A master of public health degree – or MPH – prepares students for careers as health educators, researchers, and advocates. In addition to campus-based MPH programs, many colleges and universities offer online MPH degrees. According to U.S. News & World Report, an online MPH can also benefit individuals pursuing careers in health science, such as epidemiologists, biostatisticians, doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals. Some schools also offer dual MPH and master’s in nursing programs.
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The National Center for Education Statistics reported that 110,000 master’s students earned a degree in the health professions during the 2015-16 academic year, making it the third-most popular field of study among U.S. graduate students. An online MPH meets the educational requirement for several public health professions, such as public health education and epidemiology. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), MPH holders who specialize in niche areas of public health or earn a certification tend to find their job prospects improved. Read on to learn more about online MPH program expectations, tuition costs, and helpful resources for students and graduates.
Top Online Master's of Public Health (MPH) Programs 2020
University of Southern California
Based in the heart of Los Angeles, USC leverages its plentiful resources to provide strong programs in multiple fields, including distance education and medicine. USC also offers one of the nation’s strongest online MPH programs, which uses synchronous learning to offer live courses and one-on-one mentoring sessions with faculty members. The flexible program includes three start dates throughout the year, eliminates in-person requirements, and allows students to choose one of six concentrations: generalist; global health; health services and policy; geohealth; biostatistics; and epidemiology; or community health promotion.
The program offers both a two-year, part-time track and a one-year accelerated option. This full-time, accelerated option generally requires 40-hour work weeks from its students. All program applicants must submit evidence of a 3.0 undergraduate GPA and GRE scores. Both the one-year and two-year tracks accept applications on a rolling basis.
Based in Gainesville, UF styles itself as the Sunshine State’s flagship university. The school uses some of its considerable resources to offer an MPH degree online. The part-time program requires students to complete 48 credits unless they already hold a doctoral degree, in which case a 42-credit accelerated option is available. The curriculum includes an internship requirement and a concentration in either public health practice or social and behavioral sciences. Students may arrange to complete their internship at a site in their own communities, as the program does not include any on-campus requirements.
All students also complete core coursework in fields such as statistics, epidemiology, environmental health, and the U.S. healthcare system. Students enrolled in the MPH program at UF may also elect to pursue dual or joint degrees in pharmacy, law, medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, rehabilitation science, clinical and health psychology, or physical therapy.
University of Alabama at Birmingham
A proud member of the University of Alabama System, UAB also holds the distinction of the Yellowhammer State’s only R1 research university. The school also maintains a significant distance learning presence, including an MPH online degree. The MPH program allows students to choose between six concentrations: health behavior; epidemiology; healthcare organization and policy; maternal and child health policy and leadership; environmental and occupational health; and population health.
The program aims to meet the needs of busy working professionals by delivering all coursework asynchronously and eliminating in-person requirements. Additionally, the program caters to students across the nation by offering in-state tuition to all online students regardless of location. In addition to earning an MPH degree online, online students at UAB can pursue dual or adjacent programs such as a master of science in public health — which focuses on the cost-effectiveness of different healthcare treatments — and an MPH/master of social work option with an emphasis on maternal and child health policy.
University of South Florida
Based in Tampa, USF offers one of the nation’s best online MPH programs. USF’s program differs from its peers in that it awards a dual degree: an adult nurse practitioner MS along with an MPH. As such, the program takes longer to complete than a typical MPH degree, as students must complete 49 credits of nursing courses and 31 credits of public health courses.
Nevertheless, the program aims to make coursework accessible to all students with asynchronous learning and both full-time and part-time courses of study. USF offers most of the program’s required courses online, but students must complete certain course requirements on campus in Florida. The program’s 80-credit curriculum includes courses in foundational areas such as occupational health nursing, epidemiology, biostatistics, and environmental health. Additionally, all students complete both a special project in public health and a capstone course for hands-on experience in the public health field.
Part of the SUNY System, the University at Albany offers several distance learning programs based out of a central campus in the Empire State’s capital city. This slate of programs includes the option for students to earn an MPH degree online. Albany’s online MPH program exclusively caters to working professionals, as it only offers part-time study. The 51-credit program includes a concentration in public health practice, preparing graduates to execute both evidence and theory-based public health interventions.
