Getting in and Graduating: Requirements for the Master’s in Public Health

Published on: Aug 10, 2023

Public health-related media coverage skyrocketed in recent years, and data from the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health suggests this also increased interest in public health education. Public health programs saw a whopping 40% increase in application to graduate-level degrees from 2020 to 20211

If you're interested in pursuing a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree, you’ll need a thorough understanding of the requirements for getting admitted and graduating. Below, we’ll provide you with a guide of what you need to apply to and graduate from an accredited MPH program.

How do I apply for a Master of Public Health (MPH) program?

Most public health schools require application submission using the School of Public Health Application Service (SOPHAS), which is a centralized online application platform. Creating a SOPHAS account early in your application process will allow you to get familiar with the platform ahead of your final submission. SOPHAS also has a search tool that can help you identify programs that align with your interests2

The SOPHAS application consists of four parts: 

  • Personal Information: Here’s where you’ll enter your demographics.

  • Academic History: Here’s where you’ll enter proof of high school or GED completion, college attendance information, transcripts, and standardized testing scores. 

  • Supporting Information: You will input additional application materials, including your letters of recommendation, experiences, certifications and licenses, achievements, and any supporting documents, here.

  • Program Materials: The programs you choose to apply to may have their own specific writing prompts or document requests. Information that you upload here will only be visible to the individual school that requested it.

You should know that while many schools use SOPHAS, there are CEPH-accredited public health schools that do not. When in doubt, consult each school’s website for specific information regarding their application submission process. 

When should I apply for a Master of Public Health (MPH) program?

The application process is extensive and can take many months of preparation (more details on this will be provided below). Application cycles for Fall admissions typically open in August of the previous year and close in January or February of your matriculation year2. Processes for spring or summer matriculation vary by school. Many schools review applications on a rolling basis, so the sooner you apply, the better.  

Core Elements of the MPH Application

Academic Requirements

To apply for a Master of Public Health, you will need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Your high school and college attendance information can be manually entered in SOPHAS, and you’ll also need to upload transcripts for any education experience beyond high school. Upload all of your college attendance history– even if you didn’t finish the degree or transferred to another institution. 

Official transcripts can be ordered directly from each college or university you attended. Transcripts are typically managed by the Office of the Registrar or the Office of Admissions. To find transcript ordering information for your school, contact these offices via email or phone– their contacts will likely be available on their respective webpages. While some schools partner with third-party company like National Student ClearingHouse and Parchment to administer online transcripts, you should only obtain transcripts using the instructions directly provided by your school’s office. This way, you’ll avoid paying for transcripts that are not approved by your institution. When in doubt, speak directly with a representative from your school’s office about their process. 

Make sure to request transcripts early in the application process to avoid any delays. Fees and processing times vary by institution, and transcripts can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to process. 

When applying for public health graduate school, people often worry if their undergraduate major makes them a good fit. Truthfully, public health is a broad and interdisciplinary field that has room for professionals and students from all kinds of backgrounds. You don’t have to worry about having the “right” major because there really isn’t one. 

However, programs might require specific prerequisite coursework for admission. This tends to be the case for biostatistics and epidemiology programs, which often require a passing grade in college-level linear algebra and calculus. For example, the Boston University School of Public Health and Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health both require successful completion of multivariate calculus for admission to their biostatistics programs3,4

You can manually enter your transcript history in SOPHAS, or you can pay a fee to have a professional from their team enter it for you. SOPHAS will use your grades to calculate several GPAs that will provide schools with a standardized scale for evaluating your performance.


Unfortunately, there’s no precise formula or scale to answer the age-old question, “How important is my GPA?” Some public health schools have a strict minimum GPA requirement, while others do not. Those with a stated minimum typically recommend a 3.0 GPA or higher for application. 

