MPH degree starter guide – The PH SPOT essential guide to deciding whether an MPH is right for you and choosing the right program & school that best fits your needs

A master’s degree in public health is a big step, not to mention, a major investment in both time and money. We, the team at PH SPOT, have been in your shoes before and know that you likely have a lot of questions running through your mind.

In order to help you better navigate this process, we’ve brought together the most relevant and popular content from our blog, podcast, and resource toolkits related to deciding whether an MPH program is right for you. This how-to guide will take you through the process, step by step.

Are we missing something? Could you use some additional guidance at a specific step? Let us know at hello@phspot.org and we’ll add it in!

On this page, you’ll find information on:

  • Making the decision to pursue a master’s degree in public health
  • Deciding which master’s degree and program is right for you
  • Figuring out which schools are the best fit for you to apply to 

Part 1: First thing’s first: What is an MPH degree? And how do you know if it’s right for you?

An MPH – which stands for Master of Public Health – is a professional degree that trains students to work in public health practice. Most MPH programs include a combination of coursework and a practicum experience, although some also include a thesis component where the student leads their own research project. Most MPH degrees are designed to be 2-years in length, but this can vary depending on the school and whether the program is completed part-time or full-time. Graduates of an MPH degree can work in a variety of settings, including government, universities, industries, and non-profit organizations. For example, some jobs that MPH graduates take on include Epidemiologist, Policy Analyst, and Research Coordinator.

Deciding to do an MPH is a big step. This blog article describes the decision-making process of an MPH graduate, including her top four reasons for pursuing a public health degree. Check it out for inspiration while making your own decision.

Putting the pieces together towards a public health degree, by Nikita Singh

“Overall, deciding on a Public Health degree required me to think comprehensively about what goals I wanted to achieve with my graduate training and the work I saw myself doing with the skills I learned.

For me, a public health degree would provide me with interdisciplinary training to contribute in meaningful ways to support and improve the health of populations I hope to work with.”

If podcasts are more your thing, check out this episode with Elizabeth Loftus on this topic. In this episode, Elizabeth talks about a variety of topics, including what drew her to an MPH and whether an MPH degree is a good fit for people who already have a background in public health. 

 Should I pursue a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree? With Elizabeth Loftus

You know the saying “Hindsight is 20-20”?  As you’re considering whether a public health degree is right for you and whether now is the right time to pursue one, hear what our founder Sujani Siva and members of the PH SPOT community wish they knew before they started their public health degrees. You can check out our blog or podcast (or both) on the topic:

What I wish I knew before I started my Master of Public Health (MPH) degree, with Sujani Siva

As I reflect back to the beginning of my public health career journey, I find myself thinking about what I wish I had known at various stages of this journey. I don’t regret the choices I made, but I do wonder had I known more than I did, would I have made different choices?

And for inspiration, here are some reflections from your peers on how they honed in on a specific area of public health when pursuing grad school, along with their tips:

How my sand collection led to my career (no, not in geology): an environmental health journey, with Marissa C. Grenon

Although the journey of discovering your niche in public health will look a bit different for everyone, here are some steps that helped me find mine”

To the non-traditional public health graduate: work for your public health degree to make your public health degree work for you, with Ivneet Garcha

I have never done well with fitting into molds. I sit uncomfortably in the straight edges of expectation and squirm in the confines of categorical boxes used to organize and make sense of our professional world. I’m a law student, a public health practitioner, a medical education researcher, a self-proclaimed writer and poet, and a lover of intersectionality. The truth is, there isn’t an existing job title that really captures what I want to be doing, and that’s okay.

And finally, as you decide whether pursuing an MPH degree is the right path for you, you may be wondering about the job market. Questions like, Will I be able to land a job? Is an MPH degree worth it? may be in the back of your head. Here’s some insight to help you through these questions:

A Discussion On The Public Health Workforce, With Assistant Dean And Director Of Career Services At Columbia University Mailman School Of Public Health Heather Krasna

Episode 34 Heather Krasna

Is There Money to be Made in Public Health? Reflections from a Family Physician, by Dr. Kyle Lee*

“Doing a quick Google search will reveal that public health salaries can vary quite a bit given the wide breadth of jobs.” 

