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This program is specifically designed to meet the needs of students interested in careers in fitness, health, and related fields. The program also may be used as pre-professional preparation for graduate education in cardiac rehabilitation, physical therapy, and other programs related to health, allied health, and exercise science. To learn more about the degree and its requirements, please use the links above. 

The ESS-Exercise Science Program curriculum is recognized by the American College of Sports Medicine. A major goal of the program is to prepare students to sit for ACSM certification examinations such as Personal Training, Group Fitness Instructor, and Certified Exercise Physiologist.

For successfully meeting established criteria, the National Strength and Conditioning Association officially recognize the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse's Program in Strength and Conditioning. NSCA ERP student resources can be accessed online through this link.

Choose a track

Students in the Exercise Science Program must choose either the Fitness or the Pre-Professional Track. Major and degree requirements for each can be found online on our Academic programs page.

Fitness Track

The Fitness track is specifically designed for students interested in fitness-related careers - such as strength and conditioning coach, fitness or wellness center manager, etc. Click the following link to see the Fitness Track sample degree plan.

Pre-professional Track

The Pre-professional Track is specifically designed for students interested in going on to graduate school for a career that uses the clinical application of exercise or activity - such as physical therapy, cardiac rehabilitation, etc. Click the following link to see the Pre-professional Track sample degree plan.

Attention: The fitness test has been removed as an application requirement for the fall of 2023 and beyond.

Check sheets will no longer be required. Applicants will instead report their job shadows on their application only. Transcripts are also not required as the university will provide those data directly to the program director.

Requirements for Entrance

Below are the minimum admission criteria. Limited openings are available so achieving the minimum requirements will not guarantee admission - especially when competition is high. For more information, please see your academic advisor or the ESS-Exercise Science Program Director.

  1. Have a declared major of ESS-Exercise Science with the track of your choice (Fitness or Pre-professional). Students can change their major online or with a Change of Program form (available in the Dean's Offices in Graff Main Hall).
  2. Complete at least 30 credit hours (may include general education, AP and/or transfer credits). It is strongly recommend that students apply for admission during their sophomore year.
    • Transfer students:  At least one course must have been completed at UWL for you to apply. Please be aware that once admitted to the program, most students (including transfer students) require at least three semesters of course work followed by a one-semester internship (Fitness-Track only) to graduate. 
  3. Earn a "C" or higher in the following two pre-admission core courses:
    • BIO 100 or BIO 103 or BIO 105 or MIC 100
    • HPR 105
  4. Have a minimum UWL overall GPA of 2.75 for the Fitness Track or 3.00 for the Pre-professional Track. The average UWL GPA for admitted students is typically 3.3 for the Fitness Track and 3.5 for the Pre-professional Track.
  5. Complete an online (Canvas) Application Workshop by UWL Career Services (

Application to the Program

Students interested in applying for admission must (1) submit an online application form and (2) complete the online Career Services Application Workshop (including the submission of a resume) via Canvas. Both must be completed by the application deadline in order for the application to be considered. It is recommended that applications be submitted at least one week before the deadline.

  1. Application Form (Submitted online through this link)
    • Overall UWL GPA (cum gpa) and GPA for transfer courses if applicable (trans cum gpa) are listed on your unofficial transcripts which can be downloaded as a PDF file from WINGS
    • You can use the application practice sheet to prepare for your online application
    • Two required job shadows
      • A job shadow is acceptable when its a full work day (typically 6-10 hours) with a person who has an exercise-related job that you may want to have someday.
      • Applicants will need to complete a minimum of two job shadows in an exercise-related area. These shadows will be reported on the application form.
      • Shadows with persons such as personal trainers, fitness instructors, gym owners, exercise program facilitators, exercise researchers, physical therapists, athletic trainers, and occupational therapists will all work nicely and will not require prior approval from your advisor.
      • Only shadows with persons in jobs related to exercise (such as those listed above) can be used for the two required shadows on your application. Shadowing someone like a physician, physician assistant, dietician, nurse, dentist, etc. with no connection to exercise will not count as one of the two required shadows but may still be recorded on the application as an extra shadow for credit towards your overall application score. 
      • If you're not sure if an experience will count as one of the two required job shadows needed for application, then please check with your academic advisor or the Exercise Science Program Director.
  2. Complete the online UWL Career Services application workshop. Part of the workshop will deal with resumes. Sample resumes for each track are provided below.

