Online Public Health Degree Programs

A Guide to Online Public Health Undergraduate and Graduate Degree Programs


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Through initiatives that take place at the local, national, and global levels, the efforts of public health professionals can have a profound impact on improving the quality of life and standard of living for millions of people, while at the same time saving money and making the world safer.

The interdisciplinary nature of public health calls on dedicated and skilled professionals at every level working in concert toward common objectives: From nutritionists and public health nurses working with the public at ground level to epidemiologists working behind the scenes to track disease progression to the policy leaders that work to increase funding and bring about reform to the program directors that bring it all together where the rubber meets the road.

Amid rising obesity rates, an aging population, climate change, war, poverty and disease outbreaks, public health has come into sharper focus in the 21st century than perhaps ever before in human history. And like no other time in human history, we are better positioned and more capable of dealing with the most pressing public health concerns of our time.

Online degrees have become a valuable component of the post-secondary education system, providing a path to career preparation, advancement and change for millions of people– and the sphere of public health is no exception to this.

Features and Benefits of Online Public Health Degree Programs

By meeting the accreditation standards of the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), along with earning other programmatic and institutional accreditation through agencies recognized by the US Department of Education, online public health degree programs can assure students that they will encounter the same level of rigor and challenge as they would in any campus-based program.

Thanks to flexible learning options and a variety of distance-based technologies, students of online programs enjoy interactive courses and dynamic learning experiences that rival anything they could expect from attending class on campus.

In most cases, online programs are simply an extension of the traditional on-campus offerings available through accredited colleges of public health housed within well-established universities. By offering online and hybrid programs, these schools look to give students more options and provide technology driven educational solutions.

From undergraduate certificates to doctoral degrees, earning a public health degree through an online program offers a number of unique benefits:

  • Students can work on their own time and in their own environment while following a pre-determined assignment schedule.
  • Students can earn their degree while still working and tending to personal and professional obligations.
  • Students enjoy professor interaction via message boards, videos, and other visual mediums.
  • Many programs are offered year-round, giving students the option to complete three semesters a year and graduate sooner.
  • Many programs provide students with dedicated enrollment counselors and advisors who can help them navigate their academic experience and quickly address concerns.
  • Many online programs offer unique features that aren’t always readily available through traditional programs, including career assessments and job search databases.
  • Similar to campus-based programs, online programs in public health offer financial aid, tuition scholarships, aund flexible payment plans.

Distance learning programs are designed to take place either partially or completely online. While some programs are delivered in a fully online format, some are offered in a blended, or hybrid, format, with face-to-face instruction, group projects, final capstone projects and presentations complementing online learning.

Online degrees in public health appeal to individuals embarking on, advancing in, or changing to a career in public health. A degree in public health is relevant to a vast array of professions within the public health sphere, making it a popular option for careers in social work, public health policy, public administration, institutional administration, education, research, and much more.

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Online Associate Degree Programs in Public Health

Online associate degrees in public health may be structured as:

  • Associate of Science (AS) in Public Health
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Public Health

Associate degrees in public health provide students with a broad course of study in the goals and challenges of public health planning, organization, management, and analysis at the local, state, national, and international levels. These programs generally consist of 60 credits and take about two years of full-time study to complete.

Coursework at the associate level addresses public health policy and education, and initiatives designed to promote optimal health for individuals and communities.

Public health students in associate programs can expect to complete a number of introductory courses, such as sociology, psychology, health, and wellness, as well as courses focused on interpersonal communication, leadership, and statistics.

Public health courses include:

  • Health communications
  • Health education
  • Environmental health
  • Intro to public health administration
  • Prevention and community health

Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs in Public Health

Bachelor’s degrees in public health consist of about 120 credits and take about four years of full-time study to complete.

Online bachelor’s degrees in public health are generally designed as:

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Public Health
  • Bachelor of Science (BS) in Public Health
  • Bachelor of Science in Public Health (BSPH)
Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Public Health

A BA in Public Health is based on the social sciences and is therefore ideal for students with an interest in the sociocultural aspects of public health who wish to focus their careers on health education and promotion, public health policy and administration, law, or nonprofit work.

