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This is your ultimate destination for news. Reviews and career resources in the world of health and fitness.

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This article, however, isn’t about certifications. Instead, it’s about starting your career with a strength and conditioning degree.

I’ll be touching on topics such as:

  • Best S&C degrees
  • Tuition Fees
  • Study duration
  • Recognition of the University
  • Average income

So without further ado, let’s get right into it

Strength and Conditioning Degree

Who Is A “Strength and Conditioning” Coach?

I want to start with a summary of what strength and conditioning coaching is.

I have a full in-depth article on that topic, so check it out for the full scoop.

A strength and conditioning coach is a fitness professional who designs and implements programs to enhance athletic performance while reducing the risk of injury or rehabilitating existing injuries or imbalances.

Because of this emphasis on optimal performance enhancement and minimizing injury risk, S&C coaches are often tasked with helping competitive athletes succeed.

This contrasts with a personal trainer who has a more general approach to health and fitness and doesn’t tend to work with athletic population groups.

S&C typically focuses on resistance training and range of motion training programs.

How to Become A Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach

From the brief description above, you can already tell that strength and conditioning is a more involved, in-depth, and specific field of practice with higher on-the-job stakes.

If you look at S&C coaches who often work with athletes, sometimes even top-flight professionals, you can imagine that the qualification process is relatively stringent.

To qualify as a strength & conditioning specialist, you will need a string of qualifications and credentials, including a degree, which will be the focus of this article.

The degree program must be relevant to the job at hand, of course. 

That means enrolling in a degree in sports medicine, exercise physiology, or sports science-related fields.

Such programs include, but are not limited to:

  • Kinesiology
  • Physiotherapy
  • Sports medicine
  • Biomechanics 
  • Exercise science

Since these are college programs, there are certainly some criteria you’ll need to meet to get accepted.

Let’s look at some of the basic prerequisites.

Step 1: Determine Your Prerequisites

Most undergrad and postgrad programs require a GPA (grade point average) of 3.0 or more to be accepted.

Aside from this, having a high school diploma is an important ticket to the door.

If you’re doing a postgrad program, you must have obtained a relevant graduate degree with a high enough GPA.

Because S&C coaching is a very sensitive and often high-stakes job, having astute knowledge and practical ability is imperative.

Step 2: Find the Best Strength Coach Degree for You

Once you know what’s required to enroll and be accepted, it’s time to find the right university and program.

The best way to start is to determine which institutions closest to you offer what you want. 

After that, doing a little background research on enrollment and graduation stats and the institution’s reputation will help you make a move.

Graduating from a reputable institution is important because it will improve your odds when it comes time to job hunt or establish a business.

Of course, most universities and colleges will suffice by them being established and approved tertiary institutions.

Step 3: Prepare, Study, and Graduate!

Next, it’s time to dig in and get to work. 

Studying a degree program is a strenuous undertaking that takes up considerable time.

Make sure you attend as many lectures and practicals as possible. 

In these environments, you’ll truly learn how to approach a career in S&C.

That’s because you will be privy to much of the nuance that goes into the job instead of just a general impression.

Lectures and practical sessions are often recorded for each student, so attending them isn’t just a matter of optimizing the quality of your experience. It’s also necessary to do so to pass.

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Remaining focused and consistent for a minimum of three years is a monumental feat, but many have achieved it, and many more will do the same, stay the course, and you’ll do just fine.

One of the best ways to get focused and remain that way is to form a study group.

Study groups allow you to remain motivated through mutual challenge, accountability, and competition.

Being in a group helps you adhere to your goals because you’re incentivized to meet the group’s standards to keep your position in it.

Step 4: Postgrad?

I’ve already touched on postgrad and what you need to enroll in a postgrad program.

But do you need to go postgrad at all?

The answer is yes and no.

Let’s start with the no.

So to be considered and recognized as a strength and conditioning coach, all you need is a bachelor’s degree in one of the relevant study fields I mentioned.

This gives you the necessary foundational knowledge and practical skills to develop and implement training programs.

