Degree Information

Introduction

Students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in public health can often choose between BA and BS tracks. BA students studying public health often focus on non-clinical areas, such as education or policy. When they graduate, BA students can find work in government or nonprofit organizations. BS students take a more clinical approach to the discipline. Graduates often continue on to study medicine or find careers that make use of the biostatistics or epidemiology knowledge they gained in their undergraduate programs.

Most public health careers require an undergraduate degree at minimum, so it makes sense for interested students to earn a public health bachelor’s degree. Students who work full time or who need additional flexibility in their studies can benefit from pursuing their bachelor’s in public health online. Additionally, earning an undergraduate degree in public health is the first step to earning a master’s in the field, which can lead to higher-paying careers with increased responsibilities.

Top Online Bachelor’s in Public Health Programs

All of the online bachelor’s degrees in public health listed below are accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), the only accrediting body in the field recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Students must evaluate which program best suits their academic interests and professional goals.

Employment Outlook for Public Health Graduates

Bachelor’s in Public Health Salary

Many factors, including an employee’s level of professional experience, affect their potential earnings. The following table includes data from PayScale that shows median salaries for a variety of public health professionals at different stages throughout their careers. In general, clinical public health careers pay a higher salary than non-clinical careers.

Median Salary for Public Health Careers by Experience

Job Title Overall Median Salary Mid-Career Employees Late-Career Employees
Public Health Specialist $48,415 $46,000 $46,000
Public Health Analyst $60,649 $55,000 $78,000
Epidemiologist $61,645 $57,000 $74,000
Health Educator $43,650 $39,000 $46,000
Public Health Nurse $55,157 $51,000 $56,000

Bachelor’s in Public Health Careers

Possible professions for public health students vary based on the type of degree and specialty chosen. For example, public health students who pursue a BA will likely pursue careers in education and policy while BS students will likely become epidemiologists or clinicians. Below, we discuss five clinical and non-clinical occupations that are available to graduates with a bachelor’s degree in public health. Notably, the BLS projects that each profession will have an above-average growth rate in terms of available jobs over the next 10 years. Because of this, now is as good a time as ever to earn a bachelor’s degree in public health.

  • Healthcare Social Workers: Healthcare social workers are a specialized kind of social worker who provide care and support to families, individuals, and groups that are dealing with illness. Tasks include case management and intervention. A master’s degree can provide an advantage for social workers seeking employment.
  • Dietitians and Nutritionists: Dietitians and nutritionists promote health and reduce disease among individuals and groups through food and nutrition. They create diets for people and provide advice on living a healthy lifestyle. Though dietitians and nutritionists often need a state license, they generally do not need an advanced degree.
  • Health Educators and Community Health Workers: Health educators inform communities about healthy behaviors and promote healthy lifestyles among certain populations. Community health workers collect data within a given community and help manage health concerns in that community. These professionals may need an additional certification, but do not need an advanced degree.
  • Medical and Health Services Managers: Medical and health services managers are executive-level employees who plan, manage, and direct medical services. They generally manage an entire facility, such as a clinic, nursing home, or hospital. These public health professionals often operate in the developing world.
  • Epidemiologists: Epidemiologists investigate patterns and causes of human disease. Their work involves research and policy advising. They often work in laboratories and work for hospitals, colleges, or government agencies. Many epidemiologists find that they can advance their career by earning a master’s degree in public health.
Position Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate
Healthcare Social Workers $55,510 16%
Dietitians and Nutritionists $58,920 15%
Health Educators and Community Health Workers $44,390 16%
Medical and Health Services Managers $96,540 20%
Epidemiologists $70,820 9%

Professional Organizations

Though public health is a skills-based discipline, networking remains important, as knowing certain people can open doors in the field. Membership in a public health-related professional organization can provide networking opportunities, workshops to develop skills, and job boards. Many organizations also offer access to publications and annual conferences to help with ongoing professional development. Below, we spotlight three preeminent public health professional organizations.

  • American College of Epidemiology (ACE): ACE is an association of professional epidemiologists that aims to further the field of epidemiology. ACE offers advocacy, continuing education opportunities, and meetings for its members. Admission is credential-based and competitive.
  • American Public Health Association (APHA): APHA focuses on improving health for each and every person and community in the U.S. APHA offers professional development, publications, advocacy, and continuing education opportunities for members.
  • American School Health Association (ASHA): ASHA aims to spread knowledge about best practices and effective strategies in school health. The organization offers continuing education opportunities and access to publications.

Accreditation

Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Public Health Programs

It's important for online students to make sure that the programs and schools they are considering are accredited. The CEPH is the only accrediting body in the public health field recognized by the ED. CEPH investigates and vets public health programs and schools at the undergraduate and graduate levels, ensuring they meet certain standards and use up-to-date methods and techniques. CEPH conducts periodic on-site visits to ensure that each program and school meets these standards. Schools must also periodically apply for renewal of their accreditation.

If a program is not accredited, it means that either no one has vetted it or it has not met the standards laid out by CEPH. It's wise for students to avoid non-accredited programs at all costs, as employers often only respect degrees earned from accredited programs. Students must check either their program's website or the CEPH website to make sure that their chosen program holds current accreditation.

In addition to ensuring their chosen public health school or program has earned CEPH accreditation, it's important for students considering an online bachelor's degree in public health to ensure that college or university itself is nationally or regionally accredited as well. The ED and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation maintain up-to-date, searchable lists of all accredited schools and programs.

