How do I get into a master’s in public health program?

Admissions requirements vary. At most schools, students need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school where they held a GPA of at least 3.0, a letter of recommendation and sufficient standardized test score (i.e., GRE or GMAT), unless they already hold a health-related graduate degree.

What can I do to improve my chances of getting accepted into a Master’s of Public Health program?

  • Earn a high undergraduate GPA.The more competitive public health programs require a minimum 3.0 GPA to apply.
  • Take undergraduate courses in information sciences, statistics and natural sciences, even if your focus in public health is more on policy development, outreach or education.
  • Prepare a portfolio of public health-related projects to demonstrate your interest and abilities.
  • Gain first-hand experience through part-time work, internships or volunteering opportunities.

Application Process Timeline

  • Review program requirements.
  • Take standardized tests, as required.
  • Order undergraduate transcripts.
  • Prepare required documentation (i.e., write essay, request recommendation letters).
  • Submit a completed application by the program’s posted deadline.

Note: Program to program you will find there is a lot of variation in the application process. Some only admit students at certain times of year, which may be based on semesters or accelerated terms. Others have a rolling admissions policy that allows students to apply any time and quickly enroll. Completion timelines can also vary across programs within one institution or across a network of schools.

What are the degree options available at the master’s level?

The most common graduate degree offered in public health is the Master’s in Public Health. MPH degree holders can become health educators, epidemiologists, family therapists, or counselors. Students who graduate from an accredited public health program or college are also eligible to take a test issued by the National Board of Public Health Examiners so that you can earn a Certified Public Health (CPH) credential, which is used as a standard by many employers in this industry.

Related Master’s Degrees

  • Master’s of Health Administration (MHA): These degree programs are aimed at graduate students who wish to focus on the leadership and operations of healthcare organizations. The courses in these programs often focus on policy making, patient care ethics, financial management, and health information management.
  • Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH): This can be a more research-oriented route into public health work, allowing students to focus on certain specializations that require scientific backgrounds, such as environmental health, biostatistics, or epidemiology.
  • Master of Health Sciences (MHS): This degree option allows researchers to delve further into the study of specialized public health concerns, such as mental health, reproductive health, molecular biology, or biostatistics.

What do the major concepts and coursework look like?

Many students entering an MPH program know in advance they want to study disease patterns and spread, and they immediately declare epidemiology. Others know that they wish to oversee public health programs, and they choose administration. Those with an interest in changing health outcomes legislatively know they want to specialize in public health policy. Many with a background in the Peace Corps, or just an interest in international health issues, declare an international public health concentration.

Internship, Research Project:

Most public health master’s programs include a practical experience requirement, such as an internship, or an independent research project, often called a thesis. Graduate programs in this field may require either, or both, as well as comprehensive exams, project-based coursework, or portfolio development.

Common MPH Specializations

  • Financial Management: These degrees prepare students for managing the large-scale budgetary needs for public health delivery systems. Potential course subjects include healthcare financial management, health economics and accounting for nonprofits.
  • Outreach: Social media communications, grassroots community organization, and media relations tie public health efforts together, creating strong bonds between stakeholders, administrators and the public.
  • Agency Management: Prospective healthcare leaders delve into managerial decision-making strategies, governance, performance analytics and stakeholder awareness with this degree specialization.
  • HR Policy and Management: Public health initiatives thrive when they are able to recruit effective and qualified talent. MPH students who pursue this specialization delve into employee selection, conflict management, labor laws and staff retention.
  • Information Systems: Prospective course subjects for this specialization include community surveys, statistical analyses, and ethnographic research. This degree specialization takes a research-intensive approach to crafting future public health policies and programs.
  • Family and Neighborhood Health: Students in this program examine how family units influence our health, development, and nutrition. Possible course topics include divorce, domestic abuse and childhood development.
  • Health Education: Those who pursue this specialization plan, implement and evaluate educational outreach programs for target demographics. Possible class topics include social media communications, community organization and community nutrition.
  • Biostatistics: The public health sector has a strong need for biostatistics researchers who can identify community health needs based on collected data. Statistics must also be monitored in order to assess the continued effectiveness of a program. Possible course subjects include clinical trials, probability theory, regression analysis and statistical theory.
  • Environmental and Occupational Health: Professionals with a background in this specialization ensure that schools, workplaces and public facilities meet safety and environmental guidelines. Potential courses include workplace hazards, hazardous waste management, pollution assessment, chemical cleanup strategies and climate change research.
  • Epidemiology: This research-based specialization prioritizes disease prevention and treatment efforts across environments with a variety of economic resources, cultures, government infrastructures and communities. Possible courses in this track include vaccinations, infectious diseases, cancer prevention and survival data.

