If you’re already working in a health profession or have a bachelor’s degree in a health-related field, you may be interested in pursuing a master’s degree in public health to expand your ability to provide public health education, epidemiology, community health programs and health support services. An online degree program allows working professionals to expand their practice. It can also be the pathway to a new career, such as at a government agency or community health program. Learn more about online MPH degrees, including the top schools, what you can expect from the program and possible career paths.
To create our rankings for the best online master’s degrees in public health, we rely on information provided by the U.S. Department of Education and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. We also collect information from published materials from the colleges and universities included here. Each of the ranked schools has been accredited to ensure it provides a quality education.
An online master’s degree in public health typically takes two years to complete, although there is flexibility to meet students’ needs. Most require 42 to 48 credits. Courses focus on science, health and community development, giving students the skills needed to do research, work on policy, provide education and work in disease prevention. The focus is always on health as it impacts groups, communities, countries or the world population at large, so topics such as the environment or statistics are viewed through this lens.
Most students choose a specialization, so they can hone their skills to fit a particular job, such as epidemiologist or public health nurse. Experience gained through internships is a valuable component of this degree as learning hands-on skills is crucial for most public health professionals. Online public health master’s degree programs may offer fewer arranged internships and practicum opportunities than on-campus programs, or they may require students to find internship opportunities in their own communities.
Specific course titles vary, but some of the courses you can commonly expect to find include:
This course teaches students how and why diseases spread. Students learn how to gather and analyze public health data.
Biostatistics introduces students to the sensitivity and predictive value of medical tests and how to gather and interpret health data. Statistical significance and how to calculate statistical formulas are part of the coursework.
Students learn the basics of health delivery systems, leadership and executive skills, strategic planning and organizational communication.
Courses in global health focus on exploring international concerns in the health field, including disaster response, treating and preventing pandemic diseases, providing access to health services and the social and biological factors that create global health challenges.
Students learn how to identify environmental factors that have an impact on health and to develop tools that support an environment that is healthy. The course offers information on assessing risk, evaluating the impact of human activity and more.
Most courses in MPH programs require exams, papers and projects. Many programs require students to complete an internship and/or participate in practicum courses where they can actively apply their knowledge. Graduates are not required to pass a board or certificate exam, however a student can choose to apply for a Certified in Public Health credential from the National Board of Public Health Examiners (NBPHE).
There are a variety of specialization options available for online master’s degrees in public health, particularly because public health is such a multidisciplinary field.
A specialization in epidemiology focuses on tracking and analyzing trends in public health. Students learn to create and implement public health studies and investigate the origins of health problems. Courses teach how to prevent and intervene at all levels of society.Environmental Health
MPH specialization in environmental health teaches students to identify and investigate environmental causes of disease that impacts communities and individuals. There may be an emphasis on workplace hazards and how to evaluate and reduce those risks.Biostatistics
A biostatistics specialty track focuses on statistical models, computing, inference, probability and analysis. It also teaches data collection techniques. This specialization prepares students for careers as researchers.Health Education/Prevention
Students who choose this specialization learn how to interact with and influence individuals and communities to improve health outcomes by providing information, teaching skills, setting priorities and implementing procedures.Health Policy and Management/Joint MBA
It is possible to earn a joint degree with an MPH and an MBA (master’s of business administration). This type of specialization focuses on how to apply public health concepts through business models with courses on health budgeting, management of public health entities and public health laws.
A master’s in public health opens the door to a wide variety of careers and professional opportunities.
Epidemiologists work to determine patterns and causes of illness and disease. They try to reduce negative public health outcomes using research, education, outreach and policy initiatives. An epidemiologist might work in a laboratory doing research, or in an office creating policy and procedures. Other epidemiologists work in the field collecting samples and data. Career paths are often through government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An MPH with a specialization in epidemiology is necessary for this type of work.Health Educator
The goal of a health educator is to educate people about wellness. Health educators work in schools, community organizations, non-profit organizations, physician’s offices, departments of public health or other government agencies. They might teach classes, counsel people individually, plan community programs or handle intakes of patients into programs. Many health educators are Certified Public Health Specialists and focused their MPH degree on health education.Biostatistician
Collecting and reviewing data is the main responsibility of a biostatistician. Professional biostatisticians conduct research and analyze data to answer questions about public health. They may work with other medical professionals to develop studies. A specialization in biostatistics is required as part of the MPH degree for this career path.Disaster and Emergency Specialist
When disasters or emergencies strike, these professionals are on hand to coordinate health efforts, create plans to provide for health care and implement procedures to prevent further public health dangers. A large part of their job involves planning for and rehearsing for every foreseeable event that could have a detrimental effect on public health. Specialization in environmental public health is important for this career.Public Health Nurse
A career as a public health nurse allows professionals to combine a nursing degree with an MPH for a specialized career path. These professionals may work in a government agency, school, correctional facility or business to reduce or eliminate public health risks. Some public health nurses do home visits with patients and refer families to needed services while also providing hands-on nursing care. Others work in the community, creating programs to improve public health or coordinating assessments to evaluate public health concerns.Environmental Health Specialist
Work in this field focuses on exploring, analyzing, responding to and preparing for public health issues caused by environmental or occupational hazards. Professionals often work for governmental health departments or environmental agencies. Others work for companies or consultant groups who focus on workplace health concerns. Jobs might involve food safety, air quality, water contamination, waste management, noise management or radiation protection. Specialization in environmental public health is required.
