MPH Scholarships: A Guide for Public Health Students

Published on: Sep 25, 2023
Katherine Paul

REVIEWED BY

Katherine Paul, MPH

Reviewed: Jun 5, 2024

Like all higher education, pursuing a master of public health degree is a true investment. While searching for lower-cost programs is an option, it’s also possible to take advantage of scholarships and financial aid to minimize the cost burden and prevent or reduce student debt. Scholarships can be provided by institutional (i.e., university) or non-institutional sources and vary widely in amount and qualification criteria.

In this article, we explain need-based compared to merit aid, various graduate assistantship programs available to MPH students and tips for applying to scholarships, and provides a list of MPH scholarships students may consider and other considerations in paying for an MPH program. 

Financial Aid - Types and Qualifications

Most MPH programs provide need- and/or merit-based scholarships to some students to lower their cost of attendance. Need-based aid is usually determined by the financial situations of a student and their family. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is what most universities use to determine the amount of need-based aid to award a student, however there may be school-specific supplemental forms. Even for graduate students, the financial status of parents can be used to determine financial aid1. Students should work with their families and financial aid officers at the public health schools they are applying to make sure they are filling out all required forms accurately. 

Merit-based aid is not determined by a student’s financial background and can be based on a variety of factors such as a student’s undergraduate record, previous work and volunteer experiences, or answers to specific essay questions. While at some schools students are automatically considered for institutional aid, in some cases there is a separate application needed. Many schools have policies that only grant scholarships to students who have completed the FAFSA, so you should complete it regardless of whether you think you qualify for need-based aid.

Make sure to read information about scholarships and financial aid at your desired MPH program carefully to ensure you don’t miss any opportunities to decrease the cost of their degree.

Graduate Assistantships

Graduate Assistant (GA) is a generic job title that applies to a graduate student working with a faculty member or members for a semester or entire academic year. The structure of a graduate assistantship can vary widely from university to university. In some universities, faculty hire graduate assistants to provide administrative programmatic support of academic departments or schools, such as scheduling seminars for all epidemiology students or writing a newsletter for the global health students. The funding of graduate assistantships can vary as well. Some GA positions are federal work-study jobs. The federal work-study program provides part-time jobs for students with financial need and is awarded based on the FAFSA2. Others are open to all students, and still others are volunteer for-credit positions.

Research assistantships and teaching assistantships are also forms of graduate assistantships. Research assistantships work with a faculty member on a research project or projects. Generally, work done on research as part of an assistantship cannot also be counted for class credit, so students should communicate with their faculty advisors to make sure that all class and research requirements for their program are being met.

Teaching assistantships involve helping a professor teach a class. What is expected of a teaching assistant can differ across universities and professors. At some, usually larger, universities, graduate students may teach an entire course under the supervision of a professor. However, at the master’s-level, most teaching assistants provide support to the professor teaching the course through administrative tasks such as emailing students, reserving rooms and equipment, or updating the course webpage, grading assignments, or teaching labs or other discussion or break-out sessions.  

The timing of graduate assistantships is also not standard. Some positions may be filled semesters in advance while others become available at the beginning of the semester. Some assistantships may be awarded as part of a financial aid package while others are listed on a job board or announced more informally. Once you’re enrolled in an MPH program, you should consult your department about available assistantship opportunities and the application process. 

Employer-based programs

If you’re enrolling in a public health degree program and are already in the workforce, there may be opportunities to reduce the cost of your degree from your current employer. Some employers offer tuition reimbursement to their employees where an employee in a public health program submits their tuition bill and some or all of it is paid for by the company.

These programs have many benefits, but often have stipulations along with them: companies may have a cap on the amount of tuition they will reimburse in a semester or calendar year or may have requirements like the student employee must stay at the company for a certain period of time after graduating or they will have to pay the money back. Students should contact their employer to find out if they have a tuition reimbursement program and what the terms of participating in a program are. 

We’ve compiled a list of some scholarships that students pursuing a master of public health may be eligible for. However, the best source of scholarship information are the communities you are already a part of! Local clubs, churches, and civic organizations often offer scholarships to members of the community or students who have gone to graduate school before you may know of opportunities for people in your area. 

  • National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program – “GRFP recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students who have demonstrated the potential to be high achieving scientists and engineers, early in their careers. Applicants must be pursuing full-time research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) or in STEM education at accredited US institutions.” This fellowship provides three years of financial support with an annual stipend of $37,000.

  • The Leopold Schepp Foundation - The Leopold Schepp Foundation awards “educational scholarships to full time undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrate a combination of fine character, academic excellence, financial need, compassion, a commitment to volunteerism and whose goal will benefit mankind.” Awards are based on demonstrated financial need. The maximum annual award is $9,000.

  • The Guttmacher Institute Cory L. Richards Memorial Scholarship - “The Cory L. Richards Memorial Scholarship, sponsored by the Guttmacher Institute, supports emerging leaders in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights.” Each year, up to two individuals are chosen as Cory Richards Scholars and awarded a one-time scholarship of $15,000 each to support full-time or part-time graduate study at an accredited institution in the United States. “In keeping with the Institute’s and Cory’s dedication to equalizing opportunity, priority is given to students with demonstrated financial need.”

  • The Truman Scholarship - “The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation - the federal memorial to our thirty-third President - awards merit-based scholarships to college students who plan to pursue careers in government or elsewhere in public service.” Awardees receive up to $30,000 for graduate or professional school, participate in leadership development activities, and have special opportunities for internships and employment with the federal government. Eligibility requirements include being nominated by the Truman Scholarship Faculty Representative at their college. being a full-time college junior or senior, being in the academic upper quarter of their class, and being a U.S. citizen.

