The term seems fairly straightforward, but what is public health, exactly? Public health is a broad field that spans health education, epidemiology, environmental health, healthcare management, policymaking, advocacy, regulatory agencies and disaster response. Public health professionals work to prevent illness, injury, and disease across entire communities or in specific populations.
Whether they're fighting infectious diseases and childhood obesity or advocating for cleaner water in developing nations, public health professionals do the work that keeps our communities healthy. They work in a variety of settings, including community centers, schools, hospitals, government agencies or industry groups.
Earning a master's degree in public health can teach you valuable research skills, such as survey design and statistical analysis, which can help you gain a deeper understanding of community health. Students in these programs also gain a comprehensive understanding of health and healthcare systems, as well as health policy and communication.
On this page, we'll take a look at schools for public health master's degrees and give you a quick overview of what you can expect from a typical program. We'll also go into the types of jobs available to graduates and offer some suggestions for boosting your career prospects.
Many institutions around the U.S. offer masters in public health degrees for which the survey courses, lectures and seminars can be delivered entirely online. Some online masters in public health do require students to complete an internship or practicum section before graduation, which typically must be done in person, but travel to campus still may not be necessary — these hands-on experience sections typically take place at working public health agencies or in public health offices at larger concerns such as city or state governments.
Public health master's programs can be offered from a wide array of perspectives and in several different formats, depending on the institution you choose to attend. Coursework may include classes in research methods, survey design, statistical analysis, mathematical modeling, data management and more. Programs may also offer behavioral health courses, training in psychology or sociology and explorations of community and cultural issues.
Public health is by definition a multi-disciplinary practice, and each program you consider may handle the details of public health education slightly differently, but you're very likely to encounter courses that address the eight core competencies articulated by the Public Health Foundation (PHF):
Many colleges and universities allow their master's in public health students to specialize their study in a certain area of the field, to better serve a specific population or work more effectively in a particular public health setting. We go into detail on some of those available specialties at the bottom of this program overview.
How long does an online master's in public health program take?
The length of your masters in public health online program can depend on several factors. The curriculum you study has a set credit hour requirement, which can vary from one school to another. The average requirement is around 45-48 credits, but some programs may run longer or shorter.
The way you choose to study as you pursue your degree can also have an effect on how long you spend in school. Students who study on a typical full-time schedule are likely to finish their programs in around two years, while those attending on a part-time basis can take three years or more from enrollment to graduation. Accelerated full-time schedules may be available as well.
What are the requirements to start an online master's degree in public health?
Nearly all programs that lead to a master's degree in public health require applicants to hold an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution. Some programs have different requirements for healthcare or public health majors than for graduates with degrees in other fields, but students with bachelor's degrees not related to health or healthcare may be able to substitute work experience in public health positions for formal study in the field.
Programs at many institutions also consider your GPA and academic record in the admissions process, and some may require a professional resume or curriculum vitae (CV) along with the application.
Why earn a master's in public health online?
The challenges that public health workers face are diverse and complex, and the knowledge and skills you gain while earning a master's degree in public health can position you to work as a leader in the field. Positions in management, research, policymaking and high-level advocacy often require a master's or Ph.D. in public health, and online study can be a great way for students to get the education they need without causing substantial disruption to their existing schedules.
Earning your master's in public health online can also help reduce the cost of your degree. You may save on transportation and campus usage fees, and electronic textbooks tend to cost less than their hard-copy counterparts.
The first semester or year of many public health masters programs is spent in courses that focus on introducing students to advanced study in the field and developing skills related to the program's core competencies.
Elective courses can make up half or more of the curriculum in a master's in public health program. Students who choose to concentrate their study in a specific area typically drill down into their specialization by choosing the right electives.
Graduate students typically must propose and complete a substantial final project before their degrees can be awarded. The master's thesis is usually an extensive research paper, while capstone projects can take many forms. Check with your advisor about your options when enrolling.
Internships or practicum experiences may be required by graduate-level public health programs. These hands-on sections offer students a supervised opportunity to practice or conduct research in a real-world public health setting.