Required courses in a BA in Public Health include:

  • Accounting and Financial Reporting
  • Managerial Accounting
  • Microeconomics
  • Macroeconomics
  • Introduction to Law
  • Professional Leadership

A BS in Public Health is based on the natural sciences and is therefore ideal for students interested in going on to pursue a graduate degree in:

  • Biostatistics
  • Epidemiology
  • Environmental and occupational health sciences
  • Medicine
  • Nutritional sciences
  • Pharmacy

Required courses in a BS in Public Health include:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Physics
Bachelor of Science in Public Health (BSPH)

A small number of schools offer the Bachelor of Science in Public Health (BSPH), a Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)-accredited program that provides students with a broad program of study in all five disciplines of public health, as recognized by the American Public Health Association (APHA):

  • Biostatistics
  • Environmental health
  • Epidemiology
  • Health policy and management
  • Social and behavioral sciences

Many BSPH programs allow students to also focus their studies on a public health specialization such as health promotion and health services administration.

Courses and Specializations

Public health courses in an online bachelor’s degree program include:

  • Healthcare delivery systems
  • Principles of epidemiology
  • Population health and cultural competence
  • Statistics for healthcare professionals
  • Fundamentals of public health
  • Research and assessment in public health
  • Ethical and legal considerations of healthcare
  • Public health education and communication
  • Social and behavioral health
  • Programming planning in public health

A number of programs also offer students the ability to specialize their program in one of a number of different areas:

  • Environmental health
  • Social work
  • Health management
  • Health informatics
  • Health promotion and wellness
  • Disaster and emergency management
Capstone Projects/Experiences

Online bachelor’s degrees culminate in a capstone project that gives students the opportunity to examine contemporary global public health issues using concepts learned throughout the program. Capstone experiences may be based on service learning, field observations, or a review of literature.

Some programs require students to complete a public health field practicum, which gives them the opportunity to demonstrate competencies through real world experience. Many times, a field practicum requires the completion of an electronic portfolio, capstone paper, and presentation.

Students of online public health bachelor’s programs work with faculty advisors to design a project that fulfills their public health interests and satisfies the program’s objectives.

Program Outcomes

Graduates of bachelor’s degree programs in public health may continue their public health education at the graduate level or find employment in:

  • Hospitals/medical facilities
  • Managed care organizations
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • State and local health departments

Career options include:

  • Community outreach coordinator
  • Health services manager
  • Program director
  • Public health emergency preparedness and response coordinator
  • Safety and health specialist
  • Public health program coordinator
  • Risk analyst

Online Master’s Degree Programs in Public Health

The Master of Public Health (MPH) is among the most widely available public health degrees, and certainly one of the most versatile.

The MPH is a professional degree, preparing graduates for careers in public health practice in hospitals, community-based organizations and nonprofits, national/international intergovernmental agencies, state and federal agencies, and state/local health departments.

MPH programs emphasize local, national, and international health promotion through a core that focuses on public health competencies and skills. The MPH also allows students to customize their program by choosing a focus in an area of public health that complements their community, national, or global interests.

MPH programs earn accreditation through the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). Accredited programs must include study in the five disciplines of public health, as recognized by the American Public Health Association (APHA):

  • Biostatistics
  • Environmental health
  • Epidemiology
  • Health policy and management
  • Social and behavioral sciences

As of September 2016, there were 128 online MPH programs available in the U.S.

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements for online MPH programs are just as rigorous as for campus-based programs, requiring candidates to possess:

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university
  • GRE scores (Candidates who hold a graduate degree or who have taken the GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT are generally exempt from the GRE requirement.)
  • A current resume or CV detailing relevant professional and academic experience, including volunteer work
  • At least two professional or academic letters of recommendation

Many institutions also require candidates to submit a statement of purpose that details their career goals and contributions to the field of public health.

