Online MPH Programs: Benefits, Job Opportunities, and Costs

Published on: Oct 11, 2023

Choosing to attend graduate school for public health is a major decision and once made, opens a Pandora’s box of subsequent decisions. What programs should you apply to? Will you need to be there in person every day? How hard will it be to get in? How do I know which programs are the best ones? What are the benefits of an online program? How much is the tuition? 

This article will explore many of these questions to help guide your higher education decision-making process and focus on an online master of public health programs.

Top Online MPH Programs

While online graduate certificate programs used to be rare, they have become increasingly more common with advances in technology and student interest. As of 2018, a third of US college students completed at least one course online1. Opportunities increased even more after universities transitioned to a flavor of remote learning in 2020. As the number of online public health programs has increased, determining which programs are the best can be more challenging.

Here, we’ll discuss what to look for in an online public health program.

What to look for in an online program

There are many factors to consider in choosing an online master of public health program. Some are personal to each student and can include factors like tuition expense, courses offered, faculty availability and course structure. A key criteria that may be easily overlooked is checking whether the program is accredited.

If a program is showing up in your search online, it’s easy to assume that it must be a legitimate program, however there are fake programs masquerading online as legitimate that will cost you time and money with no hope of a real degree at the end of them2. The best signal for whether an online master’s program found in your research is legitimate is accreditation status.

First, understanding what the term accreditation means in this context is key. Accreditation generally refers to whether something or someone has reached a particular status or qualification. In the case of a public health degree program, accreditation is seen as a signifier for the program being of a good quality and having met standards for curriculum and preparation of students as future public health professionals. 

The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) is the organization that determines whether a school or program of public health is accredited. CEPH is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education in this capacity and evaluates undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs, both in-person and online3. This process is treated with a great deal of transparency by CEPH, with procedures publicly available4.

Schools and programs apply for accreditation, are subject to site visits to evaluate their suitability, and maintain their status by applying for re-accreditation. The process for becoming accredited is rigorous, as the self-study completed as part of the application for a school seeking accreditation can take up to two full years. 

How to tell if a program is accredited

CEPH’s website is the best resource for up to date information on public health programs and their respective accreditation statuses. On the CEPH website, you can either search for a program to check whether it is accredited or go directly to CEPH’s list of accredited schools and programs5. These strategies are effective if there is a particular program that you’re already interested in and hoping to verify the status of, however the CEPH search can also be useful in determining which programs should be on your application list. The search also allows you to choose a concentration, like global health, and show accredited schools that offer a specific concentration in global health.

Searching for a broader concentration like health administration generates a list of programs with that concentration and shows how various public health schools may reference the same type of offering.

For example, the health administration concentration can be referred to as the following by different schools: Health Services, Health Management, Health Policy & Management, Health Services Research, Global Health Policy, Healthcare Administration, and Population Health Management. Limiting results to online programs exclusively can help to tailor results so that only those programs partially or fully online will be shown, which is another good feature for the exploratory phase of your search. 

Does accreditation matter?

Especially if you’re considering an online master of public health degree and therefore not limited by geography, the options for programs in which to enroll can be almost endless. In order to narrow down your search, first checking whether a school is accredited is key. While this may seem like a somewhat boring criteria to use, the CEPH standards are rigorous. The publicly available CEPH evaluation criteria cover standards such as curriculum breadth and competency, faculty effectiveness and scholarship (i.e., whether faculty members are conducting novel research in the public health field), graduation rates and post-graduation outcomes, and alumni impressions of the program’s effectiveness6. The evaluation criteria are over 50 pages in total and are pertinent for ensuring that a program you apply to has met standards for all of these categories.  

Unless you are planning to pay tuition fees out of pocket (i.e., without a student loan), the most important reason to choose an accredited public health program is that you might not be able to receive a student loan if you choose an unaccredited program7. To ensure you’re only applying to public health programs where financial aid would be offered, the U.S. Department of Education website has a search tool that can quickly confirm whether a school or program is accredited8. The types of financial aid available through the federal government also include grants and scholarships, neither of which would need to be eventually paid back like a loan, further showing the importance of choosing a program that has received accreditation9

The CEPH only completes accreditation for programs based in the United States, so investigating a world report of the best public health programs is important if considering programs outside of the United States10.

Benefits of an Online Public Health Degree

Traditionally, one could only pursue a master’s degree in person and would be forced to either limit their search to their immediate geographic area or to move to be closer to where they were accepted. Today, that is no longer the case. Especially as the world has undergone rapid shifts in recent years that facilitate remote learning and work, there are even more reasons to complete a master’s degree online. By being able to take courses online and complete work remotely, you can choose the master of public health program best suited to your individual needs and not be limited by what schools are nearby.

Online learning also may allow the opportunity to remain working concurrently with coursework, either at an existing job supportive of a master’s degree or by starting a part-time job to offset tuition expenses. The ability to continue working at an existing job could be particularly salient for someone entering public health as part of a career change after having worked in a different field for several years. Additionally, coursework could be completed remotely with any required internships completed closer to home to improve community health in your local area. 

