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Smith College coaches discuss strategy on the field

The Master of Science in Exercise & Sport Studies

The Smith College master’s program in exercise and sport studies is devoted exclusively to the practice of intercollegiate coaching and athletic training of women's teams. Our goal is to produce quality intercollegiate coaches and athletic trainers for female athletes. Students with diverse and high-quality undergraduate backgrounds who have had intercollegiate athletic experience as players and coaches are prime candidates for the ESS master of science degree.

The program is interdisciplinary by design, combining a background in social science and scientific information about exercise and sports with practical experiences encompassing all aspects of coaching and athletic training. Graduates of the program are ideally suited to take on the role of head coaches and athletic trainers of intercollegiate teams.

Note: Smith follows the tradition of using Latin degree names. For most graduate degrees, this means A.M. (artium magister) and S.M. (scientiae magister). Smith's graduate degree for exercise and sports science is the master of science or S.M.

The Master’s Program

Philosophy of the Graduate Program

Since the passage of Title IX, the number of participants, sport opportunities and programs for girls and women has grown dramatically. Over more than three decades, programs at the intercollegiate athletic level for women have generally thrived as well. However, the percentage of women who serve as head coaches and administrators for these programs has precipitously declined. In 1972 more than 90 percent of women's collegiate athletic programs were headed and coached by women. By 2005, these positions were filled predominantly by men, while women headed only two percent of the men's teams. The situation is worse at the administrative level: one in 10 athletic programs have no women administrators at all. Recent longitudinal data on women's coaching in the workplace produced by Vivian Acosta and Linda Carpenter over the past 30 years corroborates this social fact.

To address such inequities, Smith College, one of the largest undergraduate women's colleges in the country, decided in 1985 to focus its master's program in exercise and sport studies on training intercollegiate coaches of women's teams. This was in keeping with the college's mission to provide women with educational opportunities that lay the foundation for them to excel and take leadership roles in any occupation, particularly those in which they have been underrepresented.

The college already had many resources in place to address this need: an extensive library, a dedicated faculty, a highly qualified and diverse student population, and extensive computer and technological resources, all on a beautiful 143-acre campus. The current program offers a marvelous physical plant for sports and athletics that includes excellent outdoor and indoor facilities, a committed faculty in the Department of Exercise and Sport Studies and coaches in the Department of Athletics and Recreation. The Department of Exercise and Sport Studies over the years has developed a rich curriculum that addresses the pedagogical and motor learning techniques critical for quality instruction, the sociocultural issues encountered in coaching, the biophysical knowledge base to properly train athletes, and the practical experience relevant to engage coaches broadly in the field of exercise, sport studies and athletics.

Since Smith has 11 intercollegiate teams, the program's primary goal is to place candidates as assistant coaches at the college. With Smith's membership in the Five College Consortium and its location in the Pioneer Valley, some graduate candidates may be placed at nearby institutions to gain professional experience and be exposed to a diverse group of coaches who use a variety of approaches toward their sports.

By combining multiple theoretical approaches and scientific information about exercise and sports with practical experiences encompassing all aspects of coaching, the program produces graduates who are ideally suited to work as head coaches of women's intercollegiate teams. For the most part, candidates who have been willing to relocate, without restriction to a particular geographical area, have been successful in finding head coaching positions. Already more than 90 percent of graduates are now serving, or have served, as head coaches at numerous institutions across the country, from Division I to Division III. Follow-up evaluations with alumni and their athletic directors affirm the relevance of the theoretical and practical preparation gained through the program.

Human Performance Lab

Located on the fourth floor of the Scott Building, the Human Performance Lab (HPL) is a space for teaching and research, and home to graduate offices, faculty research and labs.

Teaching Lab

The teaching lab houses many resources to give students hands-on experiences in exercise science, including metabolic testing, functional performance and health monitoring. The equipment includes a VacuMed metabolic cart, treadmill, Monark cycle ergometers, body composition assessment tools, blood pressure and heartrate monitoring tools, a Polar Team2 system, iWorx Data Acquisition and Analysis systems, anatomical models and an exam bed.

Sample Processing Lab

Adjacent to the HPL is a sample processing lab, which is approved to accommodate and process human samples (i.e. blood, saliva, urine). The space includes instrumentation for lactate and glucose analysis and is supplied with a sink and emergency eyewash station.

