Occupational Therapy OT

| 29 November 2023

The data in this blog is for general informational purposes only and information presented was accurate as of the publication date.

What Can You Do with a Kinesiology Major?: Fifteen Career Paths

A faculty member assists a physical therapist in the Center for Innovative Clinical Practice (CICP).

Kinesiology is an exciting major with several career options. Some students enter an undergraduate program knowing what they want to do. Others love a subject but may not know the opportunities available to them.

If you’re wondering what you can do with a kinesiology major, look no further—we’ve outlined fifteen career paths to inspire kinesiology graduates.

What Is a Kinesiology Degree?

Definition of kinesiology.

Kinesiology is a branch of science that studies human movement and its relationship to a person’s overall health.1 In a kinesiology degree program, you’ll learn the following 2,3

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Biology
  • Exercise physiology
  • Fitness
  • Nutrition
  • Psychology
  • Sports theory
  • Strength training

Entrance requirements for kinesiology programs vary based on the school, but in general, you will need the following4

  • A high school diploma
  • Passing grades in your high school math and science courses

Types of Kinesiology Degree Programs

While you can major in kinesiology, several different programs fall under the kinesiology umbrella:

  • Pre-physical therapy: Students take courses that will prepare them for a graduate physical therapy program.5 
  • Exercise science: Students learn the science of human movement and how to help patients live healthier lives.6 
  • Biomechanics: A biomechanics major studies how muscles and external forces interact to create movement.3 
  • Sports medicine: This program prepares you for a career in sports medicine, which focuses on treating musculoskeletal injuries without surgery.7 
  • Athletic training: Athletic trainers use their understanding of the human body to help athletes prevent and recover from illness or injuries.2 
  • Exercise physiology: Exercise physiology focuses on how a person’s metabolism and nutrition react to environmental pressures, like temperature.2 

After earning a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, you can pursue several career options, including sports studies.2 You can also pursue positions requiring advanced degrees, such as occupational therapist (OT) or physician assistant (PA) roles.

List of different kinesiology careers by work settings.

1. Physical Therapist

Physical therapists (PTs) help patients regain their range of motion and increase mobility after an injury or medical diagnosis. They observe patient movements and listen to their concerns and goals. Then, they design a treatment plan incorporating exercise, stretches and possibly adaptive equipment. PTs also educate patients about recovery and how to prevent future injuries. 

Kinesiology is one of the best undergraduate degree programs for physical therapy because understanding how humans move helps you better understand how to prevent, manage and treat patients’ injuries.

If you want to become a physical therapist, follow these six steps:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution.
  2. Earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). This degree is a requirement to practice.8
  3. Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE).9 
  4. Obtain a physical therapy license.10
  5. Complete a residency program (optional).
  6. Become board certified (optional).

2. Occupational Therapist 

An occupational therapist (OT) helps patients improve physical, sensory, emotional and cognitive capabilities. For example, they may help a stroke patient re-learn how to walk or help a child with autism regulate their emotions. OTs work with patients, families, caregivers, teachers and doctors to improve a person’s quality of life. 

Occupational therapists evaluate patients and design adaptive equipment and custom treatment plans. They’ll monitor patient progress and adjust treatment as needed. 

A kinesiology degree is one of the best undergraduate degrees for occupational therapy. Your strong foundation in basic human anatomy, physiology and biomechanics, prepares you to assess movement and develop effective treatment plans.

Students with kinesiology majors will need to do the following to become an occupational therapist:

  1. Earn an undergraduate degree.
  2. Earn one of the following graduate degrees:
  • Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT), which prepares students to start working as an occupational therapist as soon as possible and is the entry-level degree requirement.11
  • Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD), which generally takes 2-3 years to complete and includes a doctoral capstone project.Time to completion may vary by student, depending on individual progress, credits transferred and other factors.
  1. Pass the National Board for Certification In Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam.12
  2. Get your license (requirements vary by state).

3. Physician Assistant 

Another possible career path for someone with a kinesiology major is to become a physician assistant (PA). Physician assistants provide medical care while working under the supervision of a physician (although some states allow them to practice autonomously).13 Like doctors, they diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries. 