Application Deadlines: October 1st and February 1stLate or incomplete applications will NOT be considered.

Expected Learning Objectives and Outcomes

An internship is required for ESS-Exercise Science students in the Fitness Track (not required for students in the Pre-professional Track) and is designed to be a culminating experience in which students put into practice what they have learned in fitness-related courses. It is also designed to give students experience in a specific area of interest within the fitness industry. Some of the expected objectives/outcomes from the internship include:

  • Demonstrate the use of health and fitness field and laboratory instruments, techniques, procedures and equipment
  • Demonstrate the ability to administer appropriate test protocols for evaluating the components of health-related fitness (cardiovascular endurance, body composition, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility)
  • Demonstrate the ability to evaluate and interpret exercise-testing results
  • Demonstrate the ability to develop and implement individualized exercise prescriptions based on participant's personal information, goals, and test results
  • Develop the ability to modify exercise prescription plans and to assist participants with long-term program adherence
  • Demonstrate leadership in aerobic exercise, strength, flexibility, and other areas of fitness
  • Demonstrate personal and professional qualities in teaching life-long fitness activities such as walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, aerobic dance, strength training, stretching, etc.

Need to take a semester or two off prior to starting your internship?

Any interruption in your continuous enrollment at UWL makes a reentry application necessary - summer and winter intersession are excluded. In order to re-enroll at UWL after sitting-out for one or more semesters, file the online UW System application - indicating you are a reentry student. This application form is available on the UWL website's front page. If you are reentering for the spring semester file your application on or after September 1st; if you are reentering for the summer or fall semesters file your reentry application on or after January 1st. There is no danger of being denied reentry when you leave UWL in good academic standing. Please refer questions about the status of the reentry application to the Office of Records and Registration, 117 Graff Main, 608.785.8951.

Time Commitment

Students will need to work the equivalent of 40 hours per week for the semester that they intern. Because Fall and Spring semesters are 14 weeks long, students interning during these semesters will need to log at least 560 hours. The summer semester is 12 weeks long so the minimum internship hour requirement is 480. Students may adjust the number of weeks they work by changing the rate at which they accumulate hours. Students are asked to contact the ESS-Exercise Science Program Director immediately if they need an extension to complete their internship hours after the semester has ended.

Note about Internship Insurance and background checks

The ESS Department does not cover a student’s additional insurance and/or background checks that may be required to do internship at some sites and in some states (e.g., Colorado and Utah). Each student is responsible for obtaining and paying for these services. Please verify the requirements of your intended internship site before you accept an offer.

