When it comes to finding the best school for your online DrPH degree, a number of good options exist, but how do you choose the right one? The answer: research. List available schools, decide which factors matter the most, and start narrowing your list one by one. To help, we’ve researched and vetted the top online doctorate degrees in public health from schools across the entire U.S. These schools are CEPH accredited and have tuition rates that will keep a PH doctorate well within your reach.
The School of Public Health at the University of Illinois – Chicago offers the online Doctor in Public Health Leadership degree, which provides comprehensive leadership training by focusing on the latest in research, practice, and theory. Consisting of 96 semester hours, the program is 100% online with the exception of one three-day visit to the Chicago campus. Twenty-eight semester hours are required for the basic doctoral courses, with a minimum of another eight dedicated to the focus area and 28 dedicated to the thesis. Students can pull in up to 32 semester hours based on their master’s work, as well as up to five semester hours based on their prior experience.
Students take courses through the popular Blackboard platform. Most courses are synchronous, offered during the day and early evening, in a distance learning format. Most professionals in the program attend on a part-time basis, and take between four and six years to earn their doctorate.
To qualify for admission, applicants must hold a master’s degree from an accredited school of public health or a public health training program. They must have a minimum of three years of full-time paid experience in a leadership role in the public health field. The GRE is not required for admission to the program, but is encouraged for those whose academic records might not reflect the reality of what they can accomplish in an educational setting.
The Gillings School of Global Public Health is home to the Executive Doctoral Program in Health Leadership. This three-year, part-time distance learning program is aimed at full-time working professionals in the mid-level to high-level management positions in public health organizations. Though the coursework is 100% online, students are required to make three on-campus visits per year during the first two years; the third year (and potentially fourth year, if necessary) is reserved for work on the dissertation. Courses taken during those first two years include Essentials of Practice-based Research, Literature Review and Appraisal, and Health Policy Analysis and Advocacy for Leaders, among others.
Admissions are competitive, so aspiring students must meet a wide variety of criteria. This includes a minimum 3.0 in previous coursework, at least five years of post-grad experience in the public health field in a leadership area, a prior master’s or doctoral degree, full-time employment in the field, excellent writing skills, and a combined score of 1000 or 50th percentile on the GRE or GMAT, taken within the last five years. An essay, letters of recommendation, and updated resume are also required.
At Penn State University, the Doctor of Public Health requires 45 credits of coursework plus 15 hours of research and advanced field experience to earn the degree. Twenty-four of those credits are in core courses, while another 21 are in electives that form the concentration. The school offers an impressive array of focus options, including those in regulatory science, health policy and law, global health, economics of public health interventions, social marketing and behavior, women’s health, aging research, advanced leadership, and more. The four-year program ends with advanced field experience, doctoral research, and a comprehensive examination.
All students must complete two applications: one to the School of Public Health, then another to the Graduate School at Penn State. In general, the application process will require a statement of purpose, resume, transcripts, three letters of recommendation, GRE scores (taken within the last five years), and certain prerequisite courses. Students should be prepared to meet online via Skype or other means for an admissions interview.
Students in the doctoral program pay the standard graduate school admission. Penn State offers competitive Graduate Assistantships, which include a stipend and tuition. In order to qualify, students are encouraged to indicate their desire for “work study” on their FAFSA.
The Doctor of Public Health offered through the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University is designed for those who already hold a master’s degree and intend to move into leadership in the field. Applications for the program are due in December each year; students begin their studies with a June on-site visit to the campus in Baltimore. Informational seminars, one in the summer and one in the fall, are available online for those who want to learn more information before applying. There is also an open house in the fall for potential applicants.
Once enrolled, students can expect to gain skills and knowledge in the core competencies, including leadership, analytical skills, and communication. Other competencies include policy, ethics, management, evaluation, and program design. Concentrations in this program include Environmental Health, Health Equity and Social Justice, Health Policy and Management, and Implementation Science.
Fifty seven term credits are expected for the program, with an additional seven credits for the dissertation, totaling 64 minimum credits for graduation. Students will also take a comprehensive exam. The program is expected to take four years to complete, but students can take up to a maximum of nine years if necessary.
CEPH Accredited Online DrPH Programs
Accreditation is one of the most important aspects of any degree program, no matter the level. Accreditation assures that a school or program has been evaluated by an independent body and found to meet the standards of a solid education. Accreditation ensures quality; that’s why many schools will only accept transfer credits from accredited institutions, and why, in most cases, financial aid is only awarded to those students who are enrolled in an accredited program.
Regional accreditation speaks to the quality standards of a school itself; programmatic accreditation comes from independent bodies that focus on a particular area of education, and accredit the programs themselves. The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) is the accrediting body for public health programs, including those at the doctoral level. Choosing a CEPH accredited program helps ensure that employers will recognize the education as a high-quality one, and that graduates will be a good bet for employment in their organizations. If you have any questions about a programs CEPH accreditation, look for the school or program’s information on the CEPH website, or contact the school directly.
