Students pursuing a public health degree want to contribute to the public good by creating healthier individuals and communities, and a career in the field can prove very rewarding. However, the financial logistics of funding this degree can be challenging. As the cost of higher education continues to rise each year, an increasing number of students must use financial aid opportunities to afford college. A variety of financial aid opportunities are available, such as grants, scholarships, and loans. If you enter public service upon graduation, you might also qualify for loan forgiveness programs.

A variety of financial aid opportunities are available, such as grants, scholarships, and loans.

In this financial aid guide for public health students, you will learn about the different types of financial aid available to students entering this rewarding field. Also included is a list of public health scholarships at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Paying for Your Public Health Degree


When you decide to pursue a public health degree, it is integral that you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as possible. The FAFSA is a form that every college student should fill out to determine their eligibility for federal financial aid, including grants, low-interest loans, and work-study funding. Additionally, many universities, states, and private groups also look at the FAFSA to determine student eligibility for state, school, and private aid. Students who do not fill out the FAFSA miss out on most financial aid opportunities, including many public health scholarships.

Basic eligibility criteria for federal financial assistance stipulates that you be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen, have a social security number, and demonstrate financial need. You must also be accepted in an eligible degree or certificate program and make satisfactory academic progress in your program.

Filling out the form online is free and easy. The FAFSA is available starting Oct. 1 of each year. Even if you received federal aid last year, to be eligible for each new year, you must fill out a new form or update your existing form. You'll need several documents in order to accurately fill out the FAFSA. Some of the information you will need to gather is your federal tax information, asset information, social security number (or alien registration numbers for you and your parents if you are a dependent), and your driver's license number.

Determining Your Financial Need

The financial aid office at your school determines how much financial aid you qualify for based on a variety of factors. First, the financial aid office determines your estimated cost of attendance (COA) for earning a degree at that school. COA includes tuition and fees, room and board, books, transportation, some study-abroad costs, and some child care costs.

Next, the financial aid office figures out your expected family contribution (EFC). Your EFC is an index number that colleges use to determine how much aid you qualify for at their school. They calculate EFC based on your family's income, assets, and benefits. Other considerations that influence the EFC include family size and how many family members will be in college that year.

Federal student aid programs include both need-based aid and non-need-based aid. You determine your need-based aid by subtracting your EFC from your COA. Need-based federal student aid programs include:

You determine your non-need-based aid by subtracting your financial aid awarded so far from your COA. Non-need-based aid programs include:

Sources of Financial Aid

Types of Financial Aid

Federal Grants

The ED offers numerous federal grants to help students pay for college. To receive federal grants, students must complete the FAFSA. Eligible students then work with their school to figure out how much money in grant funding they can receive. Federal grants can support education at four-year universities, community colleges, and career schools. Almost all federal grants go to students who can demonstrate financial need. The one exception to this is the TEACH Grant.

  • Federal Pell Grants: To qualify for these grants you typically must be an undergraduate student who does not already hold a bachelor's or professional degree. Incarcerated students generally do not qualify. Award amounts change each year.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants: Students with the most financial need receive these funds. Recipients can get up to $4,000 each year, depending on financial need, availability of funds, and the amount of other types of aid you receive.
  • TEACH Grants: Up to $4,000 is available each year to students enrolled in a teaching program. Upon graduating, you must teach in a high-need field at a school serving low-income students for at least four academic years in order to avoid your grants turning into loans requiring repayment.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants: You may be eligible for these grants if your parent was a member of the U.S. Army and died in military service after 9/11 in Iraq or Afghanistan. Other eligibility criteria must be met. Grant amounts vary.

State Grants

Nearly all states offer grants and other types of aid programs through their education agencies. Most of the time these are only available to residents, and many states determine eligibility for aid based on the FAFSA. Visit the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) to find your home state and explore grants and other types of financial aid available for students.

Finding Scholarships

Winning a scholarship is one of the best ways to help pay for your public health degree. Scholarships stand out from other types of financial aid for students because they do not require repayment. Thousands of public health undergraduate and graduate scholarships exist, from those awarded based on academic or athletic performance to those directed toward specific groups of people, such as ethnic minorities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and first-generation college students. Look for scholarships you qualify for based on your major, geographic location, and personal background. Please consult the list below to find public health scholarships.

