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10 Things to know before you apply

  1. 1

    Public health is distinct from other clinical professions.

    Clinical professions, such as medicine and nursing, primarily focus on treating individuals after they have become ill. Public health focuses on prevention, rather than treatment. By doing so, it has a great impact on the health of both individuals and populations. Understanding the differences between public health and the clinical health professions will be an important first step before deciding to embark on a public health education.

  2. 2

    Students can begin their public health education as undergraduates.

    Many CEPH-accredited schools and programs offer undergraduate degrees in public health. Studying public health as an undergraduate can prepare the student for further education and potential career growth in the field. If you are applying to college and are interested in public health, see our schools and programs database for a complete list of CEPH-accredited institutions that offer undergraduate public health education. An undergraduate public health degree is not necessary for graduate study in the field and students of public health come from a variety of educational backgrounds.

  3. 3

    Many undergraduate degrees can translate into academic careers in public health.

    Students of public health come from a variety of educational backgrounds. Some undergraduate degrees, however, may be beneficial when applying to a graduate school of public health. If you are interested in epidemiology or biostatistics, a math or science major may provide a strong foundation off which to build. For behavioral sciences or health education, consider sociology, anthropology, or psychology as majors. Other public health fields lend themselves to business and social science. All schools of public health, though, require competence in effective communication. Make sure your major allows you to hone your verbal and written skills.

  4. 4

    CEPH-accredited schools and programs offer a wide variety of concentrations.

    While all accredited public health schools and programs offer the five core areas of study, many offer additional concentrations. These concentrations vary across institutions, but the following are commonly offered: Community Health, Maternal and Child Health, Health Communication and Promotion, Minority Health and Health Disparities, and Global Health.

  5. 5

    Public health schools and programs require a number of entrance requirements for application.

    While schools and programs of public health look for high graduate entrance exam scores and GPA, other aspects of an applicant’s record, such as a career achievement, professional experience and clarity of career goals, are equally important. Admissions decisions are based on an overall assessment of the ability of applicants to successfully complete the degree track area selected. Each program or track within a given department may set additional requirements for admission.  Applicants should refer to the individual programs for details.

  6. 6

    Public health academic programs offer off-campus and online programs—both non-degree and degree granting.

    Schools and programs of public health offer a variety of programs via distance-based technology. ASPPH also houses a search feature for distance learning programs to help students find their ideal program. In addition, there are many schools and programs that offer non-traditional degree options such as:

    • Executive programs: Designed for public health professionals already working in the field. With flexible timing and nighttime options, many professionals find executive programs a convenient and versatile way to advance their public health education.
    • Certificate programs: A complementary component to public health education, these programs are often focused around specific topics in public health and are generally open to non-degree students interested in establishing competency in a specialized area of the field. They can usually be completed part time and require fewer credits than degree programs.
    • Summer institutes: These institutes are highly focused programs that explore specific areas of public health. Some of these institutes offer academic credit, and most are centered around a relevant theme that is explored for at least a few weeks in the summer.
  7. 7

    All institutions accept international students and students should be aware of language-related application components before applying.

    International students are encouraged to confirm with individual schools to see if they require specific application materials, but almost all international public health applicants are required to submit the TOEFL, which measures English-language competency. While international applicants are encouraged to have somebody they trust review their essays and application, they must never have the person write the essay for them. SOPHAS provides useful guidelines on how to avoid plagiarism—or the act of using somebody else’s words, writing, or ideas as your own—in your application.

  8. 8

    To learn more about public health, students are encouraged to get practical and professional public health experience before applying.

    There are many options for individuals looking to get experience before applying to a school of public health.

    • Working part-time or full-time at a hospital or health clinic.
    • Volunteering for a non-profit direct services organization, such as a health clinic or a local chapter of the American Red Cross.
    • Working for a non-profit organization that is directly involved in public health advocacy and policy.
    • Working or volunteering for a local health department.
    • Exploring options provided by public service organizations such as,,, or Path Internship.
  9. 9

    There are many ways you can familiarize yourself with the field and to network with practitioners.

    The public health field holds hundreds of professional and academic conferences across the country, and many of those are open to undergraduate students. Before applying to a graduate program in public health, undergraduates are encouraged to visit one of these conferences where they can familiarize themselves with latest research in the field, network with accomplished public health professionals, and get a taste for how the field is evolving before deciding whether or not to commit to advanced graduate education in public health. See our events calendar for related conferences of interest.

  10. 10

    Graduates of CEPH-accredited schools and programs of public health have successful careers in a variety of fields.

    Because public health is interdisciplinary and relates to a wide spectrum of health-related global challenges, graduates find work in a number of areas after they graduate. Many graduates will establish their careers in a hospital or health care provider setting, while others will work for federal and local governments, as well as university settings. In addition to these main places of employment, some public health graduates may work at a non-profit organization or at a pharmaceutical company. Within these job settings, public health graduates may be involved in research, policy advocacy, educational programming, or global disease prevention efforts.