Earning an Online Public Health Bachelor’s Degree

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This guide can help you decide if public health is the right field for you by providing an overview of the field, which includes common courses, skills, and knowledge involved, as well as careers that a degree in public health will prepare you for. This information helps make the process of finding the best online public health degree option easier.

Overview of Public Health Degrees

Public health is the term used to refer to the overall health of a community. As a field, public health professionals work to promote public health and health knowledge. They might work in clinics, focus on research, or advocate for expanding or reforming public health efforts before legislatures.

There are a variety of career options available within and adjacent to the public health field, some of which are detailed in this guide. With an ever larger and increasingly urban and diverse population, worsening economic inequality, and a rapidly changing global climate, whatever career path you choose, a public health bachelor's degrees will certainly be in high demand.

A public health degree is best suited for motivated, socially conscious people who want to use their skills and education to help others. Public health can be an uphill battle against entrenched social and cultural norms and prejudices. Convincing governments to spend more money on healthcare requires dedication and perseverance, not to mention a solid grasp on the facts and the ability to explain them to people. Education is a big part of public health, and people with a penchant for teaching and helping others will find public health a welcoming field.

Application Process

Applying for a bachelor's degree usually requires the same steps regardless of the degree program. You must provide copies of high school transcripts, proof of passing a GED, or transcripts from a community college if you have attended one. Exactly what grades or courses the admissions department wants to see varies by school. Many schools require that you submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to qualify for financial aid. You may also have to provide ACT or SAT scores in order to be accepted. Finally, you will likely have to submit some piece of unique writing, such as an essay or a statement of purpose, often in reply to a specific prompt.

Many colleges and universities do not allow incoming freshmen to declare a major, or at least to officially do so. Instead they require them to take prerequisite classes first. If you are transferring credits from another college, you may be able to declare your major immediately, and you may also face additional requirements from your major department. Review the information on the department's website for specifics on those requirements.

What Will I Learn?

A public health bachelor's degree typically requires 120 credits to complete. Half of these credits are usually taken from within the major. Among these, there will be required courses, but you may also be able to choose some based on your interests. Specific plans of study vary by college. Aside from required courses, most curricula also consist of general education and elective courses.

The six courses listed below are examples of the type you might take while working on your degree. The names and specifications of a given course vary widely from one program to the next, but all public health programs generally cover the same topics.

Principles of Health Education and Promotion

Courses like this introduce you to the basics of public health, covering such topics as health behavior, the history of health education, health promotion, and national health trends. These courses will be the foundation upon which other, more focused, or more specialized classes will build.

Epidemiology

These courses will cover the basics of epidemiology-the science of studying the incidence, distribution, and control of diseases and other health factors. It is a science at the core of public health and of modern medical understandings.

Basics of Field Work

Though some courses may require actual fieldwork, this course serves as an introduction to the concept, as well as the practices and procedures used by public health professionals. Courses may make use of case studies, lectures, and hands-on practice, depending on the program and the level of the course in question.

Understanding U.S. Healthcare

This course covers the history and continuing development of healthcare in the United States as compared to the rest of the world. Various models which have been applied or suggested may be discussed, and term papers focus on one or more aspects of the system.

Medical Terminology

Medical Terminology introduces you to the basics of medical vocabulary as relates to public health. Topics include the terms and what they mean and how they can be explained to patients, clients, citizens, and legislators in order to better educate the public.

Planning and Analysis

You will discuss methods and best practices to analyze health risks and other factors within communities and the process of planning to address those issues. You will likely have to create a plan in response to a case study or other sample problem.

What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health?

This section will give you some idea of the kinds of marketable skills you'll pick up during your education, as well as some common career paths to which you can apply them. Getting a degree doesn't guarantee you a job, but in public health it's essential to career success.

Core Skills

Over the course of completing your online public health degree, you will develop a number of skills and amass a great deal of knowledge. A large part of public health is helping people care for themselves. You'll learn how to explain complex problems to people and help them understand how to take better care of themselves.

