Online Public Health Degrees

Public health professionals work to maintain healthy living conditions throughout their community. They are responsible for collaborating with community officials and local governments to address community health and wellness needs. They focus on preventative and wellness care and are trained in all aspects of disease prevention, human nutrition, and environmental safety.

Ideal candidates for a career in public health are analytically inclined problem-solvers with excellent interpersonal and communication skills. A bachelor’s degree is required for many entry-level jobs, and MPH programs can provide additional training for professionals seeking managerial responsibilities in the field.

Increasingly, public health students are turning to online programs. As distance education opportunities have expanded in recent years, those interested in pursuing a public health degree have more opportunities to pursue bachelor’s and master’s programs online than ever before. Read on to learn more about the online opportunities available to students in the field.

Meet our expert

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Jennifer Dunphy Public Health

“This virtual program allowed me the flexibility to be the most successful version of myself.”

Online Public Health Degree Overview

Degree Avg Degree Cost Avg Loan Default Rate Time Commitment Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay Unemployment Rate
Associate $12,744 14.5% 2 years $33,100 $46,200 N/A
Bachelor's $15,422 10.36% 4 years $37,500 $60,500 4.1%
Master's $17,977 6.57% 2 years $52,900 $75,600 N/A
Whether you are new to the field, or looking to advance in your current career, you should weigh the costs and time of getting a new degree against its benefits. There is no one-size-fits-all degree. The best choice for you will depend on your current educational background, financial standing, employment history, and area of interest. For instance, those with no experience may want to consider an associate degree, due to its shorter time commitment and lower cost. If finances are tight for you, then you should prioritize the student loan debt and default categories, as you will want to choose a degree that offers you the best chance of improving your financial standing with minimal risk. If your employer or someone else is paying for your education, then you might want to consider the degree that will offer you the highest salary. All salary information is sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and/or PayScale

Pursuing a public health degree online can prepare you for a variety of career options in public health and wellness, social services, and community engagement. However, because there is no formal licensing requirement at the undergraduate level, employers in many industries prefer candidates with a master’s degree. Students who complete online MPH programs often also choose to earn the Certified in Public Health (CPH) credentials or other voluntary specialty certifications, increasing their marketability in the workplace.

Choosing Your Public Health Career

Average Public Health Salaries

$65,270
$34,870
$56,950
$92,810

Epidemiologist

Salary: $65,270
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
10% 5,100 Masters None

Epidemiologists research the causes and patterns of diseases, illnesses, and epidemics. They conduct research, analyze data, and develop community outreach programs and health policy reforms to prevent and reduce public health risks. Those suited to careers in epidemiology are detail-oriented critical thinkers and capable teachers with strong math skills. Epidemiologists are required to have at least a master’s degree to enter the field.

Community Health Worker

Salary: $34,870
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
14% 54,000 Associates None

Community health workers educate the public on wellness and healthy behaviors. Professionals collect data and statistics pertaining to public health, connect the public with health care services and programs, and plan and implement programs of their own to raise awareness in the community. Ideal candidates are analytical problem-solvers with strong writing and instructional skills. Community health workers holding an associate degree are qualified for entry-level jobs in the field, though many job-seekers go on to earn a higher degree in public health to increase their career opportunities and earning potential. Entry-level community health workers with an associate degree are prepared to enroll in a bachelor’s program.

Nutritionist

Salary: $56,950
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
16% 66,700 Bachelor's Registered Dietician

Nutritionists are trained to promote health and wellness by altering their clients’ diets. Professionals may counsel clients individually or in groups, helping them develop meal plans, encourage healthy eating habits, and promote a healthy lifestyle. Some nutritionists help patients achieve a particular goal, such as weight loss or diabetes management. Nutritionists should be compassionate and sensitive towards those they work with. Candidates who complete an online MPH program may earn a higher salary and have more job advancement potential. Though not always required, nutritionists are also encouraged to earn a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential.