Professional organizations in public health provide opportunities for networking, continuing education and advocacy. Here are a few organizations to consider joining.
The APHA is known for its influence on national and international public health policies. The organization publishes a journal and newspaper that keeps members up to date on key issues. The annual meeting provides an opportunity for continuing education and networking. They offer student and early career memberships to help those starting out in the profession.
ACE sponsors professional publications, educational opportunities and scientific meetings. The organization also advocates for policies that support epidemiology, public health and science. Admission is based on credentials and involves a promotion procedure in which members who are the most experienced receive the highest recognition.
The focus of SOPHE is supporting health education professionals and students who work in schools, organizations, healthcare agencies and government. SOPHE advocates for health promotion policies and research. They offer conferences, publications, networking opportunities and fellowships to their network. They also certify health education specialists. Student memberships are available.
The Global Health Council’s mission is to improve global health though investment and policies. It created the Women Leaders in Global Health Initiative to represent the women who make up a large majority of global health workers. They also have a global advocacy hub that provides information, tools and resources for members. Monthly salons allow members to keep in touch.
The career path you choose as a public health professional will directly impact the salary you can expect to earn. Salaries increase with years of experience.
|Career||Lowest 10% Earned Annually||Median Annual Salary||Highest 10% Earned Annually||Job Growth 2016-2026|
|Epidemiologist||Less than $42,810||$69,660||More than $113,560||+9%|
|Health Educators||Less than $25,150||$38,370||More than $64,500||+16%|
|Emergency Management Director||Less than $38,270||$72,760||More than $141,620||+8%|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
Public health-related careers in general are growing as fast or faster than average. The field of health education, in particular, is expected to grow 16 percent which is much faster than average and likely in response to the efforts to reduce healthcare costs. In addition to having more advanced education, workers in this field who speak a foreign language may have an advantage over other job seekers.
The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) is an independent agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for accrediting public health schools and programs. To receive accreditation, each school and program must submit a detailed accreditation criteria report which addresses topics such as student engagement, diversity, graduation rates, ethics, guiding statements, foundational competencies, evaluation practices, applied practice experiences, faculty resources and effectiveness, community involvement, student complaints and technology resources.
The accreditation process involves intensive peer review of the school’s operating policies and practices. The decision-making body then makes the accreditation decision based on all of the findings as well as public comments, formal complaints and comments from the school. Programs that receive accreditation are periodically reviewed to ensure they continue to meet the standards of the CEPH.
There are a variety of ways students can find assistance paying for an MPH degree. Here are a few options:
The most important step to obtaining financial aid for your master’s in public health is to file a FAFSA for federal student financial aid. Your school will use this to consider you for financial aid and scholarships and it is also used to qualify you for federal student loans, both subsidized and unsubsidized.
You can apply to a school of public health through the centralized system Sophas.org and apply for scholarships here as well. The Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health maintains an extensive list of scholarships available in the public health field. Examples include:
This scholarships provides need-based financial aid for activists.
This provides scholarships for students from developing countries.
This organization offers scholarships to public health graduate students.
In addition to scholarships, there are fellowship opportunities, where you are paid for doing research or working in your field. Some examples are:
This fellowship provides funding for students in environmental science-related fields.
Includes short-term (a few months) and long-term (one to two years) paid fellowship opportunities.
Provides paid fellowship opportunities in global public health.
This fellowship offers paid on-the-job training in applied epidemiology and public health at a state or local agency.
Paid internships in your field provide the opportunity to gain experience and sometimes earn an income. Some of these include:
This organization awards a stipend to support a community health internship as part of a degree program.
This group places interns in the Center for Public Health Policy.
This internship focuses on school-based health centers as a public health strategy.