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

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.

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.