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Best Online DrPH Programs in 2023

Start your search for the best public health doctoral programs online. Learn about cost, quality, graduation requirements, and keys to dissertation and graduation success

Search hundreds of top schools
for the doctorate YOU want.

Written By

PhDs.me Staff

Last updated

Jul 31, 2023

The Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree is the highest-level degree for professionals in the public health field who work in practical settings. This program allows students to tailor their research and coursework to align with their career goals, with tracks including public health policy, global health, and leadership, among others. Many DrPH students are mid-career professionals who are working, which is why colleges and universities have developed online DrPH programs that provide flexibility in terms of both time and place. These programs offer students the option to study either part-time or full-time, depending on their needs.

This guide to the best online DrPH programs serves as an excellent starting point for students. It provides answers to important questions and addresses issues that could potentially make the college decision-making process challenging. The guide covers essential topics, including a list of top-rated programs and what you can expect to learn to help students begin their journey towards an online DrPH program.

Find Your Program: The Best Online DrPHs in 2023

Selecting the ideal Doctor of Public Health program is a personal choice that depends on each student’s specific academic and professional objectives. Some students prioritize affordability as long as the program meets the basic accreditation requirements. Others prioritize academic reputation in a specific area of interest to enable them to work in a particular field or with a specific professor. Regardless of the criteria, the journey to finding the right program starts with research. To assist with this process, we’ve highlighted the best overall online DrPH programs below based on important criteria like academic quality, scheduling flexibility, and affordability.

or
1
Samford University Birmingham, Alabama
Type: Private not-for-profit
Cost: $$$$$

Students in the doctorate of public health program at Samford University take expert-level courses in public health on topics such as healthcare financial management, public health planning, and biomedical informatics. They also participate in integrative experiences and courses on how to conduct research. Learners choose one of two concentrations: health management and policy or population health analytics and decision making. Since many students work full time while completing the degree, all courses are offered online. Class sessions are live, but at times which work for many working professionals' schedules. For added flexibility, the program offers a part-time and full-time option. Those who choose the full-time option can graduate in as few as five semesters. Successful applicants should already have their master's of public health.

Program Highlights:

Doctorate of Public Health

  • Credits: 46
  • Length: 2-3 years
  • Cost: $938/credit
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
12
AccreditationSACSCOC

Inside Look at Two More Top-Rated Online DrPH Programs

Illinois Chicago

University of Illinois Chicago – Online DrPH in Leadership

UIC’s DrPH degree is offered part-time with working professionals in mind. Students take courses in both an asynchronous (on your own time) and synchronous (scheduled) format. While fully online, students need to attend a 3-day residency each summer to meet cohorts and work with professors. Similar to other programs, UIC’s online DrPH begins with a set of core competencies for its students:

1

In-depth knowledge and understanding of public health practice, theory, and research.

2

The ability to analyze problems in public health via resource assessment, evaluation, and applied research methodology and statistical methods.

3

Identify resources and synthesize information to address public health problems in a specialization that contributes to evidence-based practice and scholarship in public health.

4

Demonstrate leadership through policy, strategy, and intervention to solve critical public health issues.

5

The ability to communicate strategies across diverse groups and individuals and shape policies and programs.

6

Demonstrate a philosophy and vision for leadership in public health.

UIC’s online DrPH curriculum requires 28 semester hours of foundational courses, 8 courses within a specialization, yearly attendance at a 3-day residency, and 28 dissertation hours. The program allows students with a Master of Public Health (MPH) to transfer up to 32 credit hours toward their DrPH. Like other programs, UIC’s requires passing of the comprehensive exam for candidacy and the successful defense and publication of a dissertation to graduate.

Technology Resources & Requirements

  • Blackboard familiarity (or ability to learn)
  • Google Sites
  • Adobe Connect
  • Windows or Mac laptop with 2GHz processor and 4GB of RAM (minimums)
  • Webcam
  • Access to high-speed internet

Core Admissions Requirements

1

Master’s degree in public health. Applicants with a master’s outside of public health will be required to take MPH core courses such as biostatistics and epidemiology.

2

Three or more years in a full-time, paid position in public health.

3

No GRE required.

For more information on UIC’s online DrPH program in leadership, please visit their online handbook.

