From developing public health initiatives to training medical staff and improving their work environment, healthcare administrators have a tremendous impact on the health of their communities. Add to that the emotional rewards of helping others receive the best healthcare possible, and you have a career that is both satisfying and exciting. With a 32% increase in medical and health services management positions in the next 10 years, earning a master’s in healthcare administration can be a smart step towards a field with ample room to grow.
If an MHA sounds like the degree for you, first thing is first. You’ll have to earn admissions to an accredited program. While not all master’s in healthcare administration programs are exactly the same, many will have quite similar requirements for admissions. That means you can start to prepare early in order to increase your chances of receiving that coveted acceptance letter. Find out what measure you can take to look good on your application and get information and advice on each step of the admissions process.
General Admissions Requirements
Applying to a graduate program usually requires first supplying general academic information before then supplying information to the specific program you want to pursue. Some schools have two separate processes, first to the school and then to the program, while others combine them into one admissions process. This section discusses the elements involved in general graduate school admissions, including your undergraduate degree, GPA, GRE scores, and prerequisites. We’ll also look at options for paying for graduate school.
Graduate School Admissions
You need to have an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university if you want to attend graduate school. There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as completing a bridge program that combines undergraduate and graduate coursework in the same program, but you likely won’t find those in the healthcare administration field.
Your undergraduate GPA indicates how well you might perform if admitted to graduate school. Most graduate schools require applicants have a minimum GPA of 3.0. Occasionally, a school will allow a lower GPA if students have high GRE schools or significant related work experience.
Getting a high score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) isn’t as important as it used to be. Many graduate schools are moving away from having this requirement since GRE scores don’t always predict which students will be successful in a graduate program. For graduate schools that still have this requirement, you’ll probably want a score of at least 300.
You may run across graduate schools that require general prerequisite courses, but it’s more common to have any required courses specific to a particular master’s program. We cover common MHA program prerequisite courses below.
Whether a transcript is official or unofficial depends on who sends it. Universities and colleges can mail sealed copies of transcripts or securely submit them electronically. Submitting a copy of your transcript on your own makes it unofficial. Some MHA graduate programs allow for unofficial transcripts to start the admissions process, but they’ll eventually need official copies for verification.
An official transcript proves you have a bachelor’s degree and shows your GPA and completed coursework. This is especially important for verifying prerequisite courses during the application process. You’ll need to submit an official transcript from every post-secondary institution you’ve attended. This can be done by contacting your school’s registrar and requesting your transcripts be sent to prospective graduate schools. Be prepared to pay a fee per transcript sent.
Funding Your Tuition
Financial aid is available to graduate students through scholarships, government loans, work-study programs, and employer assistance. Scholarships may have their own application process, or you may be automatically considered for this financial aid based on your school application information. In addition to a program’s potential scholarships, MHA students should investigate scholarships offered through associations whose purpose is to promote the healthcare administration field.
Graduate students should also fill out the government FAFSA early in the application process before the yearly deadline. A FAFSA tells you if you qualify for Federal financial aid programs and helps schools determine which students are most in need of financial assistance.
Work-study programs may also be available. These programs help graduate students find part-time jobs on or off campus to help pay for program costs, and your eligibility for them will be indicated on your FAFSA results.
Employer tuition assistance is another option for graduate students. Many employers agree to pay for a portion or all of an employee’s tuition in return for a set period of employment after the degree is earned. Discuss this possibility with your employer as early as possible to help you determine any funding you’ll still need.
Program Admissions Requirements
Some schools ask for both an application to the school and another application to their Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) program, though sometimes the application process incorporates both. The program-specific application usually requires more specific information than that which you submitted for the school’s application, and you’ll probably need to reach out to mentors for recommendations, update your resume, and document your intentions for this part of the process.
MHA Program Requirements
Although every MHA program will have slightly different admissions standards, the requirements listed below are a good indication of what you’ll be asked for come time to apply.
Some schools combine the graduate school application with the program-specific application, and some don’t. A supplemental application will likely ask for more details than the application for the school
Your undergraduate GPA indicates your ability to study on a graduate level and your dedication to learning. Most graduate schools and graduate programs require at least a 3.0 GPA to even consider you for admission. If you have a lower GPA, reach out to the department for possible alternatives.
Many graduate programs are moving away from GRE scores. Some still ask for them, though, especially for students with lower GPAs. It’s recommended that students earn a score of at least 300 to be considered competitive.
MHA programs usually require several prerequisite courses, even if the school you are applying to doesn’t. Many want courses to reflect a basic understanding of the following subjects:
- Word processing
- Presentation software
- Basic math
Programs typically expect students to achieve a “C” grade or better in prerequisite courses.
Volunteer Hours/Work Experience
Though not all MHA programs expect applicants to have any related experience, many ask for a year or more of volunteer hours and/or work experience, preferably in health services. Schools may want this information detailed in your personal statement and/or on your resume.
Every MHA program has slightly different expectations for the personal statement or essay. Pay attention to the school’s specific wording or page count requirement and be sure to address all the topics mentioned. Common information requested includes your:
- General personal information
- Purpose for pursuing an MHA
- Career goals and aspirations
- Related professional experience and education
- Personal philosophy, values, strengths, and unique characteristics
- Leadership experiences relevant to the healthcare profession
- Experience with critical feedback
- Belief regarding why a specific program fits your educational and professional goals
- Approach to managing the rigorous demands of graduate school
If your GPA is below 3.0, this is where most admission teams will want you to explain why that is.