Inside the Online DrPH
Getting to know a program before you apply is a great way to ensure you make the right choices. Remember that the best decision is an informed one. So take your time in reviewing curriculum requirements, costs of tuition and fees, career prospects upon graduation from a particular program, the distance learning aspect (and how often you might need to be on campus), and more. Here are a few key questions you’ll want to answer before you leap.
Who is an online DrPH for?
Busy professionals who want to advance their careers often look to online programs in their chosen fields. They want the flexibility of online learning coupled with the ability to continue working in their jobs, gaining experience and moving up the ladder as they gain another level of education. DrPH programs are popular among mid-level professionals in the public health field who have some experience, earned a master’s in public health, and are now ready to take the next step in career advancement.
But keep in mind that online learning, while incredibly flexible for most, can also provide some challenges. A person must be comfortable working, studying, and communicating online. They must be well-versed in the technology it takes to handle message boards, chat rooms, video lectures, and more. They must be able to work independently for long hours at a time, with some guidance but lots of wiggle room. They should be organized, driven to succeed, have a great deal of self-discipline, and be able to create and meet their own deadlines. Fortunately, many of these skills come easily to seasoned public health professionals.
What’s the difference between a DrPH and a PhD?
Though the DrPH and the PhD might seem quite similar, the truth is that graduates from each program are prepared for very different roles in the field. PhD studies focus strongly on academic and scientific roles in public health, helping to prepare students to enter into research or academia. The DrPH is a professional degree meant for those who intend to work hands-on in the field in a leadership role. Here’s a bit more about how each degree breaks down:
Despite variety across online DrPH programs, many will have similar core concepts or courses that students need to learn or take. This helps to ensure that professionals graduate with the skills they need to excel in a variety of public health settings. Here’s a sampling of what you should see when earning your DrPH online.
A study on how to lead effectively in organizations of various sizes, financial abilities, and goals. Leadership courses are an integral part of the doctoral degree programs in public health. They might be presented under names such as Leadership Seminar, Leading Organizations, Advanced Leadership, and the like.
Part of the goal of the Doctor of Public Health online is to prepare students for solving problems, whether that’s for an individual or a global community. Problem-solving seminars take real-world issues and challenge students to work through the issue and present solutions that serve the greater good. A few examples of course names might include: The Obesity Crisis, The Opioid Crisis, Protecting the Environment, Safeguarding Workers, or Suicide Prevention.
Those in the public health field are often faced with reams of data and asked to make sense of it all. Understanding how to analyze that data, condense it down into something meaningful, and convey that through effective communication is what this course is all about. Though many schools simply name this “Data Analysis,” this might show up under other names, such as Advanced Data Analysis, Data Workshop, or Methods for Data Analysis.
All that data comes from in-depth research, which public health leaders must understand how to conduct, evaluate, and communicate to others within an organization. Research courses will help students understand what goes into surveys, canvassing, and other forms of collecting information from various populations. The courses might be called things like Qualitative Research, Research Theory and Methods, Quantitative Research, Qualitative Data Analysis, or Mixed Methods in Research in Public Health.
Those in public health are often in the public eye, offering information to reporters, journalists, news organizations, government organizations, and more. Strong communication skills are an absolute necessity for someone representing public health interests in front of the cameras. These courses, with names like Effective Presentations, News Media Interviews, or Public Health Media, are designed to help students feel at ease when communicating important information to the greater communities.
These courses are meant to bolster a student’s skills in a variety of areas that will help them become more effective leaders. Many incoming students already have a firm grasp of these skills and just need a bit of polish as they move forward into their leadership roles. A few of these skills include:
Attention to detail
The ability to disseminate research
Strong leadership abilities
What opportunities to specialize do online DrPH programs have?
Those entering the doctoral program in public health are already well into established careers and seeking a step up along that path. Specializing within a degree program is quite common at this stage, as students usually want to further the career path they are already on and become more proficient in one particular area. Most students already have a specific track in mind that will dovetail with their career goals. Here are a few of the more common DrPH concentrations.
This concentration focuses on preparing students to move into upper-level roles in public health organizations. Their work as administrators can help move these organizations into greater opportunities to foster the public good, engage communities they serve, and touch everyone from the individual to the global community.
This cornerstone of public health focuses on health and disease in certain populations; this concentration helps students better understand and implement the research, survey, and assessment methodologies necessary to understand what is happening in various communities or populations, then search for solutions that will suit the growing needs of those individuals within those communities.
Community & Behavioral Health
Graduates from this concentration will look at the behaviors of various communities and social environments that affect the public health of individuals and at large. Professionals in this area try to find patterns in behavior that speak to a broader range of issues, and then look for solutions that dovetail with the community’s needs as a whole.
Health Systems & Policy
This concentration is for those who work behind the scenes, crafting careful healthcare policy, forming the rules and regulations for health systems, and assisting in keeping organizations running smoothly. The jobs available to those with a strong systems and policies background might range from small local organizations to vast businesses focused on public health to governmental positions.
How long do online DrPH programs take?