Johns Hopkins

Johns Hopkins – Online DrPH

The DrPH at Johns Hopkins is available online, although students are required to perform activities in-person either in the winter or the summer. Winter visits last five days, while summer face-to-face sessions run a full week. In sum, students must earn 64 semester credits to complete the DrPH curriculum and progressing toward the dissertation portion of the program.

The Johns Hopkins online DrPH offers four specialization opportunities: environmental health, health equity and social justice, health policy and management, and implementation science. In addition, JHU allows students to chart their own concentration/track with the help of their academic advisor and the DrPH program office. This level of customization provides ultimate flexibility and gives students the ability to chart an academic path in line with their professional goals.

Core Admission Requirements

1

Master of Public Health degree or equivalent. Students applying with a non-MPH degree may need to take certain master’s courses to qualify for the program.

2

At least 3 years of professional work experience in public health

3

Official GRE or GMAT scores. All scores must be from exams taken within the last five years. Students without a recent GRE or GMAT score may apply for an exam waiver, although requirements are a 3.75 GPA over the last ten years of higher education, AND high-level scores within the last seven years.

For more info on this Johns Hopkins doctorate program, read their online DrPH page.

All About DrPH Programs

The Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree is designed for mid-career professionals in the field of public health who aspire to become leaders in the healthcare community. Unlike the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Public Health, the DrPH is more clinical in nature and focuses on developing knowledge and skills that are directly applicable to patient-oriented environments. DrPH graduates often pursue careers as health policy analysts, public health advisors or directors, and executives at non-profit organizations or private businesses. Here is a breakdown of the differences between the DrPH and the PhD in Public Health.

DrPH versus PhD in Public Health

This can be a difficult choice for advanced students in public health. However, a side-by-side breakdown of each degree and who it usually attracts and why, can help provide clarity. Which public health doctorate makes the most sense for you?

DrPHPhD in Public Health
Academic focusEvidence-basedResearch-based
Career trackClinical/professionalAcademia
Program type (common)Part-timeFull-time
Program length4-5 Years5-7 Years
Primary studentsMid-careerEarly career

Types of Online DrPH Programs

Since many DrPH applicants are already established in their careers, colleges and universities understand the importance of providing flexible academic options. As a result, blended and online programs and courses have become increasingly popular, allowing students to complete some or all of their coursework online. This flexibility makes earning a degree more accessible in two primary ways. Firstly, it allows students to pursue their degree at their own pace, as long as they meet the program’s minimum requirements. For example, a busy professional with family commitments may choose to take only one course per quarter or semester. Secondly, an online DrPH program allows students to complete and submit coursework from anywhere, eliminating the need to work on, submit, or discuss materials in-person.

It’s important to note that not all online DrPH programs are the same, and each has its unique set of standards, requirements, and policies that prospective students should carefully review before applying. Here’s a more comprehensive look at some of the differences between blended and online DrPH programs.

Blended DrPH programs

For programs that involve hands-on work, blended is the norm. It combines the convenience of online collaboration with the necessity of interacting with patients. Because the DrPH caters to mid-career professionals, many of the in-person requirements take place at night or on weekends, and usually once every two weeks or so. These programs can be full-time or part-time. If you have multiple personal and professionals responsibilities to juggle, make sure the programs you seek out can meet your scheduling needs.

Full-time online programs

While more common for PhD seekers, full-time programs involve heavier course loads and more regular interaction. Students may be expected to work toward their degree faster, which can include a minimum number of courses taken per term. Also, keep in mind that full-time online doesn’t mean “fully online”. Almost every online program at the doctorate level, especially one that involves patients, will have a residency requirement (more on that below).

Part-time online programs

These programs are common in online learning, especially when a large number of students are working full-time jobs, too. In these cases, students can take as few as one course per term, as long as they can demonstrate adequate progress toward their degree. If you’re in a position where part-time study is what you need, make it your priority when researching and narrowing down programs. It also helps to talk to an admissions counselor or program representative to see if the opportunity meets your needs.

Applying to Online DrPH Programs

The base requirements for admission are similar across DrPH programs. Each prospective student must submit an official application, a statement of purpose, copies of transcripts, and letters of recommendation. With a practical doctorate like the DrPH, however, some programs may either ask for or stress knowledge and skills in different areas. If you’re a mid-career professionals and looking to earn a blended or online DrPH, pay special attention to the following admissions requirements.

