Public health is a multidisciplinary field of professional practice that spans work in diverse areas such as epidemiology and community health. Careers in the industry are growing rapidly considering an aging population, growing demand for healthcare services, technology integration into healthcare service delivery and advancements into disease research and prevention. Earning an online master's degree in public health can position you for success in your personal area of professional interest and provide you with the skills necessary to transition into an advanced career path.
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The Best Online Master's in Public Health Programs
To be considered for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria:
- Accredited at the institutional level
- Private nonprofit or public school
- Minimum of 1 online master's degree in subject area
Schools were then scored on factors such as:
- Cost & Financial Aid
- Number and variety of online program offerings
- Student-teacher ratios
- Graduation rates
- Placement and support services offered
- Academic/Career counseling services
- Employment services
- Loan default rates
These factors were assembled for each school and rated using a peer-based-value (PBV) calculation. PBV compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or similar) qualitative score and cost. PBV denotes the overall value or "bang for your buck" of a college or degree program.
To develop this year's rankings of the best online master's in public health, we analyzed publicly available data from the U.S. Department of Education, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, as well as information from each ranked institution's academic programs. The Council on Education for Public Health accredits the graduate programs in public health found on this list, ensuring students receive a quality academic experience.
What to Know About Online Master's in Public Health Coursework
Online master's in public health (MPH) blend theory, research and applied learning to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of public health issues. It is a diverse field of study that allows you to customize your learning experience in several specialized areas, such as epidemiology, global health, environmental and occupational health, health services administration and more. In most cases, the faculty and curriculum are the same between online and campus-based MPH programs – only course delivery differs. However, it is important to note that some online MPH programs have residency requirements where you must make one or more on-campus visits.
As you complete your degree, you should graduate with the following skills and abilities:
- Use strategic assessment and planning techniques to improve health outcomes
- Analyze public health program service delivery
- Use research methodologies and tools to analyze and assess the health status of different populations
- Leverage an understanding of public health policies and legislation on the local, state and national level to manage resources for maximum public health impact
- Communicate effectively between scientific and non-scientific audiences
What Common Courses are Offered in a Master's in Public Health Program?
No two MPH programs offer the same curriculum, but you may expect to take some of the courses listed below.
Behavioral Research Methods
This course covers the foundational principles of social and behavioral research methodologies used within public health. Students study both qualitative and quantitative approaches, such as conducting experiments, observational studies, and more.
Public Health Systems
Students study the history of public health and its institutions and explore how health care delivery systems have changed over time in response to different challenges, such as infectious diseases and natural disasters.
Students examine the environmental factors (e.g. physical, biological, chemical) that impact human health at the individual and community level. In addition to health factors, the course introduces students to state and federal regulations and emergency preparedness operations.
This course introduces students to the process behind public health policy development. Students develop skills in policy analysis and advocacy, learning how to use evidence-based frameworks to examine and review public health policies.
Management of Health Service Organizations
In this course, students are exposed to the central principles and functions of effective health care organization management. Students gain an understanding of health organizations, including human resources, strategic planning, financial resources, and performance management.
What Specializations are Available in a Master's in Public Health Program?
When considering an MPH, you should examine what type of professional you want to become (e.g. researcher, clinician) and in what area you want to practice (e.g. behavioral health, disease prevention). Although specializations vary from program-to-program, below is a list of some of the most common academic concentrations in MPH degrees.
Students develop skills in statistical methodologies that can be applied in public health areas such as medicine, biology, biomedical sciences to monitor the health status of different populations.
Community Health Science
Students integrate research, policy and public health practices to enhance their skills in community-based assessment and evaluation to devise solutions to chronic health issues research.
Environmental Health Sciences
Students learn how to conduct environmental risk assessments and identify vulnerable populations and devise solutions to biological, physical and chemical risk factors that could negatively affect human, animal or environmental health.
Students gain skills in research analysis, learning how to use a variety of software tools to analyze public health data and create actionable research insights into issues such as HIV/AIDS or cancer.
Health Management and Policy
Students develop an understanding of the challenges of health service delivery and learn how to use management principles to lead and improve public health systems.
What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?
As a student in an online MPH program you will be required to complete a supervised internship – also called a “practicum” – at an approved local or national organization. This component is vital to providing exposure to real-world situations and helping you develop applied skills as a public health practitioner – whether in policy analysis, epidemiology or health promotion. Practicums last multiple weeks and are supervised by a faculty mentor and you coordinate with partner organizations such as nonprofits, state health agencies or hospitals to complete your practicum project.
How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Public Health Program?