What about program costs?

Getting In

The graduate admissions process typically includes costs related to the following:

  • Application: Printed and online forms require payment of a non-refundable fee ranging from $45 to $75.
  • Standardized tests: The GRE test administration fee is $195; additional fees apply for subject tests, special handling and preparation courses.
  • Interviews: Not all programs require an interview, but those that do may provide travel and lodging costs for the prospective student.

Tuition and Fees

Tuition costs at the graduate level can vary based on the type of school (i.e., private, public, for-profit), mode of instruction (i.e., online, on-campus, blended) and student residency (in-state, out-of-state). Each institution sets its own rates for tuition and other fees associated with taking courses and completing program requirements.

When comparing the costs of multiple programs, look for the following information to help you in your decision making:

  • Total costs: The amount paid to complete all courses and program requirements.
  • Annual tuition: Usually calculated based on full-time enrollment for one academic year.
  • Cost per credit: Programs require different numbers of courses and credits. The program with the fewest number of credits required isn’t necessarily the least expensive.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average full-time graduate tuition and fees was $14,993 in 2011. Current programs range from approximately $8,000 to $35,000.

Admissions and financial aid counselors can help research funding options to offset the total cost of attendance. Review our guide on scholarships, grants and general financial aid advice for more information.

How does accreditation work?

The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) is the primary accrediting body in Public Health. Students can rely on CEPH’s accreditation as a seal of approval that a program meets the rigorous and uniform standards set forth by the CEPH committee. This organization provides an online directory of accredited associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.

How do I go about evaluating and selecting a program?

  • Compare specialization/concentration options. Are you more interested in public health policy, advocacy or research? Would you rather work on public health issues at the local, national or global scale? Find a school that offers the specialties that inspire you the most.
  • Review department faculty bios. It is important to know that there are qualified faculty members on staff who have interests similar to yours. No matter your career goals, working closely with your instructors on a range of public health projects will not only help you develop skills, but also lead to potential mentorships and continued professional networking.
  • Clarify program goals and expectations. In programs that are designed for mid-career professionals you will probably need to come in with some level of expertise. Be sure you’re selecting programs that are tailored for someone with your background and ambitions. You don’t want to find yourself in an overly-specialized program that limits your career options after graduation, but you also don’t want to choose a program that is too broad in scope to provide you with the expertise you need to move forward in your chosen concentration.

What are the keys to success once I’ve begun my program?

  • Choose your concentration earlier. It is not required that the student enter and immediately declare a concentration, although delaying the choice can create delays in completing the program and lead to extra tuition costs; therefore, students are encouraged to enter their programs with a very short list of concentrations in mind, and take those courses that overlap, so that when the decision is made, no additional coursework need be taken.
  • Develop a portfolio. Consider creating a portfolio to showcase examples of your best work. This can include course assignments, internships, research papers as well as previous work experience, which demonstrate your skills. Provide online access to these materials so that you can easily share them with faculty members and potential employers.
  • Join a professional association. There are many benefits of joining a professional public health organization before you graduate. From large conferences to small local networking events, you’ll find access to education and training materials, trade publications, job listings and a community of people already working in the field.
  • Complete at least one internship. Even if a formal internship isn’t required for graduation, these opportunities to work first hand lead to more advanced skill development, professional networking and potential employment after graduation. Work with your academic department as well as the school’s career center to find out how and when to apply.
  • Continue to learn in and out of class. Public health is a diverse and rapidly-changing field. Look for ways to practice your skills and explore potential career paths. Online tutorials and open online courses allow you to extend your learning outside the classroom. Staying current in this field will require continued learning after graduation.