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Information for Prospective Students

"Everything you ever wanted to know about Schools of Public Health"

Schools and Colleges

Students of schools of public health are incredibly diverse in their ethnic, economic, and professional backgrounds. They come from all areas of the United States and the rest of the world. Some enter graduate schools of public health directly from undergraduate school or another graduate program, others have worked for some time in other fields and are returning to school to enhance their careers. Public health has something for everyone because of its inter disciplinary approaches and incorporation of a wide range of interests and abilities.

Academic and Student Life

ASPH is home to the membership of accredited schools of public health and several member programs of public health that are seeking accreditation as schools of public health. Each school has its own character and environment. These schools offers a wide range of degree concentration programs from MPH, MHA, MHSA, MSPH, DrPH and PhD, as well as joint degrees such as MD/MPH, JD/MPH, MBA/MPH, MSW/MPH, MPP/MPH, etc.

Get a feel for what it's like to be a student by checking out each school online.

Applying to a school of public health

While schools 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, therefore, applicants should refer to the individual programs for details.  All schools of public health require competence in effective communication (both verbal and written); therefore, students should try to take advantage of undergraduate opportunities to hone these skills.

A typical application package would include:

  • Completed application and payment of fee (The majority of schools of public health participate in SOPHAS: www.sophas.org).
  • A personal statement describing the student's interest in and potential for contributing to the field of public health.
  • A resume reflecting work/volunteer history.
  • Evidence of an earned baccalaureate or graduate degree or equivalent from an accredited institution of higher education.
  • Official transcripts of all academic work.
  • A strong undergraduate record overall, with a grade point average of 3.0 or better in the subject of the major.
  • Three letters of recommendation from academic or professional references.
  • Most institutions require submission of one standardized test (e.g. GRE, MCAT, GMAT) scores within the last five years. Some institutions may allow for substitution of DAT or LSAT.

Selecting an Undergraduate major

There is no one recommended undergraduate major for students intending to apply to a school of public health. Students of public health come from a variety of educational backgrounds; a quality undergraduate education will be a plus for any applicant.

However, there are some undergraduate majors that can be beneficial when applying to a school of public health. For example, if you are interested in epidemiology or biostatistics, a math major or basic science major is ideal. For Behavioral Sciences or Health Education, you might want to consider sociology, psychology or anthropology as a major. For studying Health Services Administration, you might want to consider a business background. To study Global Health, a social science degree is helpful. For those who want to study Environmental Health, you might want to study either biology or chemistry. Maternal and Child Health lends itself to both biology or social sciences.

Getting public health experience

Most schools do accept students without prior work experience; however, all schools look favorably on applicants who have at least a little experience. Contact the schools you are most interested in attending and ask about their specific requirements. Whenever possible, it is recommended to gain some experience in the field before applying to schools of public health.

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

  • Working part-time or full-time at a hospital or health clinic, such as working on an immunization program, in a reproductive health clinic or on a health promotion program.
  • Volunteering for a non-profit direct services organization, such as a Whitman-Walker clinic or a local chapter of the Red Cross.
  • Working at a non-profit organization that is directly involved in public health advocacy and policy.
  • Working or volunteering for a local health department.

Schools recognize that it is sometimes difficult to gain experience before applying, so some schools of public health have developed programs that offer opportuntities for potential applicants to get experience before applying. When speaking to schools of public health before the application process, ask them if they offer work experience programs.

Another way to gain some exposure to public health is to conduct information interviews from members of the public health community. Schools will look favorably upon your initiative, which may help in the application process, and you will be able to connect with public health professionals.

Fact Sheets on
Public Health Education

Excerpts from the June 2003 issue of The Advisor, the Journal of the National Association of Advisors for the Public Professions. [All files are PDF]

A Public Health Primer
Trends in Public Health Education
Understanding the Admissions Processes
Financing Your Public Health Education
Diversity and Public Health
"I've finished my degree...Now what?"