emphasis on EVERYONE going go college at any expense and an underemphasis/undervaluing of skilled trades….but that’s another topic.]

    My trainer is a WNBF Pro Bodybuilder and he has an MS in Economics. He’s brilliant and successful because of the way he approaches training which probably was influenced by his education.

    I have a PhD in engineering/ergonomics but I know I’d never be half the trainer he is. Education helps, but there are those intangible but essential qualities that great trainers and coaches have that can’t really be taught in school.

    While it would be nice to have a mechanism whereby the public could distinguish the “fallback job” trainer from the legitimate career trainer, over-regulation is not a great approach.

  8. Matty C Says:

    Mate you consistently write articles that challenge my thought process and think outside the box.
    I have a Ex Science degree and totally believe it wasn’t a great investment in the PT field. It does provide great researching skills and lays a solid foundation in the bare essentials of anatomy, physiology, & biomechanics. I don’t believe a PT course will allow you to develop this knowledge without undergoing plenty of self-education.
    However, here in Australia (not sure how things work in the US), there are two main areas in our field:
    1. You are a PT either running your own business, working in a gym, or
    2. You work as a S&C coach for a sporting organisation (govt or private) with athletes (at all levels).
    Point 1 requires a Cert IV in Fitness derived from whatever organisation you choose to learn from. Costs around $5k and will entitle you to be registered as a fitness professional and work in a gym. If you run your own gym, you don’t need any quals at all (not regulated) but you won’t be covered by insurance.
    Point 2 in a huge majority of cases requires and undergrad sports degree but in an ever increasing manner the standard is rising to require post-grad study to qualify for employment (sometimes just to get ‘experience’ and not get paid). After going thru all the study to get a Masters, you’d be well out of pocket upwards of $60k and down about 5 years full time study. A huge investment in yourself so that you can train athletes, work early mornings and late nights + weekends for very little pay.
    So in most instances (and what I’m currently doing), open your own gym, educate yourself for free and train whatever athlete or niche group you want and create your own hours. Pay is better and no one is breathing down your neck with some new young whipper snapper ready to take your job!
    Looking forward to Part 2 mate!
    Qld, Australia

  9. Lou Schuler Says:

    Nice post, Eric.

    One quick correction: Adam Campbell has a master’s degree in ex phys from the University of Kansas. We hired him at MH directly out of grad school. (But his undergrad degree is in English, FWIW.)

  10. TC Says:

    Hey Eric great blog post! Certainly stirs things up a little bit. I have friends who have College degrees who struggled in the fitness industry and I see guys who have no degrees but totally dominating it. The difference I believe is the desire to learn more beyond the College years. Looking forward to your next blog post.

  11. Ann Wendel Says:

    As someone who persevered through 10 years of higher education to become a physical therapist, I agree with the entire theme of your post. I always joke that if I had not gone to PT school, I wouldn’t have to work now! I am still paying back my loans from undergrad (Athletic Training degree) and grad school, and my oldest child is 5 years away from going to college! The benefit for me (and what kept me pushing through) was that I needed the degrees in order to practice like I want to. I love what I do and have always been happy with my career choice; but, my true learning has come in my 20 years of taking continuing education and treating people. I think that the schooling just gives you the basic knowledge for any career, and then it’s up to you to continually grow in your chosen profession. Because I was in such a specialized track from my first year of college, I really needed to be at a school that offered the degree I wanted; but, for those kids who are undecided as to their career choice, or just looking for a general course of study, I think 2 year schools are the best value. When I tell people this, many of them look at me horrified (I live in the DC area, where everyone has multiple advanced degrees and a lot of kids graduate high school with most of their first year of college done b/c of AP courses). I think it is time to stop considering your child’s college admission to be some sort of status symbol and really focus on what is best for each family. Looking forward to part 2!

  12. James Cipriani Says:

    I’m on so many sides of the fence on this. I went to college for Health Science. But I have honestly learned so much more OUT of what I did through my college curriculum. But, as you have mentioned, this was driven by my passion.

