Undergrads can choose to pursue either a Bachelor’s of Arts or a Bachelor’s of Science in Public Health. BA students are typically interested in the socio-cultural aspects of the field and are interested in pursuing public health education, policy and administration or non-profit agency or governmental work. A BS degree program is typically suited to those aspiring to more clinical or scientific public health roles or advanced education after graduation. Graduates of these programs often go on to careers in biostatistics, epidemiology or medicine.
A bachelor’s degree in public health can qualify you for work in community outreach, program development or research support. These roles are a great place to start exploring specific populations or issues that are of primary interest to you and can inform your decisions about pursuing an advanced degree in the field.
In order to gain admission into a program at the undergraduate level, students should be able to demonstrate an interest in public health, but are not required to have previous experience in the field.
While some fields rely on multiple accreditation agencies to evaluate programs, the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) is the primary national agency that issues accreditation to public health programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. CEPH evaluates the standards, outcomes, and quality of applicant schools and programs, based on objectives defined by its parent organization, the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA).
The CEPH Accreditation Process
Schools or programs must first apply for accreditation, conduct an internal review of their own performance and then subject themselves to a CEPH peer review and on-site inspection. Next, CEPH collects public opinions regarding the school or program, publishes a report on the total findings, hosts an evaluation review meeting, and then issues an accreditation decision.
Once a program or college becomes accredited, they are subject to ongoing reviews to ensure they meet CEPH standards, outcomes and objectives.
Schools vs. Programs
Due to academic and administrative differences, public health schools and public health programs are measured by different CEPH criteria:
- Schools of public health offer diverse undergraduate and graduate programs spanning the field of health and medical disciplines. For instance, a school of medicine might offer graduate degrees in public health, clinical research, biomedical science, and healthcare administration.
- Public health programs on the other hand, are narrower in scope. Students may still choose specialties like public policy or statistical research within these programs, but the degree conferred is standardized.
As of June 2013, CEPH instituted a process for granting accreditation to standalone bachelor degree programs, or degree programs that are not affiliated with a larger School of Public Health or graduate program in public health. Undergraduate students should note that public health minors, associate degree programs, and professional certificates are not accredited by this agency.
Except in special cases, most undergrads do not apply directly to a public health program when they start college. If you know you want to major in public health, research your favorite departments and apply general admission to their universities. Feel free to contact these departments to express your interest and ask questions about how best to improve your chances of landing a spot in the program by your junior year.
Preparing your application materials in advance is extremely important. Carefully review each school's application deadlines and consider that many materials will take you a few weeks to prepare:
- Official university application form or Common Application (CA member schools only)
- High school transcripts noting completion of any College Academic Distribution Requirements (CADR) needed by your school
- Standardized test scores (SAT and/or ACT)
- Letters of recommendation
- Resume or curriculum vitae
- A personal statement highlighting your academic and professional interest in public health
As both a high schooler and an undergraduate, remember that public health is highly cross-disciplinary. You won't need to declare a major until the end of your sophomore year at the earliest. Build up your transcripts and explore related coursework in biology, chemistry, sociology, and statistics. Sampling courses will help you identify your interests and make you a stronger candidate for whichever course you choose.
Public health education programs are growing quickly in popularity. Overall, annual graduates from U.S. schools of public health rose 69 percent between 2000 and 2011. As the field expands, degree concentrations available to students at all levels are growing. Here are the most common and high-demand focuses in public health today:
- Finance: These degrees prepare students for managing the large-scale budgetary needs for public health delivery systems. Potential subjects include healthcare finance, health economics, and nonprofit accounting.
- Marketing: Social media communications, grassroots organization, and media relations tie public health efforts together, creating strong bonds between stakeholders, administrators, and the public.
- Organizational Management: Prospective healthcare leaders delve into managerial decision-making strategies, governance, performance analytics, and stakeholder awareness in organizational management concentrations.
- HR Management: Students starting out in public health thrive when they are able to recruit effective and qualified talent. MPH students who pursue this specialization delve into employee selection, conflict management, labor laws, and staff retention.
- Gender and Sexuality: This specialization focuses on the concerns of the LGBT community, often an underserved population across public health initiatives.
- Research Methods: This specialization takes a research-intensive approach to crafting future public health policies and programs. Prospective courses prepare students to conduct targeted community surveys, statistical analyses, and ethnographic research.
- Family Health: Students in a family health specialization examine how family units influence health, development, and nutrition in individuals. Possible topics covered include divorce, domestic abuse, and childhood development.
- Health Education: Students who pursue this specialization plan, implement, and evaluate educational outreach programs for target demographics. Class topics include social media communications, community organization, and community nutrition.
- Biostatistics: The public health sector has a strong need for biostatistics researchers who can identify community health needs based on collected data. Statistics must also be monitored in order to assess the continued effectiveness of a given program. Possible subjects include clinical trials, probability theory, regression analysis, and statistical theory.
- Environmental and Occupational Health: Professionals with a background in this specialization ensure that schools, workplaces, and public facilities meet safety and environmental guidelines. Potential courses include workplace hazards, pollution assessment, chemical cleanup strategies, climate change research, and hazardous waste management.
- Epidemiology: This specialization prioritizes disease prevention and treatment efforts across environments with a variety of economic resources, cultures, government infrastructures, and communities. Professionals in this field often become experts on vaccinations, infectious diseases, and cancer prevention.
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