However, a graduate program is essential if you’re looking to progress your career and open yourself up to more exciting and lucrative opportunities in the field.

Obtaining a post-grad is becoming increasingly important, mainly at the Master’s Degree level.

This shows that you, as a candidate for the job, have a deeper understanding of what’s required and the willingness and diligence to immerse yourself in the field of strength and conditioning fully.

Step 5: Get Certified and Begin Your Career

After earning a degree, you might think you’ve crossed the finish line in terms of credentials.

This is another yes and no answer.

That’s because while you are now a qualified and authorized sports science practitioner, you have the credentials to start a fitness or athletic training. However, you must certify unless your degree is focused or majored in S&C.

There are several certifying agencies I find to be great. I go over them in more detail in this article.

Here’s a quick list of the top recommended certifying agencies:

  • ISSA
  • NASM
  • NSCA
  • ACSM
  • ACE

Of these five, NSCA, or National Strength and Conditioning Association, is mostly geared towards providing the best teaching in S&C.

That’s because strength and conditioning is their primary focus; it’s in the name.

Combining a reputable, accredited cert and a relevant degree is a sure way to earn you the Strength and Conditioning Coach title.

Best Strength and Conditioning Coach Programs and Institutions

While many, if not most reputable, colleges and universities have sports science and sport medicine programs, only a handful offer strength and conditioning as a major.

If you want to jumpstart your career, having a degree specific to strength and conditioning might be your best bet.

I’ve selected six colleges and universities that fit that description. Let’s take a look.

Arizona State University

Founded in 1885, ASU is a university known for its high research output.

The strength and conditioning program they offer, BS Exercise and Wellness (Strength and Conditioning Specialist), is positioned as allowing candidates to cater to athletic and “tactical” populations.

Tactical population groups would include service members in the military, police, fire, and rescue services.

I think emphasizing these populations is essential and often overlooked, making it a good choice for anyone in those fields.

ASU has a US News overall score of 60/100.

Benedictine College

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a leading academic institution.

With a US News score of 78, it appears to be a good place to learn.

As far as strength and conditioning are concerned, Benedictine College offers a BA in Strength & Conditioning.

This program focuses as much on performance as it is on sports and athlete management.

This is a good one if you also look at sports coaching as a practice.

Benedictine College also rates as one of the best undergrad institutions in the country, with the 7th position in that category.

University of Northern Colorado

Founded in 1890, the University of Northern Colorado ranks 298 out of 389 national universities.

With this in mind, UNC is far from a top-tier institution; however, its B.S. Sport and Exercise Science program is one of the top-rated fitness-related degrees in the country.

Colorado is known for its rich heritage and culture of fitness and athletic performance; in fact, many consider Colorado to be the fittest state in America.

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It, therefore, makes sense that UNC’s sports program is so reputable.

Ithaca College

Founded in 1892, Ithaca College is a top-rated institution coming in at number 4 in best undergrad teaching and 9th in best northern region institutions.

Their B.S. Exercise Science Major, Strength & Conditioning Concentration program has all the ingredients for a focused strength and conditioning coaching approach.

The program allows candidates to delve straight into the world of S&C, which performance coaches often overlook. Negating the need to get a specialist cert as you would if you were doing a non-S&C-focused exercise science program.

Limestone University

Founded in 1845, Limestone University ranks 55 in southern region universities, according to US News.

While not a top-tier academic institution overall, the B.S. Physical Education-Strength and Conditioning program is one of the best money can buy.

The good thing about this degree is that outside of the foundational focus on exercise science, there’s also an emphasis on nutrition.

Nutrition is a major component that performance coaches often overlook, but it’s important always to have it attached to your S&C practice.

United States Sports Academy

The USSA is a relatively new organization, having been founded in 1972.

This makes it the newest and possibly least reputable institution on this list regarding public college and university reputation.

However, the focus of USSA is purely sports and exercise science, so in that regard, it might be considered the most dedicated approach.

The B.S.S. Sports Strength & Conditioning program offers a direct insight into the world of S&C for competitive athletic performance.

