Graduate Application Guide

Applying to public health graduate school can seem overwhelming. However, students can make the process easier by sufficiently preparing and doing enough research. First, decide which programs you want to apply for and find out their application deadlines. Next, research public health graduate school requirements for each of your desired programs. Ensure you meet basic minimum admissions requirements. If you fall short, contact the program chair or an admissions counselor to see if you can still gain provisional admission.

In general, strong candidates for public health programs hold a bachelor’s degree in a related field and have a minimum 3.0 GPA.

In general, strong candidates for public health programs hold a bachelor’s degree in a related field and have a minimum 3.0 GPA. Most schools also require prospective public health graduate students to submit satisfactory GRE scores. Other requirements vary; some programs require experience in the field, while others mandate certain prerequisite courses.

As part of the application process, students usually need to submit a personal statement, letters of recommendation, transcripts from previously attended schools, and a resume. Once your application is complete, have a friend or family member proofread it before you submit it. Sometimes, applicants must complete an in-person or phone interview. Most schools let you know when you can expect an admissions decision. Most of the time, you will get an email or letter within a few weeks or months.

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Public Health Graduate Program Prerequisites

Do I Need a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health to Earn a Public Health Graduate Degree?

Earning a bachelor’s in public health can prepare you for success in an MPH program. Programs accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health can especially help students receive admission into graduate school. However, you do not need to hold a bachelor’s degree in public health to earn a public health graduate degree. Although some MPH students earn a bachelor’s in the field, many do not. Most graduate schools of public health accept prospective students from many different backgrounds. Common undergraduate degrees include education, nursing, communications, biology, and anthropology. No matter your major, you should hold a degree from an accredited college or university.

Students with no prior experience in public health may need to take supplemental or prerequisite courses in basic science or statistics to qualify for admission into an MPH program. You can usually apply to public health programs before you finish prerequisites, but requirements vary. Students can typically enroll in prerequisite courses at their local community college.

Is Work Experience a Prerequisite for a Public Health Graduate Program?

Many students who enter a public health graduate program do not hold a bachelor’s in public health, and consequently do not have relevant field experience. Generally, master’s programs prefer candidates with relevant work history. However, this is not necessarily a requirement, and many MPH programs accept students without a background in public health.

Applicants without experience in public health can improve their chances of getting into a program by volunteering or working in a public health-related organization before applying. This demonstrates to the admissions team your commitment to a career in public health. Gaining real-world experience in the field is also a good way for you to find out if you really want to spend the time and money it takes to become a public health professional.

Do I Have to Take the GRE to Apply to a Public Health Graduate Program?

Students applying to graduate school for public health usually must take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). The GRE tests the basic knowledge of prospective graduate and business school students. The exam is similar to the ACT and SAT. The GRE covers verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. Along with your undergraduate grades, letters of recommendation, and resume, the GRE helps graduate school admissions panels determine if you belong in their program.

Some public health graduate programs do not require prospective students to take the GRE. Instead, these schools base their decisions on criteria such as academic history, undergraduate GPA, letters of recommendation, personal statements, and work experience. In some cases, schools offer GRE waivers to exceptional students that they want in their program. The general GRE test costs $190. Students who can demonstrate financial need may receive a fee reduction of up to 50%.

GRE Waiver

Some public health graduate programs offer GRE test waivers to students with exceptional academic or work experience. These waivers allow prospective students to skip the GRE altogether. Oftentimes, you do not need to submit test scores if you already hold a graduate degree from an accredited college or university. Some schools also waive the GRE for candidates who complete Part 1 and 2 of the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). Other schools waive the test for candidates with significant experience in public health. Prospective students can obtain GRE waivers by filling out their school’s GRE waiver request form and submitting required documentation. Students can also contact an admissions counselor.

Breakdown of GRE Scores

Your test scores become available 10-15 days after you take the GRE. You receive three separate scores for each section of the test. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) scores the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections on a scale of 130-170 and the analytical writing section on a scale of 0-6. Your total GRE score combines the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections. While colleges often review your analytical writing response, this section does not factor into your score.

The highest score you can receive on the GRE is 340 (verbal and quantitative) + 6 (analytical writing).

