With the United States facing global health threats, including the spread of pandemic diseases and rising rates of obesity, cancer, and substance abuse rates, demand for public health professionals is high. Students earning a bachelor’s in public health learn about human disease, healthcare policy, and social and cultural factors that impact public health. Learners also explore how public health officials track and tackle public health problems.
Depending on concentration, graduates with a public health degree can enter careers in areas such as public health research, education, and policy. Online learning provides the flexibility busy students need to balance academics with other responsibilities. Online programs can also be more cost-efficient than on-campus programs. This guide includes information about public health careers, common program requirements, and financial aid options available to public health students.
The list below includes schools offering the best public health bachelor’s degrees online. When ranking the online programs, we considered tuition costs, graduation rates, accreditation, and online course availability, as well as services available to online students. We utilized information from each school’s online and print materials and data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. The list below describes each school’s online public health degree requirements.
A bachelor’s degree in public health prepares students for a variety of careers and for further studies. Public health professionals work for government agencies, healthcare providers, health insurance companies, community agencies and nonprofits, and businesses. The U.S. has an aging population and rising rates of health problems such as addiction, cancer, and obesity; these issues drive demand for public health professionals and fuel the faster-than-average job growth. While a bachelor’s degree does not guarantee a particular salary, many jobs in public health pay annual salaries of more than $40,000.
Community health workers typically work for community or government agencies. These professionals collect data about the health-related issues and outcomes of a particular community. They inform the public, healthcare providers, and health educators about their findings and the healthcare needs of the community. They also conduct outreach programs and help community members access health-related services.
Addiction counselors specialize in helping individuals and their families overcome the effects of substance abuse. They help clients enter and maintain recovery. These counselors work in a variety of settings, including schools, prisons, hospitals, substance abuse centers, and community agencies. Addiction counselors may also lead community educational programs on addiction.
Organizations that employ social workers include human service and public health agencies, healthcare providers, and hospitals. Some public health social workers assess client needs and help them access health-related resources. Healthcare social workers also help clients understand and cope with their diagnosis, condition, or illness. Other social workers develop and improve healthcare programs and services.
Health education specialists work in settings such as hospitals, schools, public health departments, health insurance companies, businesses, and nonprofits. They promote wellness by teaching people about health topics and illnesses. These educators may also help individuals with chronic illnesses learn to manage their conditions. Some health educators create educational materials, manage educational programs, and train other health educators.
Dietitians and nutritionists use their expertise regarding nutrition to help people develop healthy lifestyles and eating habits. They assess each client’s health needs and provide ways to improve their health. Some nutritionists run public educational programs. Nutritionists need a bachelor’s degree and must complete a supervised internship.
Sources: BLS 2018
Job openings and salaries in public health vary significantly by location. As the three most populous states, California, Texas, and Florida are among the five states with the highest employment levels of community health workers. Public health workers in the District of Columbia earn the highest salaries, averaging $66,290. Professionals in the San Francisco area, which has a high cost of living, earn an average of $64,200 per year. Dietitians, the highest-paid professionals listed above, earn an average salary of $72,130 in California and $92,930 in Amarillo, Texas.
An online bachelor’s degree in public health requires general education courses and core and elective major coursework. However, specific requirements vary by program. The program can award a bachelor of science or a bachelor of arts and may emphasize a specific area of public health, such as public policy, epidemiology, or public health education. Check school websites for specific course offerings, including required courses and electives.
As an introduction to the field of public health, this course explores the history, central theories, ethical principles, and standard practices of public health practitioners. The course introduces the structure of the U.S. and global health systems and covers the essential services these institutions provide. The course may also introduce core topics such as epidemiology, environmental health, and healthcare policy, as well as current challenges in the field.
This course examines global public health systems and the challenges these systems face. Students explore healthcare issues that transcend national borders, such as disease epidemics. This course may address current topics in global health, including climate change, infectious diseases, and infant mortality. Students analyze how national and multinational public health systems, as well as individual healthcare practitioners, respond to public health challenges and maintain the health of diverse populations.