Internship Requirements

    1. Select a site. Many ESS-Exercise Science majors use an internship site that was recommended by previous students. Others use UWL Career Services, Internet searches, telephone directories, listings from professional organizations, or other methods for selecting a site.
    2. Obtain approval to work at a selected site from the ESS-Exercise Science Program Director. This approval must be granted prior to registration for the internship.
    3. Register for ESS 450 section 01 for 12 Credit Hours.
    4. Complete and turn-in the following three items:
      1. Board of Regents Affiliation Agreement
      2. Internship Position Description
      3. Internship Contract
    5. IMPORTANT:  The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse does not officially consider a student properly enrolled as an intern until his or her initial forms (the three items listed immediately above) are fully completed and on file with signatures from the proper representatives of all parties involved. Students must therefore have all three of these forms completed and on file before they may count any of their internship hours. The contract specifies that the student agrees to perform specific tasks or accomplish goals and the internship site agrees to provide assistance for the student in his/her efforts to reach those tasks/goals. Specific starting and ending dates need to be established and added to the contract. Once the internship begins, interns are required to behave in a manner that reflects unquestionable professionalism. It is anticipated that an intern will follow the charge given them by his/her supervisors. While an intern is expected to perform a variety of functions, he/she is not charged with performing any illegal acts.
    1. The Exercise Science Program Director will typically use email to communicate with student interns. SO CHECK FOR UWL EMAIL MESSAGES REGULARLY.
    2. Keep a time sheet of hours worked. This time sheet must be signed by the student's supervisor for verification.
    3. Turn-in all four completed Work Progress Report forms (one form for each quarter of the internship).
    4. Turn-in two completed and signed Employer's Evaluation forms (one at the middle and one at the end of the internship).
    5. Keep the ESS-Exercise Science Program Director informed. Let the director know immediately if there are any changes or problems with the interns
    1. Turn-in a completed Intern Report. There is no format or length requirement for this report but it must include the following:
      1. A cover page with the student's name, the starting and ending dates of the internship, and site information (e.g., site name, supervisor's name, address, phone and fax numbers, e-mail addresses, web addresses, etc.).
      2. The body of the report should address the following questions:
        1. What specific duties and responsibilities were performed as an intern?
        2. What qualifications does the site require of their interns?
        3. Was the experience relevant and challenging?
        4. How existing skills were used during the internship?
        5. What new skills were acquired during the internship?
        6. What was the housing situation?
        7. Was the internship paid? If so, how much?
        8. Did the internship include fringe benefits (e.g., paid certification fees, free admission to events, clothing, meals, housing, etc.)?
        9. Did the internship experience lead to an employment opportunity?
        10. Should this site be recommend to future UWL interns?
        11. Other relevant comments about the experience?
      3. Attach additional materials that may be useful to future UWL students wanting to intern at the site (e.g., business cards, pamphlets, photographs, etc.).
    1. Send all remaining materials, forms, and reports to the Exercise Science Program Director. All materials must be received on or before the Last Day Of Classes . If materials are late, students may fail or receive an "incomplete" for the course.
    2. After the internship is completed, students are encouraged to stay in touch with the program director and other professors and instructors at UWL. These individuals are very interested in each graduate's career and continuing education choices.

Return all Materials and/or Address Questions to:

Richard P. Mikat, Ph.D., FACSM 
ESS-Exercise Science Program Director 
129 Mitchell Hall 
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse 
La Crosse, WI 54601 
Phone: 608.785.8177
Fax: 608.785.8172

Placement Rate

The most recent data show that over 95% of our graduates who are not immediately pursing additional education or training find employment within six months of graduation.

Jobs directly related to an Exercise Science degree include:

  • Cardiac Rehab Specialist
  • Clinical Exercise Specialist
  • Dietitian
  • Dietetic Assistant
  • Exercise Physiologist
  • Fitness Center Manager
  • Group Exercise Instructor
  • Health Coach
  • Personal Trainer
  • Secondary School Teacher
  • Sports Administrator
  • Sports Coach
  • Sports Development Officer
  • Sports Therapist
  • Strength Conditioning Coach
  • Managerial and Corporate Wellness Roles

Jobs where an Exercise and Sport Science degree would be useful:

  • Event Manager
  • Health Promotion Specialist
  • Higher Education Lecturer
  • Outdoor Activities/Education Manager
  • Sport and Exercise Psychologist

Therapy and rehabilitation professions where an Exercise and Sport Science degree would be useful:

  • Athletic Trainer
  • Chiropractor
  • Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation (Clinical Exercise Physiologist)
  • Massage Therapist
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Occupational Therapy Assistant
  • Physical Therapist
  • Physical Therapy Assistant
  • Recreational Therapist
  • Respiratory Therapist
  • Speech-Language Pathologist

Medical and nursing professions where an Exercise and Sport Science degree would be useful:

  • Cardiovascular Tech
  • Medical Assistant
  • Nurse
  • Physician
  • Physician Assistant
  • Podiatrist

Estimated Starting Income

The following positions and salaries come from the UWL Career Services Resource Guide on Career Opportunities in Fitness. These are some of the more common jobs and salaries obtained by ESS-Fitness majors but many others exist.

  Position Estimated Yearly Salary*
  Exercise Physiologist $ 31,243
  Health Promotion Manager $ 32,129
  Corporate Wellness Manager $ 30,376
  Sports Conditioning Specialist $ 29,231
  Spa Director $ 31,652
  Eating Disorder Rehab Specialist $ 32,586
  Physical Activity Director $ 34,974

Some fitness graduates pursue advanced degrees in specialty areas including:

  Position Estimated Yearly Salary*
  Physical Therapist $ 55,100
  Occupational Therapist $ 48,600
  Chiropractor $ 65,000
  Cardiac Rehabilitation Specialist $ 41,297
  Human Performance Enhancement $ 37,983
  Nurse $ 53,911

*Source: UWL Career Services Survey of Employment Status and National Association of College and Employers (NACE) Survey of Recent Graduates, 2008. Salaries listed are averages and will vary based on location and other factors.

