Navigating the Best MPH Programs in California: A Personalized Approach

Published on: Nov 5, 2023

California was recently ranked one of the healthiest states in the country1. California is a hub for science, medicine, and public health, and houses over 100 unique public health degree programs. With the field of public health being vast and opportune, it’s important to conduct personalized research before selecting an MPH program. Programs can vary in subject area and concentration, geographic location and involvement with the neighboring community, mode of delivery, and much more. 

This article provides information, guiding questions to consider, and profiles of top public health programs in California.

Factors to Consider when Selecting an MPH Program:

  • Learning style and program structure

    When selecting an MPH program, it is important to choose a school and program that can be tailored to your preferred learning style and structure. Below are a few questions to consider.

    • Will you be working full time while enrolled in an MPH program? If so, you should consider a program that has a flexible class schedule and targets mid-career working professionals. Many schools offer night classes that enable individuals to balance full-time work and public health classes. If you want to be a full-time student, you should look into programs that offer daytime classes to efficiently complete your degree.

    • Do you prefer online, hybrid, or in-person classes? There are 12 accredited online only MPH degree programs in California, and many other hybrid and in-person programs. Online only programs, such as National University’s 100% online MPH program, offer more flexibility, with asynchronous courses and freedom to complete lectures and assignments on your own time. This type of program is especially helpful for individuals that work full time, have families, or cannot transport to their campus. In-person programs are great for folks that want to fully delve into their public health education, as they often enable more socialization, networking, and engagement with your professors and cohort.

    • Do you have interests outside of public health sciences? Many programs enable you to take electives outside of your public health courses. This allows you to explore other interests and better shape your knowledge base for your future public health career. Take a look at the courses included in each public health program and note how many electives are required. If you are interested in completing the elective requirements outside of your public health school, make sure your university has other course programs that fit these interests. Additionally, many schools offer dual degree programs in subjects like business, medicine, and law.

  • Area of Specialization and Concentrations

    California has numerous public health programs with diverse concentrations including, but not limited to, health policy, global health, environmental health, community health, health education & promotion, healthcare administration, and nutrition. In addition to concentrations, individuals can also participate in joint degree programs, including but not limited to: social work (MPH-MSW), medicine (MPH-MD), philosophy (MPH-PhD), pharmacology (MPH-PharmaD), public policy (MPH-MPP) and business (MPH-MBA). 

    If you are not sure what program is right for you, take a look at the type of organization, job, or career path you want to pursue. What is the focus of this pathway? Are you interested in working overseas? Take a look at global public health. Do you want to impact policy? Many schools offer health policy concentrations. Are you interested in managing a hospital? Health care management may be a great option. Interested in how information technology affects public health? Consider an MPH program that specializes in health informatics. 

    With over 70 accredited programs in California, chances are there is a concentration that will fit your specific public health interest. You can also look at the curriculum for each program and concentration, which should list core required courses, and choose one that fits your interests. If none of the concentrations appeal to you, or if you want to keep your public health education broad, generalist tracks offer courses that span the entire field of public health without niching yourself into a specialization. California has at least five accredited public health programs with this generalist focus.

  • Accreditation and Program Quality

    California is home to over 70 accredited public health programs and 10 of the top 100 U.S. News & World Report best public health programs in the country. Programs become accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), an independent accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. These programs were rated by the U.S. News & World Report for their academic quality and ranked against all 206 accredited national public health degree programs. 

  • Location and Proximity to Desired Resources

    California is the most populous state in the country2. With a surplus of public health programs in a variety of geographic environments, it’s important to consider location and proximity to desired resources in your search. Some questions to consider: 

    • Where do you want to live after graduating? If you want to live in an urban, suburban, or rural environment, consider a school located near where you want to live. 

    • What type of job do you want to have after graduating? If you want to work for the state government, consider a program near Sacramento. If you want to work for a hospital, consider an academic medical institution (ex: University of San Francisco or University of North Carolina), or a school near a large hospital system (ex: schools that have affiliations with Kaiser Permanente).

  • Financial Considerations and Scholarships

    It is no secret that public health is not the highest paying field. As of June, 2023 the median salary for a public health practitioner in the United States was $69,7743. We don’t want a public health program to break the bank, so it’s important to take finances and scholarships into consideration when considering graduate school. 

    • Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a federal program that allows loan forgiveness for government workers or non-profit employees. After paying a percentage of one's loan that is proportionate to their salary for 120 months (non-consecutively), the remaining balance of an individual’s loans are forgiven. 

    • Graduate Assistant and Teaching Assistant Positions - most graduate schools offer GA and TA positions to students in exchange for stipends and/or reduced or free cost of tuition. Individuals will often be paired with a specific course or professor and be assigned research, grading, or other similar entry-level work. Typical hours can range from 5-20 and are often completed asynchronously. These positions are advertised on university websites, so take a look at your prospective program’s opportunities. 