S&C Degree Program Tuition Cost

Tuition fees are a major consideration when it comes to a degree program.

This level of education is a significant financial investment that requires proper planning and foresight.

That’s because your financial input regarding a university or college degree can have long-term effects on your financial status going past your studies.

Student loan debt is the burden of many, so I always advise that you pick the institution and program that reduces the potential risk of you dealing with that, or at the very least, presents the smallest impact.

Let’s take a look at the tuition fees for each of the featured institutions:

InstitutionCost of certification/qualification
United States Sports Academy$17,424
Limestone University$26,300
Ithaca College$46,610
University of Northern Colorado$22,260
Benedictine College$31,630
Arizona State University$29,428

USSA wins the tuition fee stand-off when it comes to affordability.

It is the only institution with a sub $20 tuition cost.

This may be because of how focused and precise the curriculum is about sports science-related programs.

Other universities have a broad range of faculties and departments competing for enrollment and resources, which may lead to higher tuition costs.

It could also be the fact that USSA isn’t a legacy institution. It’s the only college on this list that’s less than a century old, and the age of an institution plays a role in its prestige and value.

Ithaca College is the most expensive by a considerable amount.

Based on its stats and rankings, as provided by US News, it makes sense that this college has the highest tuition fees.

Average Study Time

To map out your career effectively over the long term, you’ll want to know how long it will take to qualify for a degree program fully.

In most cases, an undergrad degree takes at least 3 years to complete from enrolment.

However, you’ll find that these sports science degrees take no less than four years to go through.

I would expect that because these are sensitive fields that deal with human health and wellness, so extra care and time are taken to ensure candidates attain the necessary skills.

InstitutionMinimum Enrollment Period
United States Sports Academy4 years
Limestone University4 years
Ithaca College5 years
University of Northern Colorado4 years
Benedictine College4 years
Arizona State University4 years

Ithaca College comes out with the longest time commitment. 

This correlates with the fact that it is also the most expensive program featured in this article.

Popularity and Recognition

Did you know that the popularity and recognition level of the institution you acquire your qualification will determine its acceptability?

Popularity, prestige, and recognition in colleges and universities can be seen in a quantitative and a qualitative light.

Most of you have probably heard of Ivy League schools.

These are the top institutions based on heritage, prestige, and quality of curriculum amongst the 389 national universities and colleges in America.

The prestige and reputation of an institution of higher learning play a role in your career prospects.

To give a simple view of what you can expect regarding reputation and popularity, I’ve made a simple table that will allow you to understand how prestigious each school is quantitative and qualitatively.

CertificationPopularity by enrollmentPrestige rating (out of 10)
United States Sports Academy4994
Limestone University2,1765
Ithaca College5,8529
University of Northern Colorado9,8104
Benedictine College2,0858
Arizona State University44,4617

This table gives us a clear picture of which of these institutions offers the best reputational leverage.

Ithaca is the most reputable institution based on ranking stats I found on US News.

The enrollment stats speak to the student capacity of each institution.

In that regard, Arizona State has the best opportunity for learners.

A high enrollment capacity means a higher graduation figure. And more graduates mean a higher industry penetration by the alumni of an institution.

This leads to popularity and a better reputation.

For those reasons, I would suggest ASU and Ithaca are your best options and have equivalent reputability.

Average Income for Certified Health Coaches

As with any career pursuit, understanding your income prospects is important.

In a separate article, I’ve gone in-depth on salary and income in strength and conditioning, so be sure to check that out.

In a nutshell, S&C coaches in America earn an average annual salary of  $44,985.

In comparison, personal trainers in the US earn around $62k, according to statistics by salary.com.

So why pursue a degree program in this career field when a simple PT cert can get you a higher income?

Well, the thing with strength and conditioning is the salary prospects, while relatively low on average, are quite high in the upper percentile.

This is the territory of NFL and NBA coaches, where correct S&C protocols become a high-stakes commercial obligation. Strength and conditioning specialists can earn in the 6 figure category in this realm.

