What is a Recreation and Leisure Studies Degree?

Practitioners in the recreation and leisure sector are guided by their dedication to a healthy work/life balance. Degree programs in the field, therefore, prepare students to work as recreation workers in roles that help people improve their quality of life and health.

The recreation and leisure studies curriculum combines classroom instruction with real-life experiences through community engagement. Students learn how to assess recreation and leisure needs within communities, develop and administer programs and events that respond to those needs, and evaluate the success of their responses.

Courses explore topics like the history and philosophy of recreation and leisure, the sociology of well-being, and recreation for special populations such as children, the elderly, and the physically or mentally challenged.

Program Options

Associate Degree in Recreation and Leisure Studies – Two Year Duration
Bachelor’s Degree in Recreation and Leisure Studies – Four Year Duration
In the field of recreation and leisure studies, associate degree programs are geared towards students who wish to obtain a foundational knowledge of the discipline before continuing their education at the bachelor’s level.

Graduates with a Bachelor’s Degree in Recreation and Leisure Studies generally qualify for a variety of roles up to and including management positions. Below are some examples of courses that may be part of the associate or bachelor’s curriculum. Of course, the two-year associate program is made up of fewer of these courses and provides a less in-depth examination of topics.

  • Lifespan Growth and Development
  • Interpersonal Communication and Relationships
  • Recreation and Leisure in Contemporary Society
  • Program Planning, Design, and Evaluation
  • Historical Foundations of Leisure and Recreation
  • Community Recreation Planning
  • Social Psychology of Leisure
  • Administration of Leisure Services
  • Recreation and Leisure Studies Seminar
  • Internship in Recreation and Leisure Studies
  • Community Development and Leisure
  • Introduction to Sport Management
  • Hospitality Services
  • Outdoor Recreation / Adventure
  • Introduction to Therapeutic Recreation
  • Global Tourism
  • Management in Therapeutic Recreation
  • Sports Marketing
  • Leadership in Leisure Services
  • Sports Business and Finance
  • Intergenerational Recreation and Wellness
  • Therapeutic Recreation Program Design and Interventions
  • Therapeutic Design for Physical Disabilities
  • Facilitation Techniques in Therapeutic Recreation
  • Evaluation and Research in Leisure Studies
  • Legal Issues in Sports and Recreation
  • Leisure and Aging
  • Tourism and Resort Development
  • Issues and Trends in Leisure Studies
  • Sport and Recreation Facility Planning and Design
  • Sport and Recreation Facility Management

Master’s Degree in Recreation and Leisure Studies – Two Year Duration
Most master’s programs in recreation and leisure studies are thesis-based with two main concentrations: therapeutic recreation and recreation administration. The emphasis at this level of education is independent thesis research in an area chosen by each individual student. Some examples are the relationship of recreation and leisure to aging, coping, specific population groups, and social, psychological, and spiritual health.

While every individual’s master’s program varies because of this freedom to choose a research focus, there are still core courses that every master’s candidate must complete. Here are some samples:

  • Research Methods in Social and Natural Science
  • Statistics for Health Sciences
  • The Interdisciplinary Basis of Leisure Science
  • Lifestyles of Ill and Disabled Persons
  • Gender, Leisure, and Family
  • Perspectives on Youth
  • Leisure Behavior and the Older Adult
  • Qualitative Research Methods

Doctoral Degree in Recreation and Leisure Studies – Four to Five Year Duration
Students who earn a Doctoral Degree in Recreation and Leisure Studies typically pursue a career in research or university-level teaching. After passing minimum requirements examinations, students’ coursework at this level is centered on researching and presenting their Ph.D. thesis proposal.

The proposal must contain a statement of the research problem and its importance in the area of recreation and leisure, research techniques to be used, and an outline of proposed data to be examined.

