How I Chose Where to Get My MPH

college education graduate degree mph Dec 19, 2023

Recently I was invited to join a panel of graduates from my undergraduate alma mater, John Carroll University, speaking to a group of students studying in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. One of the questions I received during the panel inspired me to write this blog post. I was asked to talk about the process I went through in choosing where to purse my graduate studies and how I came to my specific field. I thought that sharing my process might benefit those who want an advanced degree as they pursue a public health career.

Below are listed six steps I considered in making that decision. Keep in mind that these steps don’t have to be undertaken in exactly this order. Also, this process worked for me, but it could look different for others.

  1. Decide your area of focus.

Assuming you’ve already devoted time to exploring your interests, passions, and career aspirations leading you to public health, it’s important to explore potential focus areas within the field. If you’ve spent time researching public health graduate school programs, you likely know that there are many possibilities for your area of focus. You could choose epidemiology, environmental science, health promotion, biostatistics, health policy, and so on. You could also go for an MPH, an MSPH, or an MS degree.

If you’ve chosen public health but haven’t yet decided on your area of focus, peruse your options online to get a better understanding of what’s out there. If you’re uncertain of exactly where in the field your interests lie, don’t worry! There are even public health programs that offer a more general education without a specific concentration. Just keep in mind that some career paths, like epidemiologist or biostatistician, will expect you to have studied statistics or research design so you’ll want to choose a program centered around these topics.

  1. Find schools that offer the type of program that you’re interested in.

Once you know your area of focus, start looking for schools that offer that type of program! If you want to work in health policy, start researching schools that offer a health policy program and make a list of the schools with a program that interests you.

  1. Set perimeters on where you’d be willing to study.

Would you be willing to move to study in another city, state, or country? Do you need to find a program that is local to you? Would you prefer to study online? You’ll find that some programs will only offer either an in-person or online study format. If you have strict preferences, then you know which schools to cross off your list.

  1. Narrow down your list.

If you want to study in person, remain in the city or community you already live in, and there’s a program that fits what you want to study – great, you’re all set! But if you’re willing to move, do an online program, or many schools offer the type of program you’re interested in, you may find that it is harder to narrow down your list. In my case, I wanted to study epidemiology with a global health focus, and I was willing to move anywhere to study in person. With these criteria in mind, I narrowed my search down to three schools with great programs located in cities I’d be interested in living in.

Opinions on this differ, but mine is that you should limit yourself to three grad school applications. Applying to grad schools is expensive and time consuming. Submitting the applications usually comes with a fee and so does sending school transcripts. Writing essays, statements of purpose and getting letters of recommendation are also very time consuming. While it might feel good to have more options, consider if it’s really worth your money or time because you only can pick one at the end of the day!

  1. Consider the costs.

Unless you are going into a PhD program instead of a master’s degree, you’ll likely be paying for your degree. As much as I wish it wasn’t, grad school was expensive. Therefore, be sure to consider not only the cost of tuition, books, and supplies, but also moving costs, and the impact on your income if you work fewer hours or choose not to work while in school. Ultimately, cost played a heavy role in my final decision. I was accepted into three programs that all came with hefty price tags. Only one of the schools offered me financial assistance and ultimately, that was the school that I chose. Don’t be embarrassed to prioritize cost!

After all these considerations, you should be ready to make your choice! For more information in pursuing a career in public health, please follow us on LinkedIn or Instagram for our weekly updates and job posts. To become part of the Public Health Hired community, visit the Public Health Hired website to join the Public Health Hired Masterclass.

Contributor: Elizabeth Weaver, MPH graduated from George Washington University School of Public Health in 2021 with her Master's Degree in Public Health and currently works for the Virginia Department of Health in Communicable Disease Investigation. In her spare time, she enjoys running, traveling, and studying Spanish." Connect with her on LinkedIn. 

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