Selection Criteria: Identifying the MPH Programs We Consider to Be the Best

We aim high when it comes to compiling lists of MPH and related programs we can feel good about recommending to our readers. That means establishing high standards for the selections we make to ensure only the best programs are featured. We dig deep, evaluating schools on the basis of criteria we know mean the most to prospective students interested in a good value without any compromises.

Public health degree programs have many curriculum components in common, especially grad programs that meet the extensive requirements it takes to earn CEPH accreditation. But that certainly doesn’t mean every school teaches that curriculum the same way. Public health is a huge field with many opportunities for individual schools to shine with outstanding faculty, meaningful connections to the local and global public health communities, and with contributions to research and new ideas expressed through journals.

Those shinier elements can’t rightfully be summed up with a simple point system and numeric score. That’s why we look hard at these and other factors, applying a unique editorial view to program selection that shines a light on the best the country has to offer.

Our objective is to put together a carefully curated and hand-picked set of programs that meet with expert approval in the categories we cover. That means diving deep into school websites, combing through catalogs, reviewing reputable third-party rankings, and even checking news articles for coverage of the accomplishments of professors and students.

It’s a nuanced process that comes up with excellent programs that a more quantitative review might miss. It’s a human-centric analysis of a very human-centric field.

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We have both general criteria that every school featured on the site has to meet, and specific criteria for different types of degree lists that we create, each of them specifically matched to the category of programs on the list.

General Criteria for Master’s in Public Health Degree Programs

A master’s degree puts you in the top tier of public health practitioners and is increasingly seen as the standard for management and director level positions in everything from program administration to on-the-ground community outreach. You’ll graduate with an extensive body of knowledge and expertise in assessing, managing, and solving a variety of public health problems.

We’ve developed an extensive set of criteria to ensure that we are featuring schools that will meet all those goals:

Accreditation to Establish Academic Standards at Every Level

Every school we list has, at a minimum, achieved accreditation through one of the seven regional accrediting agencies operating in the United States that are recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the US Department of Education. Those agencies evaluate colleges at the institutional level, looking at general school policies related to everything from hiring and evaluating faculty, to how curriculum is established and evaluated, to student grading and appeals procedures.

That combination of elements is what American universities use to establish a baseline of educational competency and goes to the core of what it is to provide an adequate post-secondary education in the United States.

We look for an additional level of accreditation at the program level, that offered by Working at the level of specific degree programs and schools of public health housed in colleges and universities, CEPH—the Council on Education for Public Health. performs a similar evaluation, but one focused specifically on competency in teaching public health principles and procedures to produce graduates of the standard expected by employers in the field today.

Working through reams of paperwork in a process that can take years, CEPH evaluates program capabilities on more than 20 different core competencies that are critical to public health education. To cap it all off, staff make site visits to verify all reports, and repeat the process at five year intervals to ensure quality standards remain high. So we’re very comfortable recommending CEPH-accredited programs in our lists.

Value For Your Education Dollar

A ‘Top’ program doesn’t always mean a cheap program, but it does mean you can be sure that you will get what you pay for. We consider tuition and other program costs as one more variable in the overall value of a program—if you’re asked to pay an arm and a leg, we at least make sure you’re getting the best and not just paying for a well-known brand in the education space.

Concentrations To Match Public Health Needs

Public health is a broad field and being able to select a concentration to set your path at the master’s level is de rigueur. We looked for programs that have not only a broad selection of concentration options to ensure you get the type of specialization you prefer, but also those that have the kind of institutional and faculty expertise to teach those specialties at the level of skill you deserve.

Comprehensive Coverage for a Big Picture View

Although public health is so broad, it’s also highly interconnected—skills and data from various branches can have broad applicability elsewhere in the field. So we also look for programs that don’t neglect the big picture topics, such as epidemiology, public policy analysis, and biostatistics – things that give public health professionals in any specialty the tools they need to do their jobs.

This is another reason why CEPH-accredited programs were given preference. Since the organization builds its 22 competency standards on the core pillars of biostatistics, epidemiology, social and behavioral sciences, health services administration and environmental health sciences, you can be sure a CEPH-accredited program has the big picture in view.