The path to becoming a physician assistant will likely include the following:

  1. Earning an undergraduate degree and completing all undergraduate prerequisite courses.14
  2. Earning a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (MSPAS) degree, the entry-level degree for this position.13
  3. Passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE).15

4. Registered Nurse  

Kinesiology majors may also want to consider a career as a registered nurse (RN).  RNs work with the rest of the care team to provide patient health care. Depending on where you work, you’ll be responsible for the following16:  

  • Develop and monitor a patient’s plan of care
  • Administer medication
  • Take vital signs
  • Perform basic life support (BLS)
  • Help hospitalized patients safely transfer into and out of a bed and chair and perform basic hygiene activities 
  • Insert IVs and catheters
  • Ensure patient safety

Nurses can work in various settings, including16 :

  • Offices and clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Home health
  • Nursing homes

Registered nurses can also become travel nurses and fill short-term positions in underserved areas.

Becoming a registered nurse usually includes:

  1. Earning either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing.
  2. Passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).17  
  3. To pursue advanced leadership opportunities, consider earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

5. Kinesiologist  

Kinesiologists use their knowledge of human movement to help patients recover from injuries and illness or reach health and fitness goals.18 They develop exercise routines to help them manage and prevent future injury.19

Kinesiologists often work for professional sports teams and college athletic programs20, but they also work at17:

  • Clinics and offices
  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • Community recreation facilities

Earn a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology to get a job as a kinesiologist21, complete at least 1,000 hours of supervised practice under a registered therapist and pass the kinesiologist certification exam to become certified and qualify for additional opportunities and increase your earning potential.22

6. Sports Medicine Physician

A sports medicine physician is another great career option for kinesiology majors. These doctors diagnose and treat musculoskeletal (bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons) injuries that don’t require surgery to repair.23 Despite the title, a sports physician works with anyone with a musculoskeletal injury, even nonathletes. 

As a sports physician, you’ll24:

  • Perform exams to diagnose injuries
  • Prescribe medication
  • Supervise rehabilitation 
  • Coordinate with coaches, trainers and surgeons on a patient’s care team

Sports physicians frequently work with college and professional sports organizations and can provide on-field care. However, most work in hospitals, clinics and private practices.24 

It’ll take a few more steps to become a sports physician23

  1. Earn an undergraduate degree
  2. Earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) in emergency medicine, family medicine, internal medicine or another related specialty.25
  3. Complete a three-year sports medicine residency program
  4. Complete a one-year sports medicine fellowship
  5. Pass the national Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) exam. 

7. Exercise Physiologist

Many kinesiology majors graduate and become exercise physiologists and administer stress tests and evaluate a patient’s overall health.26 They develop personalized exercise programs based on a patient’s health care needs and athletic performance goals. These programs address fitness, strength, endurance and flexibility. 

Since they support athletes, many exercise physiologists work in athletic training programs and for professional organizations or college sports teams. They also work at fitness facilities, hospitals and rehabilitation clinics.27 

Becoming an exercise physiologist does not require an advanced degree, so you can start your career after earning a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology.28 However, you can broaden your opportunities if you27

  1. Earn an Exercise Physiologist Certified (EPC) certification from the American Society of Exercise Physiologists (ASEP)29 or another professional organization.
  2. Earn a master’s degree in a related field.27

8. Athletic Trainer

Athletic trainers work predominantly with athletes to prevent, assess and diagnose injuries.30 An athletic trainer can develop rehabilitative treatment plans to help patients regain their strength or avoid a future injury. They often collaborate with physicians and other medical providers. 

Athletic trainers work with student-athletes at high school and college athletic programs.31 They also work at hospitals, clinics and offices, fitness centers or with professional sports teams.32

To become an athletic trainer, you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree in athletic training or related field.30 Most states also require you to pass the Board of Certification (BOC) for the Athletic Trainer exam.33

9. Athletic Director

Athletic directors act as administrators and oversee high school and university athletic programs. Their duties include34:

  • Hire coaches and staff
  • Ensure athletic teams meet all regulations
  • Budget for and allocate resources
  • Plan and organize sporting events
  • Communicate with the coaching staff

Earn a bachelor’s degree to work as an athletic director. However, some prestigious programs may require a master’s degree in a related field and a National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) certification.

10. Fitness Instructor

Fitness instructors lead fitness routines or classes, usually at a gym, fitness center or specialized studio.35 They may specialize in specific types of exercise, such as yoga or Pilates, and train people to use exercise equipment. 

You do not need a degree to become a fitness instructor. Gyms or studios prefer to hire those with certification.36 Getting certified in emergency first aid, such as CPR and learning to use an automated external defibrillator (AED), is also a good idea since medical events may occur while people are in fitness classes. 