As shown in the table below, each GRE test score correlates with a percentile rank. Your percentile rank indicates the percentage of people who scored lower than you on the test. For example, if your percentile rank is 85, it means that 85% of test-takers got a score lower than yours. The ETS bases percentile ranks on the scores of all individuals who took the test around the same time as you.

The lowest score you can get is 260 (verbal and quantitative) + zero (analytical writing). Average GRE scores fall around 300 (verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning). Many public health programs require applicants to earn around a 300 score on the GRE. Average test scores at the top schools for public health typically fall in the 75th percentile or greater. Some schools do not require a minimum GRE score, but still consider the score in combination with other application requirements.

GRE Score Percentiles for 2017-2018

Scaled ScoreVerbal Reasoning Percentile RankQuantitative Reasoning Percentile Rank

Source: ETS

Public Health Graduate School Application Requirements


You must submit transcripts from all previously attended colleges or universities as part of your application to public health graduate school. If you went to more than one school for your undergraduate degree, you need to request transcripts separately from each institution. Schools look at transcripts to see which classes you took, the grades you earned in each class, and your overall academic performance.

To order transcripts, you typically need to contact your school’s registrar office. You may be able to order and pay for your transcripts online. Most schools charge a small fee for the service, but some offer the service to alumni at no charge. Public health programs usually require sealed transcripts directly from your previous school. Make sure to begin the process of ordering your transcripts early in the application process, because sometimes it takes weeks for your prospective school to receive the documents.

Test Scores

At the time you take the GRE, you can select up to four graduate schools you are interested in applying to. The GRE then automatically submits your test scores to your chosen schools. The cost of this service is included in your GRE test fee. If you already took the GRE and need to have the scores sent to a new school, you can order additional GRE score reports online for $27 per school.


Most public health graduate programs ask applicants to submit their resume. Your resume should include any academic, professional, or volunteer experience applicable to the field of public health. You do not need to include your entire work history. In fact, your resume should typically be no longer than one page. If you do not have professional experience, highlight other strengths such as internships or volunteer work. You can also include an “other experience” section that highlights transferable skills from non-public health jobs. Indicate if you have taken any supplemental or prerequisite public health courses or workshops.

One of the best ways to strengthen your resume is to focus on specific achievements. Make sure to use strong action verbs when describing your skills, accomplishments, and duties. Design a clean, minimal, clearly-written resume that is easy to read. Carefully proofread your resume for typos and have a trusted friend or advisor review it.

Essays and Personal Statements

Writing an essay or personal statement can be one of the most challenging parts of the MPH application process. Many schools use the terms “admissions essay” and “statement of purpose” interchangeably. They both usually ask prospective students to explain their academic and career goals and relevant experience in the field. Sometimes admissions essays ask students to answer other, more specific questions.

Admissions essays give applicants a chance to help the admissions committee get to know them better.

Admissions essays give applicants a chance to help the admissions committee get to know them better. You should try to include relevant information not covered by other parts of the application. Graduate schools usually look for people who seem passionate and committed to their field, as well as students who have a unique perspective or background. Schools also want to know that you seriously considered why you want to earn an MPH instead of jumping into the decision. You need to be able to clearly explain why earning a degree in this particular program supports your academic and career goals. Describe what area of public health most interests you and why. Your essay should read like a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Try to avoid being too general or vague, and use specific examples as much as possible.

Even if the program you apply to indicates the admissions essay is optional, you should submit one. This shows the admissions committee your determination to study in their program. Here are some well-written sample admissionsessays from graduate public health students. Although quite different from each other, these essays clearly outline each student’s goals and explain why they want to enter their specific public health program. They both also include personal stories that demonstrate a genuine passion for public health.

Letters of Recommendation

The letters of recommendation you submit for public health graduate school can make or break your application. Schools expect you to get letters from people who can speak to your academic or professional experience. Choose people, such as direct supervisors or recent professors, who know you well and can describe your accomplishments. Ask your recommenders for letters far in advance of when your application is due in order to give them ample time. Always ask your potential recommenders if they feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation for you. That way, you can avoid receiving a letter from someone who is less than enthusiastic.

