Earn your BS in Therapeutic Recreation

The therapeutic recreation program prepares students for professional work with persons in various underserved populations and as advocates for social inclusion. The major emphasizes the use of a systematic process of assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation to provide equitable opportunity for recreation, leisure, and play by diverse populations.

The curriculum consists of two tracks designed to allow students to acquire in-depth knowledge in their chosen area of interest. The courses in each track provide an opportunity for students to tailor the degree to best fit their career goals and academic interests. The inclusive recreation track (57–60 semester hours) allows students to gain knowledge in a variety of domains related to adaptive and inclusive recreation. Students may choose to focus on a certain population or diversify their experience through their curriculum design. The National Council on Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) track (63–66 semester hours) focuses on developing therapeutic recreation competencies necessary to sit for the National Council on Therapeutic Recreation Certification examination and successfully pursue a career in clinical or community therapeutic recreation.

The Bachelor of Science with a major in therapeutic recreation requires a minimum of 120 semester hours, including 57–66 semester hours of work for the major, which varies by track. Students must maintain a grade-point average (GPA) of at least 2.00 in all courses for the major and in all UI courses for the major. They also must complete the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences GE CLAS Core.

Learning outcomes

The BS degree in therapeutic recreation:

  • Instills an understanding and appreciation of leisure, recreation, and play in diverse and inclusive settings
  • Prepares students for professional fields and/or graduate study through the integration of research and critical thinking
  • Provides service and experiential learning to enhance students' leadership strengths and their ability to build therapeutic relationships
  • Teaches critical skills necessary in inclusive practice to assess, plan goals, design appropriate interventions, and evaluate effectiveness
  • Instructs students in the practice of inclusion for persons of diverse abilities, backgrounds, and cultures
  • Teaches students how to facilitate inclusive and therapeutic recreation programs
Therapy Dog

Meet Drax

New member of the therapeutic recreation and child life program teams

Learn how Drax is incorporated in the therapeutic recreation and child life programs, the benefits a program therapy animal brings to your campus experience, and where and when to find Drax in person.

Required coursework

Students in both tracks are required to complete the following core courses, as well as additional courses required specifically for their track.

This course:

  • PSY:1001 Elementary Psychology, 3 semester hours

One of these:

  • HHP:2130 Human Development Through the Life Span, 3 semester hours
  • NURS:1030 Human Development and Behavior, 3 semester hours

One of these:

  • PSY:2501 Introduction to Social Psychology, 3 semester hours
  • SOC:1010 Introduction to Sociology, 3 semester hours

One of these:

  • HHP:1100 & HHP:1300 Human Anatomy - Fundamentals of Human Physiology, 6 semester hours
  • HHP:1400 Human Anatomy and Physiology, 3 semester hours

All of these:

  • TR:1070 Perspectives on Leisure and Play, 3 semester hours
  • TR:1800/ASP:1800/CSD:1800/NURS:1800/SSW:1800 Aging Matters: Introduction to Gerontology, 3 semester hours
  • TR:2061 Recreation Leadership and Programming, 3 semester hours
  • TR:2077 Introduction to Child Life, 3 semester hours
  • TR:2160 Introduction to Therapeutic Recreation, 3 semester hours
  • TR:3162 Therapeutic Recreation: Clientele, 3 semester hours
  • TR:3261 Inclusive Recreation, 3 semester hours

Inclusive recreation in community-based settings is the fastest-growing area of practice in therapeutic recreation and the most diverse. Community-based inclusive recreation specialists may be affiliated with community recreation departments, adaptive sports programs, school systems, independent living support services, special recreation associations, and community mental health agencies. The goals of inclusive recreation in community-based settings are equally diverse, including enhancing quality of life, leisure education, health protection and the pursuit of positive health outcomes, community integration and inclusion of persons with disabilities in recreation programs.

Students who complete this track are not eligible for the National Council on Therapeutic Recreation Certification exam or for the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist credential.