Vascular Function Research Lab

The vascular function laboratory is a quiet, temperature-controlled space with exam bed, sink and eyewash station. In this space, noninvasive tests are performed for endothelial function via ultrasound and Doppler, and arterial stiffness via pulse wave velocity. The space has a Terason uSmart 3300 ultrasound imaging system with 15L4A Linear Array Transducer. It also houses a Hokanson E20 Rapid Cuff Inflator, a 27-inch iMac computer with FMD Studio software, patient monitor for blood pressure, and EKG necessary for vascular function testing. The laboratory has the SphygmoCor XCEL Pulse wave analysis (PWA) and Pulse wave velocity (PWV) system to measure and analyze arterial stiffness outcomes with the SphygmoCor XCEL Software suite.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can men apply to this program?

Yes! Anyone with a bachelor's degree or its equivalent may apply to the ESS Graduate Program.

Is the stipend payment for being an assistant coach?

No. As part of being in the program every student is assigned to be an assistant coach or athletic trainer in his or her sport. The assignment is treated as any class (ESS 505/506). The student registers, and receives credit toward his or her degree.

What is the graduate award for?

The graduate award varies, but can be a full tuition waiver, a stipend in exchange for service to the college above and beyond your classroom and coaching responsibilities, or reduced tuition. This service can be in the form of teaching performance classes, assisting in the Olin Fitness Center or doing administrative work for the Exercise and Sport Studies or athletic departments.

What is "Preview Day"

At Preview Day you can visit the campus and get a better sense of the program by attending panel discussions and talking to faculty and coaches. During the day visitors can interview with department members and coaches as part of the application process. Preview Day registration is required. Register now 

Is it necessary to come to campus to interview?

It is not necessary to visit campus for an interview, but it is strongly recommended.

Is the GRE test score required for admission?

No. The GRE is optional for U.S. applicants. International applicants must submit TOEFL results.

Whom should my three letters of recommendation be from? Can I submit them with my application, and should the envelopes be sealed?

Your three recommendation should include one that is sports related, from a coach or employer.

When is the deadline for applying?

All required materials must be received by the Graduate and Special Programs Office at Smith College by January 15th for early action consideration, or by March 1, 2022. 

Can I enter the program in the spring?

No. Our courses are on a set program schedule. We only accept new students entering for the fall semester.

My undergraduate degree is not in a science field. Can I still apply?

Yes. We accept applications even if you don't have a science background. You are not required to take prerequisite courses.

I am interested in becoming an athletic trainer. Does this program support athletic training?

Yes. This program is suitable for applicants interested in both athletic training and coaching.  

Does this program offer mentorships?

Yes. You are essentially mentored by your coach throughout the 2 year program. 

Are there other opportunities to shadow or volunteer within the athletic department?

Yes. The program functions out of the gym, home to the facilities manager. Opportunity to ask about operations management exists. However, no courses are based on operations as this program is centered around coaching athletic teams. We do have opportunities to lead physical fitness classes and TA undergraduate theory and performance courses. People can also do work in contest management, sports information, and event planning.

What is the student-to-teacher ratio?

2-4 graduate students, depending on the year, shadow each coach. Classes are small. Generally 10-25 per class. Half of your courses would probably be on the lower end while half would have upwards of 20.

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Alumni Spotlight

“Not only were ESS instructors great professionals who were passionate and committed to their work, they were also exceptional people. The hands-on experience was invaluable, supporting our practice with a strong theoretical foundation.”  

-Nancy Feldman M.S. ’88   
Head Coach, Women's Soccer, Boston University

Nancy Feldman

“The Exercise and Sport Studies program at Smith College was a positive learning experience that was vital to my professional development. The department puts young coaches in a position to immediately make an impact while furthering their education.”   

-Dexter Taylor M.S. ’20   
Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach, Brown University

“The ESS program is the perfect blend of instruction and discovery. I was given the freedom to practice my course work coaching with the student-athletes at Smith. I really believe this program gave me the edge to be successful in my career. The coaching staff and instructors pushed me to become the coach I am today.”   

-Hayli Yetter   
Assistant Sports Performance Coach, University of Denver

Hayli Yetter

Requirements & Courses

Each grad student in our program completes a competency-based matrix that was developed for coach education programs. Smith's ESS program is certified at the highest level—level 5—because we work so closely with these objectives.


Adviser: Lynn Oberbillig

The master’s degree in exercise and sport studies is a 53-credit program tracked over the course of two years. A candidate receives theoretical and applied practice in coaching through 14 credits of a practicum experience by serving as either an assistant coach or a trainer to an intercollegiate team.

With the exception of 500, 502, 505, 506, 509, and special studies and theses credits, courses are offered on an alternate-year schedule.

Theory Courses

Full theory courses of 4 credits each include:

  • 510 Biomechanics of Sport
  • 515 Physiology of Exercise and Sport
  • 550 Gender in Sport
  • 565 Skill Acquisition and Performance
  • 570 Sport Psychology

These courses typically meet for a minimum of three hours a week, and several require an additional two hours of laboratory work.