In keeping with its focus on hands-on learning, the program includes nine credits of internship requirements. Students may arrange to complete their internships at public health sites in their own communities. In addition, the program delivers all coursework asynchronously and eliminates in-person requirements, aiming for flexibility above all. The program accepts students on a rolling basis for the spring and fall terms. All prospective students must submit GRE scores and evidence of a 3.0 minimum undergraduate GPA.
University of Massachusetts
Based in Amherst, the University of Massachusetts leverages its significant state school resources to offer several strong online degrees, including one of the country’s best online MPH programs. The MPH degree includes a focus on public health practice, as the 42-credit curriculum takes a generalist approach that provides students with foundational knowledge across the discipline. Coursework includes studies in biostatistics, environmental health, epidemiology, and the U.S. healthcare system.
All students in the program must also complete a 200-hour practicum at a relevant healthcare site and a capstone project. The program delivers all coursework asynchronously and never requires its students to travel to campus. UMass also boasts a great deal of history, as its program was one of the first entirely online MPH programs in the nation, enrolling its first cohort in 2001.
Based in Atlanta, Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health holds the distinction of one of the most noteworthy schools of its kind. Rollins caters to students around the nation by offering an MPH degree online. Emory’s MPH program styles itself as an executive MPH, allowing students to earn a concentration in applied epidemiology, prevention science, or applied public health informatics. In each case, the program uses a hybrid delivery method that combines asynchronous online coursework delivered through Canvas with on-campus sessions at the beginning and end of every semester.
The program’s 42-credit curriculum takes two to three years to complete. Full-time students enroll in three classes per semester, while part-time students take two classes each semester. Emory only accepts students to the MPH online in the fall semester and requires that all applicants possess at least three years of professional public health experience.
MPH Online Programs: An Overview
MPH online degrees vary by school and individual program in terms of the admission requirements, completion time, concentrations, and other factors. However, most feature the same general curricula. This section provides a summary of what students can expect while enrolled in an online MPH program.
Admission Requirements for an Online MPH Program
Some online MPH programs only admit applicants who hold at least 2-3 years of postgraduate work experience in a health-related field. However, many schools waive this requirement if candidates have completed at least 2-3 years of medical school.
Most students applying to MPH programs online need to submit GRE scores, although some schools accept results from the GMAT, MCAT, or LSAT exams. Some programs may allow experienced applicants to waive these requirements. Candidates may also need to hold a license in nursing or medical practice if their MPH program emphasizes these professions. Most online MPH programs require a 3.0 undergraduate GPA. Students may need to take prerequisite courses, such as biology and algebra, if they failed to do so during their undergraduate programs.
How Long Does It Take to Complete an Online MPH Program?
Most MPH online programs consist of 42-48 credits and take students roughly two years to complete. Additionally, some colleges and universities offer accelerated online MPH pathways that feature shortened timelines. Program completion times vary, but accelerated tracks typically take between one year and 18 months. Students in accelerated MPH programs usually need to enroll full time to finish their courses on schedule.
Some online MPH pathways use an asynchronous format, allowing students to follow their own timetable while completing coursework. Alternatively, others feature synchronous coursework, such as cohort-based MPH programs, where students begin their program as part of a group and take all of their courses in lockstep with their peers. A student’s enrollment status affects the completion time of an MPH pathway — full-time students graduate more quickly than part-time students.
Concentrations Offered for an Online MPH Degree
|Students studying epidemiology examine how and why diseases spread. This specialization often includes courses in global health, maternal and child health, vaccinology, infectious disease control, and statistics. Students also learn how to analyze data and research medical conditions.
Careers this concentration prepares for: Epidemiologist, biostatistician, public health educator
|A health promotion specialization introduces the various political, cultural, and socioeconomic factors that influence public health and public access to information. This concentration also focuses on strategies for planning and evaluating health initiatives, policies, and education programs aimed at different demographic groups.
Careers this concentration prepares for: Health educator, community health worker, public health policy writer
|A global health concentration addresses factors that affect health education and policy at the local, state/provincial, and national levels. Students learn about health frameworks in different areas of the world, focusing on nutrition, access to water, sanitation, and other variables that impact day-to-day health.
Careers this concentration prepares for: Global health advocate, diplomat, epidemiologist
Example Courses for Online MPH Students
Although specific courses vary by program, students earning an MPH online can expect to take classes in epidemiology; biostatistics; public health policy; environmental health; and other subjects related to health research, education, and advocacy. The following list provides a sampling of core courses offered by many online MPH programs.
