Public Health

There are many pieces to the public health program application, including your GPA, standardized test scores, personal statement, list of experiences, letters of recommendation, and biographical information. Use the navigation below to explore each aspect of preparing for a public health program.

What is public health?

Becoming a public health practioner


Graduate Records Exam (GRE)

Pre-Public Health Experiences

Applying to Public Health Schools/Programs

Frequently Asked Questions

What is public health?

  • Public health consists of several specialty areas that address the physical, mental and environmental health concerns of communities and populations at risk for disease and injury. Areas of study include:
    • Behavioral & Social Science
    • Biostatistics & Informatics
    • Community Health
    • Environmental Health
    • Epidemiology
    • Global Health
    • Health Policy & Management
    • Health Promotion & Communication
    • Maternal & Child Health
    • Minority Health & Health Discparities
    • Visit the Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health to learn more about each of these concentrations. 
  • Public health is comprised of many professional disciplines such as medicine, dentistry, nursing, optometry, nutrition, social work, environmental sciences, health education, health services administration, and the behavioral sciences.
  • Public health focuses on entire populations rather than on individual patients, and prevention and health promotion rather than diagnosis and treatment.

For more information, see the American Public Health Association's What is Public Health?

Back to top

Becoming a public health practitioner

  1. Obtain an undergraduate degree in any major (4 years)
  2. Attend an accredited public health program/school and obtain Master's in Public Health (1-2 years)
  3. Work in the field
  4. Optional: obtain a Doctor of Public Health

Back to top

Academic preparation

Myth: If I'm going to get a C- in a class, I should intentionally get a D or F in that class in order to retake it for a better grade.

Fact: Do not fail a class on purpose in order to retake it for a better grade. Even though the lower grade will not be included in your UC Davis GPA, it will remain on your transcript and most centralized applications will count that first grade into your application GPA.

Additionally, the health profession schools will still see it. It is better to have a C- in the course and improve through other courses in the same discipline than to take a D or F.

Most health professional schools require all prerequisites to be completed with a C or higher. Although you cannot repeat the C- at UC Davis, you will need to repeat it somewhere else either over a summer or after graduation.

If you need to discuss this or any other academic difficulty futher, please make an appointment with a staff advisor. 

  • You can pursue any major and apply to public health programs. 
  • HPA recommends that pre-public health students maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0, although many programs and schools will have GPA averages above this minimum.
  • You might find that many public health programs do not have listed prerequisite courses. Prerequisites can depend on the area of study you are interested in, but in general HPA recommends that students interested in public health take courses in statistics, sociology of health, epidemiology, or health psychology.
  • Pre-public health students should also consider taking undergraduate courses offered by the UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences. 

Back to top

The Graduate Records Exam (GRE) is...

  • required by public health schools and programs. Some schools will waive the GRE requirement if you have already taken the MCAT. 
  • available on a continuous basis throughout the year. 
  • not a content-based test, meaning there are not specific UC Davis courses you need to take to prepare. 
  • includes three sections:
    • Verbal Reasoning
    • Quantitative Reasoning
    • Analytical Writing
  • $160 each time you take it. 

Back to top

Pre-Public Health Experiences

Myth: I can do a lot of meaningful experiences to make up for a weaker GPA.

Fact:  Having many meaningful activities will NOT make up for a low GPA.

You must focus on your grades during your undergraduate years, earn at least a 3.0, and then begin adding experiences. You can always take a year or two off after graduation to gain more experience. It is better to graduate from UC Davis with a higher GPA and less experiences than lots of experiences but a low GPA. 

Back to top

Applying to Public Health Programs

Public Health Application Service (SOPHAS)
  • The SOPHAS application is open almost all year. The 2016-2017 application cycle opened on August 18, 2016 and closes on August 3, 2017.
  • Not all schools and programs participate in SOPHAS. If a program does not use SOPHAS, you will need to apply through their graduate school application and will find instructions on the program's website on how to do so. 
Personal Statement
  • Each public health program has its own statement of purpose that you will upload individually. Most statements are 1-2 pages long (single-spaced). Expect to answer the following questions in each statement:
    • Why are you pursuing a degree in public health?
    • Why do you wish to pursue your degree at this particular school/program?
    • What are your career goals?
  • The personal statement is your first chance to provide admissions committees with subjective information about your qualifications and your reasons for choosing this particular career. In other words, the personal statement is your initial opportunity to present yourself as an interesting and unique applicant who deserves a closer look.
  • SOPHAS offers all applicants the option to have coursework professionally entered through the Professional Transcript Entry Service for an additional fee. Otherwise, plan to spend 1-2 hours entering your coursework on your own.
  • Always use official transcripts when entering coursework. Coursework entered in the application must match your transcripts exactly, otherwise your application processing could be delayed.
Letters of Recommendation
  • SOPHAS requires you to submit a minimum of three letters of reference, also called evaluations. Each public health program will have its own letter writer requirements, but HPA recommends that you obtain at least one letter from someone in academics and one letter you know from a professional or extracurricular experience. Make sure you check your school/program's letter requirements before applying. 
  • Public health programs do not typically require interviews.
Supplemental Applications
  • Some programs will ask you to submit an additional application specific to that school. Supplemental applications may entail additional short answers or questionnaires. You will typically be notified of any supplemental application via email after you submit your SOPHAS.
Choosing Where to Apply

Back to top

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I start writing my personal statement?

The personal statement should be a reflective, well-polished document. You can create your first draft as soon as you want. The more time you give yourself to get feedback and revise the better. Health Professions Advising advisors are happy to read your essay and give you feedback, but please make the appointment at least a month before your deadline.

Please bring a printed draft of your personal statement to appointments and drop-in advising.

Can I study abroad?

Studying abroad is a wonderful experience that we encourage you to pursue. It is a valuable experience that provides the opportunity for growth in both maturity and cultural awareness.

You should not study abroad because you are pre-health in an effort to make your application stand out. You should study abroad because you want to gain the experience.

If your study abroad program was through UC Davis Study Abroad or UC Education Abroad (UCEAP), then your coursework will be on your official UC Davis transcript and fullfil prerequisites. If you studied abroad directly through a foreign institution, then your coursework will be on a "foreign transcript," which most health professional schools do not accept. 

What is the difference between a “school” and a “program?”
Schools of public health and public health programs differ in size and the opportunities they provide. In a school of public health, there are different departments focusing on specific public health areas. This means that more concentration areas will be offered. A public health program is part of a medical school or graduate school department and usually has a single focus, such as health education. However, an MPH or related degree will have the same credibility, regardless of the institution.

When should I apply to SOPHAS?

“Apply early! To ensure your application is mailed on time, all materials should arrive at SOPHAS to complete your application at least four weeks prior to your earliest deadline. Once your application is considered complete, it can take up to four weeks for it to be processed.” - SOPHAS Instructions & FAQ