If you are interested in pursuing a career in public health, then a Master’s in Public Health (MPH) may be the best next step for you. However, MPH programs can be competitive. You should take plenty of time to consider how to submit a competitive application.
Admissions requirements vary by program. You should carefully review the application requirements for each program you wish to apply to. The general documents may include:
A bachelor’s degree and college transcripts
Completion of specific courses, such as math, statistics, biology or social sciences
A minimum GPA determined by the university
Standardized test (GRE, MCAT) score
Statement of purpose
Resume or CV
Letters of recommendation
Regarding GRE score, some universities require it for any online or on-campus graduate degree. Some universities offer waivers if you have completed a master’s or doctoral degree or have a certain amount of work experience in the field. There are also universities that do not require a GRE score at all.
Being accepted to an MPH program often requires more than meeting the minimum eligibility requirements. Universities accept candidates who they believe will succeed in their graduate programs. Through your application materials, you want to show the university that you meet the prerequisites and have the capabilities and drive to perform well in an MPH program.
Here are five important things to consider before applying to MPH programs:
1. Start the application process as early as possible.
Once you are seriously considering an MPH degree, you should research programs that work for you and find their application deadlines. You should begin this process as soon as possible. Consider whether you have enough time to fulfill the prerequisites for your desired programs and create a competitive application.
If you feel you do not have enough time to prepare a strong application, decide whether you should plan to apply for the next school year or session. You can do a lot to strengthen your position in a year, such as: obtain work experience in public health or a related field or complete a lengthy volunteer opportunity. You may also have time to study for and take the GRE to qualify for a greater number of programs.
If you are considering online MPH programs, it may be better to take some time to carefully research and compare the programs, and check if anything needs to be prepared beforehand.
2. You need to be able to communicate your interest in public health.
You should have both a good understanding of public health issues and a genuine interest in working in the public health field. Before applying for MPH programs, take time to consider why you are interested in this field, what specific focus you would have, and how to articulate what attracted you to public health.
You will need to be able to discuss your interest in your personal statement and possibly during an interview. You must be confident in your interest in public health and what you would like to do with additional education and training. Though you are not required to know your academic focus when you apply, it can be helpful. If you know your specific focus, you can better highlight what you want to do with the master’s degree in the future. If you hold a bachelor’s in public health, communicate your academic achievements clearly to demonstrate your interest in public health.
A little introspection may guide you to a more appropriate graduate program if public health isn’t right for you or help you in determining which MPH program is the best fit.
3. Get started on your statement of purpose early.
Universities call this part of the application process the statement of purpose, statement of interest, personal statement or admissions essay. Your personal statement allows you to explain:
Your academic and professional careers
Your interest in public health
Any experience you have in the field
How your experience has prepared you for an MPH program
What you would do with an MPH degree
How you would use the MPH program to pursue your goals
Your statement of purpose is your opportunity to stand out from the crowd and let the university get to know you. It takes time to craft a statement that is both personal and professional, covers your history and future, and is specific about your goals and how you plan to reach them.
You should consider what you may cover in a personal statement early in the process. You will likely need to go through several drafts and may want to seek advice from an academic or professional mentor. You may also need to consult an experienced editor to improve the grammar, style and flow of the essay.
4. Pursue non-academic experiences related to public health.
It can be beneficial to think about the volunteer, internship or work experiences that can help you learn more about public health and prepare you for an MPH degree.
These experiences could include community outreach and engagement. For example, you may work with a local health department on on-going community engagement projects. You may benefit from full- or part-time employment at a health clinic or hospital. This can give you a great deal of insight into the needs and concerns of a local population.
You may be able to work or volunteer for a non-profit that is involved in public health advocacy or policy or a non-profit that directly provides services, like the American Red Cross, the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps.
While short-term experiences can be beneficial, it is even better to get involved with a project that lasts several months, such as a full summer or a year or longer.
Non-academic experiences also provide another avenue for letters of recommendation. You can ask for a recommendation from a supervisor or mentor who knows your professional achievements well. This can boost your chances of being admitted to a competitive MPH program.
Meanwhile, these valuable experiences are helpful for you to determine what careers in public health you would like to pursue in the future.
5. Highlight the skills you can bring to the university and the faculty’s current research.
Before you apply to an MPH program, conduct an honest evaluation of the skills and knowledge you have. These skills may arise from your undergraduate education, any post-grad or graduate-level education you completed, work experience and volunteer experience. This analysis can help you evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and which programs might be a good fit for you.
Next, research the faculty and their current research projects. Your application is like a job interview. You want the faculty to want to work with you. This requires highlighting your skills and knowledge that may be useful to their research.
Demonstrating that you are someone the faculty would want to work with may potentially increase the likelihood of acceptance, and it may also be helpful in the future if you are interested in applying for research assistant positions. The application process is a vital first step in pursuing a career in public health. You should take it as seriously as you do your work and education.