    At the same time, simply getting certified means nothing to me and my business anymore. I have been doing this since 1994 and have had my own business since 1997. The amount of, to be nice I’ll say “sub-par,” trainers that are certified is ridiculous. Honestly, I have seen in my career a pretty even split. A third of trainers are GREAT, another third are serviceable, and yet another third flat out have no business calling themself a trainer. There was a time I was embarrassed to say I was a personal trainer because of this very non-scientific stat. I felt like I was saying I was a “used car salesman” (no offense to used car salesmen). I would often use the term “strength and conditioning coach” instead 🙂

    Now, I no longer let the “sub-par” define me. I am very confident in what I do and I love it. I have made it my mission in my area to actually raise the standards of what a trainer should be.

    Great post, Eric.

  13. Eric Cressey Says:

    Lou, good catch! Will update. Thanks, man!

  14. Chu Says:

    This is a great article! I’ve only been a trainer for just under 2 years now. I don’t have a graduate degree however I am constantly researching and studying. I’ve been to many gyms where I could spot out who’s a bad trainer and who isn’t. I’ve worked with trainers who place heavy precedence on being “certified.” When in fact as mentioned that even a pug can be certified.

    Being a personal trainer is about making the session strictly for the client. Programming is great, however for the average person that’s subjected to change everyday. Being a personal trainer you’ve got to be adaptive, be able to think outside the box, diligent, have good manners, even somewhat personable and most of all passionate. All those things can’t be learned from any formal education, especially passion, you’ve got to love what you do when you’re training someone. That’s my humble 2 cents from my short career. Thanks for the article!!! Keep up the good work.

  15. John Madrigal Says:

    Great post Eric. I have always wondered about this and I’m glad that you addressed it.

  16. Adam Campbell Says:

    Eric and Lou: Interesting point about this. The exercise science degree certainly helped me play catch up and learn about physiology, but I learned far about more about exercise science and training once I got out of school and Lou gave me a job in journalism. It’s all about the desire to learn.

    Also, as Lou can attest: I was a horrible writer despite having an English degree. (Well, horrible in terms of being a professional writer.) The degrees help, but they certainly don’t dictate success.

    Great post, Eric.

  17. Kim Hellyar Says:


    Thank you so much for this post!

    There is such a stigma against trainers who do not have a degree. I have been in this industry for 12 years, hold two ACE certifications and seek out every learning opportunity available to me. I own my own business where the majority of my clients are physicians. Recently, I left several groups in Linkedin due to the condescending attitude that I received every time I posted something. I was politely reminded that my opinion really didn’t matter because I didn’t hold a degree so I was clueless. One point I would like to bring out, they sought me out originally to join.

    Trends in our industry are ever changing, so if you don’t continue to learn, that degree is not going to mean a lot. Here’s a thought for all of the ego maniacs out there, if you REALLY love what you do and want to make a difference why not reach out to a trainer that wasn’t as fortunate as you and mentor him/her? Or is it just easier to ridicule? What does that do for the professionalism of our industry?

  18. John Says:

    Great post, Eric. Like quite a few others my first qualifications were nothing to do with fitness – degrees in English and Medieval History – and only later on did I take personal trainer and fitness therapy qualifications. Have not regretted taking that route – the enthusiasms and dedication from the earlier studies and using them in a career easily transferred to the firness world when the decision had been made.

    All the best,


  19. Fredrik Gyllensten Says:

    Awesome article, especially for me how are in the middle og deciding whethet to take a degree or not..

  20. Charlie Says:

    I do not have a University or college related degree.
    I was hired over 30 candidates at the biggest insurance company in my city to run their fitness centre. We have 1400 members.
    My passion and willingness to educate myself through specialized certifications has put me at the top of my field in this city.
    I also do not have a student loan to pay back either.
    I would never devalue the work a student puts in or discourage someone to get educated but I think there are other options out there to be succesful.
    This depends on the person.

  21. Jeff McDole Jr. Says:

    From my experience, and I’m sure a lot of people have similar experiences, most jobs nowadays are all based on connections. If you know someone or if you know someone who knows someone is what helps you get the job. Out of all the jobs I’ve had, that’s been my situation. I think that college has become more of a “networking” thing where you hope they can place you with businesses or people that they know. No doubt the education helps in certain situations, but only if you lack experience. If you have experience, it comes down to that and who you know. Good and interesting article.

