How To Decide If A Degree In Exercise Science Is Right For You

My December was filled with goodbyes and big hugs as my schooling career came to a close. I was finally saying my farewells to the professors and academic program that helped shape my career into what it is today. I had finally received my Master’s in Sports Science from Hofstra University.

For a majority of my schooling career I worked part or full-time. When I finished my Bachelor’s in Exercise Science in December of 2014, I took a semester off to work for a publication company full-time. After realizing this wasn’t the career path for me, I went back for my Master’s in the fall of 2015. For the duration of my Master’s I worked full-time at a few different jobs.

One question I’m consistently asked involving my school and career is…

Do you think a degree in an exercise science related field is worth it?

My answer is always the same: It depends.

A photo posted by Jake Boly (@jake_boly) on

In this article I want to discuss a few things that I feel would have been super helpful to me when I moved away and was deciding between degrees.

It’s going to be a longer piece, but if you’re in question or know anyone you may be struggling with the above question, then hopefully I can help. We’ll discuss three points that can help anyone if they’re in question of pursuing an exercise related degree and how to make it work when they choose.

  • How to choose exactly what you want and when to try new things.
  • Ideas on to build confidence behind your degree selection.
  • Pitfalls to avoid along the way.

How To Decide What You Want With The Degree

One of the biggest issues I continually see in my degree is lack of direction. A lot of great personalities I’ve collaborated with in school and work lack a clear vision on what they want out of their degree. You don’t need to have everything set in stone, but developing a rough idea is a HUGE help.

When I was stuck in deciding what I wanted out of my school and career I went through a three step process to provide direction. I took methods from both successful strength coaches and personalities I looked up to.

1. Make a List

Take a few hours out of your day and get rid of anything that could be distracting to a clear thought process. Take a piece of paper and begin writing things that interest you. They could be anything at all that connect your schooling, interests, and future career visions.

What you’re then going to do is connect them and look for correlations between what you wrote down. Personally, my list was filled with things like: help others, train, continually learn, spread knowledge to others, write, network with others in my field, and create a way to workout with a purpose.

When I connected all of these points it was pretty clear where my true interest lies, it was writing, interacting, and working as a knowledge medium for others. This is what helped me decide that an Exercise Science degree was for me – I wanted the credentials to back my passions. 

This is my current philosophy and pillars that I built behind my degree choice. These continually change as I learn more & grow. 

2. Build Your Pillars

This point was such a pivotal point in my schooling. I was torn between wanting to coach full-time for a collegiate setting and building my name as a writer. One talk I remember truly helping me along the way was Dave Tate and Jim Wendler’s discussion on building their training philosophy.

As a young professional there needs to be an emphasis on developing what you stand for through a training philosophy that’s made up of different pillars. The video below is something that really helped me grasp what Tate and Wendler meant.

Take a weekend to truly sit down and think about what you believe in, in both your schooling, career visions, and personal life. I used their training philosophy method to build my voice, training methods, and career direction when I chose my degree.

3. Network and Volunteer

This is not a glamorous aspect of the industry, but in order to help provide direction on what you want – especially from this type of degree – then you need to put some volunteer time in. Newly budding physical therapists and college strength coaches definitely understand this aspect. When you’re beginning to decide if an exercise degree is right for you, then you should take a little time and volunteer at businesses that may interest you.

When I moved to NYC from Missouri for a career in health magazines – I had no idea how many roles I would play until I found my perfect fit. When I finally decided on my Exercise Science degree the dots really started connecting.

To give you context, below is an example of what I went through in the duration of my schooling until I found a great fit for my degree and interests.

First, I worked at a blog that was catered towards creating food content. This made me realize I loved writing, but wanted to train and interact with people. I then started volunteering at a personal training gym that catered to older clientele.

This helped me realize that I loved training and interacting with clients, but wanted to work with a younger more active population and continue writing. After I left this gym, I started at a gym catered to athletes/younger hockey players (I played hockey). While I was here I built content for their website and their social media pages. I then realized that I loved this demographic, but didn’t enjoy training large groups as much as training smaller groups and individuals.

This then led me to my next role as a full-time content writer at The Vitamin Shoppe. Here I was able write and train on the side, but learned I didn’t enjoy the niche I was writing for. I decided to leave and finally ended up writing full-time for a company called BarBend (a sick strength news analysis website), which caters to my interests and the niches I love working with.

A photo posted by Jake Boly (@jake_boly) on

Every opportunity wasn’t a perfect fit in my career and school choice, but they helped provide direction towards really honing in on what I wanted. Now I’m in a position doing exactly what I love, but it didn’t happen overnight. Don’t get frustrated when you find yourself in a role that isn’t your perfect fit. Instead, note what you like and dislike and begin to look for your next career move.

When I chose a degree in Exercise Science it helped give me the push I needed to start pursuing more opportunities that are specific to this field. Credentials and knowledge add confidence, which the degree can help start.

Pitfalls To Avoid Once You’ve Chosen Your Degree

Sadly, not everyone in this field will become a booming success and that’s fine. Success is completely relative and dependent on one’s views. Although, for this scenario, I’m going to reference pitfalls that I saw others make once they chose an Exercise Science degree.

There are a few things I’ve seen colleagues do that have lost them either jobs, credibility, or faith in their choice. A lot of these points tie directly back to failing in the steps I’ve mentioned earlier in this article.

1. Doing It For The Money

When you choose an exercise related degree there needs to be an understanding going in that money shouldn’t be a primary decision maker. The most successful people I’ve seen holding a degree like this are those who have the passion to back it up. This ins’t an engineering or accounting degree that pay top dollar for services, but with creativity and energy – anything is possible.

My advice is always this: Don’t let the fear of making money scare you away from your passion. Those who do it for the right reasons always find a way to make this degree work (as in make a living with it). If you’re someone choosing this degree for the glamorous lifestyles you see on Instagram, then you’re being sadly mislead as to how much work you have to put in before any of that is possible.

2. Zeroing In On One Thing

When you’re first deciding if this degree is right for you, then you should make it a point to try multiple things. Pigeon holing yourself into one tiny niche can be a great way to set yourself up for failure. One, you may not actually like what you chose in the long run, but now you’re pigeon holed and missed opportunities along the way. I’ve seen a lot of colleagues have to play catch up when they realize they dislike what they banked on.

Two, being so exclusive right off the bat can turn off others from wanting to work with you who are in other niches. This is a great way to lose networking opportunities. Like mentioned above, when you’re budding into your degree leave all options open that may interest you.

3. Closed-Off Mantra

There will always be someone who knows more and has done more in this industry. Don’t learn this the hard way like myself and give off the impression that you’re uncoachable/teachable. Knowledge breeds confidence, but those who first choose this degree can sometimes portray themselves as “know it alls.”

It’s okay to act confident, but try to avoid appearing arrogant. Don’t give off the impression that you’re resistant to learning and growing. Take every correction and piece of advice from those who have more experience early on and work to build yourself daily. When I developed what I stood for and my philosophy behind my degree choice, then I truly started growing.

When pursuing a higher education degree with some type of exercise science interest, then it’s always a good idea to have somewhat of a vision of what you’d like to do with it. This vision won’t develop overnight, nor will it be easy. Although, taking the time to truly write down what you value and what drives you can be your first steps when deciding on this type of degree.

Proceed with confidence and know that if you choose this degree, then it’s on you to make it work. It’s not a for sure job degree. This is one of the most rewarding paths you can take, but can also be one of the most frustrating.

Learn, build, and grow.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

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