Career Links for ESS-Fitness Majors

  UWL Career Services Office AACCS
  American College of Sports Medicine
  National Strength & Conditioning Association
  American Council on Exercise (ACE)
  IDEA Health and Fitness Association
  Aerobics and Fitness Association of America
  International Fitness Professionals Association
  Club Industry
  1. How do I apply to the Exercise Science Program? 
    Detailed application instructions and materials are available online (see "Application" link above). Application requirements include: the online application itself,  the application workshop, and a signature form (Check Sheet). The check sheet requires a signature from your academic advisor (for a transcript check and to confirm the completion of two job shadows).  Application deadlines are October 1 and February 1.  The online application, application workshop, and the fully-completed and signed check sheet must be received by the ESS-Exercise Science Program Director on-or-before the deadline to be considered for admission. 
  2. When should I apply to the Exercise Science Program?
    We STRONGLY recommend that students apply during their sophomore year. This gives students enough time to meet the  application requirements  and is early enough in a student's academic career to allow them to change their major if their application is not successful.
  3. What should I know about the fitness test? 
    A passing fitness test score was once needed as an application requirement. As of fall, 2023, that requirement has been removed. Fitness tests are no longer an application requirement.
  4. Where should I do the two job shadows that are required for admission to the ESS-Exercise Science Program? 
    Job shadows provide you with a real-world observation of a variety of fitness and/or clinical exercise-related careers. Each student is free to select his or her shadow sites based on interest and career goals. Because there are so many options, students are encouraged to consider fitness versus performance, young versus old, healthy versus clinical populations, and public versus private facilities. Each job shadow must be approved by your academic advisor before you complete the shadow.
  5. Which minors are most often pursued by ESS-Exercise Science students? 
    ESS-Exercise Science students can select any minor offered by any department on campus.  Some of the more common minors among ESS-Exercise Science students include: Nutrition; Recreation Management; Psychology; Business; Foreign Languages; and Recreation Inclusion. Additionally, many students pursue a certification in gerontology.
  6. Which concentration is most often pursued by ESS-Exercise Science students? 
    The most popular concentration is Coaching Competitive Athletics.
  7. Are there any exercise science-related clubs or organizations on campus that I can join? 
    University clubs can be searched from this link. The clubs most often selected by ESS-Exercise Science students include: The Exercise Science Club and the Student Physical Therapy Club. Each offers students excellent experiences and leadership opportunities as well as an environment for great social networking. The Campus Activities Board lists additional organizations, clubs, and activities that may also be of interest.
  8. What certifications will an ESS-Exercise Science degree prepare me to earn? 
    The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) offers certifications in Personal Training, Group Fitness Instructor, and Certified Exercise Physiologist. Additionally, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) offers Personal Training and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (SCSC) certifications. Many students also pursue exercise-related certifications through organizations like the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Each of these certifications are highly valuable to ESS-Exercise Science graduates.
  9. What does it mean to be recognized by the American College of Sports Medicine and by the National Strength and Conditioning Association? 
    The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) are the leading bodies for granting academic program approval for exercise science-related degrees. Students who graduate from programs recognized by these professional organizations have significant advantages in post-graduate certification, employment, and admission to many graduate programs.
  10. What type of jobs may be available to me with a degree in ESS-Exercise Science? 
    Potential jobs for ESS-Exercise Science majors include: Wellness Director; personal trainer; group fitness instructor; exercise physiologist; corporate fitness; strength and conditioning coach; and many others. Students with this degree are also well prepared for admission to graduate school in a variety of areas. Students planning to enter the fitness industry after graduation are encouraged to seek significant work/volunteer experiences related to their interests outside of the classroom. Employers usually place a high value on a combination of educational and work/volunteer experiences when making hiring decisions.
  11. What should I do if I miss a mass advising meeting?
    The Exercise Science Program has mass advising meetings at the beginning of each fall and spring semester. These are optional but students are encouraged to attend a session each semester. If you are unable to attend, you can watch a video of the meeting here: