Filter through nearly 1,400 master’s in public health programs at about 300 graduate schools using the comprehensive MPH program directory we’ve created for you. The convenient filters allow you to sort your many options to choose the program that best suits your interests, career goals, and study habits.
- What is public health, exactly?
- Where do public health professionals work?
- What types of careers are in this field?
- Who should get a degree in public health? Who shouldn't?
- Do I need an advanced degree to work in the field of public health? Does it have to actually be in "public health"?
- How much does a master's in public health cost?
- How competitive is admission to master’s in public health programs?
- Do I have to know my degree concentration now? How do I choose one that's right for me?
- How are public health programs ranked? Do rankings matter?
- Are there online MPH programs available? How do they compare to offline programs?
Master's in Public Health FAQ
Public health is a field full of opportunities for important and rewarding careers. It allows you the opportunity to do the sort of work that makes a difference all over the world. People in the public health field have eradicated polio in war-torn nations, tested drinking water for trace pollutants, studied the spread of HIV and AIDS, and lobbied Congress for higher emissions standards.
Prospective graduate students considering a master’s degree in public health can choose from a number of specialties. Epidemiology, international public health, environmental health, public health policy, social and behavioral science, disaster management, public health education and health services management are among the most popular of the dozens of concentrations offered in public health master’s programs.
The following frequently asked questions are designed to help prospective master’s students decide if this field is right for them.
What is public health, exactly?
Unlike the practice of medicine, which focuses on a single patient, public health seeks to improve the lives of entire communities. Consider the many different careers people arrive at after setting out on a graduate program in public health. Some professionals, like epidemiologists and international health specialists, investigate and identify threats to public health at all levels of society. Some, like biostatisticians and behavioral scientists, conduct research in order to identify causes of and cures for various threats. Still others, like public health educators and health services administrators, oversee the dissemination of information and study the efficacy of pre-existing social services. These are just a few of the efforts made in the name of public health — each one a commitment to the betterment of the people we share our communities with.
Where do public health professionals work?
Public health careerists aren't confined to the local health department, but can work all over. Internationally, epidemiologists work for non-governmental organizations in the field, as well as for the World Health Organization (WHO) across international borders. At the federal level, biostatisticians and public health workers staff agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services. Many public health policy specialists are found in the halls of Congress, employed either as Congressional aides or as lobbyists for non-profits and pharmaceutical companies.
Many environmental and emergency preparedness workers also find employment in state government agencies, particularly in departments of health, human services and environmental protection. Public health policy advisors work with state legislators, and are never found too far from the headquarters of the state legislature. At the local level, public health educators and managers work in schools, hospitals and clinics.
A number of private organizations also hire public health workers. Pharmaceutical firms, insurance companies and large health care networks employ public health managers, epidemiologists, biologists and others in order to develop new products, manage costs, and produce the healthiest outcomes for their office environments and employees.
What types of careers are in this field?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) produces economic data for a number of distinct fields within the greater public health concentration. Epidemiologists, for example, earned a median annual pay in 2010 of $63,010, and the profession is expected to grow faster than the national average through 2020. Health educators, on the other hand, earned a median salary in 2010 of $45,830. Over 63,000 were employed in this position in 2010, a number that is expected to grow by 37% by 2020.
Data specific to some public health professions is not provided, but biostatisticians likely make a salary similar to other statisticians, around $72,830 in 2010. Likewise, public health managers with pharmaceutical firms received a similar wage to such managers generally, whose 2010 annual median wage was $129,750.
Who should get a degree in public health? Who shouldn't?
Pursue a degree in public health if you are interested in humanitarian efforts. Unless you are committed to making a difference in people's lives, a degree in public health is not for you. Most of the positions filled by people who obtain a degree in public health come with significant responsibilities that, if not met, will affect entire communities.
A graduate degree in public health is also a costly and time-consuming investment. Although some careers, like those with pharmaceutical companies, are lucrative, most are firmly middle-class professions with middle-class salaries. With students leaving their bachelor's programs with an average of $24,700 in student loan debt, adding additional debt by attending a graduate program may not make economic sense unless you are passionate about improving the lives of those around you.
