The 2020 Guide to Online Master’s in Public Health Programs

Public health is the practice of promoting and protecting the health of people in communities big and small.

As we’ve seen during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, society relies on public health professionals to provide information, testing, and resources on containment of contagious diseases, among other recommendations. To help stop the spread of disease, those working in this healthcare field have been educating the public about issues ranging from drug use to influenza to HIV/AIDS for decades. They also promote vaccines and healthy lifestyles choices.

Whether you would like to work at your neighborhood clinic in a public health capacity or join an international organization that is dedicated to eliminating disparities in healthcare, a Master’s in Public Health (MPH) can be a key component to your professional journey. Choosing the right public health degree program takes time and careful research. Our guide to online MPH programs provides information on what you can expect should you decide to invest in an MPH degree. There are programs that can be completed on a part-time or full-time basis.

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Online MPH From GW

  • Complete in as few as 12 months
  • No GRE required
  • Accredited by CEPH
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Earn an MPH Online From Baylor

  • No GRE required
  • Complete in as few as 18 months
  • Part-time and full-time options available
Discover an MPH Online From Baylor

Online MPH from Tufts

  • Ranked a top-25 public health school in 2019 by U.S. News & World Report1
  • No GRE required to apply
  • Built-in concentration in Epidemiology and Biostatistics
1Ranked for Best Public Health Schools by U.S. News & World Report for 2019, https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-health-schools/public-health-rankings
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UNC’s Online Master of Public Health Program

  • Three CEPH-accredited concentrations: MPH Leadership, MPH Nutrition, MPH Registered Dietitian (MPH/RD)
  • The UNC Gillings School is ranked the No. 1 public school of public health by U.S. News & World Report2
  • World-leading research and award-winning faculty
2Best Public Health Schools. (2019). U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved May 20, 2020 from https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-health-schools/public-health-rankings
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Online MPH from Simmons University

  • No GRE scores required to apply
  • No public health experience required to apply
  • Complete in as few as 21 months
Discover an Online MPH from Simmons University

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What Is a Master of Public Health?

While undergraduate public health graduates have grown in number since the early 1990s, many positions in the public health field require a master’s degree. A Master of Public Health is an advanced degree that focuses on the science of creating good health practices and maintaining them within various communities through education, research, and advocacy. Different public health graduate programs offer different concentrations. You can pick a concentration based on your interests.

MPH programs prepare students to employ a broad range of skills and competencies, from offices to the frontlines of health emergencies. With an MPH, you can pursue careers in health education, biostatistics, environmental health, epidemiology, and health services administration.

Today, hundreds of public health professionals work for federal and state agencies such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Numerous others are employed in health-related positions at schools, hospitals, privately-owned practices, and nonprofits.

A Master of Public Health can also prepare you to become a leader in public health administration and address health issues—locally and globally—using advanced methodologies and the latest research.

Can You Earn Your Master of Public Health Online?

Learning management systems and technological tools such as video conferencing software make it possible to study from the comfort of your home. Depending on the school, an MPH is offered 100 percent online or in a hybrid format with some in-person requirements. You can earn your MPH online, in a part-time or full-time course of study.

MPH programs typically require between 40 and 47 credit hours that can be completed in 18 to 24 months. In a few online programs, you can earn your MPH in as little as one year.

CEPH-Accredited Online MPH Programs

Before enrolling in any online program, check to see whether it is properly accredited. This means the program has met and continues to maintain high quality standards of education as stipulated by an accrediting agency. When it comes to public health online programs, look for accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH).

Since 1974, the CEPH has provided accreditation to more than 50 public health schools and scores of public health programs. A full list of CEPH-accredited schools and programs can be found on the agency’s website.