Application Process

The Bachelor's in Public Health Application Process

In general, applicants who want to earn a public health bachelor's degrees online must meet similar admission requirements. Most programs require SAT or ACT scores, a personal statement, high school or previous college transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a minimum high school GPA. More selective programs -- or programs that specifically cater to working professionals -- sometimes require applicants to have 1-3 years of public health work experience. International applicants may need to submit TOEFL scores to demonstrate their English proficiency.

Many online public health programs have a priority admissions deadline and a regular deadline. Students can maximize their chances of admission by meeting the priority deadline. In addition, professional experience in the public health field -- or even volunteer experience -- often reflects favorably on applicants.

The following list goes into more detail about each of the requirements that prospective public health students generally need to meet for admission.

  1. Transcripts: Many of the more selective bachelor's degree in public health programs require students to submit transcripts showing a high school GPA of 3.0 or higher.
  2. Resume/Work Experience: Work experience generally refers only to professional experience (i.e., paid work). Students who have already worked in public health field are often the strongest applicants for online public health degree bachelor's programs.
  3. Test Scores: Many programs have minimum score requirements for the SAT/ACT and the TOEFL. The TOEFL test is an English proficiency exam for international students.
  4. Statement of Purpose/Essay: Each student's statement of purpose indicates why they want to earn a public health bachelor's degree. Students often discuss how the degree will help them reach career goals. The strongest applicants often write statements of purpose that align with a specific program's stated goals and values.
  5. Letters of Recommendation: Former teachers generally write letters of recommendation for students to give programs an idea of their academic prowess and suitability for a given program. For applicants who have already worked in the public health field, recommendation letters from bosses or supervisors are particularly beneficial.

Earning an Online Degree in Public Health

Earning a public health bachelor's degree online has many advantages over a traditional on-campus program. Students enrolled in online programs can study from anywhere in the world and earn a degree from some of the nation's top universities without ever having to leave their hometowns. In addition, many programs deliver coursework asynchronously -- meaning there are no set class times -- which allows students to work full time or fulfill other obligations while earning a degree.

Some programs use a cohort model, in which students complete the same sequence of courses with the same group of peers. A cohort model creates accountability -- which helps students stay on track and graduate within a defined time period -- and extensive networking opportunities for future careers.

Additionally, most online bachelor's degree in public health programs allow students to arrange practicums or internships in their own communities, meaning that they never have to visit campus. While certain programs do include in-person requirements, they are often minimal. Possible requirements include an orientation at the beginning of the program or week-long residencies spaced throughout the curriculum.

Furthermore, online students are often able to pay in-state tuition and can avoid paying fees associated with on-campus learning. Even when online students are not able to pay in-state tuition, they often receive discounted tuition rates compared to out-of-state on-campus students.

Fast Track Bachelor's in Public Health Degrees

Some bachelor's in public health online programs permit students to pursue an accelerated degree. This option allows students to take more courses per semester to graduate more quickly with their public health bachelor's degree. Many programs offer an accelerated degree option to students who have already completed all of their general education requirements or at least some public health coursework. Accelerated programs often allow students to graduate within 12-24 months of full-time study.

A completion degree is an option that is adjacent to an accelerated degree. Students can apply for completion programs -- which generally only include public health major coursework -- if they already hold an associate degree or have completed 60 credits of general education requirements.

Another option for students who plan to continue their studies beyond the undergraduate level is a combined bachelor's to master's degree, which typically takes five years to complete. Some schools offer combined degrees that allow students to earn two separate degrees simultaneously in less time than it would take to earn each degree separately. Generally, these programs combine a bachelor's degree in a health-related subject with a master of public health degree.

Concentrations

Public Health Specializations

Above, we briefly touched on how students who pursue a BA in public health generally have different professional aspirations than BS students. However, the concentration that a student chooses within their public health degree likely has an even larger bearing on their future career. For example, epidemiology and biostatistics students will likely enter more clinically oriented careers than students who choose a concentration in health policy and management. Students must carefully consider each available concentration in their program and the careers it may lead to before making a decision.

  • Global Health: Global health is an interdisciplinary concentration that prepares students to solve health crises around the world, often in developing countries. Topics can include food insecurity, obesity, global health response systems, or the Zika Virus.
  • Epidemiology: Epidemiology is a branch of medicine that focuses primarily on the global spread and control of diseases and other health issues. Possible areas of study include HIV/AIDS, tobacco cessation, and nutrition. Epidemiology graduates often take on public health leadership roles.
  • Environmental Health: Environmental health deals with anything in the natural and built environments that has an effect on human health. The discipline often studies topics like food poisoning, cancer, and asthma.
  • Community Health Sciences: Community health sciences is a more socially oriented concentration, focusing on health within the framework of of social structure, cultures, systems, and families. Students in this particular concentration often pursue further studies or work in health education upon graduating.
  • Health Policy and Management: Health policy and management is an interdisciplinary concentration that takes both an economical and qualitative approach to the study of healthcare delivery in the United States. It is a non-clinical concentration that often includes studies in health economics and public health law and ethics.
  • Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology: The infectious diseases and vaccinology concentration examines how infectious agents, hosts, and the environment interact to spread human diseases. Students also often study the epidemiology of certain infectious diseases. Students must have a strong background in biology to succeed in this concentration.