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Master of Public Health in Physical Activity, Online (PHAO)

The Master of Public Health in Physical Activity, Online (PHAO) is offered through the Department of Kinesiology in the School of Public Health. Kinesiology brings together individuals with backgrounds in physiology, psychology, epidemiology, sociology, communications, history, engineering, education, and neuroscience to address challenging public health problems such as lack of access to quality physical activity spaces and opportunities in under-resourced communities, the ubiquity of car-dependent built environments and lifestyles, and how to simultaneously leverage technology in health promotion and mitigate its negative effects.

Mentoring and advising are an essential part of the program. Students meet with faculty and the academic program director to ensure that educational goals and career learning and development goals are met. Students with specific academic questions may contact Professor Dr. Valerie Cholet, via email:


The Master of Public Health in Physical Activity, Online (PHAO) has a 45-credit, sixteen-course, multi-disciplinary curriculum that provides current knowledge and skills in the wide range of areas of expertise required of tomorrow’s recreation, sport, and fitness leaders. 

  • Prepares graduates for careers that involve integrating physical activity into public health practice at various levels.
  • Addresses the growing national demand for professionals who understand the physical and mental health benefits of physical activity, and can leverage this knowledge to combat major public health issues facing today’s society. Sedentary behaviors underlie numerous chronic diseases and are considered a leading cause of morbidity and mortality. 
  • Successful graduates enter the field of work or service ready to improve the quality of life across populations, address complex interconnected public health issues, and promote population health and wellness locally, nationally and globally.
  • Designed to be completed in 24 months of continuous full-time enrollment. Part-time enrollment is welcome. See Designation of Full-time/Part-time Status.

Program Features

Students participate in both academic and applied training. Plan of study includes: 

  • 14 credits (six courses) in evidence-based approaches to public health that includes public health and health care systems, planning and management to promote health, policy in public health, leadership, communication, and inter-professional practice and systems thinking; 
  • 24 credits (eight courses) in the physical activity/cognate area selected from a list of approved electives and additional courses; and
  • 7 credits (two courses) in an applied practice experience that consists of a practicum (4 credits) and capstone project (3 credits).


Below is a listing of all program courses. For a detailed course description that includes pre-requisites or co-requisites, see The Graduate School Catalog, Course Listing as follows: 

Area Course Number Title
Core SPHL601 Core Concepts in Public Health
Core SPHL602 Foundations of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
Core SPHL603 Public Health Data Laboratory
Core SPHL610 Health Program Planning, Development, Evaluation, & Resources
Core SPHL611 Public Health Ethics
Core SPHL620 Leadership, Teams, and Coalitions: Policy to Advocacy
Cognate KNES600 Kinesiology in Public Health
Cognate KNES601 Epidemiology of Physical Activity
Cognate KNES602 Physical Activity Program Planning and Evaluation
Cognate KNES603 Mixed Methods in Kinesiology and Public Health Research
Cognate KNES*** Electives (Four Courses)
Practicum KNES778 Practicum in Physical Activity and Public Health
Capstone KNES786 Capstone Project in Physical Activity and Public Health

Registration Overview

  • See the sample plan of study, below. Students should use this as a guide to develop a plan with the academic program director.
  • Actual course offerings are determined by the program and may vary. Students should note if a course has a pre-requisite or co-requisite.
  • Specific class meeting information (days and time) is posted on the University of Maryland’s (UMD) interactive web service services, Testudo. Once on that site, select “Schedule of Classes,” then the term/year. Courses are listed by academic unit. 
  • The program uses specific section codes for registration that are listed on the sample plan of study.

Sample Plan, Full-time

Semester Year Course Number Section Code Credits
Summer I 1 KNES600 PLK* 3
Summer II 1 KNES601 PLK* 3
Fall 1 SPHL601 PLK* 1
Fall 1 SPHL602 PLK* 4
Fall 1 SPHL603 PLK* 1
Winter 1 KNES Elective 1 PLK* 3
Spring 1 SPHL610 PLK* 5
Spring 1 SPHL611 PLK* 1
Spring 1 KNES602 PLK* 3
Summer I & II 2 KNES778 PLK* 4
Summer I or II 2 KNES603 PLK* 3
Fall 2 SPHL620 PLK* 2
Fall 2 KNES Elective 2 PLK* 3
Winter 2 KNES Elective 3 PLK* 3
Spring 2 KNES786 PLK* 3
Spring 2 KNES Elective 4 PLK* 3

