Public Health courses see growing popularity in US

Students have the flexibility to choose work areas that are outside of their specialisations of study.

Public health is a broad field in which the goal is to improve the health and well-being of populations (neighborhood, city, State, country). The work of a public health professional is interdisciplinary and may involve subjects such as epidemiology, biostatistics and health data analytics, health behavior and promotion, environmental health, health policy and advocacy, and programme management or implementation. Students in the field may find jobs in local, State, or federal government agencies, consulting agencies in public health, private sector or non-government organisations working in the field, or international health organisations. Given the interdisciplinary nature of public health jobs, students have the flexibility to choose work areas that are outside of their specialisations of study, which also offers them more opportunities for work. The recent pandemic situation has especially increased interest in public health work and the professionals in the field.

A programme in public health prepares students with tools and information required to pursue a career in the field and students choose a specialisation based on their interest and skillset. The offers of majors and specialisations parallel the work specialisations shared above (epidemiology, biostatistics, health data analytics, health behavior and promotion, etc.). Another interesting major offered by some US universities is global health.

At the undergraduate level, students may pursue a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in public health in the United States. Students may also opt for an integrated Bachelor and Master programme in public health offered by some US higher education institutions. Besides taking up a major in public health, students may choose to do a minor in the field or in a particular specialisation within the field.

The options for graduate programmes include Master of Public Health (MPH), Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH), Master of Science in a specialisation (e.g MS in Biostatistics), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Doctor of Public Health (DrPH), and certificate programmes. The MS and PhD degrees are focused on research and designed for students interested in a research career in the field of public health while MPH and DrPH programmes are designed for students with an interest in professional career in the field. Students from different disciplines and professional backgrounds may pursue a public health degree. However, please take note that certain specialisations within the field may have specific requirements. For example, programmes with a biostatistics specialisation may look for students with strong analytical/quantitative skills.

We will continue the discussion next week and talk about the coursework and application process for public health programmes at US universities.

Monika Setia (Regional Officer and EducationUSA Adviser at the U.S. – India Educational Foundation based at the US Consulate General Hyderabad)


Q1. I want to pursue MS degree from the US. I am in 3rd year of BTech. How long does it take to apply and when should I start working on my applications?

Ans. The planning for a US university application starts around two to three years in advance. Students applying to graduate programmes (primarily Master’s degrees) directly after completing their undergraduate degree are likely to submit their application during the first semester of the fourth year of their Bachelor’s degree programme. Therefore, they should start preparing for their application in the second year of the bachelor’s degree programme. Many graduate programmes in the US encourage practical work experience, so do not feel pressured to attend graduate school directly after completing your bachelor’s degree.

It is highly valuable to get involved in projects and pursue other relevant activities related to the subject starting the first year of the undergraduate/bachelor’s degree programme. The standardised test should be completed by the third year summer break.  It is also important to plan ahead, decide on a test date, and register in advance since not all of these tests are offered round the year and each test has limited seats available. In addition, it is advisable to prepare a draft of the statement of purpose in advance of the application deadlines so that they can go through multiple rounds of reviews and revisions before final submission.

A full two to three years is an estimated time that it takes to complete all steps from profile building to test preparation to application submission to the final step of visa interview.

Q2. My daughter is in 10th standard and we want to send her to the US for her undergraduate programme. When we looked up universities for financial support, we found terms scholarship and financial aid. Are they different from each other? Are these offered to international students?
— Maruti Rao

Ans. Scholarship and financial aid are often used interchangeably. Technically speaking, a scholarship is a financial award based on merit: excellent academic performance, or perhaps community service or leadership or special talent such as sports. Financial aid is a grant based on the student’s financial need, as documented by family income, assets, and other factors. All types of scholarships and financial aid are extremely competitive and require outstanding academic records.

Unfortunately, not all universities/colleges in the US offer scholarship and financial aid to international students. Only some institutions offering bachelor’s degree can provide financial assistance to students who are not citizens or permanent residents of the United States. Bear in mind that financial aid for US students is separate from financial aid for international students. The financial aid information in general books like The College Handbook and Four-Year Colleges applies to US citizens, do not use these books to get information on financial aid for international students. Refer to the university/college website to understand if it offers scholarship and/or financial aid to international students. You can also visit the ‘special opportunities and financial aid’ section of the EducationUSA website accessible through this link to search for various scholarships available at U.S. universities for international students.

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