- Environmental Health: This course identifies different biological and chemical environmental agents that can impact human health, as well as the ways people can be exposed to these agents (e.g., through the air, water, and soil). Students also learn about the adverse long-term and short-term effects of these agents and effective approaches to manage them.
- Global Child Health: This course examines child health policies and frameworks around the world, emphasizing the care of children under the age of five in low- and middle-income countries. Students learn about diagnosing, managing, and treating diseases and conditions with the highest morbidity rates among children, such as HIV/AIDS and malnutrition.
- Methods in Biostatistics: This course delves into the field of biostatistics, tackling topics in discrete and continuous probability, central limit theorem, and maximum likelihood estimation. Other areas of discussion include variances between different statistical methodologies and strategies for interpreting data based on the testing group size.
- Population Dynamics and Public Health: This course focuses on population factors that shape public health trends and policies, such as population size, socioeconomic structure, age-sex ratios, and geographical area. Readings also emphasize how fertility rates, mortality rates, and human migration can impact population dynamics in different parts of the world.
- Public Health Policy: This course introduces the eightfold path that guides the public health policy process, using case studies to illustrate the different components. Students in this course develop their own policy using this process, addressing a major issue or concern in global public health.
Many online MPH programs require students to complete an internship or practicum. In most cases, students can fulfill these on-site requirements by working for local, national, or global organizations grounded in public health. These may include government agencies, nonprofit organizations, labs, healthcare facilities, or policy institutes. The format of these components varies by program, and students may complete their work as part of a team or on their own.
Many internships and practicum courses require students to complete a set number of field hours before they earn any course credit; typically, learners must complete at least 100 field hours. Internships for master’s in public health online programs usually span one or two semesters. Some schools offer grants and other forms of financial support to help support students as they complete field training.
Certifications and Licenses This Program Prepares For
- Certified Health Education Specialist: Health educators who hold a bachelor’s degree and have completed at least 25 credits related to health education can pursue the CHES credential. To qualify, candidates must pass a 165-question qualifying exam. Professionals with the CHES designation must also complete at least 75 continuing-education credits every five years.
- Master Certified Health Education Specialist: Candidates with at least five years of active status as a CHES or a master’s degree in public health can pursue the MCHES designation. The MCHES qualifying exam includes 165 multiple-choice questions, 150 of which count toward the final score. Individuals who pass the exam must complete at least 75 continuing-education credits every five years to maintain their certification.
- Certification in Infection Prevention and Control: Degree-holding college graduates with at least two years of experience in infectious disease identification, infectious agent prevention and control, and/or other key areas of epidemiology can apply for CIC certification. Applicants must also pass a certification exam. This certification particularly benefits epidemiologists, infectious disease research analysts, and nursing staff who work with infected populations.
Accreditation for Online MPH Programs
Fully accredited colleges and universities offer the best online MPH programs. Accreditation is a voluntary evaluation process that colleges and universities undergo to demonstrate their educational quality and student success. Learners who attend schools that do not hold full accreditation may find themselves ineligible for federal student loans and unable to transfer credits to another institution.
Three broad types of accrediting agencies evaluate U.S. colleges and universities. Regional and national accrediting agencies evaluate schools as a whole. Institutions that emphasize liberal arts and sciences typically hold the more prestigious regional accreditation, whereas for-profit and/or vocational schools typically hold national accreditation. The third type — programmatic accrediting agencies — work with individual departments or programs, such as those related to public health, nursing, or law.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) — a non-government organization — and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) recognize and oversee accrediting agencies. In the field of public health, the ED recognizes one programmatic accrediting agency: the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. Additionally, CHEA recognizes the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs and the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Accreditation. MPH students should look for programs that hold accreditation from these agencies.
Job and Salary Outlook
Job Opportunities for MPH Graduates
An online MPH program prepares students for careers in epidemiology and infection control, health education, healthcare administration, and other areas of public health. Certain occupations in this field, including some senior roles, may require candidates to hold a master’s degree. For other professions that do not explicitly require an advanced degree, an online MPH can strengthen a graduate’s prospects when they enter the job market. According to the BLS, a national emphasis on improving public health and reducing healthcare costs should fuel the demand for public health professionals in the coming years.
Median Annual Salary: $75,482
Biostatisticians collect and analyze data related to public health and biology. They also prepare and publish reports that discuss their analyses.
Median Annual Salary: $62,244
Epidemiologists study how and why diseases spread — particularly within certain populations — to minimize risk of infection and improve overall health for affected groups.