Online MPH Program Admissions Requirements

A majority of MPH programs require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree in order to be considered for admission. Beyond that, admissions requirements are not uniform among programs. Some require a graduate-entry exam, coupled with your undergraduate grade point average (GPA). The most prevalent is the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), which consists of three portions: analytical writing, verbal skills, and quantitative reasoning. Your test scores are intended to measure how you will perform in each academic area, and ultimately your preparedness for graduate study.

Paperwork that may be required for your admission to an online Master of Public Health program includes your undergraduate transcript, letter(s) of recommendation, a resume, and a personal essay. Verify what each program asks for before you begin your application.

Getting an Online MPH, No GRE Required

Taking the GRE can be a daunting experience for many. If you’re easily succumbed by test time anxiety, you might want to consider a program that does not require GRE scores as part of your application. Quite a few of them exist. However, if you have already taken the GRE and are applying to a program that doesn’t need your scores, most times, you can still submit them. Keep in mind that this will not guarantee you an edge. Admissions staff often look at your application in its entirety, so don’t get stuck on a particular portion of it such as test scores.

Other programs may offer an option to waive GRE requirements if students already possess another graduate degree or can prove a certain amount of work experience.

MPH Online Program Curriculum

When you enter an online MPH program, you’ll take core classes that touch on all aspects of the public health profession, before customizing your course of study by selecting a concentration. Foundational public health courses include:

  • Principles of Epidemiology
  • Foundations of Public Health
  • Biostatistics
  • Assessment and Planning in Public and Community Health
  • Public Health Solutions

Online Master of Public Health Concentrations

Public health is a broad field that contains many specializations. Think of it this way, MPH concentrations are as varied as the populations and issues within the space. If you’re thinking about earning your MPH, here are some specializations open to you:

  • Environmental Health
  • Leadership and Public Health Practice
  • Epidemiology
  • Nutrition
  • Women’s and Reproductive Health

Which Public Health Specialization is Right for You?

With so many programs and specializations available, you might find it a bit difficult to settle on a single one. There are even programs that offer more than one specialization. To pick the right public health specialization, consider what communities you would most like to help.

It’s also useful to think through your personal interests and passions. For instance, are you most concerned with controlling the spread of infectious disease, are you driven by improving nutrition, or is enhancing prenatal care most important to you? Once you determine your main area of interest, you’ll be able to hone in on your preferred program.

Also consider job outlook and career advancement opportunities.

MPH Epidemiology Concentration

Epidemiology is the study of patterns and causes of disease and injury in specified populations, including neighborhoods, schools, cities, states, and countries. Epidemiologists work in offices and laboratories, usually at health departments for federal, state and local governments, in hospitals, and at colleges and universities.

In an MPH epidemiology concentration, you will learn about the study of environmental hazards, such as air pollution; infectious diseases such as influenza, non-infectious disease such as cancer; injuries and deaths due to domestic violence, suicide, and homicide; natural disasters; acts of terrorism, and more.

MPH Nutrition Concentration

Public health nutrition, sometimes referred to as dietetics, focuses on the role of food and how it affects human biology, well-being, and disease prevention. A public health nutritionist may work at a long-term care hospital as an expert in the nutritional challenges of stroke patients, for example. He or she could work with government agencies trying to improve nutritional offerings in low-income neighborhoods.

MPH in nutrition online programs often focus on nutrition from a population or community perspective and layer socio-cultural aspects over basic sciences.

MPH Biostatistics Concentration

Biostatistics combines the statistics, mathematics, and biology disciplines. By using biostatistics, public health professionals can track the prevalence of different diseases and determine risk factors for different groups and situations, which will in turn help them implement strong prevention programs.

As a student with an MPH biostatistics focus, you’ll follow a diverse curriculum that focuses on research, mathematics, and statistics. Courses in this concentration could include Social and Behavioral Foundations of Health, Public Health Toxicology, Statistical Consulting, and Fundamentals of Clinical Trials. Additionally, you’ll learn how to create a study by testing a hypothesis and analyzing the results to determine which public health programs might be effective.

