Public Health

How Long Does it Take to Complete an MPH Program?

How Long Does it Take to Complete an MPH Program?
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Katie Marcus profile
Katie Marcus September 4, 2019

Ready to prevent the next great contagion? You may not quite reach such heroic heights in your career, but with a Master's in Public Health you will certainly help control and prevent health threats on a macro level, and that's pretty heroic on its own.

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If you’ve never suffered from measles—and chances are extremely good you haven’t—it’s probably because you were vaccinated for it as a child. Consider yourself lucky to live when you do: from 1840 to 1990, measles killed an estimated 200 million people worldwide. In the year 2000, however, as a result of a highly effective public health effort led by the CDC and various other public health advocacy groups, measles was declared eliminated in the United States.

The field of public health aims to prevent the spread of disease and other public health dangers through macro-level interventions. It focuses not on the treatment of individual patients, but rather on policies that affect the entire population. Solving these complex public health issues requires a big-picture approach and a solid educational background in health and population studies. When done right, it can effectively eradicate a deadly disease like measles.

Public health professionals enjoy a huge variety of career options. Opportunities for public health experts exist in both the public and private sector. Many advocacy groups need public health expertise, as do educational institutions, startups, consulting groups, and, of course, hospitals.

Earning a Master of Public Health can open the door to lots of career paths, and is generally required for anyone looking to move beyond entry-level work in the field. Payscale reports a Master of Public Health yields an average annual income of $63,000, but opportunities to earn much more are available. According to Benedictine University, MPHs can earn a median salary of $199,301 (infectious disease specialist), $89,370 (epidemiologist), or $88,580 (health service administrator). If making good money is a consideration, this degree should create some opportunities for you.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • The prerequisites for earning an MPH
  • The amount of time a full-time Master of Public Health program takes to complete
  • The amount of time a part-time Master of Public Health program takes to complete
  • Online MPH programs
  • How to choose the right MPH program for you

Prerequisites for an MPH

To get accepted into a Masters of Public Health program, you will first need to get an undergraduate degree.

Some schools offer a Bachelor’s in Public Health. They include:

If your undergraduate institution does not offer a public health major, consider pursuing a degree in a related subject, such as:

  • Biology
  • Biostatistics
  • Environmental sciences
  • Health policy

After completing your bachelor’s degree, you will probably need:

  • A GRE score (although not all schools require this exam); those that forgo the exam are more likely to require interviews and/or personal essays
  • Letters of recommendation
  • A reasonably impressive undergraduate GPA

Internship or work experience can also help, but neither is necessary.


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How long does a full-time master of public health program take?

Master of Public Health programs serve two distinct student populations. One consists of healthcare or public health professionals who either hold another graduate degree (usually terminal, although in some instances they have master’s degrees), have extensive experience in the health professions, or both. This group includes a significant number of MDs looking to shift their careers from practice to policy.

The other consists of everyone else. These students generally studied a health-related discipline as undergraduates and may even have some professional experience in the health professions, but they’re not as experienced or as thoroughly educated as the first group.

Public health programs recognize that the students in the second group need fieldwork and coursework that students in the first group do not, so they offer the MPH in two formats:

  • A standard format that typically requires 40 to 50 hours of coursework plus a six- or twelve-month internship; this program typically takes about two years to complete.
  • An accelerated format (abbreviated primarily by the lack of an internship) that typically takes about one year to complete. Many schools require applicants to hold the terminal degree in their field in order to qualify for this format.

Johns Hopkins University offers its full-time program in an accelerated, eleven-month format, restricting admission to those with two years’ post-undergrad experience in health-related work or a doctoral degree. Approximately half its students are physicians and medical students, but many students (40 percent, precisely) come from other professions, including law, education, and academics. JHU offers the same program in a part-time online format that can be completed in two to three years.

Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine offers nine different concentrations to MPH students, ranging from community health sciences to health policy to nutrition. Each program requires 45 credits, which full-time students typically complete in two years. The school also offers an online, part-time version of the program.

Harvard University‘s T.H. Chan School of Public Health offers an accelerated 45-credit MPH that takes one year to complete. Its traditional 65-credit program takes three semesters to complete and includes a practicum.

Northeastern University offers an MPH that can be completed in as little as 1.5 years and features a “community-oriented, 200-hour practicum that takes place in a professional public health setting”.

The MPH at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor takes two years to complete. The program is offered in conjunction with the department of biostatistics and shares a significant portion of its curriculum with that department’s Master of Science, so expect a program with a strong emphasis on biostatistics here.

At Washington University in St Louis‘s Brown School, MPH students can concentrate in epidemiology and biostatistics, global health, health policy analysis, or urban design. They can also pursue a non-specialization generalist track. Full-time students complete the program in two years; the school also offers a 3-2 dual degree program that allows students to earn a bachelor’s and the MPH is five years.

How long does a part-time master of public health program take?

Most part-time MPH programs are designed to accommodate the schedules of busy professionals. As a result they can take as little or as much time (within reason) as the student wants. Most schools encourage students to complete the program in no more than four years, and most programs are designed to be completed in two to three years by students taking half a full-time courseload.

Columbia University, for example, offers a part time MPH option that takes 28 months to complete and meets between two and three times per week, with some elective classes available on weekends.

Boston University offers a part-time program that can typically be completed in two to three years. A hybrid version delivers core courses online and specialized advanced courses in the traditional on-campus format.

Loyola University Chicago offers a 42-credit MPH that can be completed in-person, online, or in a hybrid format. Full-time students can complete the program in 18 months; part-times students may take up to five years.

Should I get my MPH degree online?

Every year, more and more high-quality schools decide to bring their Public Health graduate degrees online. All of the following offer online MPH degrees that require little to no on-campus time.

Not all online programs are great, but you can be reasonably confident that an online program offered by a university with a national reputation—such as the ones listed here—will be equivalent in quality the school’s on-campus program. These schools would not launch a new program that would damage their reputations, which is their greatest asset.

Choosing the right program

The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) is the only accrediting body that is nationally recognized for public health schools. The organization currently accredits MPH programs at 174 American universities. By enrolling in a program at a school that is CEPH-certified, students are eligible to take the Certified Public Health (CPH) exam, and are also eligible to apply for internships and fellowships in public health sponsored by federal agencies.

Before you take the plunge into an MPH, make sure you check that the programs you’re applying to are CEPH-certified, especially if you’re interested in working for the federal government. Check to see what sorts of concentrations the program offers, and decide whether you’d like to specialize in a certain field within Public Health. There are so many options to consider.

If you want to continue working while you get your degree, make sure the programs you’re considering are flexible for part time-students, and consider going with an online option for total flexibility. But if you’re willing–and can afford–to put your professional work on hold for a year or two, you won’t regret going full time and finishing your MPH quickly.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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