Research and analysis are also big parts of public health, and you'll learn how to conduct research in the field, including planning studies and collecting data. Analyzing health risks in a community is the first step to planning ways to deal with those risks. The administration of not just data, but also people, is another common skill among public health professionals. If you want to rise through the ranks of public health, you'll have to learn how to work with other people and ensure that plans can be put into action.

All of these skills play a role in the career paths listed below, but can also be applied to other careers with some creativity. Public health can also provide a solid foundation upon which to build careers in medicine, law, politics, and more.

Potential Careers and Salaries

A bachelor's degree in public health can lead to a variety of career options. Most positions related to public health will require at least a bachelor's degree, and some may require additional licensure or certification. Public health is a relatively broad field, and in addition to the example careers below, creative individuals can apply their degree to other fields. An online bachelor's degree in public health could be a step toward a law degree or a nursing career, both of which may benefit from public health knowledge. In many cases, applying public health in adjacent professionals might require additional licensure, certification, or even degrees.

The list below includes five examples of careers that this degree may prepare you for. You'll find the title and median annual salary for that position, and a short description to help get you started on your own job searches and career plans.

Browse Bachelor’s in Public Health Careers
Social and Community Service Manager

These professionals manage and coordinate public services, overseeing employees and dealing with outside organizations. They usually have some managerial experience or education in addition to public health knowledge.

Annual Median Salary

$64,100 per year

Health Educator and Community Health Worker

These professionals promote wellness by educating communities about health care and healthy habits. They might work for nonprofits or for local government, and may collect data for studies and other research in addition to working as educators.

Annual Median Salary

$45,360 per year

Medical and Health Services Manager

Medical or Health Services managers organize and oversee health services. They plan, direct, and implement policies to ensure patients or clients are seen and treated, while also adhering to laws and codes pertaining to healthcare.

Annual Median Salary

$98,350 per year

Dietician or Nutritionist

These professionals are experts on diet and nutrition, helping clients make healthy food choices in order to reach a specific goal or for overall better health. They can work in a variety of environments, from clinics to nursing homes to college campuses.

Annual Median Salary

$59,410 per year

Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Public Health?

Some positions, such as leadership roles, may require or benefit from a more advanced degree in the same subject. If you have a career path in mind that requires an advanced degree, you should start thinking about graduate school while in your bachelor's program.

If an advanced degree helps your career, but is not required, it may be worth waiting on a decision. Some people chose to finish their bachelor's degree and get into the workforce before committing to the extra time, stress, and cost of graduate school. One reason for this is that if you already have a career when you decide to go to graduate school, you might be able to get additional financial assistance from your employer.

Accreditation for Public Health Bachelor’s Programs

Accreditation is the process by which a school is permitted to grant degrees to students. A degree from a school which lacks accreditation is essentially worthless. Luckily, such schools are pretty easy to spot, and all accredited colleges and universities will share their accreditation information with students. Schools are either accredited by regional boards if they are state or public colleges, or by national boards if they are private or technical schools.

Some fields, including public health, can also be accredited by professional organizations, ensuring that the programs meet specific criteria for the field. Public health programs which are accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) are worth considering. Programmatic accreditation isn't a requirement for a good education, but those programs are going to make your resume look more impressive once you graduate.

Public Health Professional Organizations

Joining a professional organization can help you even while you are still completing your online public health degree. Organizations like those listed below can help connect you to other students and professionals, financial aid opportunities, and help you find a job once you have your degree. The organizations below are just a small sample of those you might consider joining, and should get you started in your own search for the right organizations for you and your career.

American Public Health Association

APHA strives to improve the quality of public health and access to healthcare. The group does this primarily by promoting professional development and networking for public health professionals as well as advocating for healthcare reform.

Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health

The ASPPH helps their members improve their knowledge and abilities through accreditation, continuing education, and professional development. The group publishes annual reports, connects members, and hosts an undergraduate network to help students succeed and give their careers a head start.

Society for Public Health Education

SOPHE connects both educators and students in an effort to raise awareness of the connections between behavioral science and public health. The groups represents over 4,000 members in the United States and 25 other countries.