Recreation Degree Programs with Career Information

Oct 20, 2021

Essential Information

Students who wish to pursue careers in recreation can enroll in programs at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels. These degree programs focus on the use of recreational activities in a variety of environments. Associate's degree programs usually have a therapeutic focus and prepare graduates for work as fitness instructors or consultants. Bachelor's degree programs prepare graduates for leadership positions in recreation, such as park rangers or camp directors. Those who pursue master's degrees in recreation can seek leadership positions in a specialized area of recreation, such as recreational therapy.

Associate's and bachelor's degrees require a high school diploma or equivalent and some require standardized test scores. Master's programs require a bachelor's degree in a related field, GRE scores and letters of recommendation. A personal interview and statement of purpose may also be required. Requirements for graduation may be composed of internships and thesis work as well as comprehensive exams. Program specializations may include recreation and tourism management, outdoor recreation, commercial recreation, recreational therapy, leisure marketing and community services.

Associate of Science in Fitness and Recreation

An associate's degree program in fitness and recreation introduces student to the field of physical education. Students enrolled in an associate's degree program will take a number of general education and physical activity classes. The physical activity classes cover topics such as rock climbing, strengthening of muscles, aerobics and cardiovascular exercises. Some associate's degree programs may include instruction on how these physical exercises can help assist people who are trying to rebuild their strength after losing muscle function due to an accident. These programs may include supervised clinical experiences. Classes provide a general introduction to the different types of physical activities. Other courses focus on how these activities should be taught. Some possible courses include:

  • Rock climbing and adventure education
  • CPR and first aid
  • Personal training and weight training
  • Stretching
  • Fitness walking
  • Water aerobics

Bachelor of Science in Recreation

A Bachelor of Science in Recreation degree program typically allows students to choose an area of specialization. However, before beginning coursework in a major area of study, core recreation courses must first be completed. Some of these classes may cover topics such as leadership of activities, legal liability, applications of research and technology, recreation administration and planning activity programs. The goal of these core courses is to major areas of recreation management since many graduates pursue leadership positions. An internship typically concludes a bachelor's degree program. Core classes introduce students to the broad field of recreation. Classes taken in the final years of enrollment will focus on a particular specialty of recreation. Some potential classes include:

  • Recreation therapy assessment
  • Human function and structure
  • Recreational therapy program design
  • Developmental psychology
  • Commercial tourism and recreation
  • Recreation resources and maintenance

Master of Science in Recreation

Much like a bachelor's degree program in recreation, a master's degree allows students to choose an area of specialization. The goal of a master's degree level program is to develop leadership and management qualities that can be transferred to a specific aspect of the recreation industry. Core courses also provide instruction on research design, the benefits of recreational activities and theories of recreation. Students begin work on a master's degree thesis while taking elective courses in their major area of study. A comprehensive examination may also be required to complete the degree.

Many schools prefer that applicants hold a bachelor's degree in recreation. However, some universities will accept applicants who have a degree in a closely related area such as physical education, park planning or public administration. Additionally, applicants must submit scores for the Graduate Records Examination (GRE) and submit letters of recommendation. A personal interview and a statement of purpose may also be required.

The core classes for a master's degree program in recreation will cover areas of research, administration, leadership, theoretical foundations and the quality of life. Some coursework provide students with an opportunity to gain practical experience. Possible courses include:

  • Recreation and research methods
  • Professional development
  • Leisure services management
  • Private recreation administration
  • Eco-tourism
  • Event planning

Possible Career Options

Graduates of an associate's degree program in physical fitness and recreation can find work with many different companies and organizations. Some of these include fitness and wellness clubs, spas and community centers. Possible careers include:

  • Fitness instructor
  • Wellness consultant
  • Recreational therapist

A bachelor's degree program opens up leadership opportunities in recreation that are not available to graduates of an associate's degree program. Health care institutions, national parks and fitness companies provide the best opportunity for employment. Some possible career outcomes include:

  • Recreational therapist
  • Park ranger
  • Camp director
  • Health club manager
  • Adventure travel coordinator

Job Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (, the employment of recreation specialists and workers is anticipated to increase by 8% for the 2018-2028 period. The median annual salary for recreation workers, also reported by the BLS, was $26,350 in 2019. Recreation therapists earned a median wage of $48,220 in 2019, and job opportunities are expected to rise by 7% from 2018-2028.

Students interested in recreation can pursue degree programs at the associate, bachelor's, and master's level that provide hands-on training while looking at how recreation relates to psychology. These programs can prepare students for careers in recreation therapy, fitness instruction, and more.

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