Do I need an advanced degree to work in the field of public health? Does it have to actually be in "public health"?
An advanced degree is not necessary in all cases, but you will have far more career opportunities with a graduate education. For example, the BLS data for health educators identifies a bachelor's degree as the level of education necessary to work in the field. However, it also notes that for many positions in state and public agencies as well as in public schools, a master's degree is required. Additionally, some specialties, like biostatistics and epidemiology, require a master's degree even for entry-level positions.
Although a public health degree isn't specifically required for all of the professions covered on the site, it is of great value. For example, many pharmaceutical companies employ microbiologists who do not have a public health degree; in order to design and supervise the drug trials necessary before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will approve a new product, though, an advanced epidemiology or other public health degree is required.
How much does a master's in public health cost?
Master's programs in public health can be expensive. For example, the total cost of tuition alone to obtain an MPH from Johns Hopkins will be $57,240 for those starting in 2013. An MPH from Boston University will set back a graduate student about $63,600. Conversely, tuition for an MPH from Nova Southeastern University is just over $20,000.
With most schools, a variety of merit-based scholarships are available. In addition, many people with unique characteristics, like veterans, qualify for other assistance, like the G.I. Bill or state programs like the Illinois Veteran's Grant. Nearly every school offers financial aid in the form of student loans to cover what scholarships, grants and savings will not.
How competitive is admission to master’s in public health programs?
Admissions requirements vary. At Nova, students need a bachelor's degree from an accredited school where they maintained a grade point average of at least 3.0, as well as a letter of recommendation and sufficient standardized test score (i.e., GRE or GMAT), unless they already hold a health-related graduate degree.
Johns Hopkins does not list its level of qualification, but asks for transcripts from your bachelor's program, standardized test scores from either the GRE, GMAT, MCAT or LSAT, three letters of recommendation, and some professional experience. Boston University has similar admission requirements, although it does not require professional experience.
Do I have to know my degree concentration now? How do I choose one that's right for me?
It is not required that a student enter and immediately declare a concentration, although delaying the choice can interfere with the completion of a program, leading to extra tuition costs. As such, students are encouraged to enter their programs with a very short list of concentrations in mind, and to take courses that overlap across those concentrations. In this way, when the decision is finally made, no additional coursework is needed.
If you want to study the pattern and spread of diseases, you should immediately declare epidemiology. If you see yourself managing other people working in the public health sphere, you should choose administration. The same kind of thinking applies to people with public policy interests or other broad interests. It can take some imagination to see where you will be and what the daily operation of your career, when you finally achieve it, will actually look like before you can commit to a particular type of degree.
How are public health programs ranked? Do rankings matter?
Rankings matter, but only if they reflect factors important to students. The National Research Council ranks public health graduate programs on a number of factors, including research productivity, diversity and student support. Students should research a short list of programs and determine which school best meets their needs. For example, those with families to support may be most interested in schools with the best financial aid and health insurance. However, those who know they will want to pursue a PhD after the MPH may be more interested in a program's rate of publications and receipt of grants.
In any event, students should ensure that their chosen program is accredited. The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) provides accreditation to the programs that meet its rigorous standards. Students can rely on CEPH's accreditation as an official indicator that a program meets their basic criteria. In this way, the student can focus their efforts on the deciding factors that really matter to them.
Are there online MPH programs available? How do they compare to offline programs?
Online programs are available. For example, Des Moines University offers a 45-credit hour MPH degree entirely online. Students complete the program with an internship and capstone course. Tuition at DSM costs $522 per credit hour, or $23,490 for the complete program. These programs are not only accredited, but provide the convenience and quality many assume they will only get at a physical university. The rise of web-based education has substantially raised the bar for what is possible with a public health education.
The course load and costs of online programs are comparable to many renowned brick-and-mortar schools. The MPH program at Georgia State University, for example, is a 42-credit-hour program that ends with the completion of either a capstone project or a Master’s thesis. This year, MPH students paid out-of-state tuition and fees of $15,788, or just under $32,000, to complete the program.