With that being the case, full-time opportunities such as working with sports teams, and the levels of income that come with them, are few and far between, so to get there, you’ll need to be the cream of the crop.

Degree Program Takeaway

Getting a degree in strength and conditioning is a crucial first step toward career success.

To qualify as an S&C specialist, an undergrad program is essential in allowing you to proceed to the next step.

Many colleges and universities offer sports science and sports medicine degrees that afford you the right skills and tactical knowledge.

You’ll need the skills and knowledge to finally certify through any of the institutions that offer S&C specialist certifications.

The higher learning institutions mentioned in this article are but a few. They happen to have programs with a specific focus on S&C, which is why I recommend them.

Let’s look at which one is ultimately the best of the 6:

CertificationFinal Score (out of 10)
United States Sports Academy8
Limestone University6
Ithaca College8
University of Northern Colorado6
Benedictine College7
Arizona State University7

USSA and Ithaca are tied in the first position, while Limestone Uni and UNC bring up the rear.

I picked USSA because they are an institution that is solely focused on sports science, making them a great college for honing your skills.

That’s because all academic resources and infrastructure are geared towards sports science with no conflict or competition from other faculties, which is often the case with larger universities and colleges.

USSA is also the cheapest option, making it a great value for money.

Ithaca is the most expensive of the lot, but that’s the only drawback and one that’s justified.

They are the most prestigious school of the bunch, giving you more leverage in your career.

Their S&C program is also much broader than the others, meaning you’ll gain a broader spectrum of skills and practical knowledge in the long run.

For those reasons, a university like Ithaca provides you with the best odds of earning a top-tier S&C salary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What degree do you need for strength and conditioning?

Any degree in health science, sports science, or sports medicine-related field, preferably focusing on S&C.

What qualifications do I need to be a strength and conditioning coach?

A minimum bachelor’s degree in a sports science-related program and an S&C specialist certification.

What jobs can you get with a strength and conditioning degree?

You can work as a sports coach, manager, or head S&C coach.

Is strength and conditioning a good career?

It can be a very lucrative opportunity, especially in top-flight professional sports.

What is the difference between strength and conditioning and physical therapy?

Strength and conditioning aim to improve athletic performance and injury prevention, while physiotherapy aims to rehabilitate injuries, address imbalances and deviation, and improve recovery.

How much does a strength and conditioning degree cost?

Undergraduate programs in S&C degrees can range from $15k to $50k.

How long does it take to get a strength and conditioning degree?

Between three to five years.

References

  1. “Arizona State University,” QS Top Universities, https://www.topuniversities.com/universities/arizona-state-university.
  2. “Arizona State University–Tempe,” U.S. News & World Report, https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/arizona-state-university-tempe-1081/overall-rankings.
  3. “30 Best Bachelor’s in Sports Science Degree Programs,” Sports Management Degrees, https://www.sports-management-degrees.com/best-sports-science-bachelors/.
  4. “Ithaca College,” U.S. News & World Report, https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/ithaca-college-2739/overall-rankings.
  5. “The University of Northern Colorado,” U.S. News & World Report, https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/university-of-northern-colorado-1349.
  6. “Employment,” the United States Sports Academy, https://ussa.edu/departments/hr/employment/.
  7. “Strength and Conditioning,” Benedictine College, https://www.benedictine.edu/Assets/uploads/files/academics/degrees/sheet-degree-strength-conditioning.pdf.
  8. “School of Health Sciences and Human Performance,” Ithaca College Catalog, https://catalog.ithaca.edu/undergrad/schools/school-health-sciences-human-performance/#integrativecorecurriculumicctext.
  9. “Physical Education: Strength and Conditioning,” Limestone University, https://www.limestone.edu/physical-education-strength-conditioning.
  10. “Sport and Exercise Science, BS: Human Performance Emphasis,” the University of Northern Colorado, https://unco.smartcatalogiq.com/Current/Undergraduate-Catalog/Undergraduate-Programs/Bachelors-Degrees/Sport-and-Exercise-Science-BS-Human-Performance-Emphasis.
Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

Tyler Read


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