The Best Public Health Certificate Program for You: How to Navigate the Options for the Right Outcome

Published on: Nov 28, 2023

How to Find the Right Public Health Certificate Program

As public health has gained in popularity for undergraduate and graduate studies as well as potential career paths, the options for what type of undergraduate or graduate program to pursue has become more overwhelming with seemingly unlimited options. Between 2020 and 2021, there was a 40% increase in applications to programs that offered a master in public health within their offerings for graduate school1. Starting by asking yourself whether you want to get a graduate degree, an undergraduate degree, or a certificate in public health is a good first step. Public health certificate programs are a relatively new offering from many colleges and universities, developed directly in response to this growing interest in public health. 

We recognize that selecting the best public health certificate program can be a daunting task. In order to choose the right program, you need to consider your own learning style, preferences for format (that is, online or in-person), budget, and professional objectives if you know them. While it would be easy to say here which are the “best” public health certificate programs by listing out the universities with the greatest prestige or that have the most challenging admission criteria, our goal is to show you how to adopt a personalized approach to ensure that your chosen program aligns with your unique needs and goals. 

This comprehensive guide aims to provide valuable perspectives and insights to help you navigate the process of selecting an ideal public health certificate program. We’ll conclude with an overview of ten certificate programs.

What is a Public Health Certificate?

Public health certificates are typically completed as part of an undergraduate degree or as part of a master’s degree. These levels of certification function slightly differently: the undergraduate one shows that you have more training in public health than an undergraduate degree alone, whereas the graduate certificate is often done to highlight an area of specialization and specific training. To earn a public health certificate, you’ll be required to complete a number of credits from a university, typically in the 12-18 credit range. Depending on how many courses you’re taking and whether you choose to do all of the public health courses at once, this can take one or two semesters.

Our focus here will be on the undergraduate certificates, however there are also options for continuing education for professionals looking to make a career change like Drexel University and The University of Kansas where online certificates are offered. These continuing education option range in topics from a global health certificate to a general public health certificate. Similarly, many universities now offer a graduate certificate program designed for someone who wants to demonstrate their interest in a specific area of public health like public health preparedness or public health informatics.

Factors to Consider in Selecting a Public Health Certificate Program

As mentioned before, it would be easy to just list the programs with the most rigorous admission criteria and tell you that those are the best programs. This is not to say that those programs are not excellent, but we want to show you additional ways to think about choosing a program.

  • Learning style and program structure:

    Before starting the process of selecting a public health certificate program, it is crucial to engage in some self-reflection about your personal preferences and learning style. Think about your academic experiences to date and ask yourself what you liked and didn’t like. Some people thrive in traditional classroom settings, while others prefer the flexibility of online learning. Consider whether you like working independently on your own schedule or if you like the partnership of working closely with others. Perhaps you like some of both of those aspects. Think about whether you learn best through structured lectures, hands-on practical experiences, or collaborative group work. There’s no right or wrong way to do your coursework in a certificate program, but understanding your preferred learning environment will help narrow down the options of programs to pursue and ensure a successful educational experience.

  • Accreditation and program quality:

    Start by researching the overall reputation of the program and consider factors such as faculty expertise, alumni success, and MPH program rankings. There are many factors to consider when evaluating program rankings as there is more than meets the eye. Then check out the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) website where you can either search for a program to check whether it is accredited or go directly to CEPH’s list of accredited schools and programs2. Accreditation is not some standard that doesn’t matter or should be ignored, as it speaks to the quality of a program. Being accredited by CEPH means that a program has met standards related to the coverage of its curriculum, quality of faculty and their research, graduation rates, and alumni impressions including post-graduation outcomes (i.e., employment)3. Additionally, you might only be able to receive a federal student loan if you chose an accredited program which is important to consider given the cost of tuition4. Check out our deep-dive on the benefits of accreditation here.

  • Faculty:

    While the CEPH standards cover many areas related to faculty, it’s important to do your own additional assessment on the faculty. Look into the qualifications and expertise of the faculty members within the program. While it can be hard to know what you’re looking for in this respect if you’re just starting out in public health, you want to see experienced faculty with diverse backgrounds and a variety of research interests across the faculty. These factors can enhance your experience and provide valuable mentorship opportunities.

  • Area of specialization and concentrations:

    Analyze the curriculum of each program to ensure it covers the core domains of public health and that, if you know your professional objectives, that it aligns with them. Here we offer a deep-dive into the areas of public health to accompany your assessment of programs. Consider the availability of elective courses that allow for customization of your educational experience and specialization. Since a certificate doesn’t take many credits to complete compared to a BPH or an MPH, you’ll want to decide at the outset whether you’re looking for a general certificate in public health or if you want one with a specific focus like epidemiology or environmental health.