Faculty With The Qualifications to Educate With Authority

In many ways, public health is a field for the heroic – the tropical disease experts helicoptering in to jungles to collect specimens and identify new threats, lab workers and diagnosticians suiting up in primitive conditions to treat patients on the front lines of epidemic outbreaks, outreach specialists working in war-torn regions to curb the inevitable secondary health effects.

At some point, many of those individuals become instructors, and the schools that hire them benefit from the experiences they’ve gained in the field. We look for schools that have not only highly credentialed and experienced professors, but also those who have the knack for passing along their hard-won expertise.

Global Connections For Networking and International Effectiveness

Public health is a field where reputation and connections matter. Since many public health matters are global in reach, it can be important to have instant cross-cultural competency when attempting to exchange information or diagnose emerging issues. The best schools will have students from around the world who will eventually go on to build the school’s alumni network, which you can tap into after graduation for consultation and collaboration.

Fieldwork and Internship Opportunities to Fit Program Goals

CEPH has a requirement that every student fulfill an Applied Practice Experience, which means hands-on fieldwork. These internship opportunities can dramatically shape your future career path, from the people you meet along the way to the skills you acquire working on legitimate, real-world public health projects.

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A school that has a relationship with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) or WHO (World Health Organization) as well as local and regional public health authorities can offer a lot of options for field placements. What is most important to us, however, is that the fieldwork opportunities available match the concentrations and objectives of the individual program.

Research and Publication For Cutting-Edge Information

Public health is a constantly changing field, and students are expected to not only absorb current knowledge, but also contribute to the community through research. We look for schools with strong records of encouraging graduate student research participation, whose faculty are broadly and regularly featured in publications like the Journal of Public Health and Frontiers in Public Health.

Counseling and Advising To Keep Students on Track

Partly because of the vast array of possible career paths and concentrations in public health, you will have to lean heavily on the counseling and advising staff at your school. We work to pick universities that have more than just a dusty bulletin board with a few yellowed job postings tacked up. Instead, we identify those with dedicated academic counseling departments and track records for outstanding student outcomes.

Job Placement Assistance At Every Stage

In addition to the general networking opportunities that we look at, we also like to see strong school support when it comes to job placement for students and graduates at every phase of their career—from internship placements that can lead to longer term assignments and employment, to informational interview setups before you even graduate, to long-term access to job boards or networking opportunities even after you’ve spent decades out in the field.

Criteria for Online Master’s Degree Programs in Public Health

Online master’s programs are becoming more and more common, in public health and elsewhere, but not all of them have made the jump to the internet with equal success. Particularly in a scientific field that is as hands-on as public health, it takes extra effort and technological expertise to make an online master’s program worth inclusion on one of our lists.

In addition to the general criteria described above, we put the online programs we reviewed through a few other tests:

The Right Technology To Power Accessibility From Anywhere

A key piece of any online program is the communication platform the college uses to connect you with instructors and your fellow students. The best platforms are practically invisible, offering you an experience that is utterly seamless and offers interaction, access to class materials, and easy ways to submit your work so you can focus on your studies rather than the technical aspects of taking courses online. Schools with tailored Learning Management Systems, adequate tech support, and experienced instructors with online curriculum design skills are more likely to end up on our lists.

An Online Experience Equal to Classroom Experience

You don’t want to make sacrifices in your education just because you can’t be in the classroom every day. That means finding a program that takes all the essential elements that makes the school’s on-campus public health degree great, and successfully puts those elements in a format you can access from anywhere. Different schools have different approaches to this, some offering synchronous videoconferencing that puts you in the classroom for live streaming in real time, while others go with virtual environments where students and professors can connect at any time it fits their schedules.

Regardless of the approach used, we only pick programs that fully translate the educational experience offered on campus.

Full Access to Course Content and Research

Equality to on campus programs may not include access to all the same classes or concentrations that you will see in on-campus programs, but it does mean full access to course content for those concentrations that are available. Because online programs are often designed for mid-career professionals, and rarely offer as many concentrations, we like to see more customizable content, and flexibility for students to tailor their course load to their particular career objectives.

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It also means an equal opportunity to engage in the critical research necessary for public health training and makes coordinating internships in remote locations easier.

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