Here are a few examples of public health program GPA requirements, as listed on their websites:


Undergraduate GPA Requirement for Application

Admissions Notes on GPA

Boston University School of Public Health Online MPH

No minimum

3.0 and above is considered competitive

University of Washington School of Public Health Biostatistics Program

3.0 minimum

Petition to Dean must be made to apply if GPA is under 3.0

Emory University Rollins School of Public Health Biostatistics MPH

No minimum

3.5 or higher is preferred

Emory University Rollins School of Public Health Epidemiology MPH

No minimum

3.0 or higher is preferred

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

No minimum

Admitted class average is 3.3

University of Florida Master of Public Health

3.0 minimum

The undergraduate 3.0 GPA minimum may be waived for applicants at the discretion of the admissions committee.

Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine

No minimum

Minimum 3.0 GPA is highly recommended

To get a sense of how competitive your GPA is at your target program, see how your GPA compares to the school’s average applicant. Many schools publish their latest admitted class’s demographics, including average GPA, on their admissions pages. A GPA below the class average isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, but it is important to know what parts of your application make you a competitive candidate at each school. Schools evaluate prospective students holistically using all requested items in the application5

You may apply to different schools with the same GPA, but your application may be considered stronger at different institutions depending on the strength of your other application materials. Schools may place more value on applicants that have public health related work experience, strong recommendations, or higher standardized test scores. Checking your target school’s admissions and frequently asked questions webpages can give you insight on their application priorities.

Testing Requirements

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is the most accepted standardized test for public health graduate school admission. If you plan to take the GRE, taking your exam well before you begin working on your applications will save you a lot of stress. Research available exam dates and work 3 to 4 months backward to create a study plan.  

GRE scores must be sent to each individual school you are applying to. Education Testing Service (ETS), the organization that administers the GRE, includes four free score reports with your testing fee, which are submitted to individual schools using a specific ETS code. Additional score reports cost $27 each. 

The cost of sitting for the GRE exam once typically ranges from $200 to $300. You may also incur other costs before and after the testing process, including purchasing prep books or tutoring services, sending test scores to multiple schools, and retaking the test if necessary. To view opportunities for a GRE fee waiver or reduction, visit the ETS website8

In recent years, many schools have made GRE test score submission optional. Deciding whether you should take the GRE can be difficult, but you should consider your personal application circumstances. Ask yourself: what are the specific requirements of your target schools? How competitive are your academic records? Do they adequately demonstrate your analytical skills? A competitive GRE score can supplement a less-than-competitive GPA.

If you have attended another graduate program in the past, many public health schools also accept GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT scores. This information is specific to each program, and you should directly consult their admissions office with any questions about accepted tests.  An admissions officer at your school of interest can also provide you with more information about the importance of standardized tests in their admission decisions. 

Letters of Recommendation

Schools typically require 2 or 3 letters of recommendation that can speak to some of your qualifications for the program. In SOPHAS, recommenders can upload their letters to your profile directly. While some schools don’t provide specific guidelines for selecting a recommender, it’s best to follow the guidelines provided by most: these letters should come from an academic faculty member, advisor, or former boss4.

A good recommender can speak to your academic, professional, or personal strengths with specificity. Generally, you should share a working relationship with this person in which they had supervision or authority over you. Recommendations from work or academic peers would not be appropriate. If possible, choose at least one academic recommender and one professional recommender. 

Give your recommender plenty of time to provide you with a well thought out view– you don’t want them to rush. Ideally, send the request at least one month before you need it completed. 


Highlighting your relevant experiences can help schools see why you are interested in public health and what steps you’ve taken to show that interest. This includes employment, research, training, shadowing experiences, internships, volunteering, and any other experience that contribute to who you are as a public health student. This can include experiences that are not directly related to public health, but you should prioritize your most relevant experiences. 

Some schools, including the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, require a few years of post-baccalaureate work experience for admission5. Additionally, schools may specifically require the submission of a resume or CV, which can be uploaded to SOPHAS as an additional document.

