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Guide to Online Public Health Degrees

Usmaan Farooqui

Written By: Usmaan Farooqui

Published: 4/12/2022

Public health degrees train individuals to assess, improve, and monitor community well-being on a large scale. Students have the option to study an array of subjects, from nutrition, medicine, and disease to social policy, health services administration, and global pandemics. These degrees are offered at multiple levels and graduates often go on to work for the private sector, non-profits, and governmental organizations.

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What Will I Learn in a Public Health Program?

Students enrolled in a public health program are exposed to a diverse education, taking courses in political science, sociology, ethics, and biology. Additionally, individuals typically graduate with skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration. Learning outcomes will vary based on a student's choice of public health program, as well as the level at which they pursue their degree.

Online Programs

Many schools offer public health degrees that can be earned online. While some programs are completely remote, others mix distance learning with yearly campus visits. In these hybrid programs, students can meet faculty and peers and/or complete required labs. In general, online public health programs are ideal for nontraditional students that work full-time or have other responsibilities, as they allow them to complete coursework asynchronously. For instance, online learners typically have 24/7 access to lectures, assignments, and presentations, which they can view or complete at a pace that matches their schedule.

Below is a description of common degrees available in public health, along with their respective admission requirements:

Bachelor's in Public Health (BPH)

Students need a high school diploma or equivalent with a minimum 2.0 GPA to enroll in a BPH. Prospective students may choose between a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) in Public Health. With either track, these programs typically take four years of full-time study to complete. While both include core and elective coursework in public health topics, along with a capstone project, a BA curricula focuses on delivering a liberal arts education, whereas a BS requires classes in STEM disciplines.

Master's in Public Health (MPH)

An MPH takes 2-3 years to complete. During this time, students take advanced coursework in public health and develop fundamental research skills. Individuals may also have the chance to concentrate their classes in a particular area, such as community health, biostatistics, or environmental health. While a bachelor's degree is required for admission into an MPH, some programs may also expect students to have completed coursework in STEM subjects.

Master's in Healthcare Administration (MHA)

Individuals interested in how business and healthcare overlap may consider enrolling in an MHA. This program, which can be finished in two years of full-time study, combines concepts in public health and management, training students to tackle administrative problems unique to the healthcare industry. Admission requirements vary, but many programs expect students to have 2-3 years of relevant work experience and a bachelor's degree.

Master's in Health Informatics (MHI)

With data becoming integral to healthcare delivery, students enrolled in an MHI aim to learn how they can best use informational technology to make health decisions for communities. They typically gain experience with statistical software and data management techniques, developing quantitative analysis skills along the way. An MHI can be completed in two years by full-time students, and admission requirements typically include standardized test scores and a bachelor's with coursework in math or statistics.

Executive Master's in Public Health (eMPH)

An eMPH is designed for professionals currently working in public health who want to advance their careers. These programs focus on research, public policy, and education, providing students with the training to become leaders in this sector. Those interested in this program will typically need 2-3 years of work experience in public health and a bachelor's degree to apply. An eMPH can be completed in 1-2 years.

Doctorate in Public Health (DrPH)

Known as a terminal degree, a DrPH is a professional doctorate in public health. To graduate, students need to complete advanced coursework as well as an applied practice experience, where they complete fieldwork in a real-world public health setting. A DrPH takes 3-4 years of full-time study to complete. Many programs expect students to have an MPH or related degree to apply, as well as a minimum of three years of work experience in public health.

Is Majoring in Public Health Worth It?

Career goals, financial circumstances, and other obligations are all important factors to consider when determining the value of a public health degree. While the worth of this credential will ultimately vary from person to person, prospective students may want to consider the following potential advantages and drawbacks of a public health education:

Potential Advantages

A public health degree can potentially lead to a high paying job. For instance, higher education credentials in this field may qualify graduates to work as medical and health services managers, who earn a median annual salary of $104,280.

A degree in this discipline can prepare individuals for a rewarding career serving their communities. For instance, federal employees cite the chance to give back as a gratifying aspect of their jobs, and a public health degree can help graduates secure positions in government organizations. It can also help them find public service-focused roles with other employers that promote community health.

