How to Choose a Program

Choosing the right public health program is one of the most important steps to excelling in the field. No program is perfect for all students, so learners should research schools before applying. Students should consider each program’s accreditation, cost, completion time, location, and format. This guide covers crucial aspects for students wondering how to choose a public health program. Careful evaluation and thorough research can help learners feel confident in their choice of program.

Program Delivery: Online vs. On-Campus

Delivery format is one of the most crucial aspects of a program. When choosing a public health program, applicants should decide whether online, on-campus, or blended learning is best for them. Online programs allow students to attend the world’s best universities without relocating.

Many students choose distance learning because the flexible format allows learners to work and raise a family while attending school.

Many students choose distance learning because the flexible format allows learners to work and raise a family while attending school. Because most online courses are asynchronous, they are more convenient than on-campus courses. Students can watch lectures and complete assignments according to their schedule. Also, distance education tends to be more affordable than on-campus programs. Many institutions offer lower tuition rates to online learners, and online programs reduce or eliminate costs such as transportation and campus housing.

A common misconception is that online classes are less rigorous than on-campus classes. In actuality, online courses can be more difficult. Online students must demonstrate self-discipline and exceptional organizational skills to succeed.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an Online Public Health Program

Hybrid/Blended Learning

Many online public health programs also have on-campus components. Students who plan to study at schools far from home should ensure the program is entirely online. However, learners who live near their school may consider hybrid programs. This learning model combines the flexibility of online courses with the benefits of on-campus classes. For example, some classes have online lectures and assignments but in-person tests. Hybrid programs allow learners to study at their convenience in their chosen environment. Blended programs may offer accelerated courses.

Synchronous or Asynchronous

Students considering online learning should determine whether the prospective program comprises synchronous or asynchronous courses. Synchronous classes require learners to attend class at a specific time, typically using video conferencing. This option emulates the structure of on-campus courses. However, students who need convenience and flexibility should look for programs with asynchronous classes in which learners complete coursework according to their own schedules. Although students in asynchronous classes must meet deadlines, they can complete assignments around work and family obligations.

Class Size

For on-campus programs, class size is one of the most important factors to consider. Class size also impacts the dynamic of synchronous online classes; a professor may have difficulty managing more than about 15 students during video lectures. However, asynchronous courses can have larger class sizes without negatively impacting the learning experience. Generally, classes that include more automatically graded assignments, such as multiple-choice tests, can have more students per class. Courses including a large number of essays and discussion board posts rarely have more than about 20 learners per class. Students should also consider their personal learning styles when determining the ideal size for their public health program. Learners who require plenty of feedback and interaction often fare better in small classes.

Personal Learning Style

Before choosing the right public health program for their needs, students should identify their learning style to determine whether they will succeed in an online program. Independent learners who require less personal interaction typically do well in online courses; prospective students should consider whether they learn best from conversations or time alone with study materials. Online students also need strong communication skills and reading comprehension. Learners who are self-motivated and organized tend to do well in online classes. However, students who procrastinate may struggle in asynchronous online classes. There is no correct style of learning; students should be honest about their learning style to choose the best program format for them.

Clinical Components and Internships

Public health programs at any level, from bachelor’s to doctoral programs, often require an in-person internship or practicum. These experiential components help learners hone important career skills, including planning and communication skills. Students work with public health professionals to create programs and promote healthy living. Students cannot complete these requirements online. However, distance learners can often complete internships and practicums locally, as long as their internship supervisor meets certain requirements. Some internships award stipends. Others only require part-time hours, allowing learners to earn wages elsewhere. Students who cannot complete any in-person components should look for online programs without an internship requirement.

Choosing an Accredited Program

Accreditation demonstrates a school or program has the academic rigor necessary to train future professionals. Accreditation organizations set specific standards, and unaccredited schools may have serious problems in their curricula. To obtain a high-quality education that transfers to other universities and that employers recognize, students should choose an accredited public health program. Typically, standards for online, in-person, and hybrid programs are the same. However, an institution could hold accreditation for one type of program and not another. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation provides a database of accredited schools and programs.

