careers

The Best Online Degree for Personal Trainers Who Want a Full-Time Wellness Career

UW Extended Campus March 30, 2018
A person wearing bright red gym shoes jumping in the air.

As a personal trainer, you work directly with single clients or small groups to assess their physical fitness and help them reach their health goals. You get to motivate, educate, and inspire individuals—and change lives—on a daily basis.

But let’s talk about your life, your career. Where is it headed?

A degree is probably on your mind right now. Should you earn one? What kind of degree is right for personal trainers? In this post, we’ll answer your most pressing questions about whether and how to choose a degree.

Do you need a bachelor’s degree to be a personal trainer?

No. You can become a personal trainer with a high school education and an industry license or certification from agencies such as the American Council on Exercise (ACE) or the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

However, a degree will make you stand out among other applicants for personal trainer jobs. According to a 2021 Emsi occupational report, 47 percent of personal trainers already have a bachelor’s degree. (Nearly 50 percent have a bachelor’s or higher.) A quick search on Indeed.com reveals that many employers prefer to hire personal trainers with bachelor’s degrees. And the positions that require degrees tend to be full-time with higher salaries and more benefits.

Why should personal trainers consider earning a degree?

We took a look at an IDEA Fit message board pertaining to this exact question. Many of the commenters are personal trainers, and their answers are almost unanimous: If you are serious about pursuing a full-time career in wellness and you are able to get a college degree, go for it.

Earning a degree means you will get:

  • Better pay
  • Better benefits
  • A competitive edge over the competition

Not only that, but a bachelor’s degree will open up a wider range of job opportunities should you choose to expand your wellness career.

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How will a degree affect your salary?

In January 2021, the median national salary for all personal trainers was $63,474, according to Salary.com. Having a bachelor’s degree will allow you to negotiate a higher salary. But the true benefit of earning a bachelor’s degree as a trainer is gaining the opportunity to turn your passion for wellness into a full-time career in a corporate setting.  

Corporate wellness management is a natural next step for personal trainers with degrees. In fact, many UW Health and Wellness Management graduates, such as Jessica Waytashek and Laura Kuglitsch, started out their corporate wellness careers as personal trainers.

Why is this such a good career transition?

You’ve worked one-on-one with people to change and improve their health and overall well-being. A career in corporate wellness would allow you to do this on a larger scale. You would coordinate wellness programming for hundreds or even thousands of people.

If you pursue corporate wellness, you will have more responsibility and upward mobility at work. And you could double your current income. The national average salary for health and wellness directors in January 2022 was $96,594 (Salary.com).

What degree major is best for personal trainers?

Personal trainers tend to earn degrees in wellness promotion, exercise science, or other health-related areas. You are probably working full- or part-time, so it might be difficult to earn a degree on a college campus. University of Wisconsin developed a wellness program for busy adults in your position.

The 100% online UW Health and Wellness Management program brings together faculty and resources from several UW campuses. The courses provide the skills you need to develop, promote, and manage health and wellness initiatives that effect lasting change. Because the program is online, you can earn a degree while maintaining a variable schedule of training sessions, family life, and other commitments.

That’s what Laura Kuglitsch did. While earning her UW Health and Wellness Management degree—a master’s degree in her case—she worked as a certified personal trainer and fitness instructor. Now, she is a wellness coach at Treo Wellness.

You enjoy being a trainer. Do you have to give that up?

Definitely not! Earning a degree and pursuing a career as a corporate wellness professional doesn’t mean you have to give up being a trainer. As you probably know, many people make personal training or fitness instruction their secondary career. Just look at Laura: she continues to teach fitness classes three nights a week.

Learn more about the UW Health and Wellness Management admission requirements, or talk with one of our enrollment advisers. To get started, call 608-262-2011, email learn@uwex.edu, or schedule an advising call via Calendly.

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Programs: Health and Wellness Management