*Note: This is an individual’s reflection, and are not the opinions of PH SPOT. We strongly believe in the transparency of compensation in the industry and will put effort in bringing perspectives from other professionals as well. 

A few more things to touch on in this step…

In the case you wanted to continue working while pursuing your MPH degree, here’s a reflection by Elizabeth Venditti and how she navigated that need, as well as her MPH experience.

New beginnings, with Elizabeth Venditti

“When I chose to pursue a master’s, I needed a program that would allow me to study while working full-time. “

And perhaps you are someone, like many others we’ve heard from, who may have considered the medical school path. But, somewhere down the road, that interest changed. Here’s a reflection by Sophia Garasia (blog and podcast) on why she chose not to apply to medical school. Hopefully her story will help you solidify your decision.

Why I will not be applying to medical school, with Sophia Garasia

“When I chose to pursue a master’s, I needed a program that would allow me to study while working full-time. “


Part 2: How do you choose which public health master’s degree/program is right for you?

Deciding to pursue a master’s degree in public health is exciting and the possibilities are endless. But it means you’ve got some further decisions to make. 

One of the most common questions we receive from prospective public health master’s students is whether they should do an MPH or an MSc. Here is an overview of the two degrees (including similarities and differences), as well as advice from PH SPOT community members who faced this decision in the past.

I want to do a public health degree! Should I do an MPH or an MSc?

MPH or MSc in public health

Another common question our team gets from prospective public health master’s students is whether they should pursue a course-based or thesis-based program. The first blog post below describes an MPH student’s experience navigating this decision. The second blog post describes how – regardless of what type of program you’re in – you can still create a research-enriched MPH experience for yourself, if desired.  

Making the Right Choice for Me: Course-Based or Thesis-Based? With Kaitlyn Irving

Fostering a research-enriched MPH experience, with Anisa Hajizadeh

In my experience seeking out research opportunities as a graduate student in public health, it was evident that those who conduct research are keen to involve individuals who are eager to learn, contribute meaningfully, and who have aligned interests in the topic of study.”an vary quite a bit given the wide breadth of jobs.” 

Choosing a stream within public health – including Health Policy and Management, Environmental and Occupational Health, Health Promotion and Socio-Behavioural Sciences and Epidemiology – can be challenging. This blog post provides a step-by-step breakdown of the various Master’s-level public health streams offered at many Canadian universities, including factors to consider and possible places to work after completing a degree in each stream.

Pursuing higher education in public health, with Meloja

“You’ve decided to enter the field of public health. What’s next? Choosing a stream within Public Health – a step by step breakdown. Let’s take a look these streams and my take on them…”

Have you considered dual degree programs in public health? For example, you may have heard of a combined MPH/MBA. To see if a dual degree program might be right for you, read about one student’s journey through his combined MPH / Master of Public Affairs program at Brown University.

Dual Degrees – Worth it? With James Morden

I would honestly ask yourself; what skills do you need? Do you think the best way to achieve your goals is through a business lens? advocacy? policy? Being honest here is pivotal to decide where to apply and to what program.”


Part 3: How do you choose which schools to apply to?

We at PH SPOT know how difficult it is to compare all of the available programs and then decide on the top ones to apply to (been there, done that). So, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to do the preliminary research for you and develop these handy dandy downloadable tools!  

Access the list of MPH Programs in Canada

This tool compares 25 Master of Public Health (MPH) programs in Canada, across 18 different variables. This is the tool you need to get started on your application.

Access the list of MPH Programs in the US

This tool compares 43 Master of Public Health (MPH) programs in the US across different variables. This is the tool you need to get started on your application.

Access the list of
public health programs to pursue online

This tool compares 40 Master of Public Health (MPH)/Master of Science (MSc.) in Public Health programs across 18 different variables. This is the tool you need to get started on your application.

And that’s a wrap! … For now!

We hope that you found these blog, podcast, and resource toolkits helpful as you decide whether an MPH program is right for you. Stay tuned for an upcoming PH SPOT guide post on tips for applying to an MPH degree!

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