Once someone agrees to write a letter of recommendation for you, make sure to provide them with all of the information they need to write a strong letter. This includes information about the MPH program and school you are applying to, your relevant experience, and your accomplishments. The easier you make the process for your recommenders, the more likely they are to write your letter by the due date and include the details that you find most important. Plan to give each person up to eight weeks to write your letter.

English Proficiency Tests

English proficiency tests measure how well you can read, write, speak, and listen to English at the college level. English proficiency test requirements vary by school, but most colleges require students from non-English speaking countries to pass the TOEFL, IELTS, or TOEIC. Schools require these tests because it is difficult to succeed in graduate school if you do not understand the language being spoken. International students who spent at least one of the last five years studying in the U.S. usually do not need to retake an English proficiency test.

Background Check

Some public health graduate programs require students to undergo a background check in order to take part in required field placements. This is particularly true for students who want to take an internship working with children or in government agencies, hospitals, or other health facilities. Background check policies vary by program and depend on what type of field placement you choose.

How Do You Apply to Graduate School?

The best time to apply to potential graduate public health programs is well ahead of the deadline. This shows the school that getting into the program is something you planned for and thought about seriously. Applying far in advance of the deadline also gives you a chance to get all of your materials together in a calm, organized manner. The earlier you apply, the more likely you are to receive fellowships and other aid. Graduate public health programs usually require students to individually apply through each school’s website. Some programs may still require you to submit a paper application, but this is rare.

Application fees vary, but usually cost $75 to $100. If paying for the application fee is a challenge for you, look into the possibility of getting a fee waiver or reduction. Some schools advertise fee waivers on their websites, while others do not disclose this information. Contact the admissions office of your desired school to determine if you can receive a fee waiver.

Rolling Admissions

Many graduate programs use rolling admissions to admit students. In a rolling admissions process, schools consider each application as it arrives. Rolling admissions schools look at your application and accept or reject it almost immediately. Applicants get a decision within a few days or weeks. Colleges that use rolling admissions often boast higher acceptance rates.

Schools using rolling admissions give students a lengthy application window during which they can apply. However, students must still submit all materials by the final deadline. You should apply as early as possible, though, since many colleges only accept a certain number of students into each program. If you wait too long, the program might be full. By applying early, you might also face less competition from other applicants.

Rounds Admissions

The rounds admissions process is very similar to the rolling admissions process. Schools using rounds admission offer multiple deadlines instead of just one. Rounds admissions schools give students multiple application windows and then consider applications from each round separately. They make admittance decisions in the earlier rounds before moving on to evaluate applications in the next one.

Schools with rounds admissions usually have three rounds, but some have more. Similar to the rolling admissions process, students who apply early are more likely to get into their desired program. Round one confers the greatest amount of seats. By the last round, only a few spots may be left, and applicants face the highest level of competition. Programs with rounds admissions can be more competitive and difficult to get into than those with rolling admissions.

Waiting for Acceptance Letters

The last – and often the most anxiety-inducing – part of the application process is waiting. Different people feel different emotions while waiting for admissions letters. Some applicants feel excited and hopeful. Others fear rejection. No matter how you feel, take a minute to feel proud of yourself for doing the hard work it takes to apply to graduate school. How long it takes to hear back varies from school to school, and depends on if you applied through a rolling admissions or rounds admissions process. If you applied at a rolling admissions school you usually hear back very quickly, but if you applied at a rounds admissions school you might wait three or four months. While you wait to find out if you got in, you should begin looking for scholarships for public health graduate school. If you have not already done so, also start looking into other financial aid options, including loans and grants.

How long it takes to hear back varies from school to school, and depends on if you applied through a rolling admissions or rounds admissions process.

The day when you finally find out if you got in can also be stressful. If you did not get in, allow yourself to feel disappointed for a while. After all, you worked hard for this and did not get what you hoped you would. However, make sure to consider other options. You might be able to get on the program’s waitlist or reapply next year. You may also find another graduate school of public health with different admissions criteria. Sometimes, acceptance letters also provoke stress. Maybe you got into multiple schools and need to choose which one to attend. Make a list of the pros and cons of each one and think about your decision carefully before making your final choice.