  22. Cassandra Says:

    Maybe it’s different for women and men? For me, my degrees and credentials have opened up countless opportunities and experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I wouldn’t ever give up my 12 years of college for anything. But, I do understand your point about much of it being more about the lessons learned than the actual paid education (thankfully I won numerous scholarships and barely paid anything 🙂 )

  23. Brianna Says:

    Great post!

    As a college student majoring in History and training be a Personal Trainer, it is nice to know that the exercise science degree isn’t all that it is hyped up to be. I was going to get my masters in exercise science, but I have learned through my 7 years at a gym, that some of the best trainers that I have worked with, either never went to college, or went to college and majored in something else that wasn’t related to exercise. It gives me comfort that I can be just as great as someone who has a degree in exercise science! Thank you so much!

  24. Sean Says:

    Wow! What a great read!

    It never surprises me that the people I look to for knowledge always hit the nail on the head when needed.

    I’m a current college student interested in getting a degree in exercise science, but have been on the fence about it for several reasons.

    Mostly because of the success of people (such as the ones you mentioned), and also JC Deen, Martin Berkhan, and Jim Wendler, who have helped me with my fitness more than any “trainer” with a degree.

    Not only that but almost every trainer I’ve talked to around campus, graduated with something other than exer. sci. And the only one that did has his clients doing the mot idiotic routines (middle-aged women/soccer moms doing dynamic effort days -__-)

    Needless to say can’t wait for part 2!

  25. Dr. David Doiron Says:

    This post and I’m sure the few that will follow, address ideas that I’ve contemplated (and will continue to contemplate) on a regular basis. The reason I continued on to chiropractic school is because my kinesiology: exercise science degree left me feeling like I had more to offer. I initially believed I would have so many options upon graduation but ended up feeling the opposite.

    What makes you great is the fact that you don’t try to be something your not. The letters and credentials at the end of your name are exactly that, just letters and credentials. They don’t define you as a person and this is a concept that I’ve struggled to grasp as I’ve recently entered the professional world. It’s easy (although expensive) to keep going to school, and add another certification to your name. The part that is toughest, and you do the best with, is showing people that you actually practice what you preach. The fact that you can deadlift 600+lbs, show it in a video, and explain how you got there is invaluable.

    I appreciate all that you have to say and look forward to reading the next installment on distinguishing yourself in the exercise science field.

  26. Espen Nordhagen' Says:

    I spent about 11000-12000 AUD (australian dollars) per SEMESTER for getting my degree, and the time I learned the most was when I was done and actually had the time to read what I felt I needed to get better… FOr my part: Complete waste of money and time!

  27. mike Says:

    Wow, Im in the minority here. My college education opened the door for me and gave me a fantastic foundation for success. Im in the position I am in thanks to my state university education. $177.17 a month in loans has never been such a good investment.

    Although I do take your point Eric, 2 close friends of mine went to PT school. One spent 120 grand and the other spent 40 grand. His loans are paid off and she has $900 a month to look forward to.

  28. Brent J Carter Says:

    Great post and absolutely true. Sure my BS in Exercise and Sports Sciences probably helped me get my job because it looked great on paper. But when I started working in the highly competitive Manhattan area one of my coworkers who studied English was kickin my ass when it came to training and programming. She was way ahead of me and I remember thinking WTF i just got outa college with my degree in this stuff while you were studying Plato and crap. Yet there she was totally schooling me. I just don’t think the curriculum could ever keep up with the industry trends even if it tried.

  29. COACH LEW Says:


  30. Chris Schreiber Says:

    An excellent point, and I think it’s much more broadly applicable than just to exercise science degrees. There aren’t many degrees that aren’t rigorous on math and science that are broadly worth the investment (see http://innovationandgrowth.wordpress.com/2011/10/01/the-state-of-young-college-grads-2011/ for some interesting stats, or this http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2011/11/not-from-the-onion-3.html for an illustrative anecdote) (and particularly not worth going into debt to achieve – particularly if you don’t understand the nature of student loans as compared to other unsecured debt http://www.newdeal20.org/2011/10/26/student-loans-the-debt-you-carry-for-life-62757/ ).

    I look forward to seeing part 2.

  31. Chris Heskett Says:

    I’m a college junior exercise science major and so far I have learned nothing that is really useful for the fitness industry. Most of what I know has come from reading articles written by people like Eric or from working with people hands on. I have learned more in the two months that I’ve worked with the women’s basketball team at my college as one of the strength and conditioning coaches then I have in all my years at my college. The only really good thing, career wise, that college has done for me so far is give me the opportunity to work as a strength coach.
    The degree really is not all it is hyped up to be. If I was to do college again I only minor in exercise science and major in something else.
    can’t wait for part 2 of this!