Students earn a minimum of 27 semester hours in this track. Coursework is selected around several themes relevant for foundational comprehension and practice in the field of inclusion and diversity in recreation.

Social justice

One of these:

  • GWSS:2250/HIST:2250/SJUS:2250 The History of Social Justice Movements, 3 semester hours
  • SOC:1022/SSW:1022 Social Justice and Social Welfare in the United States, 3 semester hours
  • SOC:1030 Contemporary Social Problems, 3 semester hours
  • SPST:1074/AMST:1074/GWSS:1074 Inequality in American Sport, 3 semester hours

One of these:

  • CSED:4130 Human Sexuality, 3 semester hours
  • GWSS:3100 LGBTQ/Queer Studies, 3 semester hours
  • GWSS:3154 Sexuality in the United States, 3 semester hours
  • NURS:3712/SSW:3712 Human Sexuality, Diversity, and Society, 3 semester hours


One of these:

  • HHP:2280 Cultural Competency and Health, 3 semester hours
  • CCCC:2220 Foundations of Critical Cultural Competence, 3 semester hours

Characteristics of disability

Both of these:

  • DST:1101 Introduction to Disability Studies, 3 semester hours
  • EDTL:4900 Foundations of Special Education, 3 semester hours

Administration and nonprofit

One of these:

  • TR:3262 Therapeutic Recreation Administration, 3 semester hours
  • SRM:3150 Recreation Administration, 3 semester hours
  • ENTR:3595/MGMT:3500/MUSM:3500/NURS:3595/RELS:3700/SSW:3500 Nonprofit Organizational Effectiveness I, 3 semester hours

Human interaction and health behavior

This course:

  • HHP:2200 Physical Activity and Health, 3 semester hours

One of these:

  • HHP:3200 Health Behavior and Health Promotion, 3 semester hours
  • CSED:4175 Motivational Interviewing, 3 semester hours
  • CSED:4199 Counseling for Related Professions, 3 semester hours

Field experience

3 semester hours from these:

  • TR:4197/DST:4198 Practicum in Therapeutic Recreation, 1-3 semester hours
  • CCP:1201 Academic Internship, 1-3 semester hours
  • CSI:1410 Life Design, 2 semester hours
  • CSI:1420 Life Design II: A Better World, 2 semester hours

Certified therapeutic recreation specialists (CTRS) work in both clinical and community-based settings with a wide variety of client populations. The most common clientele groups include persons with mental illness, spinal cord and brain injuries, older adults, individuals who experience chemical dependence and substance abuse, at-risk youth, and people with developmental disabilities. Settings often focus on psychiatric or physical rehabilitation where the therapist works with a team of allied health professionals to provide treatment through recreation- and leisure-based interventions. Services also may be provided in long-term care settings where the therapist works with the health care team to provide treatment interventions and recreation opportunities to enhance quality of life for residents in nursing homes, memory care and assisted-living centers, or respite care agencies. Many certified therapeutic recreation specialists also are employed by community and nonprofit agencies that provide services for underrepresented populations.

This is a selective track; students earn 30 semester hours of coursework for the NCTRC certification track. To enter the track they must complete 24 semester hours at the University of Iowa (or 12 semester hours for transfer students) and must have a University of Iowa GPA of at least 2.50 and a cumulative GPA of at least 2.50. Entrance to the track can occur after completion of HHP:1100 Human Anatomy or HHP:1400 Human Anatomy and Physiology, TR:1070 Perspectives on Leisure and Play, and TR:2160 Introduction to Therapeutic Recreation. Students who complete this track, including the therapeutic recreation internship, are eligible to sit for the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification exam. Successful completion of the exam confers the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) credential. Students must earn a C-minus or higher in all prerequisite courses prior to admission to the NCTRC track.

