Is Public Health a Good Degree? Myths vs. Facts

Thinking about working as a health educator?

How about a community health worker?

Is being an environmental specialist on your list of prospective careers, too?

There’s a college major for that: public health.

Public health graduates working in the United States earn about $51,317 per year or $24.67 per hour, says a report by

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that jobs for healthcare experts are projected to grow 13% in the next ten years.

Does this mean that majoring in public health is right for you?

Read on before you apply to your dream college and declare public health as your major!

degree in public health

3 Myths About a Degree and Career in Public Health

Because of what the program is called, it’s not uncommon for a lot of people to have misconceptions about public health.

Many assume that public health majors wind up as practitioners who provide direct care. Some also suppose that public health graduates are jobless since the major is not that popular.

Prior to enrolling in a program, it’s a must that you get acquainted very well with the discipline of study.

Unfortunately, public health is one of those majors that a lot of people fail to understand completely. Perhaps it has something to do with its name.

The fact that it’s not that sought after may be a contributor, too.

Some of the myths about having a bachelor’s in public health you might have heard about are:

You have to provide direct care to patients

Unlike nurses or doctors, bachelor’s in public health holders impact the lives of people by providing them not with direct care but with pertinent information.

By delivering health education as well as advocating health-related matters, public health majors can raise awareness and help improve lives.

It requirs clinical or practical skills

Since public health majors are very much unlikely to provide direct patient care, clinical or practical skills are some of the least important skills they should have. On a day-to-day basis, depending on their jobs, individuals with a bachelor’s in public health heavily rely on management, research, problem-solving and people skills.

You will be unemployed

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in health care occupations, including public health, will increase by 15% in a span of 10 years — the rate, which is equivalent to a total of 2.4 million jobs, is much faster than what’s considered average for all occupations in the US.

Is Public Health a Good Major

A public health degree is suited for people persons who would like to improve lives. Majoring in it is ideal for those who are interested in researching, solving problems and disseminating information. A bachelor’s in public health is also right for anyone who would like to attend graduate school.

Especially if you are an incoming first-time, first-year college student, it can be both exciting and stressful to decide which major you will declare when it’s time to do so.

Usually, colleges and universities require their students to pick a major by the end of their sophomore year.

Want to have an idea as early as during the college application process if earning a bachelor’s in public health is right for you? Then answer the following questions with either a “yes” or “no”:

  • Do you want to have a positive impact on the lives of other people?
  • Do you exhibit personality traits such as commitment, team playing and outgoing?
  • Do you have good verbal and written communication skills?
  • Do you possess outstanding analytical- and critical-thinking skills?
  • Do you have an interest in health promotion, disease prevention and management of wellness issues?
  • Do you love to conduct research and investigate in order to solve problems?
  • Do you love subjects such as biology, chemistry, nutrition and statistics?

If you answered mostly “yes” to the questions above, chances are that you will find your college experience as well as future career rewarding and worthwhile if you choose to earn a degree in public health.

However, it doesn’t mean right away that you should cross other majors out of your list — since college-bound high schoolers usually have until the end of their sophomore year of college to declare a major, you should spend enough time weighing the pros and cons of majoring in public health and other disciplines of your liking.

Is Public Health Major Hard in College

In order to earn a degree in public health, undergraduate students must complete a basic core curriculum that consists of courses such as English, math, history, humanities, and social and physical sciences.

Many of the courses public health majors need to take can be both challenging and interesting.

student depressed over his major

Because chances are that you will apply for a position in a health facility or governmental agency after graduation, it’s a must to get good grades in college in order to have an employable transcript and resume.

While it’s true that public health is something that’s not as difficult as STEM-related ones, you will still have to devote lots of commitment, hard work and perseverance as a public health major.

Otherwise, you might only find yourself switching majors or dropping out of college after some time.

Your chances of completing a public health program are higher if you love social and physical sciences and math.

Already got an idea of which career path you would like to take? Then make sure that you opt for a minor or two that will tell potential employers you have additional skills that can prove to be valuable in the workplace.

