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?
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
Health Policy & Management
Health Promotion & Communication
Maternal & Child Health
Minority Health & Health Disparities
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?
- Becoming a Public Health practitioner
Obtain an undergraduate degree in any major (4 years). Make sure to look into the fields that interest you. Some post graduate degrees require specific pre-requisites
Attend an accredited public health program / school and obtain a Master's in Public Health (1-2 years)
Work in the field
Optional: Obtain a Doctor of Public Health
- Public Health Prerequisites
- 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. HPA recommends that students interested in public health take courses in statistics, sociology of health, epidemiology, or health psychology. Those interested in Biostatistics and/or Informatics should check their schools of interest for computer science & programming requirements.
Pre-public health students should also consider taking undergraduate courses offered by the UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences.
- Graduate Records Exam (GRE)
The Graduate Records Exam (GRE) is required by some public health schools and programs. Some schools will waive the GRE requirement if you have already taken the MCAT or other standardized exam for health professionals (DAT, OAT, PCAT, etc.)
The GRE is available on a continuous basis throughout the year.
The exam is not a content-based test, meaning there are not specific UC Davis courses you need to take to prepare.
The exam is made up of three sections:
Registering for the test cost $205 each time.
You can find more information about the GRE, including Registration, Test Make-Up, and other requirements here.
- Pre-Public Health Experiences
Depending on the school, program, and concentration, you may be required to have at least a year of public health experience to apply. Here are some places to start looking for experiences.
Health Related Internships through the Internship and Career Center (ICC).
Participate in a health policy internship through the University of California Center - Sacramento
Find a government internship via USAJOBS.GOV
Opportunities to publish and present research through the Undergraduate Research Center
Global Health Internships through Study Abroad
Health Related Internships through the Washington Program
Volunteering for the UC Davis Pre-Health Conference
Completing community service using the ICC Community Service Database
Join or create a student organization
Volunteer at a Student Run Clinic
- Applying to Public Health Programs
Public Health Application Service (SOPHAS)
The SOPHAS application is open almost all year. The application cycle closes early August and opens for the next cycle mid August.
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.
Each public health program has its own statement of purpose that you will upload individually. Most statements are 1-2 pages long (single space). 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.
You will need to upload a resume or CV as part of your public health application. See the ICC's Resume Starter Kit if you are having trouble getting started, or make an appointment to see an advisor.
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 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.
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
SOPHAS Program Finder is a great resource to begin research public health programs, especially if you're interested in a specific concentration or certificate. See also the CEPH Accredited Public Health Schools & Programs for a complete list of accredited schools and programs.
California Public Health Programs:
UC Davis Master of Public Health Program
USC Master of Public Health Program
UC Berkeley School of Public Health
UCLA Fielding School of Public Health
UC Irvine Program in Public Health
Loma Linda University School of Public Health
San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health
Claremont Graduate University School of Community & Global Health
Touro University - California MPH Program
- 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. 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 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 fulfill prerequisites. If you studied abroad directly through a foreign institution, then your coursework will be on a "foreign transcript", which most health professionals 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 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 received 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 to be processed.
More questions? Visit our FAQ page or schedule an appointment with an adviser!