  32. Ashley Says:

    This topic has always been uncomfortable for me. I didn’t go to college for exercise science or anything related to that. I went for culinary arts. And I’m going to be honest, I suck at cooking. I hate it. I have the papers, but what does that really mean if I’m not passionate about it?
    I wish I could go back to school and get a degree in something that I truly love to do, but c’mon, I have three small children, it’s not financially possible.
    But I do know that it takes more than a degree to be at the top of the field. Passion, drive, heart, will, etc. And lucky for me, that’s exactly what I have. So degree or not, I’m going to work my way to the top by learning everyday, experience, and surrounding myself with the best of the best

    Thanks for letting me get that off my chest!!

  33. Arthur Lynch Says:


    I’m a second year sport and exercise science student in the university of limerick, Ireland. Your tough but fair assessment of college education in this industry is so brutally honest that it’s depressing. Despite my level of knowledge in the field being superior to many employed in the business here, my searches for employment have yielded sweet f***all. Most gyms and leisure centers won’t even look at you unless you have a lifeguard qualification or a certificate in exercise and health fitness (which is about 50percent learning to teach exercise to music). With my father recently being made unemployed there is no longer an income coming into my family of 6, so this article makes for tough reading. But I’m not one to hide from the truth, and I really appreciate your honesty, thanks Eric,

    Arthur Lynch.

  34. Mike D Says:

    Great post which has me conflicted! I’m an ex-soccer pro from the UK living in the US. Back in the UK, once my soccer career had ended (too early, due to knee injury)I was given a start in the strength & conditioning field through an old coaching staff contact, working at a semi-pro soccer club. It was ‘on-the-job’ training, much like getting an internship at a sport performance facility. Despite the huge amount of practical education it gave me in the field, I always felt like a fraud next to my colleagues, who all had undergraduate and graduate degrees in the exercise science field.
    These days I’m more of a personal trainer than strength coach. I hold the NSCA & NASM CPT certs. Even though my exercise science knowledge now is probably on par with those who hold exercise science degrees, I have encountered numerous sport performance facility owners who simply will not hire me because I do not have an exercise science (or related subject) degree. These owners have specifically stated this!
    I’m contemplating going back to college (have bachelors in sociology)at the age of 38, to study Athletic Training. Why? For me, I love the sports medicine & corrective exercise field, but at some point, legislation will be put in place dictating that all trainers/strength coaches be licensed practitioners (like massage therapists). Holding a degree will then be a requisite anyway. My logic is that as an Athletic Trainer there will be far more employment opportunites available, both in the sports and corporate sectors (maybe even medical, like PT’s). Plus, you can still opt to be a strength coach/personal trainer!
    At the end of the day, having an exercise science degree or not depends on what direction you want to go in the industry and what longevity you hope to achieve within it.

  35. Tim Peirce Says:

    Good points Eric,

    I have seen again and again that experience ultimately trumps formal education (which includes certifications). Certs vary in level of demand of competency. Yet, I’ve known horrible trainers with very “prestigious” certs and great trainers with either no cert or certs from “The Acme School of Personal Training Certification.”

    Anyway, great post.

  36. Mike D Says:

    First off, apologies to everyone for posting the same comments twice!

    What I failed to mention in that post was the business side of things in the fitness/strength industry. To be honest, exercise science degree or not, if you suck as a trainer or happen to be amazing at it, your business skills or lack thereof will really dictate your success in the field. If you know how to market yourself and your business to your target audience, you’ll succeed and make a comfortable living.

    Anybody calling themselves a trainer can (and let’s face it, does) hit up Amazon or Barnes & Noble, buy books from the cream of this industry, plagiarize their programming and put their clients through it as if they created it and still see them get great results. You don’t need an exercise science degree for that. Any wonder why the term ‘personal trainer’ is viewed with so much disdain?

