Public health professionals improve the wellbeing of individuals and communities. In the U.S., affordable and quality healthcare is an urgent concern due to the needs of an aging baby boomer generation and mental and physical health challenges among underserved groups. By pursuing a bachelor's degree in public health, you gain the theoretical knowledge and practical training to tackle these issues. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects positional growth for public health careers through 2026. Occupational health and safety specialists are projected to see an 8% job growth rate through 2026. Health educator positions are projected to increase by 16%.
As an interdisciplinary field that combines politics, communications, and the natural sciences, public health degrees promote critical thinking and commitment to population-focused health services and education. With a bachelor's education, you can occupy entry-level positions or pursue master's credentials. This guide provides in-depth academic and financial information as well as insight into career and professional development opportunities.
Should I Get a Bachelor's in Public Health?
Public health degrees train candidates to identify, evaluate, monitor, and treat health issues on individual and group levels. Students can expect introductory coursework in topics like the U.S. healthcare system, biostatistics, epidemiology, and health education and promotion. Students apply theoretical knowledge through laboratory practice, fieldwork, and internship experiences.
To further prepare students for post-graduation goals, bachelor's programs emphasize research training. Through advanced seminars, students learn to craft effective research questions, conduct experiments, and analyze and present results. The degree plan culminates in an integrative capstone project, which enables students to synthesize what they learn to address public health challenges.
Colleges and universities support student growth through networking opportunities and extracurricular engagement. Students cultivate professional relationships and leadership skills by working with campus groups and partner organizations, such as the honorary public health society, Delta Omega. Schools also facilitate conference attendance, where students can present research, learn from industry experts, connect with peers, and discover internships and jobs.
A bachelor's in public health shows employers that candidates possess the necessary knowledge, skills, and experiences to take on public health roles. Undergraduate credentials lead to better job prospects. In its 2017 employment projections, the BLS reports that bachelor's degree holders benefit from lower unemployment (2.5%) than professionals with associate degrees (3.4%) and those with high school diplomas (4.6%). Additionally, professionals with a bachelor's earn, on average, $17,500 more in annual salary than those with two-year degrees.
Students of all backgrounds can find the public health bachelor's degree that fits their needs, interests, and goals. Working professionals gravitate toward online programs for their flexible scheduling. Recent high school graduates may gain more from on-campus programs, which offer direct access to university resources, including laboratories, internship placement programs, and administrative support.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor's in Public Health?
Public health specialists help to provide communities with accessible healthcare. Professionals may work in the private sector as administrators and public relations specialists for insurance companies, health facilities, and pharmaceutical manufacturers. Graduates can also pursue careers with nonprofit organizations, promoting health services and education in areas like nutrition, mental health, maternal/child welfare, and environmental issues.
With a public health degree, professionals can work on a global scale, conducting research and coordinating resources to prevent the spread of diseases. No matter the role they occupy, public health professionals must communicate and collaborate with diverse populations. Due to rapid changes to healthcare, professionals must also remain current on governmental laws and policies.
- Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
These professionals inspect the environmental characteristics of a workplace to ensure it abides by industry safety standards and government regulations. Operational health specialists also educate employers and implement programs to improve workplace conditions. Additionally, they collect and analyze data to create official documentation. To access this career, students need a bachelor's degree and additional credentials from an organization like the Board of Certified Safety Professionals.
Median Annual Salary: $67,720*
As one of the most popular public health professions, epidemiology entails the investigation, treatment, and prevention of disease. Through health policy and community action, epidemiologists reduce infection rates and increase the availability of support services. They also collect data and monitor at-risk populations. While epidemiologists can access entry-level positions with a bachelor's degree, most professionals pursue a master's and doctorate.
Median Annual Salary: $69,660*
Whether working with individual clients or entire communities, nutritionists promote healthy living and disease reduction through thoughtful food consumption. By using the latest nutritional research, these professionals create meal and exercise plans for individuals based on cultural, social, and economic characteristics. In addition to a bachelor's degree, employers may ask candidates for Registered Dietitian credentials.
Median Annual Salary: $59,410*
- Health Educator
These professionals promote health-conscious living. By analyzing need-specific data, health educators design and implement programs that tackle challenges like childhood obesity, food deserts, sexually transmitted infections, and domestic abuse. Health educators also act as a link between individuals and health services. On top of academic training, students must pursue professional certification from such associations as the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc.
