How do I Earn a Physical Education PhD?

Elva K.

Physical education Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs enable students to take courses and do research in various areas of physical education. For instance, students can choose from among specialties such as curriculum, exercise science, sports administration, adaptive physical education, or sport pedagogy. Getting a physical education PhD is an ambitious undertaking; however, if students are willing to spend four to six years in graduate school, getting a physical education PhD can be done.

Writing a dissertation is typically required to obtain a PhD in physical education.
Writing a dissertation is typically required to obtain a PhD in physical education.

The path toward getting a physical education PhD does not begin in graduate school. Rather, the path begins during the undergraduate years. There are two paths toward qualifying to pursue the PhD in physical education. One path would be to do an undergraduate degree in physical education. The other path would include majoring in a non-physical education subject and then completing specific prerequisite courses as mandated by the physical education graduate program you want to apply to.

Physical education PhD programs may require hands-on experience instructing children or teens.
Physical education PhD programs may require hands-on experience instructing children or teens.

Application to the physical education PhD program could occur after you have worked in the physical education field for a few years after college. Or, you could apply to a physical education PhD program during the final year of your undergraduate degree. To complete the doctoral application, you would have to get letters of recommendation from former professors and fill out applications for the specific schools you wanted to apply to. Also, you would have to get copies of your official college transcript, take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and then have your GRE scores sent to all schools you applied to.

Then, after being admitted to the PhD program, you must complete the required PhD curriculum. The courses you take would depend on the particular academic emphasis you select. For example, if you select a doctoral specialty in curriculum and instruction or exercise science, you would take courses such as EKG interpretation, fitness design, exercise biochemistry, exercise physiology, and professional writing for physical education. If you select adapted physical education, you will take courses that emphasize physical education as it applies to children with special challenges such as courses relating to physical and sensory disabilities, motor development problems, technology in physical education, and consulting techniques. Or, by contrast, if you select sport pedagogy as a doctoral focus, your coursework would focus on curriculum research and physical education teaching research.

In addition to your coursework, you would be required to do pre-dissertation research projects which might involve helping a professor write an article for publication in an academic journal. Or, you could be given your own independent pre-dissertation research assignment to complete. Then, you would be required to do a doctoral dissertation which showcased your own research abilities. You would choose a topic of interest, do research, write the dissertation, and verbally defend your research under the supervision of the doctoral dissertation committee. Then, after successfully defending your dissertation, you would be awarded a physical education PhD.

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