National vs. Regional Accreditation

The two main types of institutional accreditation are national and regional, with regional accreditation being the oldest and the most highly regarded. Schools that receive regional accreditation include public universities, junior colleges, nonprofit private universities, and ivy league schools. Credits from regionally accredited institutions usually transfer to other schools.

The two main types of institutional accreditation are national and regional, with regional accreditation being the oldest and the most highly regarded.

Private, for-profit schools typically earn national accreditation. These institutions generally offer vocational and certificate programs in addition to degrees. In many cases, credits from these programs do not transfer to other schools. Prospective students should know their school’s accreditation status before enrolling. Many institutions display their accreditation status online, and the U.S. Department of Education maintains a searchable database of accredited schools.

Programmatic Accreditation

Along with institutional accreditation, students should look for programmatic accreditation, which applies only to a specific program. Agencies that award this type of accreditation typically focus on one area of study and are usually national. However, this national status is not the same as national institutional accreditation.

For public health programs, the primary accrediting organization is the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). This organization sets standards for master’s programs but not bachelor’s programs, which is typical for many programmatic accreditation organizations. CEPH requires the applying university to hold regional accreditation. CEPH provides a database of accredited programs on its website.

Career Goals

Accredited public health programs have variations in curricula and requirements. Students should consider their career goals when choosing the right public health program for them. Learners should ensure the program provides experiences that prepare them for their future occupation. Students who have not yet chosen a career path can research degree levels, specialties, and career choices to narrow their options.

Degree Level

The career options of a public health graduate depend on their degree level. While a bachelor’s degree qualifies graduates for many entry-level positions, a graduate degree offers more opportunities. However, higher levels of education require significant time and financial investments. Students considering graduate school should weigh the cost against the reward to determine whether further education is the best option for them.

Bachelor’s Degree

Undergraduate public health students choose a specialty in the field and often become public health analysts, epidemiologists, and educators.

Master’s Degree

A graduate program provides advanced knowledge in a public health specialty. Graduates often secure higher-paying roles, such as health and safety engineer, administrator, and research assistant.

Doctorate Degree

The doctoral degree is the terminal degree in the field, which means graduates are experts in their specialties. Graduates often work in academia as professors and researchers.

Public Health Specialities

Public health is a large area of study with several distinct specialties. Undergraduate programs often cover broad aspects of public health. However, graduate students almost always select a concentration. Students should ensure their chosen programs offer their desired specialization. Below are a few of the most common public health concentrations.

  • Biostatistics and Information: The scientific community needs specialists to interpret data. Professionals in biostatistics and information convert raw data into useful information for public health and medical professionals.
  • Communications: These professionals act as liaisons between the public and health professionals. Communications specialists must effectively convey information from the health community to laypeople.
  • Community Health: Community health workers design programs that improve the health of disadvantaged communities such as those who are elderly, homeless, very young, or impoverished.
  • Environmental Health: These public health workers study the effects of the environment on human health.
  • Global Health: This concentration allows public health professionals to tackle global health crises such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, starvation, and new epidemics. They may also provide vaccines and health information to impoverished or undereducated communities.
  • Public Health Education: These workers develop campaigns that inform the public about health topics, such as anti-smoking or healthy eating projects.

Explore Public Health Careers

Public health professionals choose from a variety of career options. The table below provides information about jobs available to public health graduates, the responsibilities of these professionals, and the minimum education required to obtain each position.

Technical Medical Writer

These writers translate technical medical information for the public. They distill data and must ensure their work is both accurate and engaging.

Degree Required: Bachelor’s

Public Health Information Officer

These professionals work with government agencies to convey new health policy details to the public. They may take questions from the press and issue public statements from the health agency.

Degree Required: Master’s

Environmental Health Technician

When officials suspect the presence of an environmental contaminant, they send these technicians to collect samples and file reports on their findings.

Degree Required: Hazardous Materials Certificate

HIV/AIDS Research Associate

As researchers continue to learn about HIV and AIDS, they need research associates to ensure experiments run properly. These associates collect samples, process subjects, and file findings.