Online master of public health programs can also be a benefit to those with family commitments that would make attending in-person classes more challenging. Not having to coordinate or plan for childcare during class times would be extremely helpful for someone considering a degree with young children, as is not having the expense of any childcare needed during those times. 

Types of online MPH programs to combine academic and professional interests

Many people will enter their public health degree program without an exact idea of what field they may enter following graduation. The public health field is remarkably broad and choosing a specific career path in advance might be an unrealistic goal, especially before the in-depth exposure to the various domains of public health. An exception to this would be for someone mid-career and interested in an MPH as a way to further their current professional aspirations. For example, someone who has been working in the mental health field or knows that this is their specific interest may know that their concentration while in school for public health should be related to population health or social and behavioral science.

The best online master of public health choice for most students entering graduate school is one that provides maximum exposure during the first few months to as many topics as possible. Another reason to choose an accredited public health program is that all accredited programs must demonstrate that all graduating students will have exposure in the following competencies: Evidence-Based Approaches to Public Health, Public Health & Health Care Systems, Planning & Management to Promote Health, Policy in Public Health, Leadership, Communication, Intersectional and/or Intersectoral Practice, and Systems Thinking6. The breadth of these competencies ensures that you will gain exposure in virtually every area that a job might require.

Many schools follow a curriculum model where there are required first-semester courses in several of the classic core public health domains (e.g., epidemiology, environmental health, sociomedical sciences, biostatistics, and health policy). Choosing a program that follows this curriculum model is another strategy to ensure that the first few months of a graduate program will have broad topic exposure, which helps choose a concentration and eventual career path.

Frequently, these domains correlate to the school’s departments and there are additional specialization options within that department. For example, the sociomedical sciences department might offer a concentration in health promotion.

Jobs Following an Online MPH

The distinction between an in-person and online degree choice may be lessening, fueled in no small part by the forced pivot to online learning caused by Covid-19. Of the top five public health programs as ranked by U.S. News and World Report, four had an online MPH available as of June 202211. One report of over 1,800 online learners found that only one-tenth were concerned about the perception that a potential employer might have of an online degree12

The variety of jobs available to someone with an MPH are remarkably broad. There are a myriad of types of jobs available to someone with an MPH; however, the real challenge for a recent graduate is in narrowing the scope of their job search to only those positions for which they are uniquely qualified. Using the time it takes to complete an MPH to concentrate on a given topic (e.g., mental health) or practice within the field (e.g., evaluation) is essential to ensure that your job search can be focused on only those positions that are the best match.

One of the unique facets of a public health career is the extent to which the field is perpetually evolving. In the 70s and 80s, there was a focus on dental health that led to fluoride being added to drinking water, while the 90s saw the implementation of seat-belt laws, and the early 2000s saw a dramatic increase in anti-tobacco legislation. Within each of these examples, there are a variety of ways in which someone with an MPH would be employed.

The movement for increased tobacco legislation required research on the long-term health impacts of smoking (data analysis and health informatics), lobbying of politics to enact laws and regulations (health policy),  and positive media campaigns around the health benefits of tobacco cessation (health promotion). Each of these types of jobs within public health would be an option for someone with an online MPH.

Cost of an Online MPH

Graduate school is undoubtedly an expensive undertaking, but the earning potential for someone with a master’s degree exceeds that of someone with a bachelor’s degree13. Labor statistics suggest that the weekly salary of someone with a bachelor’s degree was an average of $1,334 in 2021, compared to $1,574 for someone with a master’s degree14. The short-term expense of a graduate program should be outweighed by these long-term higher earnings. The cost of an online masters program is typically comparable to the cost of an in-person program, but there are ways to lessen costs or delay payments.

Federal student loans can help defray the immediate costs of graduate school and are available to most students attending accredited universities. The first step in this process is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Not all student loans are equal in terms of the potential award amount, payback initiation date, whether they are subsidized and interest rate. These are the seemingly small details that can seem like boilerplate instructions or language to glance over quickly while reviewing terms, but they actually have long-term consequences for how much you will need to pay back. For example, unsubsidized loans begin accruing interest while you are enrolled in a degree program, which means the cost of the loan is increasing while you are still paying tuition and not yet earning an income.

Types of graduate loans and fees15:

  • Direct loans: Often called Stafford loans, these are unsubsidized loan of up to $20,500 per year with a 6.54% interest rate (as of June 2022) and payments begin after graduation16.

  • Graduate PLUS loans: unsubsidized loan up to the cost of attendance (school dependent) with a 6.28% interest rate (as of June 2022). Requires a credit check17

  • Private student loans: these loans variable interest rates that are typically higher than either Stafford or PLUS loans, making them a potentially less desirable option for the eventual cost. Some lenders require a minimum credit score to receive a loan18

These loans are available for American citizens taking courses at a national university or program. Some international students may also be eligible for federal loans19. The Federal Student Aid website provides detailed information on eligibility for international students. 

Fewer potential students are aware of scholarship opportunities, but there are many that can help to reduce the costs associated with attending a masters program. These scholarships fall into two main categories: grants and fellowships. Grants function like a typical scholarship, where you receive a smaller amount of money than a loan but it does not need to be paid back20.