Pursuing higher education in public health can be a rewarding experience. Students typically find course materials to be both interesting and intellectually stimulating, and many report being satisfied overall with their choice of degree.

Potential Disadvantages

Students may need a graduate degree for some public health positions. While a bachelor's may be enough for entry-level jobs, graduates who want to advance their career in the private sector or work for government organizations will likely need a post-baccalaureate qualification.

Public health departments across the country are facing funding cutbacks and restrictive legislation. Graduates may therefore face an uncertain job environment in the future.

Is a Public Health Degree a Good Fit For Me?

A public health degree may be a good fit for individuals who want to promote social justice and equality. Public health professionals work to improve the healthcare system, so this degree will likely suit students who are interested in working with a diverse group of professionals to solve complex, far-reaching problems in a critical social area. According to Burning Glass Technologies, a data analytics firm, public health officials typically thrive in an environment where they can build strong relationships and exercise critical thinking skills to promote public safety. In short, a public health degree may be ideal for students who aspire to use education, research, and advocacy to help their societies and communities. 

Choosing an Online Public Health Degree

It's important to weigh several factors when deciding which public health degree to pursue. Due to the broad, interdisciplinary nature of the health field, online degree programs are available in multiple areas of study and often in different learning formats. Below are some factors students should consider when choosing their public health degree:

Accreditation - Regardless of their degree choice, public health students should ensure they enroll in a program accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). A CEPH-accredited degree has been judged to meet the standards for academic excellence in this discipline. Additionally, this stamp of approval is required to apply for financial aid or the majority of public health jobs. Students should also check whether the college or university they attend has been regionally or nationally accredited by the relevant agency.

Cost - To pursue a public health degree that is affordable, students should consider applying for financial aid. They should also evaluate whether their degree offers a favorable return on investment by comparing the annual cost for a program with the potential mid-career salaries alumni earn.

Online Factors - Students who choose to apply for an online degree in public health degree should first determine whether their prospective program is offered in a fully remote or hybrid format. The latter is a better option for those who hope to collaborate in-person with peers and faculty, while a fully online program may be well-suited for individuals who cannot travel due to work or family obligations. As online learning programs can be challenging to complete, prospective online students may also want to determine whether they will receive adequate support from faculty to earn their degrees.

Specialization - Many public health degrees focus on a particular area, such as global health, infectious diseases, or behavioral science. These specialized degrees in public health are designed to equip students with in-depth knowledge of a specific health-related field and are ideal for students who hope to pursue a career in one of these sub-fields. On the other hand, those who want to keep their career opportunities more open are better suited to a general public health degree.

What Careers Can You Get With a Public Health Degree?

According to Burning Glass Technologies, public health graduates often find work in healthcare, public administration, education, and finance, with top employers including Anthem Blue Cross, Universal Health Services, and the U.S. government. Employment opportunities tend to vary based on an individual's level of education. Below is a list of common career paths for public health graduates which require different levels of education, along with salary and job outlook data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. All of these positions have over double the U.S. average in terms of job projection.

Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers
Median Annual Salary: $48,140
Job Outlook: 17%
Required Education: Bachelor's degree

Health education specialists and community health workers spread awareness about various health issues. They often communicate community needs to healthcare providers, conduct outreach in underserved areas, and advocate to improve health services.

Medical and Health Services Managers
Median Annual Salary: $104,280
Job Outlook: 32%
Required Education: Bachelor's degree

Medical and health services managers are responsible for running healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, nursing homes, or patient clinics. They oversee various administrative functions — such as budgeting or planning — and ensure operations stay within legal requirements and meet regulatory standards.

Mathematicians and Statisticians
Median Annual Salary: $93,290
Job Outlook: 33%
Required Education: Master's degree

Mathematicians and statisticians with a background in public health typically work as biostatisticians. These professionals work in many different healthcare settings, where they conduct trials on new drugs, research the prevalence of illnesses, or construct models to predict the likelihood of future outbreaks.

Median Annual Salary: $74,560
Job Outlook: 30%
Required Education: Master's or doctoral degree

Epidemiologists conduct research projects to determine the impact of disease on society. This can involve designing research grants, collecting data through interviews, surveys, or other methods, and communicating findings to governments and businesses. Some epidemiologists also teach at universities.