Median Annual Salary: $45,360*
- Healthcare Administrator
Healthcare administrators plan, coordinate, and implement medical services that prioritize patient care and organizational growth. They can oversee a single clinical department or an entire facility. These professionals must hold at least a bachelor's degree. Certification is usually optional, except in the case of nursing home administrators who need to earn state licensure.
Median Annual Salary: $98,350*
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Choose a Bachelor's in Public Health Program
As students research prospective colleges, they should keep program length and learning delivery systems in mind. Bachelor's curricula typically span four years, but several factors affect this timeline, such as program type. Some schools facilitate accelerated pathways that enable students to earn undergraduate credentials in two years. Additionally, schools may operate joint programs, where students earn their bachelor's and master's degrees in five years. These combination plans are especially valuable for students whose career goals necessitate advanced coursework, practicum, and leadership training. Such positions include research scientist, public policy adviser, and program director.
Cost represents another important factor when picking schools. Students can save on tuition by completing their first two years of coursework at a community college. These schools not only offer lower tuition rates than four-year institutions, but they also help students transition into bachelor's programs through direct pathways to partner universities. Students may also take advantage of affordable tuition prices by pursuing an online public health degree. Distance education typically comes with asynchronous classes, which allow working professionals to complete coursework at their own pace.
However, remote learning contains drawbacks. Due to the linear nature of online degree plans, students gain enhanced flexibility at the cost of fewer course and specialization options. Furthermore, online students do not get access to work-study or fellowship programs because these awards necessitate on-campus responsibilities. Regardless of what program a student chooses, they must keep academic accreditation in mind.
Programmatic Accreditation for Bachelor's Programs in Public Health
To confer valid degrees and certificates, higher education institutions need to obtain national and/or regional accreditation. These stamps of approval indicate that colleges and universities maintain the academic standards respected by employers and government bodies. Schools become regionally accredited through one of six organizations, depending on location. For example, Texas colleges apply for regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Schools may also obtain programmatic accreditation for their public health degrees through the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). Founded in the early 1900s, CEPH ensures the highest quality education and training for school-based and external public health programs. Students who attend CEPH-accredited colleges know that their credentials align with current industry standards. This leads to more job prospects and better leverage during salary negotiations. CEPH accreditation also allows students to sit for all professional certification/licensure exams.
Bachelor's in Public Health Program Admissions
Colleges and universities ask for general admission materials like application, transcripts, recommendation letters, and standardized test scores. Candidates also need to submit a personal statement explaining how their goals and interests align with the school's mission. Some programs require students to possess paid work experience relevant to their major. Applicants detail job history through a resume.
Programs may also necessitate the completion of general education and prerequisite courses prior to full enrollment. Similarly, postsecondary institutions can mandate specific coursework in a student's high school transcript. Online public health degrees operate additional admission steps. Through entrance exams and learning assessments, applicants must demonstrate that they possess the drive and time management skills for self-motivated learning.
To make college applications manageable and cost-effective, students should narrow their options to approximately five schools. These institutions should satisfy major criteria, including affordability, academic outcomes, and student services and support. Prospective students should give themselves plenty of time before deadlines to ensure they do not rush or skip any admission steps.
- Minimum GPA: Most colleges and universities ask for at least a 2.0 GPA. Competitive institutions routinely require 3.0 minimum. In some instances, students can use exceptional test scores to offset unsatisfactory GPA.
- Application: All candidates must submit an online application. More than 700 undergraduate programs use The Common Application, enabling students to apply to multiple schools simultaneously. The Common App also helps students find the right colleges and pay for their education.
- Transcripts: Applicants must submit high school transcripts. Transfer/returning students must submit records of all prior college-level work. Applicants request these documents through their school's student services or registrar office.
- Letters of Recommendation: Undergraduate programs require two to three recommendation letters. These documents should come from teachers and mentors who can attest to the student's characteristics and academic achievements. Some schools restrict who may write recommendation letters.
- Test Scores: Students must submit official SAT/ACT scores, with minimum requirements based on individual institutions. However, certain colleges and universities, particularly those with online programs, eschew standardized testing altogether.
- Application Fee: Students can expect to pay at least $30 for each college application. They can lessen this expense by contacting prospective schools about fee waivers and reductions. The Common App also offers financial assistance.
What Else Can I Expect From a Bachelor's in Public Health Program?