  37. Michael Says:

    I recently recieved my BS in Exercise Science and I can unfortunately say that there are next to no benefits in the work world for having this degree.
    I was intending to go on to Physical Therapy but after a change of heart I switched fields. Needing to work I was disappointed to find my 4 year degree gave me no advantages in the work field. In the employer’s eyes this degree does not qualify me for any job. Where I live Physical Therapy Assistants is a specialized degree which i could have obtained in 2 years. As far as personal training, employers didnt care about a degree, only certification.
    Im not trying to be overly pessimistic but I feel I recieved an empty degree. That in itself has no value in any employers eyes. The knowledge is good to have, but to invest 4 years of my life and have no benefits from it is tough. I also have to agree with an earlier comment, that most things I learned, that are applicable in real life situations, I learned from self study and personal interest and not in the classroom.

  38. George Says:

    You need some form of qualification but just because you spend more years studying doesn’t mean you get a better trainer. I worked with a girl who after 4 years in university told a client a good source of protein in the morning was a bowl of porridge!!
    The lecturer’s who taught the courses all spent 10-15 minutes on a bike/x-trainer warming up, 10 minutes “static stretching” and followed isolated body part training routines (one even squatted on top of a bench on the calf raise machine)…some of these lecturer’s had PHD’s.
    Lastly a personal trainer a one gym asked me what a one arm row was – if you think your industry in America is unregulated you you see how bad it is in New Zealand…great article as always :-))

  39. Anthony Mychal Says:

    Posted a fully detailed response on Freak Strength. I included a link in that post that also takes you back to one of my very first blog posts that dealt with this topic.


  40. jay liston Says:

    More examples: Paul Chek, Pavel Tsatsouline

  41. John Power Says:

    Thanks Eric for this article. I do not have a college degree so I am someone looking from the outside in on this subject. I am a massage therapist/personal trainer, before this I was a furniture maker for 12 years. Before there were schools there were trades with apprentices, journeymen and masters. Learning happened on the job through hard work, repetition/practice, observation and adherence to a good work ethic. This is a practical learning learning-by-doing process that to me is missing from academic learning. I worked with a physical therapist who said he went to PT school so he could take continuing ed courses

  42. Tony Webster Says:

    Astute comments. I was at an ASEP (American Society for Exercise Physiology) conference 3-4 years ago in Texas where one of the professors gave a long talk about how our area (I teach exercise physiology and training courses at a college in BC Canada) was in a crisis situation. The harsh reality is that grads of ex sci programs in North America (and probably elsewhere) are entering a field with minimal regulation and where without extra study and motivation it is difficult to earn a decent living. This message needs to get through so that our profession starts to be taken seriously.

  43. Josh Hamilton Says:

    This post could not have come at a more appropriate time. I recently graduated highschool in June of this year and have been avidly researching diploma and degree programs in exercise science.
    For the past two years of my life I have been immersed in self study regarding strength, conditioning, nutrition and anything related to the field. This truly is my passion and I have become a sponge to the world of knowledge! Roman, Nate Green, Sean Hyson, Lou, Mike Robertson, Joe Dowdell, everyone at Cressey Performance and many others have been a constant inspiration and driving force behind my hunger to learn and apply.
    I feel as though I am at the beginning of my journey and it is envigorating. Yet, I find myself struggling with the decision to enter a post secondary program, simply due to the fact that I know I possess a passion and immense amount of drive for self study. The money spent on tuition and books could conversely be put toward attending various seminars, books (already doing this regardless), funding internships and a plethora of other resources directly applicable to my path.
    I have recently ordered “The Education of Millionaires” by Michael Ellsberg and expect to be glued to the text from the moment I pick it up. The oppinion and mindset that he has discussed on various blogs and articles have influenced my approach to the next steps in life.
    Although tuition at the schools I am looking at here in British Columbia, Canada are comparatively less than their American counterparts ( $4,000 vs $20,000 per year), I cannot help my questioning of the system.
    I am looking forward to Part II of this post! The knowledge and resources that you provide have be benefited me greatly. Keep it coming Eric!
    Josh Hamilton

  44. Jini C. Says:

    I remember having just graduated from college and I asked the owner of our gym, what advice he might have for me on getting clients now that I was certified AND educated (two totally different things.) His response? “This is L.A. Everyone and their brother is a personal trainer; find a different career.” (And here I thought everyone and their brother was an actor?)