Personal Statement

The personal statement allows you to illustrate your journey to public health using narrative. SOPHAS provides a 1,500-word limit, but many schools have specific word limits, which can be as brief as 500 words. To avoid starting over each time you complete a new application, focus on the core story you want to tell in your narrative and create a draft. When you read the prompt for the program you are applying to, connect your aspirations to its specific assets.  

Your target school may also differentiate between the personal statement and the statement of purpose, which focuses more on how the program connects to your career goals than a personal story. 

Additional Considerations for International Students

If you are not a native English speaker, you will need proof of English proficiency. Most schools accept scores from Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet-based Test (TOEFL iBT) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Passing scores and exemption criteria differ for each school, so make sure to check the requirements of every school you apply to. Testing prices vary by country but can range from roughly $150 to $200. 

If you did not attend college or university in the U.S. or English-speaking Canada, your credentials will need to be evaluated. This process can take many months, so start this process 4 to 6 months before your application due date. If you are applying using SOPHAS, World Education Services (WES) is a compatible credentialing agency (6). If your degrees have already been credentialed by another agency, you will need to check the policies of each school you are applying to confirm that they will be accepted. Fees for evaluation are roughly $150 to $2006.

If you are admitted into a program of choice, your school will be able to support you with information about obtaining the appropriate Visas for your study. To minimize the hassle, make sure your passport is unexpired or submitted for renewal as soon as possible.   

Will I have an interview as part of the MPH application process?

Once the school receives the application submission, you may be invited for an interview, but this varies greatly by school and program. A current student or alumni will likely be happy to provide you with information about their interviewing process.

I’m in. Now what?

Once you’ve gathered all your documents, submitted your application, and aced your interviews…the journey has just begun! You will want to make sure you understand all the requirements for graduation in order to optimize your time in your MPH program.

Most programs have some variation of the following requirements:

  • Core courses: Most schools have a set of required core courses that all MPH students will need to take to graduate. These courses typically focus on building skills related to the 22 core public health competencies established by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)7

  • Electives: You will also be able to select courses during your academic terms that appeal to your interests and professional goals. These are typically organized by the department of study. If you have chosen a specialization or concentration, you will probably have to take required courses that are determined by the department.

  • Practicum requirements: This may also be referred to as an Applied Practice Experience (APE). This is typically where you “put in your hours” in a field-based practice. If you are in a global health program, your practical experience may include traveling abroad or working with an international agency10, 11

  • Capstone Projects: You will likely have a culminating final project required for graduation. More traditionally, this may be a thesis, but many schools now use the umbrella term Integrative Learning Experience (ILE) to capture the different forms it can take10, 11. This project will allow you to showcase what you’ve learned over your course of study.

In closing, there are a few key things to remember about the MPH application process:

  • Get school specific: SOPHAS will guide you through most of the application process, but you should still make sure that you adhere to the specific guidelines outlined by the schools you are applying to. The best place to find this information is directly on the school’s admissions webpage. Pay attention to their admission cycles, deadlines, fees, and minimum requirements.

  • Prepare before the application cycle starts: Graduate admission preparation starts over a year before you plan to attend. If you need to take any tests, start with a preparation plan.

  • Delegate First: Identify the parts of your application that will require information from others, like transcripts and letters of recommendation. Set your own personal deadlines to have these documents completed well ahead of time. 

  • Budget accordingly: Exams and application fees can add up quickly. Make sure to check if you qualify for fee reductions or waivers to save some money in the process.

Now that you know the requirements for an MPH, you should find the program that’s right for you.

About the Authors

Written by:

Wandia Mureithi, MPH

Wandia Mureithi, MPH is a public health project manager working in research and evaluation. Wandia received her Master’s in Public Health from Drexel University in 2022. Since beginning her career in 2018, she has been engaged in research projects and program evaluations related to sexual health, human trafficking prevention, tobacco prevention, opioid misuse treatment, and diabetes prevention. 

In addition to her work projects, Wandia is interested in reducing maternal and child health disparities and advancing social justice in public health. 

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.

Wandia Mureithi portrait photograph

Wandia Mureithi, MPH

Education: Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health

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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