Taking Out Loans to Pay for Your Public Health Degree

Over 70% of students at four-year schools take out some type of loan before graduating. However, it is important to realize that some loan programs offer better terms than others. Make sure to research all your options so that you can graduate with a manageable amount of debt.

What Kind of Loan Should You Take Out?

As mentioned previously, students can take out private or federal loans. The federal government funds federal student loans, and banks, credit unions, schools, and state agencies fund private student loans. Generally speaking, you should avoid taking out private loans.

Federal loans offer numerous benefits to students, including low and fixed interest rates, income-based repayment plans, tax deductible interest, and forbearance and deferment options. Most private loans do not offer these benefits and tend to be more expensive for students. If you take out federal student loans based on financial need, you can most likely get a subsidized loan, meaning the government pays the interest that accrues on your loan as long as you are enrolled at least part-time. When you take out federal unsubsidized loans or private loans, you must pay for interest that accumulates on your loan while you are in school.

Federal student loans offer loan forgiveness programs, but private loans generally do not qualify for these types of programs. Additionally, it is often more difficult to receive approval for private loans, and you may need a cosigner.

Loan Repayment

The government offers a variety of loan repayment options for students who take out federal loans. Your eligibility to participate in each loan repayment program varies based on the types of loans you have. If you don't choose a specific plan, the government automatically selects the standard repayment plan for you, which calculates your monthly payments over 10 years based on the total amount owed. Another option is an income-driven repayment plan, where the government calculates your monthly payment based on your income. An income-driven repayment plan keeps your monthly payments affordable, but you could end up paying more interest. You can use the Repayment Estimator calculator to figure out which repayment plan is best for you.

Your eligibility to participate in each loan repayment program varies based on the types of loans you have.

The direct consolidation loan lets you combine multiple federal student loans into one loan. This can simplify your repayment process by creating one monthly payment instead of multiple payments. Combining loans into a direct consolidation loan can also make you eligible for additional types of repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs.

If you can not afford to repay your loans, you may qualify for deferment or forbearance, which allows you to postpone paying your loans. In some cases, the government may cancel your remaining loan debt through student loan forgiveness programs.

Loan Forgiveness

Public health students who need to take out student loans to help pay for their degrees can also explore loan forgiveness programs. Student loan forgiveness means that you no longer need to pay some or all of your loan. Students entering the field of public health typically work in public service, so many public health professionals qualify for the government's Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). You may be able to have your remaining loan debt cancelled after making 120 monthly payments while working full-time for a qualifying public service employer.

The PSLF Program specifically notes that nonprofit organizations that provide public health services are qualifying employers, even if the organization is not tax-exempt. The PSLF Program encourages people to work in high-demand areas of public service that often do not offer the same levels of compensation found in the private sector. Look over the PSLF Program information carefully to make sure that your federal loans qualify for the program and that you understand the rules. You can apply for PSLF online. Additionally, in some cases, public health professionals may qualify for Perkins Loan Cancellation.

Financial Aid for Graduate Students

Graduate and professional students qualify for various types of financial aid, including loans, grants, and public health graduate scholarships. The federal Direct Loan Program offers several types of loans, including three available to graduate students: direct unsubsidized loans, direct PLUS loans, and direct consolidation loans. Graduate students receive direct unsubsidized loans from their school's financial aid office. You do not need to demonstrate financial need to get a direct unsubsidized loan.

Unlike with direct subsidized loans, direct unsubsidized loans require students to pay all interest on the loan. The ED is the lender for its direct PLUS loans. To qualify for a direct PLUS loan you cannot have an adverse credit history, and the maximum amount of a direct PLUS loan is the total estimated cost of attendance. Direct consolidation loans allow you to combine all of your loans into one, simplifying the repayment process. Graduate students can also qualify for the Federal Work-Study Program.

State education agencies also sometimes offer financial aid like grants to graduate students. Additionally, most schools offer graduate students scholarships, grants, and loans. Many graduate students receive tuition waivers plus a living stipend for working as a teaching or research assistant for their academic department. Another place to look for help is your current employer. Some workplaces offer tuition assistance to employees pursuing a graduate degree. Also, don't forget to look for public health graduate scholarships from foundations and organizations. The list below is a good place to start your scholarship hunt.

Public Health Scholarships

Scholarships for Social Work Students