Online PhD in Kinesiology

Kinesiology is the study of human movement and body mechanics. This includes movements in daily life, such as climbing stairs and gardening, work-related physical activity, and athletic activity. The fields of exercise science, movement science, sport science, and physical education all fall under kinesiology. Applications of kinesiology include biomechanics and orthopedics, strength and conditioning, rehabilitation, and sport and exercise.

Doctoral degrees in kinesiology are housed within a number of different departments across colleges and universities since the field of study can be applied to a variety of related subjects. These include health promotion and recreation; health and exercise science; health and human performance; athletic training; biomechanics; clinical exercise physiology; movement science and education; and human movement, sport, and leisure studies. Your professional background and interests can help lead you to the program that's best for you. It's important to keep in mind that these programs often involve significant lab work, so opportunities to attend online PhD programs in kinesiology are limited, save for select online or hybrid courses.

About Online PhD Programs in Kinesiology

A Doctor of Philosophy in Kinesiology involves advanced study, research, and laboratory training to produce scholars in the profession. Programs typically focus on broad areas of kinesiology, such as motor control and learning, physiology, and obesity studies, with the opportunity for students to specialize in a particular area. These areas of emphasis may include topics such as motor development, exercise physiology, and biomechanics. Doctorate degrees in kinesiology can take between four to five years to complete. Many programs include classes, lectures and lab work, as well as a residency participating in professional activities. Some examples of classes you might taking during a kinesiology doctorate, as currently offered by the University of Minnesota's School of Kinesiology, include:

Year One:

  • Survey of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport. Students in this course learn about professional practice and disciplinary dimensions of kinesiology, recreation, and sport.
  • Lifetime Health and Wellness. This course provides an overview of health/wellness, including topics in physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, social, environmental, and financial health and the influence of societal changes on general health and wellness of diverse populations.
  • Human Anatomy. This course provides an introduction to human anatomy with an emphasize on musculoskeletal anatomy as it applies to athletic training, biomechanics, exercise physiology, and motor learning/development.

Year Two:

  • Introduction to Biomechanics. This course covers the mechanical principles governing human motion, including human bone, muscle, and neurophysiology; measurements of human performance; and clinical/applied sport biomechanics. A lab component introduces technology for assessing human motor function such as electromyography or force sensors.
  • Prevention and Care of Athletic Injuries. This lab course covers principles in athletic training for prevention and care of injury, including taping and bracing techniques.
  • Sport and Exercise Psychology. This course covers the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of people in physical activity contexts, as well as provides a foundation to theory and research in sport and exercise psychology.

Once students complete all of their core and elective classes they spend the rest of their doctorate in a residency. During this time they may conduct research experiments, attend seminars, and work on a dissertation. A dissertation typically consists of an original research in a topic of their choice that adds to the advancement of the field. Areas of potential study include behavioral aspects of physical activity, biomechanics and neuromotor control, exercise physiology, motor learning, sport management, and sport sociology. The dissertation should also be of publishable quality. Students must orally defend their research and findings before a dissertation committee before they can graduate.

Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Kinesiology

There are several benefits to earning a doctorate in kinesiology. It can provide you with training and expertise in the field's most up-to-date practices. During the four years of study you also create a network of advisors, mentors, and peer professionals that can help your career. Through a dissertation you also have the opportunity to conduct original research that contributes to the advancement of the field.

On the other hand, continuing your education can be a costly endeavor that can burden you with debt for several years. The degree may not increase your salary significantly as many related careers, such as massage therapist and athletic trainer, do not require a doctorate to practice. Since online doctorates in kinesiology are limited due to the nature of the program and lab requirements you may have to uproot yourself to earn the degree.

Application & Admission Requirements

The application process varies from program to program, so it's best to always check with your school's admissions office for required materials. Beyond the standard application, application fee, and official transcripts from all institutions previously attended, materials you may need to include are a current resume, statement of professional goals and research interests, a sample of academic writing, multiple letters of recommendation, and official GRE scores. Students whose native language is not English may need to submit TOEFL scores and achieve a minimum score to apply. Programs may also require a minimum undergraduate grade point average to be eligible for entry. An interview with a faculty advisor is also common and would be conducted in-person whenever possible.

Career Options & Job Market

Kinesiology can be applied to a variety of careers in healthcare and fitness. The American Kinesiology Association lists dozens, including common paths such as athletic trainer, personal trainer, coach, and message therapist, as well as biomechanist, exercise physiologist, medical doctor, occupational therapist, professor of kinesiology or physical education, registered nurse, and sport psychologist for performance enhancement. Many of these professions require their own training, degrees, and licensing, especially for therapists, doctors, and nurses. In those cases, a Doctor of Kinesiology could provide additional training and specialization within those fields on top of the professional's past education and experience.

Many of these fields are expected to experience employment growth through the end of this decade. Employment of athletic trainers is anticipated to grow 30% from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS notes that as people become more aware of sports-related injuries at a young age, demand for athletic trainers is expected to increase, especially in schools and youth leagues. Fitness trainers are also expected to see significant growth, with employment projected to increase 24% during this time due to increased incentives from businesses and insurance companies to join gyms and other fitness facilities, according to the BLS.

Where to Find Information

How to Get Funding

By the time you're entering a doctorate program in kinesiology, you probably already have four years of undergraduate study, and maybe even a master's degree, under your belt. You'll want to take advantage of all financial aid opportunities available to you. These include state-subsidized and federal loans; teaching and research fellowships, which offers a stipend for your work; and scholarships. If you are applying for federal loans remember that you have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA, by the deadline, and you must be attending an accredited school to qualify for federal aid.

  • Federal Direct Stafford Loan. This federal loan aid program provides low-interest loans at a fixed interest rate of 6.80% for up to $20,500 per academic year.
  • Federal Perkins Loan. This federal loan aid program provides an even lower interest rate, 5.0%, but on average awards $3,500 per academic year.
  • Campus-Based Aid. Your school is also a source of aid, from merit-based scholarships to teaching or research fellowships. Consult your college's financial aid office for any opportunities.

Essential Advice

Whether you just started thinking about it, are on the fence, or are positive you're going to pursue a doctorate degree in kinesiology, it's important to take the time think about how the degree can help you in your career in the long run. Since you'll probably be attending the program full-time, you'll also want to figure out how you're doing to support yourself and make adjusts in your life while you earn your Ph.D.

When you are ready to apply, it's important to give yourself enough time. From letters of recommendation to test scores, it can take several months to acquire the essential materials required for admission. You'll want to give yourself a cushion in case something falls through, such as a scheduled test or recommendation, so you don't miss any crucial deadlines.

  • Just as important as meeting application deadlines is meeting financial aid deadlines. Meet with financial aid advisors and your department to find out what scholarship and fellowship opportunities are open to you, and get those materials in on time. You'll also want to make sure you file your FAFSA by the deadline, too. In the long-term, your doctorate could potentially earn you more than the cost of getting it, but in the meantime you'll want to have a plan in place to support yourself.
  • As you determine your educational future, don't forget the value of work experience. Taking time off from school after you graduate with a bachelor's or master's degree can be a great time to recharge, make some professional contacts, save money, and see what the demand is in your field and tailor your degree towards that. You can also use that time to fulfill any prerequisite courses needed to apply.