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Pre-Public Health

Pre-Public Health

Public health officials have a mission to create conditions in which people can be healthy. Their primary focus is on prevention of disease and injury rather than treatment as they work to make our communities healthier. They assess the health requirements of communities, prioritize needs, and create public policy.

No particular major is required for entrance into a public health program. Pre-Public Health is a career goal that includes a courses and experiences that prepare you to succeed as a public health official. You should choose a major you enjoy, and one in which you will excel.

Possibilities abound within the field of public health. Jobs are available both domestically and internationally, ranging from local health departments and industry to government laboratories, including the Centers for Disease Control. Some jobs require extensive fieldwork and some are primarily in an office setting.


Undergraduate coursework is largely dependent on the areas of interest in public health. Generally a broad background is useful, including basic sciences, ethics, social sciences, (especially courses on international settings and on diversity), communications classes, political science and public policy, statistics and psychology. In general, solid oral and written communication skills are necessary and knowledge of a second language is always valuable. Spending time observing a public health professional or volunteering in a public health setting is also advised.

Career Guide with Public Health Info for Purdue Students

Exploring the Field of Public Health

Most people in public health have at least a master’s degree, however, some positions are available with a bachelor's degree in public health. Students would then pursue a master’s to specialize in a particular area and a PhD to teach or do research. With over 20 major fields of study and 5 core areas, public health is a vast and interdisciplinary field. Generally five core areas of concentration are taught within public health though some programs define these differently.

  • Biostatistics & Informatics — This area applies statistical and mathematical methods to the design and analysis of public health problems
  • Environmental Health — This area focuses on the safety of the food supply, water and air pollution and disease prevention
  • Epidemiology — These specialists learn to track the distribution of diseases, determining how debilitating the diseases are and how to prevent their occurrence
  • Health Promotion & Health Communication — These specialists use social and behavioral sciences to address the behavioral, social and cultural factors related to individual and population health and health disparities over the life course
  • Health Policy and Health Services Administration — These experts specialize in health planning, organization, policy formation and analysis, finance, economics, or marketing
  • Additional areas of specialization are available that combine different elements of these including Emergency Preparedness, Maternal and Child Health, Minority Health & Health Disparities, Global Health, and others. Schools often define these interdisciplinary areas differently. When researching programs, look carefully at what is convered rather than at the names of the areas of study.

Aptitude Test and Application

Future public health students must take the Graduate Record Exam, or GRE, if you are pursuing a master’s or PhD. Application is made through a centralized service called SOPHAS (Schools of Public Health Application Service). There are 60 Schools or Programs of Public Health that participate in SOPHAS. For schools not participating in SOPHAS, you will need to apply to them directly.

Certain jobs in public health require education at a Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) accredited institution. Not all programs choose to become CEPH accredited because it is expensive to do so. This should not be seen as a reflection on the quality of the program, but you should consider the type of job you want and whether you need to graduate from a CEPH accredited program to obtain that position when applying to graduate programs.

Links and additional Public Health Information

Programs in Region