Funding an Online Public Health Degree

Prospective public health students can apply for federal, state, or private forms of financial aid to help pay for their degrees. While both online and on-campus students typically qualify for these awards, distance learners may have to meet additional eligibility requirements, such as in-state residency. Additionally, international and undocumented students may be limited to private or state-sponsored aid programs.

Students planning to apply for financial assistance should first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, as many government bodies and colleges use this form to determine how much aid an individual is eligible to receive.

Scholarships for Public Health Students

Students can request information about funding opportunities from their school's financial aid department. They may also consider applying for the following public health scholarships.

The American College of Healthcare Executives awards up to 15 scholarships a year to minority and LGBQT students pursuing a healthcare administration or public health degree. Applicants must be enrolled in the final year of a masters program; demonstrate financial need; and either be U.S. citizens, lawful permanent citizens, or Canadian citizens.

  • Award amount: $5,000

The AHIMA Foundation offers scholarships to students enrolled in degree programs at multiple levels. Eligibility requirements vary based on the specific award, but in general, applicants must be AHIMA Foundation members enrolled in a health informatics program with a minimum 3.5 GPA. 

  • Award amount: varies

This award is open to any student enrolled in their second semester of a master's program. Up to 20 scholarships are annually distributed to individuals who demonstrate the ability to contribute to health policy or healthcare management. 

  • Award amount: $10,000

Undergraduates with financial need, who are either enrolled or accepted in a health-related bachelor's degree program, may apply for this NIH scholarship. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents with a minimum 3.0 GPA.

  • Award amount: $20,000

The Udall Foundation awards up to 55 sophomores and juniors with financial assistance every year. Students should demonstrate a commitment to public service/policy as well as issues that affect the Native American communities.

  • Award amount: $7,000

FAQs About Online Public Health Degrees

What Is a Public Health Degree?

A public health degree is a higher education credential that equips graduates with the skills and expertise to address communal health challenges. Unlike a medical degree, which focuses on teaching students how to treat patients, a public health degree trains individuals to solve widespread health problems — including vaccine hesitancy, obesity, or poor diet — through a mix of administrative, medicinal, and advocacy approaches.

What Courses Are in a Public Health Program?

Public health students may take courses in many disciplines, including management, biology, behavioral science, statistics, and sociology. Students also take either arts and humanities or STEM classes, depending on whether they decided to pursue a BA or BS. Those enrolled in a graduate program often complement advanced coursework with classes in research.

How Many Years Does It Take To Study Public Health?

Depending on how far they want to continue their education, students can spend several years studying public health. Bachelor's programs are typically completed in four years of full-time study, while MPH and doctoral degrees take roughly three to five years, respectively. Part-time students often take longer to graduate, while those enrolled in accelerated programs may take less time than the average student.

Is Public Health a Good Career?

A public health career may be considered good for various reasons. For instance, not only does it train graduates to address the significant problem of disparities in healthcare access, it can also lead to employment in many different industries, locations, and policy areas — which may appeal to students who aspire to work in a fast-paced, dynamic environment.

Resources for Public Health Students

Below is a list of resources students can use to obtain for further information on public health careers, education, and research:

  • American Public Health Association (APHA)
    APHA seeks to advance the health and wellness of communities in the U.S. by publishing research and advocating for better public health policies. Student members gain access to a network of professionals as well as various career development opportunities. 
  • Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH)
    ASPHH represents accredited schools and programs in the field of public health. It provides prospective and current students with tools, learning resources, and information on public health programs. 
  • American College of Epidemiology (ACE)
    ACE is a professional network that advances best practices in the field of epidemiology. In addition to helping epidemiologists meet professional standards and advance their careers, ACE holds an annual conference where students, faculty, and practitioners can meet and share research. 
  • NIH
    NIH is a federal body — part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — which researches health and disease. It also provides funding and training opportunities to medical professionals. 
  • World Health Organization (WHO)
    The largest health organization in the world, WHO works on a global scale to improve the health of populations by tracking potential health threats, conducting outreach among those who are vulnerable to certain diseases, and advocating for improved universal health. 

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