The following are some of the most popular minors among many public health majors:

  • Anthropology
  • Business
  • Communications
  • Computer science
  • Data analytics
  • Data science
  • Economics
  • Foreign language
  • Health science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Spanish
  • Statistics

But a minor doesn’t have to complement a major all the time — it’s perfectly fine to choose one based on your hobby or interest, the kind that can make the entire college experience more balanced, exciting and meaningful.

9 Best Public Health Degree Jobs

While the word “health” is present, majoring in public health doesn’t mean right away that you will provide direct patient care after graduation, such as a nurse or doctor.

Instead, you will be responsible for ensuring the well-being of the community through policies and programs.

One of the nicest things about a public health degree is that you can use it to apply for a wide variety of jobs, the vast majority of which have something to do with ensuring the health and safety of either a large or small population of people.

So, in other words, a bachelor’s in public health is versatile and flexible.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the jobs you may apply for as a holder of a bachelor’s in public health:

Community health worker

  • Median annual salary: $48,860
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 17%

As a community health worker, you are tasked with anything from collating data, conducting outreach programs to educating members of the community about various health care matters, including health care needs and access to them.

Health educator

  • Median annual salary: $48,860
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 17%

Health educators and community workers share the same median annual salary as well as projected job growth. However, as a health educator, your primary role is to develop programs to teach the community about well-being.

emergency response team member

Emergency response planner

  • Median annual salary: $74,000
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 6%

Also referred to as emergency preparedness planners, emergency response planners are the ones who design, coordinate and implement planning and response activities within the community and sometimes other jurisdictions, too.

Social and community service manager

  • Median annual salary: $74,000
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 15%

Simply put, what social and community service managers do is coordinate programs and organizations, such as non-profits, for-profits and even governmental agencies, for the support of the health and wellness of the public.

Social and human service assistant

  • Median annual salary: $37,610
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 17%

Commonly, someone who plans on becoming a social and human service assistant must first undergo on-the-job training for he or she has to provide various services in a wide variety of fields, ranging from social work to rehabilitation.

Database administrator

  • Median annual salary: $98,860
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 8%

While database administrators can work in various fields and industries, those who are in the public or community health sector are tasked with gathering, organizing and analyzing data pertinent to their work.

Health information technician

  • Median annual salary: $45,240
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 9%

Someone who works as a health information technician is responsible for coding, organizing and managing all kinds of health information data. Needless to say, he or she spends working hours seated in front of a computer.

Environmental specialist

  • Median annual salary: $76,530
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 8%

Working as an environmental specialist, your primary role is to investigate and understand the various ways in which the environment affects human health, in the pursuit of addressing environmental and community wellness concerns.

Many individuals holding jobs in the public health sector earn more than what’s considered the median annual salary of workers across all occupations in the US, which amounts to $45,760.

But there’s a way to make even more: turning a bachelor’s in public health into a master’s or doctorate.

Related Article: Most Employable College Degrees

How To Get A Job With Public Health Degree

Here are the steps to pursuing higher-level and higher-paying careers in public health:

Obtain a bachelor’s in public health or a related discipline

Most jobs in the public and community health sector require at least a bachelor’s degree. Choosing electives or minors in college is a definite must for undergraduate students who are planning on attending graduate school.

However, the minimum requirement for some who wish to take on certain jobs in the public health sector is a high school diploma or a certificate, although it’s almost always that additional training will be necessitated.

In order to climb the career ladder, having a higher educational attainment, such as obtaining an associate or bachelor’s, is necessary.

Earn a master’s in public health (MPH)

Armed with an MPH, individuals can take on leadership or administrative roles in many different public health settings at a local, state, or federal level.

Some examples of public health-related job posts requiring an MPH include advanced health educator, health survey researcher, and epidemiologist.

Usually, earning an MPH takes about two years. However, some traditional and online universities may offer accelerated programs that can be completed faster, which are highly suited for working professionals.

Complete a doctorate in public health (DrPH) program

Those who wish to work as advanced researchers, public health college professors and medical scientists are almost always required to get their hands on a DrPH.