This introductory course examines the history of human disease and disease prevention and covers the transmission, biological effects, and mortality rates of specific diseases. The course explains the characteristics of disease prevention, transmission, symptoms, and treatment. Learners examine methods public health officials use to track diseases. Additional topics include the psychological, social, cultural, and behavioral aspects of disease transmission and prevention.
This introduction to healthcare policy explores how local, state, and federal government institutions make health-related laws and regulations. Students learn about societal and political factors that influence healthcare policy. Students analyze the impact of health policy on the overall health of populations. This course may also explore health policy and advocacy through a social justice lens.
This course introduces students to the quantitative research methods used in public health. Students learn basic statistical tools and concepts, which are necessary to read and interpret public health research and data. Students learn about the statistical methods public health officials use to collect and analyze public health data and to assess and respond to needs.
When selecting an online public health degree, consider cost and degree requirements. Also ensure each prospective program aligns with your career goals and offers the relevant concentration, electives, and experiences. Additional indicators of quality programs include accreditation, faculty achievements, and community partnerships.
Look at the educational requirements listed in online job postings for the type of position you plan to pursue after graduation. Talk to hiring managers from relevant organizations about attributes they seek in candidates. Many hiring managers attend college recruitment events or provide college students with informational interviews.
A BA typically requires coursework in social sciences, including sociology, psychology, and political science. This degree may emphasize public policy or public health education. BS course requirements include scientific subjects relevant to public health, such as biology, chemistry, and computer science. This degree may focus on areas like epidemiology or research.
Look at available electives and specializations to determine whether a concentration matches your interests and career goals. Bachelor’s programs in public health may offer concentrations in areas such as healthcare policy, health education, public health research, epidemiology, community health, global health, and environmental health. These concentrations prepare students for different careers.
Most degrees in public health, including online programs, require a practicum or capstone project. These requirements provide opportunities to apply classroom learning to the practical situations. Students may work with a community agency or public health provider to observe and perform supervised public health tasks.
Accreditation offers a good indication of program quality. Both graduate schools and employers prefer candidates with degrees from regionally accredited schools. In addition to institutional accreditation, look for programs with specialized accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health. Rankings, faculty profiles, and graduate testimonials also provide information about a program’s quality and reputation.
Online students may pay for college with a combination of earnings, savings, loans, grants, and scholarships. Many online students fund their education through a full-time job, while others rely on student loans. Students should pursue financial aid through their school and should apply for scholarships and grants, which do not have to be repaid. Many organizations sponsor scholarships to encourage students to enter public health careers.
AFDO is a nonprofit organization that works to streamline government regulations. AFDO awards three $1,500 scholarships to students in their third year of college who have at least a 3.0 GPA. Applicants must display an interest in food, drug, or consumer product safety and must demonstrate leadership capabilities. Applicants must submit an official transcript and two letters of recommendation from faculty members.
An international student association, HOSA promotes healthcare career opportunities and works to improve healthcare delivery. The organization partners with the online platform STEM Premier to provide scholarships to students entering a variety of health professions, including careers in public health. Applicants must be HOSA members and must join Stem Premier to apply for scholarships online. Scholarship amounts vary.
NIH offers scholarships to undergraduate students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are interested in careers in health-related research. The program awards up to $20,000 per year for college costs, paid summer research training at NIH, and one year of paid employment and training after graduation. Applicants must demonstrate financial need and must earn a minimum 3.3 GPA. The application process includes letters of recommendation and phone interviews.
This statewide association of public health professionals awards scholarships that support students aspiring to careers in the field. TPHA announces the number of scholarships and the award amounts in the spring of each year. Applicants must be high school students with a minimum 2.5 GPA and must either belong to TPHA or have an immediate family member who belongs. Applicants must plan to pursue a degree leading to a career in public health.
The Society for Public Health Education awards three $2,500 scholarships to undergraduate or graduate students with financial need. Applicants must be SOPHE members, excellent students, and committed to entering a career in public health education. Applicants must have completed at least one-third of their major requirements. Applicants must write a statement and submit a letter of recommendation from a faculty member.