This depends on a number of factors. Though most schools offer a four year schedule that can be extended to six years for the dissertation completion and defense, this often assumes part-time enrollment for working professionals. Those who devote full-time study to the degree could bring that time down to two to four years (again, much of this depends upon how long the dissertation takes). Other factors include the school itself, the schedule on which it offers online courses, start dates of the various schools, and more.
What’s the cost of earning a DrPH online?
Costs vary by the type of school, how long it takes you to complete a program (part-time or full-time), how much financial aid you might be eligible to receive, and even where you live – some schools offer in-state tuition to online students, no matter where they live, while others have entirely different tuition rates specifically for online learning. Here’s what the tuition looks like for some of today’s best online DrPH programs:
Johns Hopkins University: $1,162/credit
University of Illinois – Chicago: $950/credit
Pennsylvania State University: $21,960/year
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: $742/credit (resident), $1,548/credit (non-resident)
Do I need to take the GRE to get into a DrPH program?
The answer to that question depends upon the particular program. Some are more traditional and want to see GRE scores, no matter what. Others take a completely opposite approach and do not require the GRE under any circumstances. Still others fall in the middle, where they do not require the GRE if an applicant has a certain amount of experience; those schools argue that experience of an applicant tells them much more than a standardized test score ever could. This is becoming more common because most DrPH students are working professionals with significant experience and who may be far removed from standardized testing.
Do online DrPH programs have any campus requirements?
Paying for graduate school can be challenging for anyone, whether you have the means to pay out-of-pocket, or you need to leverage every option imaginable to make your degree a reality. No matter where you fall, always make sure you explore as many funding opportunities as possible, from the free ones (scholarships) to the ones you need to pay back (loans). Here are the five places you should look first:
Scholarships available specifically for those in public health or a closely related field can be found through organizations that focus on serving communities and specific populations. In many cases, public health scholarships might also fall under the umbrella of medicine, health professions, or graduate school study. Apply for scholarships as early as possible due to high competition and strict deadlines.
Start the search by filling out the FAFSA, which many schools use as a benchmark to determine their school-based or program-based awards. Some grants and fellowships might also be available, especially for those engaged in cutting-edge research on the doctoral level. Research financial aid for online health and medical programs.
Sometimes called assistantships or even work study, these opportunities usually provide a stipend as well as cover the cost of tuition for each semester in which a student keeps their fellowship. Offered directly by the schools, these programs are highly competitive, so it’s important to apply early and showcase the finer points of what you can provide to fellow students.
This is the typical financial fallback plan for graduate students. Scholarships and grants often don’t cover the entire cost, and fellowships are tough to get; therefore, a loan might be the answer. Look for loans with low interest rates, especially those that don’t begin accruing interest until a student is out of school.
Many employers recognize the value of advanced degrees, and some of them are willing to help you get one. Employer assistance, if offered, usually kicks in after you’ve worked in a particular job for a set period of time. It might be given on the stipulation that you will continue to work for the organization for a certain period of time after receiving the degree. Talk with Human Resources for more information.
What’s Next? After Earning Your DrPH Online
Many people who enter DrPH programs are working public health professionals looking to advance their careers, or to move into a specific career related to their current one. In some instances, students will choose to use the DrPH to open various doors to new jobs in a related field. Whichever bucket you fit into, it’s good to review your options so you can take your next educational step with confidence.
What can you do with an online DrPH?
Since the DrPH tends to focus strongly on leadership, it’s perfect for those who want to move the move to upper management or executive level in a variety of public health organizations. The jobs available for those with the DrPH can put individuals on the front lines of healthcare as a health program director, put them behind the scenes as an analyst, or even put them in a position that combines these very important positions. Here’s a look at a few of the many jobs available to those who earn this terminal degree.
How much can you make with a DrPH?
By the time a person earns their DrPH, they have been in the public health world for many years. That experience is one of the crucial points that affect a person’s salary in the field; the other is their level of education. When someone has earned the terminal degree, the years of experience begin to pile up and hopefully lead to better compensation. The following table shows the spectrum of salaries, based on education, experience, and location for various public health professions:
Careers in Health
General and Operations Managers
Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists
Health Teachers, Postsecondary
Health Specialties Teachers, Postsecondary
Those who want to boost their career in public health often look to the DrPH to do so, but there are other routes that might serve you just as well, if not better, depending upon your career goals. There’s also plenty of room to pivot into a related career with a second degree program. Let’s take a look at a few of the degree options that may be a good fit if you’re studying or working in public health.
Just as with the Doctor of Public Health, the PhD in the field is often pursued by mid-level or upper-level professionals who want to advance their career. However, the PhD tends to focus on preparing students for positions in research and academia. Graduates of the PhD in Public Health program often work in organizations devoted to researching public health matters, or wind up teaching at the university level.
Those who want to work hands-on in the public health world often opt for this master’s degree, which allows them to enter jobs with more responsibility in public health organizations. The master’s degree opens the door to the PhD or the DrPH, both of which can serve to help a graduate move into higher levels of their career. The master’s program is often chosen by those who have been working in the public health field and want to make it a permanent career choice.