    • Scholarships - there is an abundance of public health and MPH scholarships that you may be eligible for. In addition to school-specific scholarships, there are over 70 private, non-profit, and government sponsored scholarships available for public health students. Many scholarships target specific public health concentration areas, such as health administration, public health practice, health policy, and environmental health sciences.

  • Networking Opportunities and Career Services

    We know that networking is an integral part of professional life nowadays4. Being in graduate school cultivates countless networking opportunities, both with your fellow public health students and the program faculty. Many public health programs have some type of internship incorporated into the curriculum, so look into where folks have interned in the past and what types of jobs they have gotten post graduating. Additionally, schools often have relationships with neighboring non-profit organizations, hospitals, public schools, and city government officials.

    Universities will sponsor career fairs, mentorship programs, and often have at least one administrator dedicated to student employment and community outreach. Data from 2018 found that only 6% of public health graduates were unemployed after graduating5, so the question is not can I get a job, but which job will be the best fit for me?  

Conduct Thorough Research

1. Utilize Official University Websites

Each public health program has an established section of the university’s website. Explore the websites and note the concentrations, curriculum, course schedules, faculty, length of program, job placement, and partnerships offered. Many public health programs are housed within schools of medicine, such as UC Davis and University of Southern California, while others have standalone public health schools, like George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health or Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Charles R. Drew University of Medicine is dedicated solely to educating health professionals and has an MPH program alongside many other graduate health science degrees. Take a look at the programs website and get a sense of the type of degree program, school, or university that is right for you.

2. Explore Rankings and Reputations

US News and World Report publishes rankings for every accredited public health program in the country. Explore where your prospective programs fall in this ranking system. In addition to rankings, you can often gauge a program’s reputation through  google searches. Look into the history of the program, what the school is known for, and job placement statistics after graduation, and seek out verified reviews or testimonials from graduates.  

3. Gather Information from Current and Former Students

Utilize the network of current and former students for personalized data gathering. You are considering joining their network, so set up informational interviews to pick their brains about their experience in the MPH program, finding a job, and so on. 

4. Attend Virtual or In-Person Information Sessions

Most schools offer virtual or in-person information sessions for prospective students. Attend these sessions to gather information and ask any questions you may have. This also allows you to develop relationships with the program administrators and can increase your chances of getting accepted into the program. 

5. Seek Guidance from Academic Advisors or Professionals in the Field

Your graduate school professors will likely be established and renowned individuals in the field.  Utilize them for advice, networking opportunities, and mentorship. Take a look at their bios or LinkedIn profiles. These faculty will be your advisors and resources while you are in the public health program; take advantage of their knowledge and networks, and choose a program with professors that have common interests, research publications, or experiences that appeal to you.

MPH Making an Impact

Profiling the Best MPH Programs in California

Closing thoughts

In conclusion, it is crucial to conduct personalized research when selecting an MPH program. As shown from the profiled programs above, MPH program education and experiences can vary drastically - so do your research and choose the best fit for you.

Use the ten programs profiled here as a starting point for your exploration, and come back periodically throughout your search to ensure you are considering the factors that are important to you. 

About the Authors

Written by:

Kerra Henkin, MPH, ML

Kerra Henkin, MPH, ML, is a program manager at one of the largest academic medical centers in the country. In her current role, she aligns and expands programming with needs identified in the federally mandated community health needs assessment, and deploys organizational resources to support community health improvement. Prior to this role, she was a community health educator for an advocacy nonprofit organization in Philadelphia. She has co-authored multiple research papers on criminal justice and substance abuse, and will be presenting on law enforcement assisted diversion at the 2023 American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting. 

Ms. Henkin holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) and Master in Law (ML) from the University of Pennsylvania. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Health Sciences from Ithaca College.

Opinions and information published by the author on are of her own and do not necessarily represent the views of opinions of her employer.

Kerra Henkin headshot

Kerra Henkin, MPH, ML

Program Manager

Education: University of Pennsylvania

Knowledge: Community health education

Reviewed by:

Katherine Paul, MPH

Katherine Paul, MPH is a senior project manager at a leading medical communications and publications organization. She supports multidisciplinary teams handling large-scale accounts, the deliverables of which improve health outcomes and patient well-being. Ms. Paul holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in Health Promotion from Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health and passed the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) shortly after graduation. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Dickinson College.

Ms. Paul previously worked at a public health non-profit where she managed all aspects of diverse health-related projects, including the implementation of a randomized controlled clinical trial on sexual health for teens with developmental disabilities, as well as the evaluation of a statewide tobacco cessation program with more than 20,000 annual cases. She has developed and delivered posters and presentations at national conferences including the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting. 

Opinions and information published by the author here on are of my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of my employer or other organizations for my designated roles.

Katherine Paul

Katherine Paul, MPH

Editorial Lead

Education: Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health

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