Seminars and Applied Skills

Applied coaching courses are largely 2 credits and are organized as seminars and colloquiums. They include:

  • 500 Foundations of College Coaching
  • 501 Seminar in Administration of Athletic Teams
  • 502 Seminar in Philosophy and Ethics
  • 503 Legal Issues in Sport
  • 504 Collegiate Recruiting
  • 509 Musculoskeletal Anatomy
  • 520 Sport Leadership for Coaches
  • 555 Sports Nutrition
  • 575 Sports Medicine
  • 576 Fundamentals of Conditioning

Coaching Practicum

  • 505 Practical Foundations in Coaching (1st year)
  • 506 Advanced Practicum in Coaching (2nd year)

Students in the coaching practicum serve as assistant coaches. Candidates in the coaching practicum in ESS 505 observe and assist the head coach in as many areas as possible. After having spent a season with a head coach and team, candidates in ESS 506 are given increased responsibilities. Here assistant coaches may be responsible for certain areas within their sport's program, such as developing and implementing a recruiting plan, developing a budget, organizing a tournament, or planning and running practices.


The exercise and sport studies graduate program at Smith College received Level V NCACE (now known as USCCE) accreditation in 2014 and is recognized through the National Strength and Conditioning Association for our standardized curriculum in the strength and conditioning discipline.


Kyle Bissell

Exercise & Sport Studies

Lecturer and Instructor in Exercise & Sport Studies

Stephanie Jones

Exercise & Sport Studies

Assistant Professor of Exercise & Sport Studies

Stephanie Jones

Erica Tibbetts

Exercise & Sport Studies

Lecturer in Exercise & Sport Studies, Director of the Exercise & Sport Studies Graduate Program

Erica Tibbets

Sarah Witkowski

Exercise & Sport Studies

Chair and Associate Professor of Exercise & Sport Studies

Sarah Witkowski


  • Jackie Blei, Lecturer Emerita in Exercise & Sport Studies
  • Jim Johnson, Professor Emeritus of Exercise & Sport Studies
  • Chris Shelton, Professor Emerita of Exercise & Sport Studies
  • Don Siegel, Professor Emeritus of Exercise & Sport Studies




Athletic Training

Outdoor Adventure Program

Admission & Aid

Criteria for Admittance

Criteria for selection reviewed by the faculty committee on graduate admissions:

Academics: Must have an undergraduate degree and there is evidence that the applicant can do the academic work.

Placement: The head coach must have a spot available and be willing to work with this candidate as an assistant  

Capacity: The incoming class is limited to 13-15 new students each year.

Request More Information

For more information on the master of science in exercise and sport studies program, please contact with your full name, city, state, year of graduation and primary sport you are interested in, along with any questions you may have. 

  With Financial Aid Without Financial Aid
M.S./ESS Application for Admission (U.S. Applicants) March 1 March 1
Application fee ($60) March 1 March 1
Official transcripts of the undergraduate record March 1 March 1
Writing sample (greater than five pages in length), such as a paper written for an advanced undergraduate course March 1 March 1
Résumé and personal statement March 1 March 1

Application for Admission (Non-U.S. Applicants) March 1
Application fee ($60) March 1
Official transcripts of the undergraduate record March 1
TOEFL or IELTS scores (or graduation from an accredited US college or university) March 1
Writing sample (greater than five pages in length), such as a paper written for an advanced undergraduate course March 1
Résumé and personal statement March 1

Application fee $60
Full academic-year tuition (before scholarship)  
(12 to 15 credits per semester)
Part-time tuition (fee per credit) $1,830
Health insurance estimate* (coverage beginning August 15) $2,900

*This fee may be waived if you are a U.S. citizen with comparable health insurance that will cover you while in Massachusetts.

The college offers a number of tuition scholarships for graduate study. Amounts vary according to circumstances and funds available. Applicants for scholarships must meet the program's deadline for submitting all materials for the admission application. Generally, the maximum tuition charge after scholarship is $10,000 annually and most ESS applicants pay less than this.

Stipends are awarded for work in Athletics and in ESS as funds become available; these stipends vary in accordance with the nature and type of appointment. Recipients of stipends generally carry full-time course loads and agree to remain for the duration of the appointment.

Visit the Tuition & Financial Aid website for financial aid deadlines and information and instructions on how to apply.

Contact Department of Exercise & Sport Studies

Scott/Ainsworth Gym
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

Phone: 413-585-3970 Email:

Administrative Assistant: Justin Allard

Office of Graduate & Special Studies
Program Coordinator: Ruth Morgan