11. Personal Trainer 

Personal trainers do mostly the same thing as  fitness instructors but work one-on-one with clients rather than with an entire class.37 They’ll conduct a fitness assessment  and create a customized workout plan, including nutritional guidance, to help their clients reach their fitness goals. Along the way, they’ll provide personalized instruction, feedback and motivation.38 As clients meet their goals, the personal trainer adjusts their plans accordingly. 

As a personal trainer, you’ll most likely work in a gym, but you can also work in38:

  • Fitness centers
  • Private studios
  • A client’s home
  • Health clubs

It’s recommended that kinesiology majors complete an undergraduate degree, although some personal training employers will hire you without it as long as you have the required certifications36, such as first aid certification and a certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NSAM) or the American Council on Exercise (ACE).39

12. Recreational Therapist 

A recreational therapist helps people recover motor function and reasoning skills through enjoyable leisure activities.40,41 They also support patients’ physical, functional, psychological, emotional, cognitive and social goals using arts and crafts, music, sports and more.41 For example, a recreational therapist may work at a barn that connects people recovering from addiction with horses or help autistic children learn socialization skills through community outings.

Recreational therapists work at traditional medical facilities like nursing homes and outpatient facilities, but they also work at adult daycare programs, mental health facilities and schools.40,41 

A bachelor’s degree is a requirement to work as a recreational therapist42, and most employers will also require you to:

  1. Complete at least 560 hours at an internship or field placement.43 (Exact hour requirements may vary by employer.)
  2. Pass the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation (NCTRC) Certification Exam.41

13. Chiropractor 

A chiropractor understands how the musculoskeletal and nervous systems affect a person’s overall health and wellness.44 Through manual adjustments of the spinal column, they help relieve back pain, headaches, joint pain and more. 

In addition to manual therapy, they can recommend additional treatment options, such as shoe inserts, and educate patients about lifestyle changes. They cannot prescribe medication, but they can refer patients to reputable doctors if necessary. 

Most chiropractors work in private practices.45 To become a chiropractor, you need to46:

  1. Complete a bachelor’s degree.
  2. Earn a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree.
  3. Obtain a license (specific license requirements vary by state). 

14. Medical Research Scientist 

Unlike the other professions on this list, a medical research scientist does not work with patients or clients. Instead, they typically work in medical laboratories to study diseases to improve public health.47 They also write reports summarizing their findings and publish their work in peer-reviewed publications or present it to larger audiences. Specific responsibilities vary based on specialty, position and employer. 

To become a medical research scientist:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in a medical-related field (such as kinesiology).48
  2. Earn a doctorate, such as a PhD, MD or DO—a requirement to work as a medical research scientist. 

15. Dietitian

A dietitian assesses patient health and nutrition and develops a customized diet plan to help them reach their nutritional goals.49 The dietitian works with the patient to implement the plan and make adjustments as needed. They also educate patients about nutrition and diet and may present dietary research in peer-reviewed journals. Many dietitians work at private practices, but they also work in clinics, hospitals and schools.

To become a dietitian:

  1. Earn an undergraduate degree in dietetics, food and nutrition or in a related field, such as kinesiology and complete at least 1,000 hours of supervised training.
  2. Earn a Master of Science in Dietetics to practice as a dietitian. A minimum of a master’s degree will be required to be eligible to take the registration examination for dietitians starting January 1, 2024.50
  3. Pass the CDR’s Registration Examination for Registered Dietitians. 

List of kinesiology careers based on required education level.

Bring Your Kinesiology Major to USAHS

If you are a kinesiology graduate, consider applying for one of our graduate degree programs at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS). We can help you reach your career goal and empower others to live healthier, longer lives. 

Your understanding of how the human body works may help you succeed in our innovative health sciences programs, especially:

Apply now or learn more about our financial aid options.

The entry-level occupational therapy master’s degree program at the Dallas, Texas, campus has applied for accreditation and has been granted Candidacy Status by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), located at 6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 200, North Bethesda, MD 20852-4929. ACOTE’s telephone number c/o AOTA is (301) 652-AOTA and its web address is www.acoteonline.org. The program must have a preaccreditation review, complete an on-site evaluation and be granted Accreditation Status before its graduates will be eligible to sit for the national certification examination for the occupational therapist administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). After successful completion of this exam, the individual will be an Occupational Therapist, Registered (OTR). In addition, all states require licensure in order to practice; however, state licenses are usually based on the results of the NBCOT Certification Examination. Note that a felony conviction may affect a graduate’s ability to sit for the NBCOT certification examination or attain state licensure. 

Students must complete 24 weeks of Level II fieldwork within 24 months following completion of the didactic portion of the program. 



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