Public Health

How Much Will You Make With a Master’s in Public Health?

How Much Will You Make With a Master’s in Public Health?
Altruism may motivate MPHs, but it's not like they would mind making a decent living in the process. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry May 13, 2020

Public health is a broad discipline, which means that it's hard to predict what your earning potential will be with an MPH.

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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:

  • What is a Master of Public Health?
  • What is the average Master of Public Health salary?
  • How can degree concentration impact a Master in Public Health salary?
  • Will I earn more with an MPH from a top school?
  • What kinds of careers can you pursue with this degree?
  • What are the highest-paying jobs I can get with this degree?
  • Is earning an MPH worth it?

What is a Master of Public Health?

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:

  • MPH in Community Health Sciences
  • MPH in Disaster Management
  • MPH in Epidemiology
  • MPH in Health Education and Communication
  • MPH in Health Policy
  • MPH in Health Systems Management
  • MPH in International Health and Development
  • MPH in Maternal and Child Health
  • MPH in Nutrition

Regardless of concentration, all Tulane MPH students take the following core public health courses:

  • Biostatistics for Public Health
  • Community Training Methodologies
  • Design Strategies for Public Health Programs
  • Epidemiology for Public Health
  • Foundations in Public Health
  • Health Communication Theory and Practice
  • Health Equities and Public Health
  • Health Systems, Policy and Management
  • Healthcare Analytics
  • Introduction to Data Management and Analysis
  • Leadership in Public Health
  • Monitoring and Evaluation of Public Health Programs
  • Social & Behavioral Aspects of Global Health
  • Social Innovation Tools for Health Professionals

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.



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What is the average Master of Public Health salary?

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.

How can degree concentration impact a Master in Public Health salary?

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.

Will I earn more with an MPH from a top school?

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.

What kinds of careers can you pursue with this degree?

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:

  • Disaster preparedness coordinator: Some public health professionals are primarily concerned with the health impact of natural disasters like floods or tornados and man-made disasters caused by terrorism or war. They look at the risk factors associated with different types of disasters and find ways to mitigate or eliminate certain risks. Disaster preparedness coordinators typically earn about $52,000, though some earn over $75,000.
  • Epidemiological researcher: Epidemiology is a broad field, and epidemiological researchers can work in many roles related to the transmission of and prevention of infectious diseases. An epidemiologist might work in molecular research or health education, which makes it hard to calculate an average salary. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, epidemiologists typically earn about $71,000, with the top-earning 10 percent earning close to six figures.
  • Health policy analyst: These public health professionals develop, analyze, and implement health policy initiatives for government agencies, nonprofit organizations, political organizations, and companies in the healthcare space. Analysts earn about $62,000 but can earn as much as $83,000.
  • Health educator:__ These are some of the lowest-paid public health professionals. They work in a variety of settings, from schools to healthcare systems to government agencies, developing wellness programs, teaching, and working one-on-one with clients. They earn about $46,000.
  • Public health administrator: How much professionals in this role earn may depend on where they work. There are public health administrators in think tanks, government agencies, hospitals, insurance companies, and other settings, and while the average salary of public health administrators is about $67,000, some earn closer to $100,000.

What are the highest-paying jobs I can get with this degree?

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.

  • Biostatistician: These are the quants of the public health world. Their job is to use statistical analysis to create data-driven solutions to real-world public health issues. They work in research labs, for the federal government, in healthcare networks, and for other employers, crunching the numbers. Because they’re work is so specialized, they’re well paid. Biostatisticians generally earn about $118,000, and the highest-earners bring in close to $180,000.
  • Epidemiology research analyst: These data-driven disease detectives study outbreaks from all the angles to prevent future epidemics and mitigate the effects of epidemics. They can often be found working in government organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The average epidemiology research analyst salary is about $92,000.
  • Infection control coordinator: Some public health professionals specialize in infection and injury prevention. They conduct research into common causes of infections or injury and preventative strategies that are most effective. Sometimes infection control coordinators work for hospitals or in other medical facilities to keep infections from spreading between patients. Others work for government agencies to prevent illness and injury on a grand scale. They earn about $83,000 and, in some settings, can earn a lot more.
  • Medical writer: Public health specialists who enjoy writing can earn quite a lot if they write for publications geared toward doctors, pharmaceutical company executives, or health policy professionals. Medical writers can earn more than $100,000 drafting articles, reports, training materials, manuals, and educational papers related to public health.
  • Public health lobbyist: Not all lobbyists working in the public health sphere earn top dollar, but those with government experience and government connections can earn up to $300,000 annually. To do this job takes more than public health knowledge. A lobbyist whose work is focused on public health policy also needs a keen understanding of government and law.
  • Public health organization director: There are many nonprofit organizations in the public health space, and keeping these organizations both financially stable and effective requires competent leadership. Public health organization directors need public health expertise and the ability to balance the needs of those served by an organization against the annual budget. It’s a tough job, which is why these public health leaders often earn $108,000 or more.

Is earning an MPH worth it?

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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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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