Public Health Administrator

Salary: $92,810
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
17% 333,000 Bachelor's None

Public health administrators coordinate medical and healthcare services in a variety of settings. They may oversee a clinical department, specialty practice, or healthcare facility. These professionals are well-versed in public health policies, laws, regulations, and relevant technologies affecting the field. Ideal candidates also have strong leadership and communication skills, and must be detail-oriented and tech-savvy. As a management-oriented profession, public health administration requires applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions. Public health administrators are well-compensated and the job growth rate in this area is high, though advancement opportunities and salary are contingent on your experience and credentials.

Online Public Health Degree in Action

Jennifer Dunphy Public Health

Jennifer Dunphy is a director of population health at Regal Medical Group. The flexibility offered by an online program allowed Dunphy to earn her master’s degree in public health from Berkeley College while she continued working.

Why did you choose to pursue your degree online?

I chose to pursue my degree online for several reasons. I was on my second masters, my first was a full-time MBA, so taking two more years to complete my MPH would have put me behind my peers in regards to professional experience. I needed an alternative which would allow me to make strides in both areas.

Berkeley is also well known for it's exceptional public health program, and online was the only way I could continue to work at my current organization while enjoying access to Berkeley's faculty and curriculum.

What were the advantages of taking online classes?

The advantages to taking classes online were vast. I could make my own schedule, which sometimes involved being "in-class" or watching lectures during lunch at work, at 2 am on Saturday nights or 5 am on Monday mornings. I set my own schedule so that I could be most effective professionally and academically. If you have scheduled times you need to be somewhere in two disciplines (work and school), it becomes much more difficult to fit the pieces together in a way that works best for you. This virtual program allowed me the flexibility to be the most successful version of myself.

What were the challenges you faced taking public health classes online?

Challenges of working online include not being able to have face-to-face interactions with classmates and instructors. This was really only a large hindrance when I came across topics that are hard to talk through conversationally, like advanced statistical modeling. If the topic is mainly visual and involves a lot of symbols it's harder to talk things out. The other part of online learning I found challenging was exams-- finding and paying for a proctor, and scheduling exams at testing centers with administrators that can't answer any questions specific to your course material was frustrating at times. I found the rest of the aspects of online learning pleasant and adaptable.

How did your online public health degree prepare you for the job market?

My experience with online classes did prepare me for the job market, but this really had nothing to do with the courses being delivered online or not, and much more to do with the quality of faculty, access to resources such as office hours, content and delivery of course material and the context of the course compared with the professional opportunities available.

Online Public Health Degrees

Associate

An associate degree can be completed in two years, and these programs are suitable for students aspiring to become community health workers. While salary and job growth rates improve significantly for students who complete a bachelor's degree or MPH program, associate degree graduates can expect to earn an average annual salary exceeding $30,000 per year.

Sample Courses
American History and World Civilization, Public Speaking, Introduction to Ethics, Social Problems, and Health Services Organization
Common Majors
Health Education and Wellness Coaching
Potential Jobs
Community Health Worker, and Social and Human Service Assistant
Average Income
$34,870
Employment Prospects
15% growth projected 2014-2024

Bachelor’s

A bachelor's in public health is the minimum requirement for many jobs in the industry. Graduates stand to earn a significantly higher salary than those holding an associate degree, with lower loan default rates as well. Degree holders can pursue a range of jobs, including positions in health services management, nutrition, and health education. BPH graduates are also prepared for online MPH programs or to obtain CPH certification.

Sample Courses
Health Care in the US, Global Health, Introduction to Epidemiology, Safety Fundamentals, and Strategic Planning
Common Majors
Environmental/Occupational Health, Disaster and Emergency Management, Health Informatics, and Health Promotion and Wellness
Potential Jobs
Health Services Manager, Nutritionist, Health Educator, and Community Health Worker
Average Income
$92,810
Employment Prospects
17% growth projected 2014-2024

Master’s

Master's degree-holders are prepared to enter research-oriented jobs in the field. Graduates have low loan default rates, and earning an MPH online can open the door to a variety of jobs in science, research, and upper-level management in the field. Some online master's in public health candidates may choose to obtain specialty certification in an area of expertise alongside their degree.