All of these (17 semester hours):

  • TR:3161 Assessment and Evaluation in Therapeutic Recreation, 3 semester hours
  • TR:3163 Concepts and Issues in Therapeutic Recreation: Advancement of the Profession, 3 semester hours
  • TR:3164 Therapeutic Recreation: Rehabilitation, 3 semester hours
  • TR:3262 Therapeutic Recreation Administration, 3 semester hours
  • CLSA:3750 Medical and Technical Terminology, 2 semester hours
  • PSY:2930 Abnormal Psychology: Health Professions, 3 semester hours

Field experience

Both of these (13 semester hours):

  • TR:4190 Preinternship Seminar, 1 semester hour
  • TR:4191 Therapeutic Recreation Internship, 12 semester hours

BS/MS in Health and Human Physiology, Sub-Track Child Life

The combined program allows qualified students to begin work toward a master's degree while they complete their bachelor's degree. It permits students to count certain courses toward both degrees, completing them in less time than they would need to complete each degree separately.

The completion of the two degrees in five years is designed for students who wish to pursue a career providing services to children and their families, primarily in the health care field. Graduates are eligible to be credentialed professionals in child life (certified child life specialist). They fill positions such as child life specialist, activity director, or administrative positions.

Students follow the standard curriculum of their BS degree the first two years and complete all the prerequisite courses for the MS degree in health and human physiology with a child life subprogram during the third year. Successful students receive a BS at the end of the fourth year and a MS at the end of the fifth year.

Applicants to the combined program must:

  • Be enrolled as a BS student at the University of Iowa
  • Have completed a minimum of 80 semester hours at the time of admission to the combined program, with at least 30 semester hours earned at the University of Iowa
  • Have a cumulative University of Iowa GPA of at least 3.25
  • Have completed all GE CLAS Core requirements and all prerequisites
    • Human anatomy
    • Medical terminology
    • Two child development courses (focus on children 0-18)
    • Strongly recommended—an introductory course in child life

Applicants must submit a letter of application to the program that includes a statement of purpose, a résumé, document a minimum of 100 hours of paid or volunteer experience in a child life and/or pediatric health care setting, and three letters of recommendation (with at least one from a certified child life specialist).

Each application is reviewed by the program and requires support from the applicant's undergraduate advisor. Recommendations for approval will be sent to the Office of Graduate Admissions. Applicants must meet the admission requirements of the Graduate College; see the Manual of Rules and Regulations on the Graduate College website.


Materials you will need to include:

  • Your personal statement 
  • Your transcript (unofficial is fine at this stage)
  • current resume/curriculum vitae
  • The names and contact information for three letters of recommendation (letter writers will submit their letters electronically through the Office of Admissions application, a process that you will be able to monitor)
  • GRE Scores are NOT required
**Due to COVID-19, we understand that gaining paid or volunteer experience in a hospital setting is challenging. We encourage you to document all hours you have gained in a pediatric setting by utilizing the verification form. In addition, you are encouraged to submit a 1-page summary of additional experiences you have gained that would be applicable to child life, i.e. remote/virtual activity programming, remote/virtual experiences with hospitalized children, various educational and professional development (i.e. webinars or trainings), and creative approaches to helping in the community in regards to pediatrics.

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Portrait of Emily Mozena

Emily Mozena

Associate Professor of Instruction
Director of Graduate Studies - MS Child Life
Director of Undergraduate Studies - BS Therapeutic Recreation

Therapeutic Recreation faculty

Portrait of Gayle Dombrowski

Gayle Dombroski

Visiting Assistant Professor
This is a picture of Kristina Gordon

Kristina Gordon

This is a photo of Adrienne Johnson

Adrienne Johnson

Associate Professor of Instruction
Internship Coordinator
Portrait of Emily Mozena

Emily Mozena

Associate Professor of Instruction
Director of Graduate Studies - MS Child Life
Director of Undergraduate Studies - BS Therapeutic Recreation
Bri Swope is a associate professor of instruction in the Department of Health and Human Physiology.

Bri Swope

Associate Professor of Instruction