Pursuing a Career in College Sports: How Important is a Master’s Degree?

By Dr. Howard Gauthier

I recently received a telephone call from a gentleman whose son is interested in pursuing a career in college sports.  Mr. Peterson said that his son will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in May and is interested in working in a college athletics department.  Then the question came up – “how does he get a job in an athletics department?”

This question comes up in conversation many times throughout the year.  My response is almost always the same – “pursue a Master’s Degree in Sports Management and gain experience along the way.”  Follow-up questions usually range along the path as:  a) Why does a person need a master’s degree, isn’t a bachelor’s degree just fine?  b) Isn’t a degree in business or another discipline just as good as a degree in Sports Management (or maybe even better)?  c) How does a person gain experience in college sports?  And the list of questions goes on.

These are great questions, and Mr. Peterson had similar type thoughts.  So why does a person need a master’s degree and how do you gain experience?  A master’s degree is the preferred educational degree for many athletic administrators these days.  Some institutions require a master’s degree, while others just prefer them.  In fact, some institutions are requiring or preferring a doctoral degree when hiring an athletics director.  So in answering the question, does a person need a master’s degree?  The short answer is not necessarily, but you probably should.  This is because colleges are institutions of higher learning and in order to be an educator, you should probably have the academic qualifications necessary to work at a college or university.  Also, if this is the preferred degree, you are increasing your odds of being hired by having the preferred credentials.

How about the response to the question – is a degree in Sports Management necessary for working in an athletics department?  The short answer is – it’s probably the preferred discipline for the student who is clearly focused on a career in college sports.  This is because you will be trained in the various aspects of college sports such as sports management, leadership, compliance, sports marketing, sports law, fund raising and more.  Also, in many sports management programs you will be required to have an internship (experience).  Finally, with a sports management program you are going to learn the nuances and politics that differentiate an institution of higher learning from a business.

However, a degree in business (such as an MBA) can be an outstanding option if a person is interested in pursuing the business side within college sports, or a degree in journalism for the person who wants to pursue a position in media relations.  Another consideration is that quite often the Sports Management Department has a good working relationship with the university’s athletic department, and it’s more likely that you can secure a job in the athletics department while working towards your degree in Sports Management.  But the real kicker for any degree program is to gain experience at the same time.

Experience can be gained by volunteering in an athletics department, having a graduate assistantship, or by completing an internship.  This experience will help you to gain clarity as to which area within college sports you want to pursue.  It will also provide you with experience for your resume and future jobs, not to mention that working in an athletics department can provide you with opportunities for networking and mentorships.  All of this is critically important if you truly want to work in a college athletics department.  Therefore, to enhance your chances of working in college sports a person should pursue a master’s degree (preferably in Sports Management) and simultaneously gain experience working in an athletic department.

These are some of the basic strategies that I shared with Mr. Peterson.  Remember, ultimately the job will go to the candidate who is best prepared and who effectively executes the basics of the job search process.  In all you do, you will want to EXECUTE FOR SUCCESS!

 

Howard Gauthier is an Associate Professor of Athletic Administration at Idaho State University.  He is a former collegiate athletic director and collegiate basketball coach.  He is also an author of 9 books.  Check out his book, Getting Hired In College Sports – 2nd Edition at www.SportsCareersInstitute.com.

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23 thoughts on “Pursuing a Career in College Sports: How Important is a Master’s Degree?

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