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A complete guide to public health degrees

Wondering whether a public health degree is right for you? Explore your subject options, how to apply, which career opportunities you’ll unlock and much more.

Patient with doctor at hospital.

Ever wondered how we’re protected from large-scale public health threats? Perhaps not, as it’s the job of public health professionals to look after the health and safety of communities at scale — it’s partly due to their successful work that you don’t worry about public health risks as much as you might otherwise.

The field combines scientific research, experiments, policy work and education in order to stay on top of any public health concerns, so there are a whole host of fascinating careers you can pursue. Whether you want to work for a local government, a non-profit or even an international health organisation, this is a field where your specialist skills will be valued highly.

An online public health degree could be the perfect way to gain this specialist knowledge and prepare for an impactful career, so that’s our focus in this guide. Find out what public health degrees involve, how to apply, entry requirements and more.

What is public health?

There are many aspects of ordinary life that we take for granted. We have access to clean water, food that’s safe for consumption, freedom from worrying about deadly diseases, free sexual health checks, bans on smoking indoors…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The truth is, every element of public health and safety has been carefully thought about, and there are many professionals working all over the world to maintain and improve the health and safety of communities on a local, national and international scale.

While some public health workers might focus on research, education and policymaking, others take on more practical or scientific roles — mitigating disease outbreaks, studying dangerous chemicals or even handling environmental emergencies. 

Online Degree

Masters of Public Health (MPH)

  • 1-2 years
  • postgraduate
  • Flexible Learning
Apply now

What does a public health degree involve?

If a career in public health interests you, a public health degree can prepare you for a myriad of jobs in the field. First, you’ll study public health in a broad sense, learning essential research methods, how to analyse data, and effective science communications. 

You’ll also learn about different areas of public health, like disease outbreaks, social determinants of health, and how to predict public health threats. Later on in your degree program, you’ll be able to choose specialist subjects, like toxicology or biostatistics, that relate to your ideal career. 

Example modules:

  • Introduction to public health
  • Epidemiology
  • Health education and promotion
  • Community health
  • Biostatistics
  • Health policy and law
  • Research methods.

Skills you’ll learn on a public health degree

You’ll learn a wide variety of skills on a public health degree due to the broad nature of the subject and the many options you have for specialisation. Below, we list some of the most important hard and soft skills you’ll develop throughout your studies.

Hard skills:

  • Scientific research
  • Science communication
  • Statistics
  • Data analysis
  • Writing 

Soft skills:

  • Communication
  • Problem-solving
  • Attention to detail
  • Cultural competency
  • Flexibility

Types of public health degree

There are different degree levels to choose from when it comes to public health, depending on your previous education and work experience. You’ll also find that some public health degrees specialise in different areas, so you can tailor your choice based on your particular interests and career goals.

For example, some public health degrees might focus on driving behavioural change, while others might specialise in health promotion. 

  • Associate degree in Public Health. This is an undergraduate program that takes just two years, giving you the option to quickly develop essential skills and knowledge.
  • Bachelor’s degree in Public Health. This is a typical undergraduate degree in public health, and will usually be in the form of a Bachelor of Science (BSc).
  • Master’s degree in Public Health. This is a postgraduate degree, aimed at those who already have experience in the field. It can either be broad or focus on a particular niche in public health.

How long does it take to get a public health degree?

Most public health degrees are the same length as other degrees in the UK, though you can choose to study either part-time or full-time, depending on the amount of free time you have to commit to university. 

If you study a bachelor’s degree full-time, it usually takes three years, and a full-time master’s takes two years to complete. You can expect to add another year of study to both of these options if you choose to go down the part-time route.

Entry requirements for a public health degree

So, perhaps you’ve decided on a public health degree. But do you meet the requirements? The specific grades you’ll need to get will vary a lot depending on the degree program and university that you choose. Generally, universities with more prestige and better academic reputations will ask for higher grades. 

It’s a good idea to choose further education subjects that relate to your potential degree specialism, whether you choose A-levels, an apprenticeship, a diploma or equivalent. Relevant subjects include healthcare, biology, statistics and geography.

For master’s degrees in public health, you’ll probably need to have a 2:1 bachelor’s degree in a subject that relates to your new program, and you’ll definitely need to be passionate about your specialism.


  • Relevant academic qualifications
  • Passion for your subject
  • Good at working with people
  • Scientific and analytical mindset


  • Relevant work or volunteering experience
  • Knowledge of global public health
  • Interest in different cultures
  • Strong written communication.
Online Degree

Public Health & Health Promotion MSc online

  • 1-2 years
  • postgraduate
  • Flexible Learning
Apply now

How much does a public health degree cost?

Unfortunately, bachelor’s degrees aren’t free in the UK (unless you’re a Scottish student at a Scottish university), but students can get their tuition fully covered by Student Finance. That tuition fee is £9,250 per year on average, though it’s roughly half of that in Northern Ireland. 

