Masters in Public Health Programs (MPH)

There are multiple options for students interested in gaining a masters degree within the public health field, the most common being a Masters in Public Health (MPH). A Masters in Public Health is an option for those interested in health and health care on a broader scale than provider-to-patient care.  It can be quite rewarding as a career and requires problem solving and ingenuity. It pairs well with other degree options and can stand on its own.

This article will help prospective students learn more about the MPH degree, MPH programs, and admission requirements. By the end of the article, MPH prospects should be able to determine if a Masters in Public Health program is the right choice for them.

What is an MPH Degree?

An MPH degree is a graduate-level degree that prepares individuals to work with specific populations and communities to improve their health through awareness, education, policy, and research. A Masters in Public Health program will provide students with a more advanced understanding of the 5 core disciplines of public health (biostatistics, epidemiology, environmental health, health policy & administration, and social & behavioral sciences) and the potential for advanced knowledge in a given specialization. 

This graduate degree reviews then builds upon the foundational elements of public health while allowing students to also focus on a specific public health concentration. Students will then take the knowledge, skills, and tools they have learned during the first portion of their mph program and apply them to the second half, usually through conducting original research and practicum experience. The advanced degree is unlike many bachelor’s degrees in the field because it allows students to grow into a specific area of public health then become hands-on, either through research or providing education, in creating a true impact on a community while discovering which roles are best suited for them.

The MPH degree is also unique due to the expected career growth in the healthcare field that is to happen over the next couple of years. Due to the increased need for public health professionals, many universities are now offering hybrid and online MPH programs, where students can learn from the comfort of their home and still receive in-field experience through internships and capstone projects.


The Masters in Public Health curriculum will vary across schools, concentrations, and the amount of time a student chooses to complete their degree. According to the ASPPH, MPH curriculum requires at least 42 credit hours, and should be similar across most programs to ensure consistency in academics across multiple institutions. However, the credits needed for an MPH degree range from 42-80 credits depending on the MPH program. 

Using a standard two year MPH degree as an example, the common curriculum structure is as follows: A student will complete the required foundational courses often in the first year. These courses teach and build upon the principles of epidemiology, biostatistics, health policy and/or management, environmental health, and social and behavioral sciences, which are the public health core competencies. These courses will equip students with the skills needed for community assessments, conducting research, and grant writing. Additionally, these courses will help students gain an understanding of how behavior and environmental factors affect health and health policies. After completion of these core courses an individual will continue to take elective courses and focus on courses in their concentration. Depending on the program, some elective and specialization courses can be taken alongside core courses. 

Once the required courses are completed, MPH candidates will take the skills learned and directly apply them to real world experiences through capstone projects and internships. For most programs, capstone projects and internships are required for graduation and occur during the final semesters of the MPH program. More information about capstones and internships can be found lower on this page under the “Requirements for Masters in Public Health” section.

Below you will find descriptions of a few required, core courses:

  • Foundations of Epidemiology – This course seeks to provide definitions, examples, and explanations into the reasoning and biology behind various illnesses and diseases. Students in this course have the opportunity to investigate case studies and draw their own conclusions about how illness and disease are maintained and spread throughout communities.
  • Health Policy and Management – Proper management techniques and policy analysis may be taught to students taking this class. Ethics, diversity, and personnel management may also be a large portion of focus. Health policy and management seek to instruct students on how to manage a public health-related team in terms of proper business practices and organizational concerns.
  • Program Planning and Research – This course introduces students to various research methods that are applicable to the community health discipline. Finding applicable research subjects, designing a research plan, and analyzing results are a large portion of what is included in this process. Public-health programs are focused on throughout this course.


Masters in Public Health programs typically offer students the opportunity to choose a field of specialization within public health. The most common concentrations/tracks are the  five core disciplines in public health: Biostatistics, Epidemiology, Environmental Health, Health Policy and Administration, and Social and Behavioral Sciences. However, other common public health concentrations include Community Health and Health Promotion, Maternal and Child Health, and Nutrition. 