Candidates of online MPH programs often attend online information sessions that allow them to learn more about the program, connect with faculty, and direct questions to the admissions department. Students may also attend in-person information sessions, which allow them to tour the campus and meet professors and other faculty.

Coursework Requirements

Online MPH programs consist of about 45 credits and take about two years to complete. A number of schools offer accelerated programs that allow students to complete their MPH in about a year by scheduling classes year-round.

MPH coursework emphasizes the five disciplines of public health (biostatistics, environmental health, epidemiology, health policy and management, and social and behavioral sciences), as well as a number of key interdisciplinary competencies:

  • Leadership
  • Planning, implementation, and evaluation methods
  • Systems thinking
  • Professionalism
  • Health communication
  • Cultural competency

Students would first complete the required core public health courses:

  • Biologic basis of disease in public health
  • Biostatistical applications for public health
  • Principles and practices of epidemiology
  • Environmental and occupational health
  • Management and policy approaches to public health
  • Social and behavioral approaches to public health

MPH-specific courses would then be completed:

  • U.S. health services delivery
  • Global health program evaluation
  • Comparative global health systems
  • Planning and implementing health promotion programs
  • Public health communication and marketing
  • Community organization, development, and advocacy
  • Data management and analysis

Students focus their remaining courses on a public health specialization of their choice.

MPH Specialization

An MPH provides students with a strong foundation in the values, history, function, and methods of public health, while allowing them to study one of five key areas of public health in-depth:

  • Environmental and occupational health
  • Global health
  • Health communication
  • Health policy
  • Program planning and evaluation

Many online MPH programs also allow students to choose elective courses from any of the program’s focus areas, thereby creating a truly personalized program.

Practicum Requirements

MPH programs generally culminate in a practicum that allows students to experience and address real-life public health challenges. Practicums allow students to take the competencies they’ve gained through classroom study and apply them in immersive field experiences.

Although practicums are an important part of an MPH program, students with public health experience (usually at least three years) may complete an elective course in lieu of the practicum.

Students of online MPH programs work closely with a faculty advisor to find a practicum site that best suits their career goals. Many established colleges and universities enjoy partnerships with organizations and affiliated preceptors at the local, national and international levels, thereby allowing online students to choose a practicum close to home.

Program Outcomes

Graduates of MPH programs go on to work for a wide array of different businesses and organizations, including:

  • State and federal health agencies
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Policy institutes
  • Think tanks
  • International development organizations
  • Consulting firms
  • Health service delivery organizations

Some of the career opportunities available to MPH graduates include:

  • Epidemiologist
  • Public health program director
  • Sociologist
  • Statistician
  • Healthcare policy analyst
  • Political scientist
  • Environmental health officer
  • Public health planner
  • Biostatistician
  • Health scientist
  • Public health consultant
  • Emergency preparedness director
  • Research coordinator
Other Master’s Degrees in Public Health

Other master’s degrees in public health include:

  • Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH)/Master of Health Sciences (MHS): Generally aimed at students interested in public health careers in research or education.
  • Master of Health Administration (MHA): Aimed at students interested in public health careers in health service management, health policy, and hospital administration.

A number of institutions also offer dual degrees in public health, such as:

  • MPH/MSW: Social Work
  • MPH-PharmD: Pharmacy
  • MPH/MD and MPH/DO: Medicine
  • MPH/DDS: Dentistry
  • MBA/MPH: Master of Business Administration
  • MPH/JD: Law
  • MPH/MSN: Nursing

Online Doctoral Degrees in Public Health

Doctoral degrees in public health (DrPH, PhD) are generally designed for individuals interested in research or education. These programs, which also earn accreditation through the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), allow students to focus on specific areas of public health consistent with what is available at the master’s level:

  • Biostatistics
  • Epidemiology
  • Social and behavioral health sciences
  • Health policy and management
  • Global health
  • Environmental sciences

A small number of institutions also offer doctoral-level joint degrees, such as PhD/JD and PhD/MD degrees.