Sample Plan, Part-time

Semester Year Course Number Section Code Credits
Summer I 1 KNES600 PLK* 3
Summer II 1 KNES601 PLK* 3
Fall 1 SPHL601 PLK* 1
Fall 1 KNES Elective 1 (can take in winter 1) PLK* 3
Winter 1 KNES Elective 1 (if not taken in fall 1) PLK* 3
Spring 1 KNES602 PLK* 3
Summer I or II 2 KNES603 PLK* 3
Fall 2 SPHL602 PLK* 4
Fall 2 SPHL603 PLK* 1
Winter 2 KNES Elective 2 PLK* 3
Spring 2 SPHL610 PLK* 5
Summer I & II 3 KNES778* PLK* 2-4
Fall 3 SPHL620 PLK* 2
Winter 3 KNES Elective 3 (can take in spring 3) PLK* 3
Spring 3 SPHL611 PLK* 1
Spring 3 KNES Elective 3 (if not taken in winter 3) PLK* 3
Summer I & II 4 KNES778* PLK* 2-4
Fall 4 KNES Elective 4 PLK* 3
Spring 4 KNES786 PLK* 3

*The practicum experience can be split into two separate 2-credit experiences, and can be completed in summer between Year 2 and 3 or Year 3 and 4.

Online Instruction

  • Features 100% online instruction with engaging and interactive learning.
  • Uses the semester academic calendar with classes held during fall and spring semester (16 weeks each) and Summer Session (two 6-week sessions).
  • Instruction provided by University of Maryland faculty and professionals in the field.
  • Using advanced audio and video technology, UMD’s online learning environment delivers dynamic and interactive content. 
  • Featuring convenience and flexibility, online instruction permits asynchronous or synchronous participation.
  • Lectures are video archived. Students who are unable to attend in real time can review the session through asynchronous participation.

Upon successful completion, graduates will have mastered a combination of foundational public health and physical activity-specific competencies appropriate to their educational and professional goals. The foundational competencies are designed by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) to assess skills pertaining to: planning and management to promote health; application of evidence-based approaches to public health; policy in public health; leadership; communication; interprofessional practice; and systems thinking.

The program’s concentration-specific competencies are evaluated through the cognate area courses:

  • Critically assess and analyze the influence of structural racism on historical housing practices and policies within the context of physical activity and health inequities. (KNES600)
  • Explain how physical activity integrates with one of the Essential Public Health Services, also analyzing the benefits to, and challenges of, integration. (KNES600)
  • Appraise and assess built and social environmental determinants of physical activity in two different communities in relation to health outcomes in those communities. (KNES601)
  • Apply and evaluate different physical activity assessment instruments. (KNES601)
  • Conduct impact and/or process evaluations for community-based physical activity interventions. (KNES602)

How will the MPH-Physical Activity Online benefit me?
The program offers exceptional learning, leadership development, and networking, increasing your:

  • Marketable expertise
  • Professional flexibility and mobility
  • Career advancement readiness
  • Lifetime earning potential
  • Professional network support
  • Ability to contribute to society

Why pursue the MPH-Physical Activity Online at the University of Maryland?
Our program helps working professionals—as well as those new to the job market—advance their careers by gaining the essential knowledge, tools, and skills to lead initiatives that address local, national, and global public health issues related to physical activity in the 21st century. We are currently the only fully online MPH in Physical Activity in Maryland, and one of only three fully online programs across the nation. Our program prepares students to identify the benefits of physical activity and the barriers to being active for diverse populations and how to apply evidence-based knowledge to promote wellness and health equity.

What are some possible career paths related to this degree program?

  • K-12 Education (Physical Education, Health Education)
  • Physical activity promotion and community planning in:
    • Non-profit sector (e.g., Special Olympics, Back on my Feet)
    • Government sector (e.g., President's Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition; Parks and Recreation; Local and State Health Departments)
  • Corporate health and wellness
  • Transportation and neighborhood design evaluation

What is unique about the MPH-Physical Activity Online?

  • Fully online program that can be completed part time (if desired) so you don’t have to take leave time from work. 
  • Engage in learning with a cohort of colleagues.
  • Possibility of completing practicum and capstone projects at your current to place of employment 
  • Stimulating online courses conducted by UMD School of Public Health faculty and experts from leading public health organizations.
  • Focus on leadership, policy, and practice provides practical knowledge and professional skills to apply to your work in the health industry.
  • Practicum and capstone projects are designed to leave students with tangible examples of public health practice that can help to launch you into the next stage of an upward career path.