Master’s degrees cost somewhere between £12,000 and £25,000, depending on the specific program and whether you commit to full-time study or not. For both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, some students are eligible for student loans and grants to support living costs, but this is often dependent on your parents’ income and how many years you’ve already received loans. 

Funding options for public health degrees

There are, however, additional routes you can go down when it comes to funding your degree. You may be eligible for a scholarship or grant, and it’s also worth checking whether there are any financial aid packages and payment plans at your chosen institution. 

Where to look

How to get into a public health degree

In the UK, you apply for undergraduate degrees via UCAS, choosing five degree options and ranking them in order of which one you’d most like to join. You also normally have to meet the entry requirements stated by your chosen university and write a personal statement detailing your suitability for the degree  — more details on this below.

For master’s programs, you apply directly on the institution’s website, and you’ll usually need a relevant undergraduate degree in healthcare, social sciences, or biological sciences under your belt. Some MSc public health courses also expect you to have healthcare or public health work experience. 

Personal statement tips

  • Explain why you’re passionate about public health. What about it interests you, what do you hope to gain from your studies, and what impact do you hope to have on the world?
  • Write about your school studies and past projects. Explain what you’ve most enjoyed learning about, the pieces of work you’ve been most proud of, and any favourite research projects you’ve been involved with.
  • Dive into your experience. Do you have any experience working or volunteering in healthcare, science or public health related positions?
  • Showcase your knowledge. It’s important to show that you’re invested in the public health landscape, and this means showing that you’re up to date with the latest research, health developments, and global state of public health.

How will you be assessed on a public health degree?

Whether you’re at undergraduate or postgraduate level, you can expect to be assessed using a mixture of essays, practical assessments, research papers, exams, and then the odd presentation or group project. However, this will depend on your degree program to an extent.

How difficult is a degree in public health?

While a public health degree can be hard work, you should enjoy it as long as you’re passionate about the subject. Despite there being a lot of ground to cover, you’ll get to learn about a wide variety of interesting topics, pick up research skills, gain an understanding of global public health, and learn from experts in the field. 

So, if you’re committed to making an impact on public health and safety, and ready to put some effort in, you shouldn’t experience too much difficulty.

Job satisfaction and prospects for public health graduates

When thinking about job satisfaction, it varies widely depending on the specific job you land. As a public health worker, it’s likely that you’ll experience heavy workloads and high pressure situations, but hopefully the reward of positively impacting the lives and health of many people will help balance out any negatives.

Then there’s your career prospects, which look pretty good as a public health graduate. The global demand for high quality public health services is rapidly increasing, and the need for well-trained professionals in the industry is also rising in importance.

To put this into perspective, even before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released an estimation that the public health field would grow 14% by 2028.

What can you do with a public health degree?

There’s a long list of careers you can get into after taking a public health degree. Take a look at some of your options below — keep in mind, the opportunities open to you may vary depending on how much specialist knowledge you have in one particular area.

  • Community health worker
  • Public health nurse
  • Health and safety inspector
  • Healthcare administrator
  • Biostatistician
  • Toxicologist
  • Epidemiologist
  • Public health policy analyst
  • Professor of public health
  • Nutritionist
  • Infection control officer
  • Environmental health scientist.

Salary prospects: How much do public health graduates earn?

There are definitely opportunities to earn a good salary as a public health graduate, though your starting salary might vary a lot depending on your role. For example, a community health worker is a less specialised career, so the average salary in the UK is £26,544 p/a. 

However, with a postgraduate degree in public health, you can dramatically increase your earning potential, as your job requires specialist skills and more responsibility. Biostatisticians earn £43,619 per year, on average, and epidemiologists earn £43,581 annually.

If you want to reach the most senior roles in public health, you can be paid very highly indeed. But first, you’ll have to put the work in to show you’re serious about public health and committed to continuous professional development.

Why choose a degree in public health?

So, now you know a bit more about your degree options, salaries, prospects and job satisfaction for public health graduates. But what’s the main reason you should pursue a degree in public health?

If you know you’d like to work in the field of public health, making a difference to lives on a community, national or even global scale, a public health degree is a great way to learn the specialist knowledge you need. 

What’s more, studying a public health degree can put you in touch with leading researchers in the field, meaning you may open doors to future job opportunities or improve your chances with PhD applications.

Online Degree

Public Health & Behaviour Change MSc online

  • 1-2 years
  • postgraduate
  • Flexible Learning
Apply now

Get an online public health degree with FutureLearn

We’ve got some great online public health degrees, designed to help you get to the next step in your career. You can study from home, or wherever suits you, so that you don’t have to sacrifice your work, family or other life commitments for your studies. Take a look at some of our other online degree options below.

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