Public Health

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?

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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

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Academic preparation

  • 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 prerequiste 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. 

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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. 

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Pre-Public Health Experiences

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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.
Resume
Transcripts
  • 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. 
Interviews
  • 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

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