Guide to getting a master’s in public health
Public health is a great choice if you want to improve the well-being of others, but do not necessarily want to provide direct patient care. The problems public health professionals help to solve include food insecurity, trauma, and social isolation.
Demand for public health professionals is on the rise. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the overall employment growth of community health workers and health education specialists to be 17% between 2020 and 2030. The job outlook is especially good for those with skills in data analysis and technology.
What is a master’s in public health?
A Master’s of Public Health (MPH) is a graduate degree that trains students to improve community health through education, research, and the promotion of best wellness practices. Students learn how to tackle today’s most pressing health issues, from air and water quality, to new infections and chronic conditions.
What can you do with a master’s in public health?
Common careers for MPH degree holders include:
- Healthcare administrators – Oversee the daily operations of hospitals, research labs, physician practices, and other healthcare facilities.
- Registered nurses – Assess patient health and administer care in relation to public health.
- Epidemiologists – Study patterns of diseases and improve public health outcomes.
- Dieticians and nutritionists – Teach healthy eating habits, establish educational workshops, and manage food programs.
- Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors – Work in treatment programs, either within healthcare facilities or private practice.
- Medical records and health information technicians – Organize, analyze, and report health information data.
Benefits of a master’s in public health degree
An MPH can increase potential earnings and help you climb the ranks of a healthcare organization. The chart below shows the economic performance of the MPH 3 years after graduation. It indicates that MPH graduates earn considerably more than those holding the bachelor’s equivalent.
Debt and earnings
Graduate degree premium
Earning over bachelors
Annual debt repayment
The figures above give an indication of the debt incurred by graduates, and their salaries 3 years after graduation. The table on the left compares median debt and median earnings. The right-hand table compares how much a master graduate earns over a bachelor graduate 3 years after graduation, after deducting median debt repayments.
How much does a master’s in public health cost?
Several variables affect the cost of a master’s in public health degree, such as housing, transportation, books, personal expenses, and scholarships. Costs can also differ by institution.
Debt to earnings
Debt to earnings
Debt to earnings
Median earnings and median debt of graduates of this degree program. The debt-to-earnings ratio compares student debt to annual earnings. The lower the debt-to-earnings ratio the better, and total debt should never exceed annual earnings (a debt-to-earnings ratio of 1.0).
Types of public health degrees
There are several types of master’s degrees in public health. It is important to research the program required for the career you have chosen. Types of MPH on offer include:
- Master’s of Public Health, Registered Dietician (MPH/RD)
- Masters in Public Health and Masters in Business Administration (MPH-MBA)
- Masters in Public Health and Masters in Public Policy (MPH-MPP)
- Masters in Public Health and Masters in Health Administration (MPH-MHA)
- Masters in Public Health and Masters in Social Work (MPH-MSW)
- Masters in Public Health and Physician Assistant (MPH-PA)
- Masters in Public Health and Masters of Science in Nursing (MPH-MSN)
Should I get a master’s in public health online?
The decision on whether to take an online MPH often depends on the type of work you wish to do. For example, nurses may need to take classes on campus because their work involves direct patient care, and therefore requires a clinical internship.
» Read: Online vs on-campus courses
Master’s in public health
The above table shows the percentage of programs available either completely in person or fully online. Figures that do not add up to 100% indicate the existence of hybrid programs.
How to pick an MPH program
There are several important factors – such as cost, completion time, format, and location – to consider when choosing between the different programs. Check that any program you are considering is accredited. This assures future employers that you have the skills and training to practice. The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) maintains a list of accredited schools and programs.
Specializations and concentrations
Below are some specializations and concentrations available to MPH students.
- Epidemiology – focuses on the frequency and patterns of health events in communities.
- Biostatistics – interprets the scientific data generated in the health sciences, including the public health sphere.
- Environmental health sciences – strives to understand, prevent, and mitigate, the impact of climate change and environmental exposure on human health.
- Social and behavioral sciences – focuses on illness prevention, health promotion, and barriers to health behavior change (in both patients and health systems).
- Health services administration – teaches students how to plan, direct, and coordinate medical and health services in a specific clinical area or department.
- Disaster management and emergency preparedness – students accrue the knowledge to effectively respond to hazardous events or conditions.
Financial aid and scholarships for master degree programs in public health
Scholarships, grants, work-study jobs, and loans are all available to master’s of public health students. Typically, the first step in applying for aid is to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This assesses your eligibility for federal grants, work-study, and loans.
» Read: How to apply for a scholarship
Several public health scholarships are available, including:
- American Dietetics Association Scholarship ($500 to $3,000)
- Laurence R. Foster Memorial Scholarship, Oregon ($500 to $10,000)
- Arkansas Public Health Association Annual Scholarships for Arkansas Students in a Public Health Field ($1,000 maximum)
- Dr. Charles H. Hudson Award for Cardiopulmonary Public Health
- Department Of Health & Human Services Public Health Service Training Grant
Public health workers in U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or not-for-profit organizations may also qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).
What to expect from an MPH program
MPH programs provide students with knowledge of the 5 core public health disciplines:
- environmental health
- health policy and administration
- social and behavioral sciences
A master’s in public health also prepares students for leadership positions in a variety of local, state, national, and international public health settings.
Admission requirements vary, but most schools request some, or all, of the following:
- application through SOPHAS, a centralized public health application platform used by most schools and programs of public health
- high GPA and graduate entrance exam scores
- evidence of previous accomplishments, including professional experience and achievements,
- undergraduate degree in specific areas of interest, such as nursing
Master’s in public health courses
MPH programs combine core coursework with electives in relevant areas of study. Foundational courses include:
introduction to public health
Introduces the core functions of public health and the most important concepts and terms.
introduction to epidemiology
Provides an overview of epidemiology investigations, methods, data collection, and terms.
introduction to environmental health
Covers environmental hazards, such as water and air pollution, extreme weather, or chemical exposures that affect human health.
health and behavior theory
Isolates and describes the behaviors that promote, maintain, and protect health.
Teaches students to use statistics and analyze health data. Biostatistics play an essential role in public health initiatives, particularly during national health emergencies.
preparation for public health practice
Gives students the skills to prevent disease or injury and to improve the health of members of the community through activities, such as disease surveillance, outbreak investigation, and program evaluation.
Elective courses may include:
- global health inequities – Students study theories, sociological and anthropological perspectives, and data surrounding global health.
- maternal and child health – Examines various contemporary health issues that affect women and children.
- global public health practice – Students are introduced to the concepts, tools, frameworks, and principles in the global public health field.
- women’s health – Examines women’s health, placing special emphasis on women’s roles within various systems of health and in communities.
Public health encompasses a breadth of specializations, allowing MPH holders to choose from a wide range of careers. The diverse opportunities within the field are 1 of the main reasons that students pick this degree.
Master’s of public health FAQs
Are master’s in public health graduates in demand?
Yes – the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects Health Education Specialists and Community Health Worker jobs to rise 17% between 2020 and 2030, which is much faster than other occupations.
Is a master’s in public health worth it?
Yes – an MPH can help healthcare professionals to expand their career opportunities, and to make a real difference in the health and well-being of people within communities.
What jobs can I do with a master’s in public health?
There are many jobs available to MPH holders. Depending on the specialization studied, these may include: dieticians and nutritionists, epidemiologists, healthcare administrators, registered nurses, social and community service managers, and mental health counselors.
The world’s oldest and most diverse organization for public health professionals.
Supports laboratories that work in the interest of public health, both in the U.S. and around the world.
The ASPH represents public health schools accredited by the Council of Education for Public Health (CEPH).