Public health represents a multidisciplinary field with diverse concentration options at the undergraduate level. Options include maternal, childhood, community, global, mental, and environmental health. Students can also pursue degrees centered on data analytics, security, policy, and management. The table below details five popular concentrations for public health degrees.
|Biostatistics||This concentration trains students to analyze and apply data to healthcare functions. Biostatisticians who work in public health may track health trends and risks within a particular population. Course topics include probability theories, clinical trials, and statistical programming. Biostatistics students may also delve into informatics, where they use data in health promotion and prevention.||Biostatistician, healthcare administrator, health informatics specialists|
|Epidemiology||As the cornerstone of public health, epidemiology teaches students to discern the causes of and help prevent infectious diseases. Epidemiologists combine statistical research with public policy and community education to minimize negative health outcomes worldwide. Students can expect such classes as preventative medical trials, health economics, and ethical issues in human research.||Epidemiologist, health educator, survey researcher|
|Environmental Health||This concentration focuses on environmental causes of negative health outcomes, including water pollution, industrial waste, and climate change. Students take classes like ergonomics, risk assessment, and environmental epigenetics. They may also study occupational health topics. This specialization prepares students for careers as educators, advocates, data analysts, and scientists.||Environmental scientist, health educator, occupational health and safety specialist|
|Emergency Preparedness||Through an emergency preparedness concentration, students learn to prevent and mitigate natural and human made disasters. Classes include hazards governance, homeland security, and program evaluation. Students develop strategic communication, management, and decision-making skills that enable them to collaborate with diverse communities. The concentration also emphasizes technological skills in areas like geographic information systems.||Emergency manager, homeland security officer, hazardous materials specialist|
|Global Health||The global health concentration trains students in techniques for integrative problem assessment and solving. Coursework includes health sector reform, financial management, and healthcare delivery systems in developing countries. Students also cultivate ethical reasoning and multicultural understanding. Graduates are prepared to work for international organizations, helping contain outbreaks and eliminate health disparities.||Nutritionist, health educator, refugee coordinator|
Courses in a Bachelor's in Public Health Program
Bachelor of science in public health degrees consist of such introductory classes as statistics, ethics, program planning, and healthcare information systems. Beyond these core topics, offerings vary based on departmental goals and faculty expertise. Through electives and specializations, students can individualize their degree plans. Below are five possible classes for this academic major.
- Healthcare Delivery Systems
An important course for all public health professionals, healthcare delivery systems concerns the organization and functions of the U.S. health services continuum. Students learn how a patient's social, cultural, and economic background influence the care they receive. Learners also study government regulations and their effects on healthcare cost, accessibility, and private industry.
- Population Health
In this class, students discover how social, behavioral, and environmental factors affect a population's health, including risk of infection and disease. They also learn to assess a community's needs and use culturally relevant approaches to improve conditions. Additional topics include disease management, health policy, and chronic care. Population health is an important topic for professionals working in community and global health.
- Data Analysis in Public Health
Students learn to use computer technology and software to retrieve, clean, and analyze data. They also develop skills in data visualization, enabling them to present complex information as graphs, tables, and written reports. Data analytics is a required topic for public health administrators, researchers, and information scientists.
- Disaster Management
This class helps students develop the leadership and critical-thinking skills needed to work in crisis situations. Through case studies and independent research, students delve into location-specific strategies in health planning and preparedness. Disaster management represents necessary training for emergency managers and other crisis relief professionals.
- Infectious Diseases in Society
This advanced course focuses on the stigma associated with diseases like leprosy, tuberculosis, Zika virus, and HIV/AIDS. Students analyze how social and cultural stigma interferes with health research, education, treatment, and support services. They also learn about public policies and government regulations related to global infectious disease cases. This class greatly benefits epidemiologists and health educators.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's in Public Health?
A public health bachelor's degree typically requires 120 semester credits and four years of full-time study. Students may hasten degree completion by taking maximum course loads every term, including optional summer and winter sessions. They can also enroll in accelerated or completionist degree paths. These intensive programs enable students to earn their bachelor's in one to two years, provided they possess applicable work experience and completed prerequisite coursework.
Students who need to accommodate work and family obligations can take minimal classes. However, part-time enrollment comes with increased per-credit tuition rates and limited financial aid opportunities. Regardless of program type, all students can reduce program time and cost by applying for transfer credits. Colleges and universities enable degree candidates to earn credits for career experience, professional training, volunteer positions, and prior college-level coursework. The transfer process entails prior learning assessments, which can entail standardized testing, portfolio evaluations, and skill demonstrations.