    I worked in the personal training business for a number of years before I decided to go back to school (in my 30s)and get that degree in Kinesiology-in part,because I had FINALLY figured out how I could turn my passion into a career-or so I thought. I also did this because I thought that degree would give me an edge in the industry. Years later, I’ve learned that although having the degree sounds good to some, most “lay people” (prospective clients) don’t know what to look for in a coach or trainer. They rarely meet a degree-ed personal trainer and just settle on someone with a six-pack, automatically assuming that person would be an appropriate trainer for them. They don’t know any better (perhaps licensure IS the answer?)

    I make a decent living but I’ve had to crawl my way there while continually educating myself at every turn and that’s usually dependent upon what workshops/seminars/conferences I can afford to attend (thank God for books & DVDs.) Meanwhile, many trainers I know, with a fraction of my credentials, have a waiting list to work with them (and yes, I DO have a personality 🙂 ) They attend zero conferences etc., and pursue no continuing education proclaiming that they’re “old school.”

    Am I just bitter? I’m not saying that I regret the education, I absolutely don’t but, its rough when so many great, experienced, qualified trainers have to compete in a marketplace overcrowded with under qualified I’m-an-actor-I-just-do-this-to-pay-my-bills types. Whatever happened to bartending?

  45. Diane Seabury PT Says:

    As a registered Physical Therapist with 20 years of experience, I agree wholeheartedly. I see my profession of Physical Therapy also headed down the
    wrong path. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree (4.5 years, and we had to submit research for publication to graduate), and now our field has a mandatory Master’s degree with a PhD option. NEWS FLASH: just because your PhD allows you to be called “doctor”, it does not automatically give you the respect, knowledge base, or salary-you have to earn those with hard work and CEU’s. Too many students (I was the director of a PTA program) are seduced by the mystique if the degree and their desire to work in “outpatient sports medicine”. They fail to recognize the debt at the end of the tunnel.

    Physical Therapy is slightly different that personal training, however, in that you DO need to graduate from an accredited college to sit for state boards to be licensed to work. You DON’T have to go to the most expensive college, however.

  46. Jeff Says:


    Very interesting article, and one that has really made me think about my situation carefully. You see I have been living in South Korea for 10 years teaching English. Last year I decided I would like a change and took the steps so that I would be accepted into a masters program at the University of Texas. Its an online Kinesiology Degree. My thinking is that for me to break into the field back home in Canada I should have some formal qualifications. Now you have really made me think if it is worth the investment. I\\\’m on the fence as to whether I should continue with my masters or go back home and try to make it with other qualifications. If you could shed some light for me I would be most grateful.


  47. Christine Says:

    Glad you brought this up. I am a physical therapist and highly value the majority of my educational experience. Most of that comes from my general love of learning, as I think many of us who have commented can appreciate.
    I have, however felt that education, like many things in our country today, needs some re-vamping. It is too costly, too many courses that do not add value to general life skills, and some educators that may not the best at contributing to one’s growth.
    As a clinician, I recognize people for all levels of “what they know”, whether it be carpentry, computers, artistic work…….whatever it is.

    Keep your passion to learn, keep learning, and keep looking for ways to improve yourself – formally or informally.

  48. Josef Says:

    The best blog posts are the ones that mention me by name:-).

  49. Jerry Klein Says:

    I think some of these comments are true no matter what field you go in to. I have been a teacher for over 30 years.Did getting my degree teach me everything I needed to know? Of course not. It’s all the extra training and researching I did once I got teaching is what gave me more knowledge. So I don’t think the degree was a waste. I think the important part is you have to keep learning even after you have your degree. There must be somethings learned while working towards a degree you wouldn’t of learned by just winging it.

  50. Blake Theisen Says:

    Dear Eric,

    Great post. I agree with your comments 100%. I’d also like to point out that while the people you mentioned may not have fitness/health related degrees, they have degrees closely related to understanding human nature, business, and communication (sociology, psychobiology, english, economics). Aside from being individuals who are naturally curious and self directed learners, these people are good teachers, interactive listeners, and most likely satisfied by helping others. All of these things contribute to their success in the fitness industry. However, I think people with these attributes would ultimately be successful at whatever they choose to pursue, because they have that drive to be leaders. (A little luck along the way never hurts either, but as Coach Vince Lombardi stated, “the harder you work, the luckier you get.”)

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