MPH Community Health Concentration

A community health concentration focuses on the development of health-related programs and campaigns for communities. This concentration prepares you to engage in the planning, administration, and evaluation of public health programs and policies with the objective of improving the health of individuals, families, communities, and populations. Community health workers not only connect people to local health services and information, but they also address societal barriers to healthcare and provide referrals to services.

An MPH community health concentration focuses on the needs and assessment of a community, with a specific emphasis on strategies and methods used in assessment, intervention development and implementation, grant writing, and interprofessional teambuilding.

MPH Leadership in Practice Concentration

A leadership in practice concentration is designed to teach best practices to current and aspiring public health teams, project staff, and organizations that work toward improving health conditions for a local, national, or global community. As an MPH graduate with a leadership in practice concentration, you can apply for leadership roles within governing boards as well as supervise teams that focus on complex research and community and interorganizational collaborations.

Critical-thinking, design-thinking and system-thinking skills are all part of the skills taught in this concentration. They are necessary to mobilize others in order to strategically align organizations and systems and accomplish large-scale change.

What Can You Do with a Public Health Degree?

Public health careers are varied and touch multiple segments of society. They include hands-on positions such as community educator, to the more analytic health policy manager.

If you choose to become a health educator, you’ll be able to teach adults and children about behaviors that promote wellness, while a position in community health will allow you to collect data and discuss health concerns with specific populations.

If you choose to study environmental health, your career will focus on research or community outreach to minimize the impact of environmental risks, such as air or water pollution.

As an epidemiologist, you’ll conduct research on infectious diseases, perhaps in a university setting or in conjunction with government organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

A concentration in health policy and management may lead you to a position where you’ll be responsible for crafting policies that ensure access to medical care and provide uniform services across various populations in both the public and private section. Such positions include health services manager, health department administrator, and government policy analyst.

Master’s in Public Health Salary and Career Outlook

By 2028, the BLS projects that there will be about 1.9 million new healthcare jobs.

When it comes to public health careers, medical and health services management is one occupation that will see rapid growth. Employment of these MPH professionals is projected to grow 18 percent by 2028, according to the BLS. In 2018, half of all medical and health services managers earned more than $99,730. That same year, the BLS found that those working at nursing and residential care facilities earned a median annual salary of $84,260, which was more than two times the median annual salary for all occupations.

By comparison, the median annual salary of health educators and community health workers in 2018 was $46,080. The highest 10 percent of health educators earned more than $98,530, which is closer to the median annual salary of medical and health services managers. The highest 10 percent of community health workers earned less than their health educator counterparts, with average salaries of $65,890 and higher. Employment of health educators and community health workers is expected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028, according to BLS data.

Meanwhile, epidemiologist employment is projected to rise 5 percent within the same timeframe. Public funding plays a role in the moderate growth of this field as many epidemiological programs are financed by federal or state governments. If you have your MPH and are planning to enter this field, you can look for jobs in hospitals with ongoing infection control programs. Location is also an important factor to keep in mind when weighing job prospects. States and metropolitan areas with large populations may have established public health programs but may still need workers for certain areas such as mental health and substance abuse. Finally, don’t forget to research earning potential for epidemiologists in your area. Top-paying states for this occupation include Massachusetts, where the annual mean wage of epidemiologists was $114,220 in May 2019, followed closely by Washington state. Washington-based epidemiologists earned an annual mean wage of $111,160.

Why Pursue a Master’s in Public Health?

If you have a desire to have a positive impact on communities, obtaining a Master’s in Public Health gives you the concrete tools to do so.

By pursuing an MPH, you can improve the physical, economic, social, and environmental health of communities—from a neglected urban neighborhood to an at-risk group of children.

You could help slow the spread of an infectious disease such as COVID-19, or you could work with communities on social issues like isolation, violence, and lack of access to affordable nutrition. Regardless of which area you specialize in, a Master of Public Health may open up doors to positions that result in social change and betterment for the world.