Letters of Recommendation & References
Most MHA programs require three letters of recommendation or three references. These are usually submitted online directly by the reference and should be from people who can speak to your ability to complete graduate coursework and vouch for your academic capabilities, motivations, and professional background. These people can include supervisors, professors, or academic advisors, but they should not be coworkers, relatives, colleagues, or classmates.
An updated resume/curriculum vitae should include relevant academic coursework, volunteer hours, work experience, current licenses, memberships in professional organizations, honors like scholarships or awards, publications, and research experience.
If you are an eligible applicant, you’ll likely be invited to an online or in-person interview. Spots may be limited, which is an important reason for you to submit your application early. Not all MHA programs require an interview, but we provide more details below if you are required to participate in one.
Program Admissions Interview
Competitive applicants may receive an invitation to talk to the program director, a current MHA student, and/or a faculty member. Program interviews are either online or in-person, and some schools set aside a “Visit Day” for students for on-campus personal interviews.
An interview with the program director may be lengthy since they’ll want to get to know your personality and learn about your academics. An interview with current MHA students is a great opportunity to learn about the program’s culture. An interview with an MHA professor would probably focus on how well you might fit into the program.
Regardless of who you interview with, treat them with respect and take time to give thoughtful answers. Some questions to be prepared to answer include:
- Why do you want to go into healthcare?
- What areas of healthcare interest you?
- Why do you want to pursue an MHA?
- How will an MHA from our school give you an advantage?
- What courses are you looking forward to taking?
- What type of leadership position do you assume in a group?
- Tell me about a time when you cared for someone.
- On a scale from 1 to 10, how confident are you and why?
- What large problem do you currently see in the healthcare industry that you would like to take on personally?
Prepare for an interview by learning as much as possible about the school’s program and gaining as much experience in the healthcare industry as possible. Know what classes are included in the curriculum, be confident in your goals and aspirations, and come prepared to discuss leadership in the healthcare industry.
Does My Undergrad Degree Matter?
It doesn’t matter what undergraduate degree you have as long as it’s from an accredited university. Students enter healthcare administration with backgrounds in healthcare, business, biology, chemistry, humanities, and others. Most likely, your undergraduate degree will help you achieve your goals in healthcare administration in some way. A Bachelor’s in English, for example, gives you strong written and verbal communication skills that will not only help you in graduate school but also as a healthcare supervisor.
If you haven’t started your undergraduate studies yet, take time to consider which one might pair well with an MHA and your ultimate career aspirations. Though most undergraduate degrees are acceptable for MHA students, you may want to take statistics, microeconomics, and accounting courses before starting graduate school. This is especially helpful if you have little to no finance or business background.
Other Things to Think About
There are a lot of factors to consider when applying for a graduate degree program. In addition to the specific requirements discussed above, you’ll want to know the program’s policy on transfer credits and whether the program you are looking at is fully accredited.
Transfer credits are course credits from another school that you want to count toward your graduate education. Whether you took a few graduate-level courses in the last year of your undergrad or you attended a different graduate school for a semester or two before stopping, those credits might save you some time and money.
Transfer credit policies can differ greatly among graduate schools. Some schools don’t take transfer credits at all, some only accept credits from partner universities, and some only take them on a case-by-case basis. Find out if the MHA program you are applying to accepts transfer credits by looking at the program website or by asking the program director or an academic advisor.
If your program does accept graduate credit from other schools, be prepared to provide documentation, like official transcripts to show credits earned, and to fill out a “Request for Transfer of Graduate Credit” form. Schools may reject transfer credit if a class was completed too long ago, you didn’t receive the minimum required grade, or the coursework and learning objectives do not match the current program’s curriculum and goals.
An accredited school or program is specifically designed to meet certain standards and ensures the education you are paying for is relevant and high-quality. There are different accrediting agencies around the United States, and you can get a list of these agencies through the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
Any Master of Healthcare Administration program you choose should be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME). The CAHME focuses on improving healthcare management education and seeks to support and advise programs looking to meet its accreditation requirements.
Graduating from an accredited school and program tells future employers you are well-prepared to meet expected industry standards. In fact, some employers won’t hire candidates who graduated from unaccredited programs.
American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE)
ACHE is a professional society for healthcare leaders. It provides networking opportunities, credentialing, research, scholarships, and more.
Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA)
AUPHA promotes university-based management education and works to improve health services through education. It offers certification, scholarships, career help, and more.
Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME)
This student page on the CAHME website provides information on scholarships, accredited programs, and certain post-grad fellowship opportunities.
Ethical Diligence in Healthcare Administration
Learning about the ethical standards of the healthcare industry can help you understand the relevance of many of the classes you’ll be asked to take in an MHA program.
Five Challenges Faced by Today’s Healthcare Administrators
This article discusses challenges in healthcare that are motivating many to earn their MHAs after years of working in the field.
How to Become a Healthcare Administrator
This article discusses what healthcare administrators do and the education and skills they need.
How to Break Into Healthcare Administration with No Experience
An article discussing the needs of the healthcare system, you’ll also discover how to become a healthcare administrator. It includes information on certification, professional affiliations, and job prospects.
Master of Healthcare Administration Student Association (MHASA)
This student association at the University of Wisconsin offers services – including workshops, healthcare tours, funding opportunities, and service opportunities – to students in its MHA program. Be sure to see if your school has a similar association.
National Association of Health Services Executives (NAHSE)
This non-profit association promotes the advancement and development of Black health care leaders.