Median Annual Salary: $76,480
Healthcare consultants conduct research and analyze data to develop cost-effective strategies for private healthcare organizations and other providers. Professionals in this role often have a background in health policy and reform.
Median Annual Salary: $44,133
Health educators develop, disseminate, and evaluate educational programs and materials about nutrition, safe sex, and other major health concerns within their communities.
Median Annual Salary: $41,245
Program coordinators facilitate their nonprofit’s activities and services. They work alongside groups and community leaders, volunteers, and an organization’s board of directors.
Source: PayScale, Nov. 2018
How Much Do MPH Graduates Make?
Salary expectations for graduates with an online MPH vary based on the specific job title and required experience level. Other factors affecting wages and compensation may include the employer and the worker’s location. The table below lists median annual salaries for the five aforementioned occupations at different career levels.
||Overall Median Salary
||Median Salary for Entry-Level
||Median Salary for Mid-Career
||Median Salary for Late-Career
|Program Coordinator, Nonprofit Organization
Professional organizations benefit online MPH students and recent graduates in many ways. Several offer certification programs, continuing-education credits, and other professional development opportunities. Additional resources for members may include job boards and career counseling, access to academic journals and trade publications, and invitations to conferences and in-person networking events. Additionally, professional organizations frequently offer discounted membership rates for current students. The list below describes three professional organizations dedicated to public health.
American Public Health Association: The APHA offers public health internships and fellowships for graduate students, as well as a continuing-education program and other professional development options. Students and early-career professionals qualify for reduced membership rates.
Association of Public Health Nurses:
Formed in 2012, the APHN welcomes public health nurses at all practice levels. Online visitors can access a full webinar archive and presentations from past meetings and conferences.
International Epidemiological Association:
The IEA represents epidemiologists and other infection control professionals in more than 100 countries. Members receive access to the association’s academic publication — the International Journal of Epidemiology.
Financing Your Online MPH Program
An online MPH program represents a significant financial investment for most students. Individuals seeking financial aid can see if they qualify for federal student loans and grants by completing and submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In addition to federal aid disbursed through the FAFSA, students can secure awards in the form of private scholarships or grants. Unlike student loans, many scholarships and grants never need to be repaid, thereby reducing the recipient’s debt burden after graduation. The list below details eight scholarships suitable for students pursuing an MPH degree online.
Scholarships for MPH Students
AJN/Thelma Schorr ScholarshipWho Can Apply:
The American Journal of Nursing offers this one-time scholarship to graduate-level nursing students who plan to become advocates for nursing and public health through writing, speaking, and/or civic engagement.
Albert W. Dent Graduate Student ScholarshipWho Can Apply:
Available through the American College of Healthcare Executives, minority students seeking an MPH or other graduate degree related to healthcare management can apply for this award. Candidates must be in their final year of study and demonstrate financial need.
Foster G. McGaw Graduate Student ScholarshipWho Can Apply:
Full-time graduate students pursuing an MPH or other master’s in healthcare administration degree can apply for this one-time award. Candidates must be entering their final year of study. Applicants should submit a resume, three letters of recommendation, and a personal essay.
Harry S. Truman Scholarship FoundationWho Can Apply:
College juniors planning to attend graduate school and pursue a career in public health (or other area of public service) can apply for this scholarship. Applicants must submit transcripts, three letters of recommendation, and a policy proposal related to their field of study.
Amount: Up to $30,000
Health Occupations Students of America ScholarshipsWho Can Apply:
Through a partnership with STEM Premier, HOSA offer scholarships to members pursuing degrees in public health and related fields. Candidates must create a STEM Premier profile to view and apply for awards.
JCC Association of North America Professional Development ScholarshipsWho Can Apply:
Association members pursuing a graduate degree in any field can apply for these renewable scholarships. Both part-time and full-time students can apply. Recipients can also use these funds to pay for certificate programs or continuing-education credits.
Amount: Up to $20,000
National Environmental Health Association/American Academy of Sanitarians ScholarshipWho Can Apply:
Undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in environmental health with at least one remaining semester of coursework can apply for this one-time award. Candidates must submit two letters of recommendation and official transcripts with their application.
United Health Foundation Diverse Scholars InitiativeWho Can Apply:
This award — offered by the National Association for Hispanic Nurses — aims to increase the number of healthcare providers and educators in underserved communities. Recipients can renew this awards for up to three years.