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Probably one of the most frequently asked questions is that, “if it’s better to do a fitness/nutrition degree or a certification?

There are multiple views on this question, but nothing very clear when it comes to the local Indian scenario, as most of the articles or information online is on the western markets, which is actually quite contrary to the real picture here in India.

If we take an unbiased view, irrespective of the country or job scenario, then there are two points which to be understood:

  1. A degree is anytime superior over a certificate. This is due to the extensive course content and practical knowledge covered in a degree. Of course, anyone studying a subject for 3-5 years or more, would clearly have an edge over a person with a couple of weeks or months long certification.
  • There are many courses which are not covered in a degree course, as it depends on the specialization of the subjects one is pursuing a degree in. for e.g. someone doing a bachelors and masters in nutrition, will have to study subjects like strength & conditioning, or corrective exercise, or special population training etc. separately, for which a certification would be apt. As it makes no sense to again pursue a degree in another subject.

In simple terms a certification can actually complement a degree, but it cannot replace one.

Internationally, there are various universities offering associate, bachelors, masters and doctorate degree programs in various fields like physical education, exercise science, kinesiology, strength and conditioning, sports and fitness nutrition, sport psychology, athletic training etc.

But when it comes to India, there are hardly any colleges offering such courses. In the last couple of years, some good colleges across the nation have tried to offer such degree programs, but there are too many issues which crop up, which actually makes these degree programs quite illogical to pursue:

Where are the jobs? I started from this point because the ultimate aim of any degree course is to get good employment opportunities. The question is where are the jobs? For e.g. some of the places which these universities help in job assistance or internships are Sports Academy, Sports Medicine & Sports Rehabilitation Clinic/Dept. Fitness Centres, Sport’s Medicine Center, Human Performance Centre, Sport’s Academy, Fitness Academies, Fitness Equipment Manufacturing Company.

These names sound good when you are reading them on the prospectus, but in real cases they mean nothing. For e.g. most of these places never insist on having a full-on university degree, for employment. Most people running these centres, themselves have no idea about the qualification difference between someone with a degree or a certification. They want someone with knowledge but also someone who should work with minimal salaries.

We need to understand that there is a difference on courses based on sports training for particular sport or game, and exercise science or strength & conditioning courses. A sports academy, let’s say a soccer academy will need primarily a sports specific coach, for which you have government organizations like NIS (National Institute of Sports) in Patiala, or Indira Gandhi Physical Education University etc.

The demand for nutritionists, strength coaches etc. is surely rising, but the opportunities are extremely rare. Most of the sports coaches in our country, do not understand the difference in strength training and sports specific training, or nutrition and sports supplementation knowledge. They act as a one stop shop coaches, for everything. These coaches are not interested in sharing their already limited salaries with anyone else.

On the other hand, if the sports academy understands the need for a nutritionist or strength coach, they do not insist on a degree for that. There are handful of such academies in India, and you would need a strong approach and link than real qualifications to work with a national team.

Similarly, there are rarely rehab clinics which need exercise science or nutrition degrees a qualification for employment. These clinics are run by physiotherapists, who possess a different set of skills altogether.

Similarly, the sports medicine centres are run and governed by orthopaedic or sports medicine doctors, for which you need to a proper MBBS doctor with a specialization in sports related fields. Again a nutrition/exercise science degree has no use here.

There are rarely any good fitness equipment companies in India, and I have never heard any such company asking for an exercise science or nutrition science graduate for filling their vacancies.

Someone with a nutrition degree still has a better opportunity in terms of employment in various Hospitals, medical centres, sports academies etc. But someone with an exercise science degree in India, is not better than a person with a personal training certification. For them, fitness centres or gyms are still the major source of employment. And as we have discussed multiple times, that these gyms rarely even know what certifications are needed, forget about a full-fledged degree.

Some of the colleges offering exercise science degrees, do have a tie up with sports academies and fitness centres, but the salary being offered is what would be offered to anyone with a simple fitness certification.

Another biggest issue which is faced by people thinking of pursuing a full-fledged degree in exercise science is the cost involved. Pursuing a full-fledged bachelors and master’s degree, would cost you anywhere between 10-20 lakhs or more. This literally cuts of 95% or more population, as for most people interested in pursuing fitness as a career are from extremely poor backgrounds. For them, affording the price of a good personal training certification itself is a challenge. Thinking of a degree is totally out of question. Now just calculate the amount of years needed to just recover the fees with the peanuts like salaries being offered in this field.

Technically, you do not need a college degree to become a successful personal trainer. All you need is a personal trainer certification.

Does this mean, that a college degree in these subjects is worthless? No, but it’s worth is not in India. Spending twenty to forty times the amount and getting the same employment opportunities is stupidity. Yes, if you are planning to pursue a career abroad, surely the degree may come handy. But again, most of the western nations have the world’s finest colleges and universities offering degrees in extremely diverse fields. The quality of education in sports and exercise related subjects is much higher than in India. They already have excellent fitness/nutrition graduates to train their general population and athletes. They don’t need an Indian to do that, specially the one graduating from India.

You may plan to pursue a masters or doctorate abroad, once you pursue your basic degree in India, but then this does not change the job scenario in India. 

To pursue a career in fitness in India, its anytime better to do your bachelors or masters in a different field, and pursue good certifications to add to your credentials and portfolio.

Another advantage of certifications is that, you do not have to leave your current job or business to do one, unlike a degree, which is a full time course.

But the main point as I covered was that, your success in fitness/nutrition careers do not depend on a degree or certification. It depends on tremendous knowledge in the chosen field and then the knowledge of business and marketing. This is where most people lack. There are people with hardly any qualification in fitness/nutrition, earning in lakhs every month. On the other hand are people with box full of certificates and degrees, earning peanuts and struggling with their career progression.

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