Concentrations or specializations can help you tailor your study plan to suit the career you're hoping to move into after graduation. Here's a short list of specialties that might be available at your chosen school:
Public health systems need skilled managers and budgetary officers, and graduate-level business programs have a long history of teaching students the art and science of organizational finance and management. Some institutions offer the opportunity for Master of Public Health (MPH) students to earn their degree concurrently with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, providing business-focused training alongside public health essentials.
These dual degree programs often require a larger number of credit hours than more traditional public health master's programs. An approximate average completion time for MPH/MBA dual programs is between two and three years of full-time study.
Here's a short list of careers that you can qualify for with a master's degree in public health:
Healthcare administrator. Healthcare is just one aspect of public health, but healthcare administrators who understand the health challenges that arise in their communities can help those systems provide better care to the populations they serve. Some administrative positions cover entire health systems, while others focus on a single facility or department.
Epidemiologist. Epidemiologists analyze patterns in public health observation and population data with the goal of reducing the occurrence of negative health outcomes and lowering global health risk. They may focus on research, community education, advocacy, health policy or another aspect of the discipline, and they typically work on teams that feature multiple public health experts.
Social and community service manager. The coordination, execution and supervision of vital social and service programs requires a deep understanding of the issues facing a community, and public health programs are no different. Graduates with master's degree in public health can bring their advanced knowledge directly to their communities in these management positions.
Community dietitian. The understanding of diet as an important part of overall health has grown in recent years, and community dietitians work to expose the public to the ways in which the food they eat can contribute to illness or wellness. Electives in nutrition and dietetics can help you start a career in this field.
Health educator. Many master's degree in public health graduates choose careers that allow them to use their expertise to teach others about the importance of public and community health. Some health educator positions may include teaching formal classes at elementary and high schools, while others focus on helping families and communities.
|State Name||Average Salary||Annual Job Openings||Projected Job Growth Potential|
|District of Columbia||$92,630||100||9%|
The cost of a master's degree in public health can seem like a lot to handle, but numerous financial aid programs exist to take some of the sting out of your tuition bills. Check out the table below for a few options that might apply to you:
Applicant must be accepted and enrolled in an approved nursing or health care related program. Applicant must reside within the Heartland Foundation service region which includes the following counties in Missouri: Andrew, Atchison, Buchanan, Caldwell, Carroll, Clay, Clinton, Daviess, DeKalb, Gentry, Grundy, Harrison, Holt, Livingston, Mercer, Nodaway, Platte, Ray, and Worth; in Iowa: Decatur, Fremont, Page, Ringgold, and Taylor; in Kansas: Atchison, Brown, Doniphan, and Nemaha; and in Nebraska: Nemaha and Richardson.
Applicant must be writing a dissertation on a topic concerning women or on women's/children's health.
Applicant must be an African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, or Latino/Hispanic, enrolled in an approved program at a California institution. Undergraduate applicant must have 50 semester units completed and a minimum cumulative 2.5 GPA. Graduate applicant must have 12-15 units completed and a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA. Four copies of a personal statement, two recommendations, a 500- to 1,000-word essay, official transcripts, photo, and application are required to be submitted.
Selection is based upon description of career goals, volunteer and work experience, awards/honors, letters of recommendation, transcript, class rank, GPA, and financial need. Applicant must be enrolled full-time in an approved nursing or other health-related program and must be a resident in the Heartland Foundation service region.
Applicants must be graduate students at the University of Arizona enrolled in the master of public health program. Students must have a minimum 3.0 grade point average and be enrolled in at least three units of internship or research. Applicants must submit project proposal for funds.
Applicant must be a senior who has a minimum 3.0 GPA and who has demonstrated the finest qualities of leadership through participation in campus organizations and has rendered service of significant benefit to the campus community.
Applicants must be full-time graduate students at the University of Arizona. Students must have a grade point average of 3.5 or better and be working towards a master of public health degree. Applicants must be enrolled in the international internship program.
Applicants must be undergraduate or graduate students at the University of Arizona admitted to the public health program. Students must be Arizona residents and graduates of an Arizona high school. Applicants must be U.S. citizens who demonstrate financial need.
Applicant must be an undergraduate student from Chicopee, MA, who is majoring in government, public health, nursing, education, or political science. Scholarship, need, and public service may be considered. FAFSA required.