I am interested in taking some of the Kinesiology courses offered without applying for the online MPH in Physical Activity degree. Is this possible?
Yes! We understand that not all prospective students are in a position to undertake our full MPH degree program at this time, or that they simply need a certain number of continuing-education credits. With this in mind, it is possible to apply for our 3-credit Kinesiology (KNES) courses as a Non-Degree Seeking Student. Moreover, if you begin by taking courses as a Non-Degree Seeking Student, a maximum of nine (9) credits can later be transferred to the online MPH in Physical Activity, contingent on admission to the degree program and approval by the Graduate School via the inclusion of credit petition process. See the Non-Degree Admissions page of the UMD Graduate School website for further information on how to apply to be a Non-Degree Seeking Student, including eligibility requirements, application deadlines, and more on the transfer of credits process. 

What will I learn to advance my career as a leader in public health and physical activity?
The MPH-Physical Activity Online offers a 45-credit rigorous, multi-disciplinary curriculum that provides up-to-date knowledge and skills that covers the areas of expertise required of tomorrow’s public health and physical activity leaders.

  • 14 credits in evidence-based approaches to public health that includes public health and health care systems, planning and management to promote health, policy in public health, leadership, communication, and inter-professional practice and systems thinking;
  • 24 credits in physical activity epidemiology, physical activity program planning and evaluation, public health research methods, social determinants of physical activity and issues related to physical activity equity, management of youth fitness/sports programs; 
  • 4 credits for the practicum; and
  • 3 credits for the capstone project

How is instruction delivered?
The MPH-Physical Activity features online learning with stimulating asynchronous and synchronous online instruction. UMD’s online learning environment delivers online content through easy to use web-based technology that enables learning in an engaging, interactive environment.

How long will it take to complete the MPH-Physical Activity Online?
You may complete the 45-credit program in 24 months of full-time study. You also have the option of spreading out the courses over additional semesters. The choice is yours!

Is the School of Public Health accredited?
The School of Public Health, University of Maryland, is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health. MPH-Physical Activity students are eligible to take the National Board of Public Health Examiners exam to become Certified in Public Health after completing all the core principles of public health courses.

Who are the faculty?
Instruction is delivered by the University of Maryland School of Public Health faculty and experts from leading public health organizations.

I have taken one or more of the required classes. Can I transfer these credits? 
No more than six (6) credit hours of graduate work may be transferred from CEPH accredited institutions. Additional requirements apply. Students seeking acceptance of transfer credits are urged to consult with the academic program director to ensure compliance with The Graduate School guidelines.

How do I apply?
You should apply first through SOPHAS, a common application for various Schools of Public Health. Approximately one (1) week after a completed application has been submitted to SOPHAS, you should receive an email from UMD’s Graduate School with instructions for submitting the UMD supplemental application and the nonrefundable application fee of $75.00.

Is there financial assistance available?
Yes. For information on financial aid opportunities, alternative payment options, and tuition reimbursement programs, see Financial Assistance

Whom do I contact if I have questions?
Dr. Valerie Cholet, Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Kinesiology:

Below are insights from program alumni on what you’ll gain from the MPH in Physical Activity.

Katie Costello, 2022
ORISE Health Communications Fellow, US Department of Health & Human Services

  • Having a specialization in physical activity has been one of the greatest advantages in my position. I support the Move Your Way® campaign, which aims to help people live healthier lives through increased physical activity. The MPH program at UMD gave me the confidence to jump in and communicate with our key audiences about physical activity and its benefits in a way that is understandable and actionable. I use knowledge gained in my coursework and during my capstone experience every day to conduct audience research, assist communities with implementing Move Your Way, and develop new resources to help people understand how much physical activity they need to be healthy.

Samantha Griffin, 2021
Training Manager, Up2Us Sports

  • I am so grateful for my experiences in the MPH in Physical Activity program. I was able to leave the program with tangible skills that have prepared me to succeed in my current role in sport based youth development. I can look at physical activity and health inequities from several different lenses through my strong understanding of the determinants that affect physical activity from the individual to societal level. This helps me to develop more equitable access to physical activity for all populations because I am able to come up with solutions in any context. Most importantly, I think that this program helped me feel knowledgeable and confident in advocating for the importance of physical activity as an essential element of public health.
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