Simply put, it’s an advanced graduate-level degree that focuses on the professional and practical elements of public health instead of the academic aspects.

Students working on a DrPH can choose from a variety of concentrations, depending on their career goals. Some popular examples are biostatistics, chronic disease epidemiology, and health policy and management.

Famous People Majored in Public Health

In some instances, in order to have an idea of just how popular a major you are eyeing is, all you have to do is check which celebrities actually majored in it in college.

Alas, not too many people who earned a degree in public health gain enough media exposure, which is why most of them are complete unknowns to a very huge fraction of society.

However, it doesn’t mean that you should consider a different major — if becoming a public health worker is a dream, then go for it!

In any case, let’s check out two public health degree holders whose names may be familiar to you:

Christy Turlington

A fashion model slash humanitarian, Turlington shot to fame as the face of Maybelline and Calvin Klein. Throughout her career, she appeared on the cover of more than 500 magazines.

Refrain from assuming that Turlington is just a pretty face — she earned a bachelor’s in comparative religion and eastern philosophy from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Studies. Afterward, Turlington pursued a master’s in public health at Columbia University’s Mailman School.

Nathan Adrian

Competitive swimmer and five-time Olympic gold medalist Adrian, who made his Olympic debut in 2008 at the Summer Olympics, once held the American record in the long course 50-meter freestyle event.

In 2006, he attended the University of California – Berkeley where he majored in public health. In the spring of 2012, he earned his bachelor’s in the said discipline with honors.

As a student-athlete, Adrian was a five-time individual NCAA champion — the 50-yard freestyle in 2009 and 2011, and the 100-yard freestyle in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

nurse helping elderly woman

Best Schools for a Public Health Degree

Not all public health programs are the same. Similarly, not all schools offering them make available the same minors, either complementary to a health program major or the interests or passions of undergraduates.

It’s because of this why you should look into a college’s public health program before shortlisting it.

Fortunately, many of the top public health programs available for college-bound teens to enroll in come from some of the best institutions in the country. Of course, some of them are Ivy Leagues as well as those that are widely considered prestigious. According to US News, the following colleges and universities have the best public health programs:

Johns Hopkins University#1 in Public Health
Harvard University#2 in Public Health
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill#2 in Public Health
Columbia University#4 in Public Health
Emory University#4 in Public Health
Boston University#6 in Public Health
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor#6 in Public Health
University of California – Berkeley#8 in Public Health
University of Washington#9 in Public Health
University of California – Los Angeles#10 in Public Health
George Washington University#11 in Public Health
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities#11 in Public Health
Yale University#11 in Public Health
Tulane University#14 in Public Health
University of Pittsburgh#15 in Public Health
Brown University#16 in Public Health
University of Illinois – Chicago#16 in Public Health
University of South Florida#16 in Public Health
Colorado School of Public Health#19 in Public Health
Drexel University#19 in Public Health
New York University#19 in Public Health
Ohio State University#19 in Public Health
San Diego State University#19 in Public Health
University of Alabama – Birmingham#19 in Public Health
University of California – Davis#19 in Public Health
Best Schools for a Public Health Degree

Planning on earning a bachelor’s in public health abroad in order to obtain top-notch education, experience a different culture or enjoy more career opportunities?

Then consider obtaining a degree outside the country.

Here are some of the top picks of US News for degree-seeking students who wish to study abroad:

  • University of Oxford (Oxford, England)
  • University College London (London, England)
  • University of Toronto (Toronto, Canada)
  • University of Cambridge (Cambridge, England)
  • Utrecht University (Utrecht, Netherlands)
  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (London, England)
  • University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada)
  • University of Melbourne (Melbourne, Australia)

Is a Degree in Public Health Worth It?

Majoring in public health allows you to be a part of the health care industry without spending plenty of time in medical school or providing direct patient care after graduation. Rather, it will prepare you for a noble and life-changing job that involves lots of research, analysis and dissemination of information for the health and wellbeing of the community.

Read Next: Is English a Good Degree?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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