  • On-campus versus hybrid on-campus/online options:

    Especially with the increase in online learning opportunities following COVID-19 as well as the recent widespread adoption of tools that promote online learning, you have more options than even just five years ago for the format of your coursework. Consider whether you’d prefer a traditional on-campus program, a hybrid on-campus/online format, or a fully online format. Having the option to complete your certificate or degree program online is a great option for working professionals who need to do work at night and allows for completing a certificate program somewhere far away. The downside is that you lose opportunities for face-to-face connections with faculty and peers. It’s not impossible to develop connections that may help you find a job or help with professional opportunities without this, but something to consider. Hybrid programs offer the benefits of both in-person interaction and flexibility for working professionals or those with other commitments.

  • Financial considerations and scholarships:

    Budget plays a significant role in determining the feasibility of pursuing a public health certificate program. It is essential to assess the financial implications of undertaking this type of program and to set a realistic budget. How do you do this? Start by researching various programs to determine the tuition and course credit fees, then add additional costs such as textbooks or a laptop if you don’t have one you can use already. Then build in any potential financial aid or scholarships available. Here we offer a longer explanation of different types of financial support available to MPH students, some of which (like the need-based FAFSA also are available to undergrad students).. Considering your budget in this way might be the first time you’ve had to do something like this, but it will allow you to make an informed decision about where to complete a certificate without having long-term negative financial implications.

  • Career opportunities and networking:

    Depending on where you are in your own educational and professional journey, thinking about career and networking may seem far off from where you are today. Some people might tell you that it’s important to align your certificate program with your professional objectives, but it might be too soon for that. Public health encompasses a wide range of disciplines, including epidemiology, health policy, global health, and environmental health. If you don’t have a sense of your career aspirations yet, try to choose a certificate that will give you a broad overview and set you up for success if you decide to get an MPH or have diverse professional options. If you do have a set professional goal, think about the specific skills and knowledge you’d like to gain from the program. This will guide your research and ensure that the program you choose aligns with your professional goals. Research the program's alumni network and the support offered by career services. A robust network and career services can facilitate internship and job placements, mentorship, and professional development opportunities.

  • Time commitment and flexibility:

    As mentioned previously, most certificates are in the 12-18 credit range which likely translates into one or two semesters if you’re a full-time student. Finding out whether being a full-time student is required is an important step or if there’s an overall time frame from when you start your certificate that it must be completed. It’s also worth looking into whether there are any hands-on requirements like internships, which give you a practical application of theoretical knowledge and help build a professional network.

Do Your Homework: Researching Public Health Certificate Programs

While you’ll have plenty of homework once enrolled as a student in a public health certificate program, there are several effective strategies to do in advance as you’re trying to gather relevant information about programs. Official university websites and posted program information are valuable resources. These websites provide comprehensive details about the curriculum, faculty, admission requirements, and other essential components of the program. By exploring these sites, you can gain a solid understanding of the program's structure and offerings, enabling you to make informed decisions about whether the program could be a good fit for you.

Beyond posted information on websites, try to attend virtual or in-person information sessions. Many universities and institutions organize sessions where faculty members, current students, and program coordinators share detailed information about the curriculum, admission process, and career outcomes. These sessions often allow for interactive Q&A sessions, enabling participants to clarify any doubts or concerns. While it might seem like a lot of effort to go to something like this, keep in mind that you’ll likely be paying expensive tuition bills if you enroll so it’s worth finding out all the information you need in advance. 

Additionally, you can consider rankings and reputation. Various organizations and publications release annual rankings that assess the quality and reputation of educational institutions and their programs. The most well known of these is the U.S. News & World Report ranking and the methodology involves surveying administration and faculty of only CEPH-accredited programs and schools15. Generally, any ranking likely takes into account factors such as faculty expertise and publications, research output, and student satisfaction (usually self-reported by students who volunteer to complete a survey). These rankings shouldn’t be the only tool you use, but can help you gauge the program's standing and its recognition within the field.

If possible, gathering information from current and former students can provide valuable insights, especially if you have specific questions you’d like answered. Prospective students can connect with current students through online forums, social media groups, or university-specific platforms to inquire about their experiences, coursework, and career prospects. Likewise, reaching out to alumni can offer perspectives on how the program prepared them for professional opportunities. This firsthand information can provide a realistic picture of the program's strengths and weaknesses, helping individuals make a well-informed decision.

Finally, seeking guidance from current academic advisors or professionals in the field can provide valuable insights. Even if you don’t know your current academic advisor well, they can help you assess different public health programs and can provide personalized guidance based on your goals and interests. Additionally, reaching out to professionals working in the public health field can offer insights into the skills and credentials that employers value, helping you to make an informed decision about the public health certificate program that best suits your needs.

MPH Making an Impact

Profiles of Public Health Certificate Programs

Your options for where to complete one will increase as more universities start offering public health certificate programs, but this list will give you a broad overview of ten programs across the US where you can complete one.

About the Authors

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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