Not all of the disciplines may be offered in every school or program, and some programs offer more nuanced or specialized concentrations to choose from, so it is wise to conduct research on what the school offers before applying to determine which discipline an individual might be interested in. In each of these concentrations an individual will take core courses to gain a solid base of public health knowledge and then continue to take specialized courses in their chosen track.

To learn more about different public health concentrations or determine which MPH concentration is best for you, visit our Specializations page.

Program Length

Most MPH Programs are designed to be completed in the standard two-year window when the student attends full-time. However, this may not always be the case. There are Masters in Public Health programs that can be completed in as little as one year, usually labeled as “12-month” or “Accelerated;” for these accelerated tracks it is usually recommended or even required that students do not work while in the program. View Accelerated Online MPH Programs.

If students would like to work while attending classes, there are also programs that allow students to complete their MPH degree part-time. The length of time to complete the MPH degree while working & going to school part-time will vary depending on the program, university, and the number of credits the student can take per semester. Most students who earn their degree while working will receive their diploma between 2-4 years.

Additionally, some mph programs will offer extended or shortened time-frames for individuals to complete their degree. 

CEPH Accredited MPH Programs

The Institute of Medicine arguably put some pressure on United States’ universities to add accredited public health and MPH programs, saying that the public health workforce must have appropriate education and training to perform its role in its report titled The Future of the Public’s Health in the 21st Century

Some MPH programs are accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). CEPH is an independent agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education that sets standards and requirements for public health education. While it is currently not a requirement for a public health program to be CEPH accredited in the U.S., some employment opportunities may only be available to individuals who graduate from a CEPH accredited program. Additionally, the National Board of Public Health Examiners (NBPHE) offers a national credentialing exam only to these CEPH accredited program graduates.

MSPH vs MPH – What are the differences?

While researching graduate degrees in public health, prospective students may come across programs that offer a Masters of Science in Public Health (MSPH) rather than a Masters in Public Health (MPH) and be confused about the difference between the two degrees.

The Masters of Science in Public Health differs from a Masters of Public Health in multiple ways. An MSPH is an academic research degree that prepares students for an advanced degree, such as a doctorate; whereas an MPH is a professional degree that is geared toward practitioners. Depending on the school and/or program, the MSPH degree may be an alternative for students who want to focus on a specific field of public health or who lack two years of health-related work experience. However, either way the degree is marketed, many MSPH programs touch on the core disciplines of an MPH degree, but with an additional emphasis on research methods, epidemiology, and biostatistics.

If you are interested in pursuing a MSPH or a more research-based degree within public health, visit our Research-based Programs page.

Requirements for Masters in Public Health

Application/Admissions Requirements

MPH admission requirements generally include a bachelor’s degree, standardized test scores (GRE, MCAT, LSAT, etc.), letters of recommendation, a resume or CV and a personal statement. Depending on the school and/or program, it may be required that prospective students have a designated amount of time working in a professional, health-related work environment. MPH application requirements may also depend on the concentration chosen.

Each school will have a slightly different set of requirements for admissions, such as MPH programs without GRE requirements, so it is important to work with an admissions advisor to ensure your application meets all the appropriate requirements. 

Capstone and Practicum Experience to Complete an MPH Degree

Two other requirements that MPH students will in general need to complete for their degree are a capstone and practicum. These two experiences will prepare students for entering into the public health workforce through hands-on experiences and real-life examples. 

The capstone project or seminar is a culminating experience consisting of a paper with an oral presentation. The thought behind the capstone project is to have a student utilize all they have learned through their degree and apply it in one, organized method to show their level of compression and application. This tends to be in the form of original research.

 The second requirement is a Practicum Experience which provides the students with a field-based experience in which to apply their freshly learned skills and knowledge. This practicum experience must be in the scope of the concentration the student has chosen and often needs to be found by the student. 