The diversity of graduate education in public health means you should review your options before deciding. This review should include the program's accreditation, classes sizes and instructors and residency requirements. First, the program should be accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). This accreditation means the MPH program itself – not the university – satisfies minimum levels of academic quality and standards. Like a campus-based program, the class sizes and student-to-instructor ratio can also impact the learning experience in an online environment as well. Inspect the MPH program class sizes and ratios to ensure you will receive individualized attention and opportunities for collaboration with classmates.
Finally, be sure to check the residency requirements. As noted above, most online MPH programs require you to travel to campus one or more times. This travel means you might have to adjust your school selection based on your proximity to the institution's physical location.
Career Opportunities with a Master's in Public Health Degree
Completing an MPH degree allows you to pursue employment avenues in a variety of disciplines, such as education, mental health, substance abuse, community health, disease research, and public policy. Because of this diversity, you can use your MPH to land positions in research, academia, government and nonprofits and private industry. Below is a list of potential career paths for graduates with a master's in public health to consider.
Biostatisticians designs, execute and analyze clinical studies in different public health arenas (e.g. medical device manufacturing, community health research) to develop products such as pharmaceuticals or assistive medical technologies.
Median Salary: $75,462 per year
Currently Employed: 37,200
Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: 34%
Environmental scientists are researchers that conduct surveys of natural environments (e.g. soil, rivers) to identify potential threats to human, animal or environmental health and develop recommendations to preserve ecosystem and prevent harmful environmental practices (e.g. dumping chemicals).
Median Salary: $50,000 per year
Currently Employed: 89,500
Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: 11%
Epidemiologists are investigative public health researchers that conduct research to identify patterns and trends of diseases – such as cancer – and create recommendations that can be used to develop strategic plans to combat those issues.
Median Salary: $62,000 per year
Currently Employed: 6,100
Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: 9%
Healthcare administrators work in leadership roles throughout the healthcare system and use their knowledge of operations management, human resources and fiscal controls to ensure healthcare services are coordinated and delivered in a quality manner.
Median Salary: $64,445 per year
Currently Employed: 352,200
Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: 20%
Health educators work in community health settings to develop informational materials and programs to advocate for health behavior practices, consult with individual clients and families and serve as public health policy advocates.
Median Salary: $43,700 per year
Currently Employed: 118,500
Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: 16%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
What's the Expected Job Outlook for Public Health Careers?
The healthcare industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the country. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects national job growth of 18 percent for healthcare professionals between 2016 and 2026. That represents 2.4 million jobs and many of them are within the field of public health. In part, an aging population, the increasing demand for scientific and technological innovation, along with greater recognition of health prevention and disease research are placing a greater emphasis on the need for qualified and trained public health professionals.
Professional Organizations for Careers in Public Health
There are numerous associations and organizations in the field of public health. These groups offer different student member benefits, including annual conferences and access to peer-reviewed journals, scholarships and grants, career listings, online resource webinars and more.
American Public Health AssociationThe APHA represents more than 2,500 public health professionals, hosts conferences, organizes professional development programs through a career center and publishes the American Journal of Public Health.
American Association of Clinical Health Professionals (APHA)APHA is a nonprofit organization that advocates for public health policies, offers continuing education programs, internships and a public health board.
American College of Epidemiology (ACE)Founded in 1979, the ACE supports epidemiology professionals through publications, scientific meetings and conferences, professional development opportunities, and industry awards.
American School Health Association (ASHA)The leading association of K-12 school health education professionals, the ASHA publishes an industry journal and provides continuing education programs and hosts conferences.
Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE)SOPHE provides annual awards, fellowships and scholarships to health education students, faculty and practitioners, offers continuing education programs, hosts conferences and networking opportunities for members.
How to Pay for a Master's in Public Health Degree
Whether the goal is to become an environmental scientist studying cardiovascular disease factors in low-income neighborhoods or an epidemiologist researching infectious diseases in Sudan, the cost of an online MPH should not be a barrier to completing a degree. There are numerous funding avenues for you to consider when it comes to paying for their MPH. Below is an overview of some of those options.
Federal Financial Aid
You should submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine if you are eligible for any federal financial aid. You may also take out loans from the U.S. Department of Education.
Public Health Association Scholarships
Public health associations traditionally offer scholarship, grants or fellowship programs to their members. For example, the Association of Accredited Public Health Programs offers two graduate student project scholarships annually.
Most MPH departments offer scholarships for new and continuing graduate students of public health. Sample scholarships include this list of named scholarships for students in the College of Public Health at the University of Arizona.
Public Health Area of Study Scholarships
There are hundreds of public health associations, societies and academies in specific areas of public health (e.g. biology) that support public health education via scholarships and grants. Examples include the Robert D. Watkins Graduate Research Fellowship from the American Society for Microbiology.