How long does it take to earn an online master’s degree in public health?

BY Kara DriscollMay 03, 2022, 1:00 PM
Illustration by Martin Laksman

If you’re looking for a career in the public health sector, earning an online master’s degree can be a fulfilling way to advance in a field that incorporates educating the public, developing health policies, tracking community health problems, and even finding solutions to global issues like pandemics.

The time it takes you to earn an online master’s degree in public health (MPH) will vary, but the average program takes at least two years—and usually no more than three years—to complete. The amount of time it takes to complete an accelerated online MPH program can range from as short as 12 months to as long as 18 months.

While earning this degree does require an investment of time, once you’ve graduated, you’ll gain access to a variety of career prospects in a growing field. For example, job growth for epidemiologists is expected to increase by 32% from 2020 to 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Attending school online for an MPH degree can be a good fit for someone who wants to earn an advanced credential while maintaining their current career or juggling the responsibilities of a family, school, and career, says Jonathan VanGeest, professor and program coordinator of health policy and management at Kent State University’s College of Public Health.

“There’s this tension between, ‘Do I leave work and then go back to university or can I stay working and still figure out a way to do this in a manner that’s convenient?’ And that’s what the online degree options are for,” VanGeest explains.

Below are three things to think about how long it will take to earn an online master’s degree in public health.

There are different commitments for various MPH programs

Online master’s in public health programs require about 42 credits and take two years of full-time study to complete. Reputable programs are accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health, an independent agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit schools of public health, and public health programs outside schools of public health.

“When you have an internationally acknowledged CEPH accredited degree, there are so many options with what you do with it. It’s wide open,” VanGeest says.

While broad curriculums will likely be the same across universities, some program components may include hands-on practicums or capstones. These components could include an internship with a healthcare facility, research or written assignments, or community service project, but most programs allow students to fulfill these requirements locally or online if possible. 

At Kent State for example, MPH students are required to complete an Applied Practice Experience project during their second year. Students have the choice between a three or six credit course, which consists of 150 or 300 contact hours, respectively.

“We’ve tried to steer students into something that is very much career-centered, and it allows them to build their own experience,” says VanGeest.

Some MPH programs have in-person components and degree specialization options

Most online master’s in public health programs offer concentrations that allow students to tailor their academic studies to what they want to do after they earn their degree. 

Some of these concentrations include: social and behavioral sciences, environmental health, community health services, healthcare management, nutrition, health policy and administration, and epidemiology and biostatistics.

Lasell University is launching a new online master’s degree program in Fall 2022, and it will emphasize an evidence-based approach to public health that systematically evaluates health programs and applies epidemiological methods to developing health policy and programs, says Cristina Haverty, dean of the School of Health Sciences. The program is currently in the process of receiving CEPH accreditation.  

Students in Lasell’s program will be able to choose specialities they’re specifically interested in, and the program will take two years, on average, to complete the 42 required credits, Haverty says. However, full-time students can complete the program in 15 months.

“They choose coursework in that area they’re passionate about. For example, students can also choose to take courses in nutrition,” she says. “Our program really focuses on social justice, and addressing the health disparities that exist both local, regional and national, and in some ways in global communities. But at the end of the day, public health goes into a variety of these areas.”

Master’s of public health programs may offer accelerated options

Several universities also allow students to finish an MPH in as short as 12 months through an accelerated program. If you want to finish the program quickly, this could be a good option. 

Some students opt to take a one-year accelerated program in between their undergraduate degree, but prior to starting medical school—and this can be an ideal option for someone who has the time to dedicate to more credit hours, versus someone who is juggling a career and family, Haverty says. Some full-time students can complete the degree in 12 months. 

“This is an option for a very driven student—someone that would have a strong interest in being a full-time student,” Haverty says. “You can choose how you do this at any pace.”

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