In addition to Ph.D. thesis prerequisites, doctoral students must take a minimum number of graduate courses as specified by their school. The following are some sample courses:

  • Issues in Leisure Operations and Policy
  • Program Evaluation in Recreation, Sport, and Tourism
  • Issues in Leisure and Social Justice
  • Quantitative Research in Recreation and Leisure Studies
  • Qualitative Research in Research and Leisure Studies

Degrees Similar to Recreation and Leisure Studies

Hotel Management
Degree programs in hotel management prepare students for careers as managers of hotels, motels, resorts, and other lodging businesses. The typical curriculum includes an internship, during which students have an opportunity to work in the field and learn from seasoned professionals. This hands-on experience is preceded by coursework in areas such as human resource management and hospitality operations, sales, marketing, and accounting.

A kinesiology major studies the mechanics of body movements. A degree in the field can prepare students for a wide spectrum of careers in health, wellness, fitness, and education. It provides solid footing for prospective personal trainers, athletic therapists, and exercise scientists. It also lays the foundation for advanced study in kinesiology and in the complementary fields of medicine, physiotherapy, and chiropractics.

Personal Training
These programs prepare students to work as personal trainers. The curriculum focuses on nutrition, human anatomy, and exercise physiology.

Public Health
Students who enter degree programs in public health look at how access and lack of access to healthcare, health education, and funding affect the spread, treatment, and prevention of disease. Epidemiology – the science concerned with the spread and control of diseases and viruses – is the science at the heart of public health.

Social Work
Social work is about helping people solve and cope with problems and challenges in their everyday lives. Students who pursue a degree in the field gain the knowledge and skills, as well as the ethics and values, to work for social justice for individuals, families, organizations, and communities. The typical curriculum examines issues such as child welfare, mental health, poverty, aging, domestic violence, and marginalized groups.

Degree programs in sociology are focused on studying groups, from two people and beyond. Sociology students examine human behavior patterns and relationships at both the micro-level and the macro-level. They study interactions between individuals as well as in families, peer groups, cultural groups, gender groups, racial groups, religious groups, and social classes.

Skills You’ll Learn

Soft skills that typically result from completing a recreation and leisure studies program include the following:

Critical thinking and decision making
In recreation and leisure settings, it is essential that practitioners are able to think critically, to see problems and consider challenges from different perspectives. This approach is the only route to presenting the right plan and making the right decision.

Managing and raising resources – fundraising – is often a component of many recreation and leisure roles.

Listening and communication
These are skills that truly the by-products of earning any degree. Successfully completing a rigorous educational track means that you learned how to listen and interact, as well as to communicate both verbally and nonverbally. These are the cornerstone takeaways from education in general.

Service mindset
In any job that entails working with people, a commitment to customer service is needed. This characteristic, of course, is highly transferrable.

Social perception and empathy
The best recreation and leisure practitioners are able to understand what their communities and clients are experiencing. They are socially aware and genuinely want to help.

What Can You Do with a Recreation and Leisure Studies Degree?

Graduates with a degree in recreation and leisure studies work in a wide variety of roles in both the public and private sectors. Below is a sample list of occupational categories and some of the jobs they may offer.

Amateur Sports Associations

  • Event / Competition Coordinator

Camp Programs

  • Camp Director
  • Camp Coordinator
  • Camp Counselor

Children’s Hospitals

  • Child Life Specialist

Community Centers

  • Director
  • Facilities Manager
  • Administrator
  • Coordinator, Youth Programs
  • Coordinator, Children’s Programs
  • Coordinator, Senior Citizen Programs

Ecotourism / Adventure Tourism

  • Ecotourism Resort Manager


  • Recreation Instructor
  • Professor of Therapeutic Recreation

Government Mental Health Programs

  • Recreation Therapist

Hospitality / Hotels and Resorts

  • Sports and Activities Manager
  • Gym Manager

Media and Communication

  • Writer / Editor, Sports and Leisure Publications

Non-profit Sector / Charities

  • Director, Community Partnerships and Investment

Park Boards

  • Special Advisor, Strategy and Planning
  • Park Manager
  • Park Ranger

Research and Consulting

  • Recreation and Leisure Analyst

Sports and Entertainment Companies

  • Live Events Coordinator
  • Coordinator, Game Operations (for professional sports teams)

Tourism Boards

  • Director of Tourism Education
  • Visitor Experience Specialist


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