Sample Courses
Biostatistics, Epidemiology, Environmental Health Science, Health Sector Reform, and Economics for Health Policy
Potential Jobs
Epidemiologist, Survey Researcher, and Political Scientist
Average Income
$67,420
Employment Prospects
6% growth projected 2014-2024

The Top 5 Online Master's Degrees in Public Health

Rank School Name School Logo City Cost
1

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill
  • in-state tuition: $8,340
  • out-of-state tuition: $30,122
2

University of California - Berkeley

Berkeley
  • in-state tuition: $12,864
  • out-of-state tuition: $35,742
3

University of Florida

Gainesville
  • in-state tuition: $6,263
  • out-of-state tuition: $28,541
4

University of South Florida

Tampa
  • in-state tuition: $6,410
  • out-of-state tuition: $17,324
5

Tulane University of Louisiana

New Orleans
  • annually: $46,929

See full rankings

Doctorate

After completing an MPH online program, some graduates choose to pursue a terminal degree in the field. DrPH candidates are qualified for senior research positions in public health, along with post secondary teaching jobs. Many graduates become postsecondary teachers at a college or university, or take on a senior educator role involving policy reform or national public health programming.

Sample Courses
Public Health Ethics, Leadership/Management, Research Design and Methods, Public Health Intervention, and Health Politics and Policy Analysis
Potential Jobs
Postsecondary Teacher and Medical Scientist/Researcher
Average Income
$70,790
Employment Prospects
13% growth projected 2014-2024

Professional Requirements

Public health workers may choose from a variety of credentialing opportunities in both general public health practice and individual sectors in the field. Though not required, common general certifications demonstrate your expertise and may make you a more marketable job candidate. Depending on your area of expertise and education, prospective licensees may opt to pursue a specialized credential (emergency management, wellness coaching, tobacco treatment etc).

Certified in Public Health (CPH)

The CPH is the most general certification for public health professionals. The test covers fundamental concepts in the field, including health policy and management, along with social and behavioral sciences. The CPH exam addresses the same basic skills students learn in an undergraduate public health degree program. To take the test, you must hold at least a bachelor’s degree and have five years of work experience in public health. The cost of the test is $385; international students must pay an additional $125 fee.

Is it required?

No

How long will it take?

Students have four hours to complete the exam

Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES)

The CHES is a common specialty certification that assesses seven primary skills in prospective entry-level health education positions. CHES exam candidates must hold at least a bachelor’s degree in a major related to health education. If their major is not in health education, they must submit an official transcript to demonstrate they have completed at least 25 semester hours (37 quarter hours) preparing for the exam’s Seven Areas of Responsibility and Competency for Health Education Specialists. The cost of the test for non-students begins at $240, and is $210 for students. As a form of standardizing high-quality health education across the country, more states are adopting policies encouraging health educators to become CHES-certified, though currently this credential is not required.

Is it required?

No

How long will it take?

Students have three hours to complete the exam

Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES)

The MCHES is an advanced certification that can be obtained as a stand-alone credential or as an extension of the CHES. Like the CHES, the exam assesses your understanding of the Seven Areas of Responsibility of Health Education Specialists. The MCHES delves deeper into both advanced and sub-level competencies within this framework. MCHES exam candidates with a CHES credential must have at least five continuous years of experience as a certified health education specialist. Candidates who do not have prior CHES certification (or who have CHES certification but fewer than five years as an active-status CHES) must have a master’s degree or higher in public health or a related field, or must show evidence of at least 25 semester hours preparing for the exam’s Seven Areas of Responsibility. Non-public health majors must also have five years of experience as an active-status CHES. The test costs $250 for students, and $300 for non-students. Job-seekers aspiring to senior-level educator positions or government work may be required to obtain MCHES certification.

Is it required?

No

How long will it take?

Students have three hours to complete the exam

Career-specific Certifications

In addition to the common general certifications listed above, there are more than 25 available certifications spanning the primary sectors of public health, including occupational, environmental and first aid, and safety and emergency professions. Many employers will require first aid, CPR, and AED training for professionals providing direct health care to patients. If you are working with children, you may also need to obtain Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician certification. Wellness coaches and personal trainers may opt to obtain specialized credentials to improve their credibility and increase their advantage over competitors in their line of work. Other categories of public health that offer career-specific certifications include physical activity, nutrition and obesity, and drugs, tobacco, and alcohol.