Degree Required: Phlebotomy Certificate

International NGO Aid Worker

Nonprofit organizations hire these professionals to respond to health crises around the world. These workers administer medical aid, bring supplies, and provide emotional support to victims.

Degree Required: Master’s

Nurse Educator

These advanced practice registered nurses teach aspiring nurses. They may work in hospitals or higher learning institutions.

Degree Required: RN and Master’s

Health Teacher

These health educators teach students about human health. They may work with students at any level, from elementary to postsecondary.

Degree Required: Bachelor’s


With both statistics and biology expertise, these professionals analyze research results and interpret health data.

Degree Required: Master’s

Cost and Financial Aid

A college degree is an investment in the student’s future, and cost typically plays a major role in choosing a public health program. When calculating the cost of a program, learners should first know the school’s tuition rates and the number of required credits. Students should consider fees, such as those for lab classes, vaccines, insurance, and books. Learners should also consider commute times, whether they can work while attending the program, and available financial aid.

Public vs. Private Schools

Whether the school is private or public significantly impacts cost. Generally, public schools cost less because they have government funding, whereas private schools rely on tuition and endowments. Even when a private school charges significantly more than a public university, students may find the private option to be worth the expense.

Generally, public schools cost less because they have government funding, whereas private schools rely on tuition and endowments.

Private universities offer benefits including lower student-to-faculty ratios, which ensures learners receive personalized attention. Furthermore, private universities often have more degree options. Public health students who want to pursue a less common specialty may need to choose a private school. Many learners make their final decision based on available aid; private schools may offer scholarship packages that make them the less expensive option.

In-State vs. Out-of-State Schools

While public universities typically cost less than private schools, many public institutions charge out-of-state residents higher tuition rates since residents pay the taxes that fund the school. Out-of-state students, who haven’t paid into that system, pay higher tuition. Sometimes the out-of-state rate only applies for the first year.

Many public universities are more selective when accepting out-of-state applicants, which means more competition for acceptance and financial aid. However, some neighboring states have agreements that allow public universities to charge students from participating states in-state tuition rates. As the table below demonstrates, students who attend school in another state typically pay more than double in-state tuition rates.

Two-Year vs. Four-Year Schools

To save money, many students begin their education at a two-year school. Associate degrees cost less than bachelor’s degrees simply because they take half the time. However, this isn’t the only factor that saves community college students money. When completing the same program, students at a four-year university pay almost three times as much as those at a two-year college.

Due to the significant cost disparity, students may choose to earn an associate degree from a community college and then transfer to a four-year school to earn a bachelor’s degree. This option provides two years of education for far less money. However, students should ensure community college credits will transfer to their prospective four-year school. The table below demonstrates the potential savings for students who complete two years at a community college.

Online vs. On-Campus Programs

A major factor in calculating a program’s cost is whether classes are online or in person. Since on-campus classes have more overhead costs than online courses, the tuition rates are sometimes higher for on-campus courses. However, other factors contribute to cost differences between online and on-campus programs. For example, an online class at a for-profit schools may be more expensive than an on-campus course at a community college. However, an out-of-state student may save money by choosing an online program.

Students should also consider additional costs when choosing a program format. Online learners often save money on costs associated with commuting, campus housing, parking, and daycare. Furthermore, the flexibility of online courses allows students to work full time while in school. Some employers even offer tuition reimbursement. Online students at accredited universities can obtain most of the same financial aid as on-campus students. The table below shows the average costs of room and board, an expense that online learners often eliminate.

Program Reputation

The ultimate goal of earning a public health degree is to land a great job. While employers consider many factors when hiring public health professionals, one may be the reputation of the applicant’s school. Before applying, students should research how public health professionals perceive each prospective program.

  • Graduate Job Placement Rate: When choosing a public health program, learners should research the job placement rate of recent graduates. This figure can give prospective students a good idea of how hiring managers perceive the school.
  • Teacher Credentials: If a program’s faculty is staffed with respected researchers and public health experts, influencers likely respect the school.
  • Accreditation Status: Schools and programs that do not earn proper accreditation often have bad reputations that reach beyond the academic world. Learners should avoid schools without regional or programmatic accreditation.