Choose the Right Masters In Public Health Program

With over 1350 CEPH-accredited Masters in Public Health programs, prospective students may find it difficult to choose which MPH program is right for them. There are a few things to consider when determining which programs to apply to: 1) Would you like to combine the MPH with another masters degree that compliments your public health career goals, 2) Would you like to take classes online or in-person, and 3) What field or work environment would you like to pursue a public health career in?

MPH Dual Degrees

A Masters in Public Health is a degree that can stand alone or pair nicely with other graduate degrees. Dual degree programs provide an avenue for students to concurrently enroll in two degree programs so that duplication in course content is minimized, academic interaction is more efficient, and the time and costs incurred are reduced compared to earning the degrees independently.

If multiple fields of study interest you, you may want to consider exploring different MPH dual degree options, such as MPH-MD or MPH-MBA. 

Online or On Campus Programs

Due to the increased need for public health professionals, more universities are now launching MPH programs and extending the opportunity for students to gain their MPH degree online. Depending on one’s personality, work ethic, and schedule, enrolling in an online MPH program may be the best option.

The classroom experience is the greatest differentiating factor between an online degree and an in-person one. Many people assume that an online degree is an impersonal approach to education, featuring less interaction with peers and professors but this is not always the case. In many ways, a comprehensive online experience can feel a lot like a traditional one. With some basic access to technology and the know-how to use it, anyone can become a successful online student. Some example elements of an online education experience are virtual live classes using a webcam, a learning management system for discussions and assignment access, interactive course content designed by university faculty, and access to tech support to assist you.

MPH Career Options

When choosing a degree, students should take the time to consider which career paths and work environments they are interested in. Professionals holding Masters degrees in Public Health typically work in governmental public health agencies, community-based service organizations, academic and research institutions, private organizations, hospitals, health insurance companies, and medical groups. Due to the various types of work environments, salaries and  job roles significantly vary, such as conducting health assessments to developing health policies. Some common career options include occupational and environmental health specialists, epidemiologists, biostatisticians, health program administrators and educators, health economists, planners, and policy analysts. 

Visit our Public Health Career Guide for more information regarding the different career opportunities for those with their MPH.

Frequently Asked Questions about Master’s in Public Health Degrees

Do I need a bachelor’s in public health to apply for an MPH degree?

Most schools require candidates to hold a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited university or college, but not necessarily in public health. Some schools may require students to have taken certain course prerequisites. For those who don’t have a bachelor’s in public health, relevant work and volunteer experiences may be beneficial.

Do I need work experience for MPH degree applications?

A few schools may require at least one year full-time work experience related to public health and most schools don’t specify this requirement in their admissions. However, it’s recommended applicants should have at least some internship or volunteer experiences prior to MPH applications. These experiences may give them a better understanding of public health and help them articulate their career goals in their applications.

Is an MPH worth it?

Students can learn practical approaches in preventing the prevalence of illness and promoting public health awareness that can impact a community. Graduates may be able to work in a wide range of careers fields, some of which may require a master’s degree in public health.

Is it hard to earn an MPH degree?

The overall workload of MPH should be manageable. Most MPH programs consist of 42 to 45 credits and can be completed in a two-year window. However, MPH programs do require students’ dedication and focus if they want to conduct rigorous and in-depth study, as well as apply their knowledge into practice during their capstone or practicum.

Is an MPH a doctor?

No, an MPH is not a doctor. An MPH is a master’s-level degree in public health; however, depending on the job role, a public health professional can be viewed as a public health practitioner providing information and select health services to individuals.

Explore Masters in Public Health Programs (MPH)

We provide school listings of both on-campus and online public health programs. An online MPH could be a fit for an individual who desires to work while in school or their public health program of choice would require the individual to move. 

Consider a featured master’s in public health program, currently accepting applicants:

Information updated as of April 2020