Fellowships are typically awarded based on past or current academic achievement and may require the completion of a research project, internship or applied practice experience. Fellowships are more akin to a work-study program common in undergraduate programs.

Salary Ranges for a Masters of Public Health

Every student pursuing higher education has both personal and career ambitions to grow. Considering the costs of education, high achievers begin with knowing their career prospects. You’ll often see Bureau of Labor Statistics data pulled from sites (including ours), but for this particular conversation we want to dive deeper into your career options and salary ranges for those options.

Here’s why: The BLS does a fantastic job at aggregating large health data, but some metrics narrowly focus on education and community health workers. Instead, we’re using Payscale to highlight key positions and a broader range of salary information below.

There are many types of jobs available to someone who has completed a masters in public health and data on labor statistics suggests that the demand for employees with this degree will increase more rapidly than the average demand for all professions.

To give you an example of a few jobs and salary ranges for common public health positions, a summary of four positions is below.  For a deeper dive about what someone may be able to earn with an MPH, check out our article on the topic.

Clinical Research Coordinator

Salary range: $41,000 - 63,000

Role description: Clinical research coordinators are typically employed by hospitals, healthcare systems, and pharmaceutical companies to oversee the daily tasks required for completion of clinical trials. These tasks can include recruitment of participants, documentation for progress reports, data tracking for final result reporting, collection of samples, and on-going communication with study participants.

Healthcare Consultant

Salary range: $59,000 - 117,000

Role description: Healthcare consultants work with healthcare organizations to study current operations and practices to develop recommendations for improvement. They research best practices for a given health system, analyze the current practices in place for that organization, and develop reports and presentations for stakeholders (e.g., board of directors, employees, donors).

Data Analyst

Salary range: $50,000 - 84,000

Role description: Data analysts work for hospitals, government organizations, academic research centers, and private companies may focus on any subject area within public health. They collect data, analyze trends and findings, and present this information in reports to funders and employers. A key skill of a data analyst is to conduct complex analyses but present the findings in a digestible way to those not entrenched in data analysis.

Project Manager

Salary range: $51,000 - 98,000

Role description: Project managers can work in almost any setting: all sizes of healthcare organizations, non-profits, higher education, pharmaceutical companies, consulting firms, and in government. Project managers plan and track completion of all steps needed to achieve an organization’s goals for everyone who will contribute to that goal. They develop tracking systems, lead meetings, share resources, and communicate deadlines.

How to pick an online Master of Public Health program

Given the number of masters of public health programs, it can be overwhelming trying to narrow down your search and deciding where to apply. There are a few key factors that can help your decision-making process that we’ll discuss here. 

First, as discussed above, one of the key criteria for choosing a program is to make sure that it is accredited. This is essential for a few reasons: federal student loans are typically only available to students attending accredited programs, employers may value an accredited program more since it’s more likely to be known and reputable, and all accredited programs cover key shared curriculum. 

Second, see if the school has a career services office or similar department that can help you with searching for internships and jobs. Ideally, this office will also have information on how quickly their recent graduates have found jobs following graduation. Attending a program whose graduates find jobs quickly is another way to assess whether a program is well-regarded and preparing students well for the job market. 

Third, similar to seeing if the school has a career services office, check to see how strong the alumni network is for the school. Being able to connect with other graduates is not only an excellent strategy for finding a job following graduation, but also a great way during school to learn more about career options that exist. 

Fourth, review the required and elective courses that are offered. You’ll want a broad range of required courses in the first one to two semesters to make sure that the core areas of public health are covered. This will provide you with a strong foundation in public health and allow you flexibility in the future. If you know the specific area of public health that you’d like for a concentration (and it’s alright if you don’t at this point), check to see what electives are offered in that area. 

Finally, review the structure of the program as much as you can depending on the information posted online. Check the format for most courses (i.e., completely independent or group work) to see whether the structure is one that appeals to you. Find out whether courses are taught by professors or teaching assistants and whether most courses have exams or papers for evaluations. 

Technology Needed

The most essential requirement for successful participation in an online masters program is likely high-speed internet access. Some courses may require participation in live Zoom sessions, while others may have online message boards where students communicate with professors. Since all learning will be done remotely, papers and other academic requirements will need to be uploaded to a program or course’s given portal for review. In addition to consistent high-speed internet, having a laptop or tablet that can be used for completing assignments will also be essential. 


Online master of public health programs generally have the same prerequisites as in-person programs. Typically programs require that you have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, although there is a broad understanding that this may be a social or behavioral science field like psychology or a traditional science field like biology. The number of universities offering bachelor’s degrees in public health and health science is increasing, but an undergraduate degree is not a set requirement. Most programs will also require some combination of the GRE, a personal statement, and letters of recommendation.

Online MPH Programs: Convenient, Cost-effective, and Employment Opportunities

Deciding to complete an online master of public health degree is a great first step in a long-term career. There are strategies to ensure that the program you choose is reputable, ways to offset tuition costs, and ample job opportunities for those with an MPH degree. These are all tangible advantages to  beginning a rewarding public health practice with the mission of promoting health care, increasing health equity, and improving well-being. 






















About the Author

Written 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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