People pursue a Master of Public Health (MPH) because they want to tackle complex public health problems like healthcare access, food safety issues, addiction, and infectious disease control. An MPH makes all these options possible; it can lead to a career in research, government policy, health education, epidemiology, or social justice. The MPH delivers the skills, qualifications, and connections you'll need to make the world a better place and help people lead healthier lives.
Altruism may motivate MPHs, but it's not like they would mind making a decent living in the process. And indeed, you can earn a comfortable living with a public health master's degree. However, you need to understand that high-paying public health positions aren't the norm. Yes, you could earn a six-figure salary in a public health job, but you shouldn't count on it.
One thing you can count on: you'll almost certainly need a master's degree to work in public health. Because you're not guaranteed a top salary when you graduate, you'll need to consider the cost of MPH programs and weigh your options carefully when choosing an MPH specialization. If you're looking at public health master's degree programs, keep your expectations realistic.
In this article about what the average Master of Public Health salary looks like, we cover:
Before we dig deeper into what you can do with an MPH and the factors that can affect a Master of Public Health salary, let's take a look at what an MPH actually is and isn't. There are generalist Master of Public Health programs, but because public health is a multidisciplinary field, many schools offer opportunities to customize this degree with concentrations and electives. At Tulane University of Louisiana, for instance, all MPH students choose a concentration, with the school offering the following degrees:
Regardless of concentration, all Tulane MPH students take the following core public health courses:
After earning an MPH—with or without a specialization—students go on to work in fields as varied as infectious disease prevention, environmental health, and food safety. Some work in applied public health and work to address threats to health and safety directly. Others work in education, government, or the private sector.
Sites like PayScale track Master of Public Health salaries, but looking at averages can only tell us so much. According to PayScale, earning an MPH typically correlates with an average of about $64,000 (versus $54,000 for bachelor's degree holders in the field).
Many factors, however, influence how much Master of Public Health holders earn. The most important is probably job title and specialization. An MPH can help you become a health educator earning $45,000, an epidemiologist earning $63,000, or an infection control specialist earning $76,000.
Degree concentration may be the most significant determinant of your earning potential after graduating from an MPH program. Some public health specializations simply lead to higher-paying jobs.
An MPH in Epidemiology, Biostatistics, Health Services Administration, or Health Policy and Management will provide a much more marketable set of skills and help you qualify for some of the highest-paying public health jobs. The choice to pursue an MPH in Health Behaviors, Nutrition, or Community Health Sciences, on the other hand, should probably be based on your passion for these areas of public health. You might not ever join the ranks of top-earning public health professionals if you choose one of those specializations, but you will have an advantage over the competition when applying for jobs.
This is a question with no definitive answer. On paper, earning your MPH from one of these universities will probably help you land better-paying positions in public health:
It's important to consider, however, that the top public health colleges and universities tend to be in major metro areas on the coasts that are magnets for large healthcare systems, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and nonprofits. The advantage of graduating from one of the above schools may have less to do with name recognition and more to do with the fact that they all nurture useful connections and partnerships with employers in the public health field.
Other colleges and universities not on this list also have strong relationships with employers, however. One of the best things you can do to maximize your earning potential after graduating with an MPH is to enroll in a program that has strong post-graduation job placement rates and high alumni salaries. If you don't see either of these metrics on a school's website, reach out to the admissions office directly to ask for more information.
The average master of public health salary factors in positions that pay in the mid-forties and six-figure public health jobs. MPH graduates can choose from among a broad range of career options, including:
Money may not be what initially inspired you to consider a career in public health, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't look into the highest-paying jobs in this field. Be aware that for most of the positions below, a generalist MPH will not suffice. To work in these public health roles, you'll probably need to pursue a focused Master of Public Health degree.
You probably won't get far in public health without a master's degree, so the answer to the question 'Is a master's in public health worth it?' is an unequivocal yes. Master's degree programs from the top colleges and universities can be jaw-droppingly expensive, but there are plenty of affordable MPH programs out there that are accredited by the Council for Education on Public Health and cover all the same material. You might not join the ranks of the 1 percent with an MPH, but you will be able to turn your passion for public health into a rewarding career.
You'll also have many options when it comes to what that career looks like. Because public health is a broad discipline, a public health degree can lead to many kinds of opportunities. According to Dr. Michelle Teti, an associate professor and the Director of Bachelor of Health Science in Public Health Program at the University of Missouri, versatility is one of the most significant benefits of having a degree in public health: "I have worked as an educator in a domestic violence shelter, a court advocate in a sexual assault center. I've worked in HIV and LGBT health centers creating education materials and interventions to prevent HIV. I've developed public health websites. I've developed health programs for women with HIV. I've worked with international agencies to create HIV prevention policies. I've evaluated health programs for a Latino health center. And now I work in research and public health education."
The bottom line is that there are many avenues you can pursue with a Master of Public Health. There are lucrative opportunities in public health—like infectious disease specialist, epidemiologist, and biostatistician—and not so lucrative ones. Regardless, the work you do will be valuable no matter what career path you choose to follow. Money, after all, isn't everything.
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