October 3, 2023

How to Know if a Master’s in Public Health Degree is Right for You

Considering getting into the field of public health? If you are passionate about improving the health of entire populations, have a penchant for research, policy and education, then earning your master's in public health degree may be right for you!

People come to public health careers from backgrounds as diverse as nursing, data analysis, environmental science, law, and government. 

MPH students can usually complete their programs within two years, and can choose to enroll in a full-time or part-time program, an accelerated format, or an online environment.

Whichever master’s in public health degree path is chosen, it will provide key competencies for success and will prepare graduates for leadership positions in whatever area of public health they choose to pursue. 

Read on to find out if a master’s in public health degree is right for you and your career goals!

What is a Master’s in Public Health (MPH) degree?

A Master’s in Public Health degree is a graduate degree that prepares students to improve and protect the health of populations. They do this through research, advocacy, creation, and implementation of policies, or education. 

The lessons learned in an MPH graduate program have the overarching goal of helping people lead healthier lives, and can be applied across diverse professions, applications and disciplines. 

How is a Masters in Public Health Different From Other Healthcare Degree Programs?

Unlike degrees in healthcare that focus on the health and treatment of individual patients, public health degrees are geared towards communities and the health, environmental, economic, and social issues that they face. 

How Long are MPH Programs?

Most programs take between 18 and 24 months to complete depending upon whether students pursue them on a part-time or full-time basis. 

Where Can MPH Graduates Work?

Because public health impacts so many aspects of society, graduates of Master’s in Public Health programs are prepared to work in a variety of industries, including:

  • Government agencies
  • Community-based agencies
  • Academic institutions
  • Private foundations
  • Insurance companies
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Hospitals and other healthcare facilities
  • Research laboratories
  • Substance abuse clinics
  • Mental health facilities
  • Non-governmental health organizations 

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What Can You Do with a Master’s in Public Health Degree?

The practice of public health is done both locally and globally.  A master’s degree in public health prepares graduates to track disease outbreaks, plan health education programs, develop and advocate for policies in a wide range of work environments.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 1.8 million new jobs projected in healthcare by the year 2032, more than any other sector. 

Public Health Careers

The career path available to those who hold a master’s degree in public health are limited only by the individual’s particular interests and experience, and can include the following careers:

  • Biostatistics and informatics
    • systems analysts
    • database administrators
    • Biostatisticians
  • Communications
    • Public health journalists
    • information officers
    • medical writers
  • Community health
    • Community health program coordinators
    • Outreach specialists
  • Public Health
    • Public health educators
    • nurse educators
    • health teachers
  • Emergency management specialists
    • Disease preparedness researchers
    • bioterrorism researchers
  •  Environmental health specialists
  • Environmentalists
  • Public health engineers
  • Environmental health technicians
  • Epidemiologists and vaccine researchers
  • Public health physicians and nurses
  •  Mental health program coordinators and behavioral research scientists
  • HIV/AIDS researchers
  • International NGO aid workers
  • Global infectious disease analysts or researchers
  • Healthcare policy analysts
  • Addiction treatment program developers

Master’s in Public Health Programs

Public health is a very broad field that includes everything from small towns to school districts to neighborhoods as well as entire nations or regions of the world. 

As a result, master’s in public health degree programs are extremely varied. They may offer concentrations that represent the narrow needs and interests of the school’s philosophy or of its surrounding community, or their curriculum may be extremely broad, offering a general overview from which a student can follow their own interests and personal goals.

MPH Specializations

Examples of popular Master of Public Health degree programs and concentrations include:

  • Community Health and Prevention
  • Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Epidemiology
  • Health Policy and Management
  • Health Informatics
  • Public Health Analytics
  • Public Health Advocacy
  •  Healthcare Quality & Safety
  • Public Health Practice (General)
  • Community Health Sciences
  • Biostatistics
  • Social and Behavioral Science
  • Disaster Management and Emergency Preparedness
  • International Public Health Management
  • Population Health 
  • Health services administration

How Much Does It Cost to Earn a Master’s in Public Health Degree?

Generally speaking, the average graduate school fee is between $30,000 and $40,000 per year with most programs lasting two years. This leaves students with an anticipated $60,000 to $80,000 in costs, though there are schools with tuitions that nearly double that amount and others that charge just half. 

The cost of a masters in public health degree, like any other type of graduate school, will depend upon a number of factors including:

  • The program’s reputation
  • Whether it is offered as an online master’s program or an in-person experience
  • Whether classes are taken part-time or full time
  • Whether they are offered by private or public institutions
  • Whether the MPH student is a resident or non-resident of the school

There are also additional fees for services and materials that vary depending upon the program being pursued.  

How Long Does It Take to Complete a Master’s in Public Health Program?

Most MPH degrees take approximately two years to complete, though the exact amount of time will depend upon the program, whether the student is pursuing their degree on a part-time or full-time basis, and more. 

Some schools offer professionals who are already working in a given field the opportunity to take their program in an accelerated format, while others offer flexible online MPH programs that allow students to complete their studies while still upholding their job, family, and social responsibilities.

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How Much Can You Earn with a Master’s in Public Health Degree?

A career in public health offers the respect of your peers and the community you serve. Depending upon the specific position you choose, it may also provide the benefit of a generous salary. 

According to Ziprecruiter.com, the average annual pay for jobs requiring a Master’s of Public Health degree is $116,386, with some jobs paying as much as $138,000 and others as little as $25,500. A sampling of public health positions and salaries being paid include:

  • Public Information Director - $162,000
  • Medical Public Health - $154,065
  • Master Public Policy - $134,299
  • Public Health Officer - $120,602
  • Public Health Researcher - $119,911

Career Outlook for Those with a Master’s in Public Health Degree 

According to experts at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, there is a strong long-term outlook for jobs in public health, with an expected growth that doubles the average rate for all occupations across the United States. 