Scholarships for Underrepresented Communities

Scholarships for students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in public health

  • Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Stephen Feinberg Scholars Scholarship Program - “The Stephen Feinberg Scholars Scholarship awards academically talented and highly motivated full-time African-American or Black scholars pursuing a graduate or doctoral degree in all discipline areas.” Applicants must be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident with a minimum 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale who exhibit leadership and are active in their communities. The award is for $20,000. 

  • James M. & Erma T. Freemont Foundation – Provides funding to exceptional graduate students pursuing a graduate degree in the health and medical sciences. Applicants must be a United States citizen and have a minimum 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale. 

  • ISES A.T. Anderson Scholarship - This scholarship fund was established to memorialize A.T. Anderson, one of the AISES founders, is eligible to students of any STEM related degree such as Architecture, Mathematics, Medical Sciences, Physical Science, Technology, Nursing, Engineering, or Natural Resources. “Applicants must be an enrolled citizen or a descendant of an enrolled citizen of a federal or state recognized American Indian Tribe or Alaska Native Village; or Native Hawaiian or descendant from a Native Hawaiian; or Pacific Islander or descendant from Pacific Islander; or Indigenous person of Canada.”

  • The Hispanic Health Professional Student Scholarship – The National Hispanic Health Foundation funds scholarships for students in accredited graduate schools for medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, public health/policy, and physician assistants. The award is $5,000 a year for up to 3 years. “Applicants should have a 3.0 GPA and exceptional academic performance, documented leadership activities, and have a commitment to a career providing healthcare services to the Hispanic community in the U.S.”

Scholarships available to women seeking MPH degrees

  • AAUW Career Development Grants - These grants “provide funding to women who hold a bachelor’s degree and are preparing to advance or change careers or re-enter the workforce in education; health and medical sciences; science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); or social sciences. Primary consideration is given to women of color and women pursuing their first advanced degree or credentials in nontraditional fields. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents whose last degree was received before June 30, 2015. Funds are available for tuition, fees, books, supplies, local transportation and dependent care.”

  • Women’s Independence Scholarship Program – Designed specifically for those who identify as female and are a survivor of intimate partner violence, these grants “enhance efforts to stop the cycle of intimate partner abuse by financial empowerment through access to education.” Funds range from $500 - 2,000 per semester. 

Scholarships available to students of other identities seeking MPH degrees

  • Point Foundation Flagship Scholarship – Recipients “receive financial support, access to multiple leadership development programs, mentorship or coaching, and the support of a community of scholars and alumni.” This award is need-based and students may receive funding for up to four years.

  • The Deloris Carter Hampton Scholarship - This scholarship was created in 2001 “to support LGBTQ women of color who have a demonstrated history of activism and/or leadership in the LGBTQ community and are pursuing degrees in dance, education, or women’s health.”

Tips for Applying to MPH Scholarships

Applying for scholarships on top of applying for admission to MPH programs can feel overwhelming. Here are tips to help make the process more manageable: 

1) Start early.

Applications for scholarships will begin opening around the time MPH program applications open. Being aware of timelines and marking them on a calendar will make sure you don’t miss anything important and can pace yourself throughout the year.

Request letters of recommendation early. If a scholarship requires an additional letter of recommendation, be sure to ask your reference early. Scholarship letters may require more personalization than a recommendation for the MPH program and therefore can take more time to do a good job. Make sure your reference has plenty of time and be sure to provide them with all the information they need. This includes information about the scholarship and a refresher about you and why you are pursuing a masters of public health. Do everything you can to make it easy for someone to write this letter for you. 

2) Do your research.

Spend time looking for scholarships that are most likely to be a match for the type of student you are. This will allow you to tailor your effort to where your individual passions can shine. Before applying, read the requirements of each scholarship carefully and make sure you meet them. If you’re ever unsure, reach out to the organization and ask. This will prevent you spending time on an application you don’t qualify for. As you can see above, many scholarships are tailored to certain demographic groups. It would be a better use of time to have one or two very strong applications than several weaker ones, so choose the scholarships that are the best fit. 

  • If you’re an international student studying in the U.S., it may be more difficult to find scholarships you are eligible for. Be sure to look for any scholarships you are eligible for in your country of origin and read all requirements carefully before beginning work on an application. 

  • If you’re currently receiving a scholarship make sure you are aware of any requirements to keep your award. This can include submitting documentation, maintaining a GPA or work hours, or communicating with your organization. It also doesn’t hurt to continue applying to other scholarships you may be eligible for, but should discuss the impact of any additional scholarships with your school financial aid office and the organization supporting your scholarship. 

3) Don’t overlook the little ones.

Smaller scholarships can add up so don’t miss out on applying for something just because it won’t cover the entire tuition and fees. Several partial scholarships can end up making a huge difference. 

4) Ask for help.

Ask friends and family to keep you accountable by checking in on how your applications are coming every few weeks. This will help keep you on track and encouraged. Family and friends can also serve as proofreaders and help polish up your finished product.

5) Be your biggest cheerleader.

It can be uncomfortable to talk about your accomplishments, but the scholarship application is not the time to be modest. Be proud of what you have done thus far and convey excitement about bringing that to your future MPH cohort. 

About the Authors

Written by:

Editorial Contributor

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 MastersPublicHealth.com 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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