Applicant must be a resident of Hawaii, be a full-time undergraduate, have a minimum 3.0 GPA, and demonstrate financial need.
Applicants must be students at the University of Arizona with a grade point average of 3.0 or better. Students must be majoring in public health or be in any of the college of public health graduate programs. Applicants must have an interest in working with Native American communities and/or diabetes and demonstrate financial need.
Applicants must be incoming graduate students at the University of Arizona accepted into the public health program. Students must ave a grade point average of 3.5 or better and demonstrate a commitment to a public health career.
Applicant must be a resident of Scioto County, Ohio, or Greenup or Lewis County, Ky., be pursuing an associate or bachelor's degree, have good academic standing, and be of good character.
Applicants must be graduate students at the University of Arizona. Students must be accepted into the public health program with a grade point average of 3.0 or better. Applicants must demonstrate financial need.
Applicants must be full-time students at the University of Arizona. Students must be majoring in public health at an undergraduate or graduate level with a 3.25 or higher grade point average. Applicants must demonstrate a commitment to a public health career.
Applicant must be a U.S. citizen of latino descent who resides in Illinois and is pursuing a degree in the healthcare field. Minimum 3.0 GPA, minimum composite ACT score of 21, essay, copy of transcript, resume, three letters of recommendation, copy of most recent tax return, and proof of citizenship required.
Applicant must demonstrate community leadership and have met the award criteria established by the Alumni Association's Scholarship Committee. Applicant must have completed 12 credits last semester and 24 credits at Bridgewater State College as of December 31. Applicants who have transferred from Massachusetts Community Colleges, Dean College, or Quincy College are eligible to apply.
Applicants must be graduate students or accepted as graduate students at the University of Arizona. Students must be enrolled in a college of public health program with a public health major. Applicants must have a grade point average of 3.0 or better and be enrolled in at least three units of research or internship projects. Students must submit project proposal.
Applicant must be an American Indian and Alaskan Native student who is pursuing a degree in science or public health.
Applicant must be a woman enrolled full-time and must submit three letters of recommendation, transcript, 150-word essay, and proof of enrollment.
Professional certifications in public health can help your career and may be required by some employers. Here's a list of credentials that you might pursue after graduating with your master's degree:
This certification, offered by the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), can qualify public health professionals to work in the realm of environmental factors that affect the safety and quality of food, air and water across communities.
Requirements: Candidates must hold a bachelor's or master's degree from an accredited institution. Public health graduates who focused on environmental health aren't required to have professional experience in the field, but those with degrees in other subjects must provide documentation of two years or more of relevant work.
Exam Format: 250 multiple-choice questions, split into two parts with a total time limit of four hours.
How long does the certification last?: No formal expiration date is listed, but continued professional development is encouraged.
The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC) provides this credential, which assures employers that you have the assessment, planning, implementation and administration skills necessary to conduct health education programs.
Requirements: All candidates must have an accredited bachelor's, master's or PhD that includes at least 25 semester hours of coursework that addresses the Seven Areas of Responsibility of health education specialists.
Exam Format: 165 multiple-choice questions with a three-hour time limit.
How long does the certification last?: The NCHEC lists no official expiration date for this credential.
Also offered by the NCHEC, this credential is a high-level version of the CHES certification. The MCHES designation addresses more advanced concepts and comes with more strict requirements for education and job experience.
Requirements: CHES holders can qualify with documentation of five continuous years of active work in the field. Candidates without a CHES must have an accredited master's degree with a health education focus or at least five years of work experience with a master's in a different subject.
Exam Format: 165 multiple-choice questions with a three-hour time limit.
How long does the certification last?: No official expiration date is listed by the NCHEC.
Provided collaboratively by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Physical Activity Society (NPAS), this credential prepares you to design and administrate physical activity programs at the community level.
Requirements: A bachelor's or master's degree from an accredited institution is required for all candidates. Those with degrees in subjects not related to health must have 1,200 hours of documented work experience in health and physical activity promotion.
Exam Format: 100-125 multiple-choice questions with a time limit of 2.5 hours.
How long does the certification last?: No official expiration date is listed.
Professional associations can bring a range of valuable benefits to your public health career, providing access to continuing education opportunities, regional and national conference events and the expertise of vast member networks. Here are a few public health associations to check out.