COVID-19 Has Made Public Health Careers More Essential Than Ever Before

Though public health is often underfunded, the impact of the global pandemic is likely to bring a much-needed infusion of funds, and even before the crisis, the Bureau of Labor Statistics was projecting a rise in demand for public health career tracks, including a 27% increase in demand for epidemiologists and a 30% increase in demand for statisticians.

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What are the Prerequisites for a Master of Public Health Degree? 

To gain admission to a master of public health program, applicants must meet the following requirements:

  • They must have already have earned their bachelor’s degree, preferably in public health or a related field. 
  • Most programs require that their applicants have achieved a threshold GPA during their undergraduate years.
  • Most require a minimum score on either the GRE or GMAT standardized tests.  
  • The most competitive programs will also require demonstrated interest and some work or volunteer experience in public health. 

MPH Program Accreditation 

The most important way for a college or university to demonstrate the quality of their program is through accreditation by an independent agency whose sole purpose is confirming that they meet established standards for the education that they provide. 

For aspiring MPH students, choosing a school that has been accredited means that after graduation they will be able to point to their degree with the confidence that potential employers will trust that their degree is legitimate. 

No matter whether you are considering an online program or one that is offered in a traditional, in-person setting, your first step should be to confirm that it has received accreditation from one of the regional institutional accreditation agencies recognized by the Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, and preferably that it has been accredited by a specialized accreditation agency such as the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), which is dedicated to ascertaining the quality of Public Health programs. 

Masters in Public Health Coursework

Public Health topics are as wide-ranging as the various areas that professionals serve. Though there are certain courses that are universally offered by almost every program, others are highly specialized and particular to the concentration that each student chooses. 

Core Courses

Some examples of the types of classes that are included in a Master’s of Public Health program include:

  • Health behavior and social sciences
  • Biostatistics
  • Environmental health sciences
  • Epidemiology
  • Policy and advocacy
  • Program planning
  • Implementation and evaluation
  • Leadership skills
  • Child health
  • Health promotion and public health education
  • Public health issues
  • Systems thinking
  • Health communication
  • Global health
  • Cultural humility and competency
  • Population Health
  • Practicum where you apply your culminating experience 
  • Capstone Project 

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How to Pay for Your Master’s Degree in Public Health

No matter what type of master’s degree is being pursued or how much it will add to overall earnings capacity, getting an advanced degree is a significant expense. 

Whether you’re paying for your undergraduate degree on your own, taking out loans, or getting a little help from your family, few people have the resources available to pay the additional tens of thousands that their masters will cost. That’s why you need to know about the additional assistance and resources that are available.

Financial Aid

Federal aid is one of the most accessible and invaluable ways to help fund your education. Though many people think that filling out the FAFSA form is just for undergraduate school, graduate students can access unsubsidized Stafford Loans and Grad PLUS loans that allow them to borrow at a fixed interest rate and with other advantageous terms. 

University Loans

University loans are often available directly from an individual school, and many programs also make access to loans from the state in which they are located available. Information on applying for these funds can be found on the financial aid page on each institution’s website.

Grants & Scholarships

Grants and scholarships offer students access to money that does not have to be returned. Some are offered specifically for those pursuing an advanced degree in public health or for students who have distinguished themselves in their undergraduate careers. Finding these funding sources requires a bit of effort, but is usually well worth it.

Tuition Reimbursement

Tuition reimbursement is offered by many employers, though some restrict this benefit to programs that advance the employee’s future within the organization. 

Private Loans

Private loans are almost always available, but care should be taken before choosing one of these funding sources to ensure that the rates they are offering are competitive. Usually, the best rates are available to those with the best credit scores.

How to Know if the MPH Degree is Right for You

Individuals who choose a career in the field of public health do so to make a difference. Many choose the field because they want to improve underserved communities, while others want to participate in making policies that improve the way that healthcare is delivered. 

Public health professionals deliver services that evaluate and assess community health problems, develop policies that inform, educate and empower those in the community to solve their problems, and enforce laws that protect and ensure public health and safety. 

They are researchers, administrators, and part of the healthcare workforce, and though all of their roles may be different, their goals are all the same: improving the delivery of and access to healthcare for all. If that describes your personal motivations and ethos, then pursuing a Master’s in Public Health is the right choice for you. 

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  • Is a master’s degree in public health worth it?

    • Deciding whether a specific degree is worthwhile has less to do with the costs of the program than whether what you learn is a good fit for your personality and long-term goals. Regardless of whether your area of concentration is research, policy, health education, epidemiology, social welfare or another area, having a master’s degree in public health will make it possible for you to impact the health of many people collectively, protecting and improving their health and safety.
  • What kind of jobs can a public health degree get you?

    • A degree in public health can facilitate a career in research, epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental health, social and behavioral sciences, disaster management and emergency preparedness, health policy, education, and more.
  • Is public health nursing a good career?

    • Public health nurses use their clinical knowledge to solve health problems in a community rather than to specific individuals. They work through community and public health programs at nonprofits, within health systems and at all levels of government to contribute to a large population group. Nurses who work in public health have the opportunity to make a significant difference.
  • What is an MSN in public health?

    • An MSN in public health is a Master of Science in Nursing degree that combines nursing practice and public health theory. The long-term goals of nurses who pursue this degree are the promotion and preservation of health in families, communities and populations through prevention, education, assessment and evaluation. They work in health departments and agencies, in community and outpatient clinics, in schools, hospitals and for private foundations and non-governmental health agencies.
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