How Much Is a Bachelor's in Public Health?
While a bachelor's degree in public health provides opportunities for worthwhile careers, the credential requires a significant investments of time and money. According to a 2017 College Board report, the average undergraduate student pays $9,970 in annual tuition when attending an in-state public institution and $25,620 if enrolled at an out-of-state public school. Students who attend private universities pay the highest rate at $34,740.
Tuition differs by program. Online public health degrees offer the most affordable prices and often ignore residency status when calculating tuition. For example, Allen College in Iowa charges all distance learners $837 for each graduate credit. Located in Albany, New York, Excelsior College prices its online tuition at $645. The University of Arizona Online provides an even lower per-credit rate at $525.
Financial aid opportunities exist for all students. Schools offer merit-based scholarships and need-based grants. The three aforementioned universities provide additional awards for distance learners, returning students, and active military/veterans.
Prospective students should take advantage of government funding by submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. They can also find financial assistance from local businesses and national organizations. The Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health regularly publishes scholarship opportunities. Low-income learners should tap into the support of such organizations as the National College Access Network and College Possible. Students should also consider expenses associated with housing, technology, and professional training. Students planning to move for school can use websites like PayScale to compare cost of living by location.
Certifications and Licenses a Bachelor's in Public Health Prepares For
- ACRP Certified Clinical Research Associate
The Association of Clinical Research Professionals operates an exam-based certification that tests candidates' knowledge in six core areas. These include clinical trial operations, scientific concepts and research design, and data management and informatics. The three-hour exams contains 125 multiple-choice questions. ACRP members pay $460 for the exam, while nonmembers pay $600.
- CBIC Initial Certification
The Certification Board for Infection Control and Epidemiology offers certification for public health professionals with a bachelor's degree and at least two years of relevant work experience. The in-person exam contains questions in such areas as environment of care, employee/occupational health, and surveillance and epidemiological investigation. CBIC provides paid study webinars.
- CDR Certification Programs
The Commission on Dietetic Registration facilitates registered dietitian (RD) and registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) certifications. While both credentials support state licensure, the RDN certificate is for professionals who want to emphasize the nutrition aspect of their skill set. Candidates take the RD/RDN exam in person, tackling 125 questions on topics like dietetic principles, foodservice systems, and care for individuals and groups.
- NBPHE Certified in Public Health
The National Board of Public Health Examiners offers the preeminent certification for professionals in this field. Candidates must hold a bachelor's degree from a CEPH-accredited school. The in-person exam costs $385 and contains 200 questions in areas like evidence-based approaches to public health, communication, leadership, program management, and health equity and social justice.
- NCHEC Certified Health Education Specialist
The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing operates a competency-based certification exam for entry-level professionals. The three-hour exam contains 165 multiple-choice questions in such areas as health education/promotion planning, implementation, and assessment. Early bird registration costs $270. Public health students receive a $50 discount. NCHEC offers a master-level certificate for professionals with a graduate degree and at least five years of relevant work experience.
The ASPPH provides students with comprehensive information on public health areas of study and fellowship/internship opportunities. The association also facilitates scholarships, project grants, up-to-date research, and professional training programs.
As part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the NIH offers financial support for public health specialists who want to work in biomedical or biobehavioral research. Through the loan repayment program, candidates can receive $35,000 annually to pay off education debt in exchange for a commitment to NIH mission-relevant projects.
SOPHE supports over 4,000 members worldwide through research and policy advocacy. Public health professionals benefit from leadership training programs and skill-development webinars. The society also offers academic scholarships, internship opportunities, and career support.
Established in 1991, the SPR is an interdisciplinary organization dedicated to advancing health research and promotion. Professionals can take advantage of in-person training programs, diversity outreach initiatives, and job opportunities.
Founded in 1948, the WHO is the largest global health community, with over 7,000 affiliates in 150 countries. The organization assists public health professionals with volunteer and paid work opportunities.
Professional Organizations in Public Health
Bachelor's in public health programs help students develop the theoretical knowledge and practical skills to pursue career entry or further education. To bolster these opportunities, students should engage with professional organizations, such as the five detailed below. Though membership comes with annual fees, its benefits include networking opportunities, financial assistance, research guidance, and job support.