GRE scores

A majority of online DBA programs require applicants to hold a master’s degree in a relevant field from an accredited institution. In this case, the accrediting body must be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Pre-requisite courses

Some DrPH programs have specific prerequisite courses in place. This is usually to ensure that all students are prepared for their curriculum. Some may even require students to take certain courses from a program accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). In some cases, students can test out of these prerequisites via written exam.

Prior public health experience

Many DrPH programs focus on leadership, making prior experience in the field more important. Admissions boards often review CVs to see candidates’ prior work, volunteering, internships, and other service learning.

The application process can be onerous (with all its requirements) and tricky (due to variation). When creating your shortlist of online DrPH programs, make sure you have (or can get) everything necessary for admission.

Online DrPH Coursework and Specialization

At the doctorate level, academics become more specialized. Every program has a set of foundational courses that feed its mission and learning outcomes. This holds true in campus, blended, and online DrPH programs, with each student progressing through cores and electives before narrowing study for dissertation or field research. Let’s review a few common foundational courses/areas of DrPH programs, as well as some of today’s more popular specializations.

Core DrPH Courses

No matter which track students choose, doctorates in public health start with foundational knowledge and skills. Courses in these areas help students acquire and sharpen the tools they need to make a significant and responsible impact as public health leaders. These core courses often include but are definitely not limited to:

Integrative leadership in public health

Many students in DrPH programs are looking to grow as leaders in their communities or other health-related environments. These courses help students develop leadership skills in areas such as communication, relationship building, creative and critical thinking, and problem solving. 

Statistics in public health

Covers the exploration, organization, and presentation of public health data. This includes population data, probabilities, estimates, intervals, and hypothesis testing. Students will learn statistical reasoning, designing graphical models, distribution theory, confidence intervals, and more.

Social & behavioral determinants

Examines the relationships (both dynamic and causal) between social and cultural determinants and public health and well-being. Some courses also extend into economic and psychological determinants. These courses may involve fieldwork.

Quantitative research methods

Public health practices need to be rooted in research and data analysis. These courses include formulating advanced and testable hypotheses, collecting and analyzing quantitative data, and interpreting findings with a close eye on causation or coincidence. Students may find elements of biostatistics and epidemiology here.

Choosing a DrPH Track

Despite minor differences, the words track, specialization, and concentration are often used interchangeably. In short, they denote a specific area in which the doctoral student will focus study. Tracks often dictate or direct electives, research projects, applied practice, and dissertations. And while not required, they also may be related to the student’s current occupation and employer. Here are a few prime examples of tracks in public health:

Advanced leadership

Preparation for leadership roles in non-profit organizations, community-based organizations, and health departments. Focuses on overall expertise in running evidence-based health-related institutions.

Cancer prevention & control

Working toward the reduction of cancer incidents and mortality, and to improve outcomes in treatment. Study may also cover the difference in outcomes across socio-economic and socio-cultural lines.

Demographic-focused studies

These tracks concentrate on either the overall treatment or a specific type of treatment for a group.  These studies can include women’s health, aging research, and childhood obesity.

Environmental health

Examine the relationship between biological and chemical agents in the environment to population health at multiple levels. Research can cover natural resource degradation, climate change, and how policy does or does not address what’s needed.

Global health

Covers issues such as the political, cultural, and social determinants of health. The burden of disease on development and the management of internal health programs.

Public health policy & law

Can include fundamentals of the U.S. health care system and other systems across the globe. Policymaking strategy and how current policies and practices do or do not benefit public health at large. Can also be more micro in nature, with how certain communities are impacted by changes (or lack thereof).

These are by no means exhaustive in nature. Most programs have a wide range of electives available and give students significant leeway with tracks as long as they’re tackling a real-world problem in public health. These are meant to give you an idea of some core areas in which you can specialize.

From DrPH Coursework to Candidacy

After completing both core and elective coursework, online DrPH students prepare for comprehensive examinations, which may consist of both written and verbal elements. The purpose of the exam is to assess students’ knowledge of the program’s content over the first two years. Those who pass the exam proceed to candidacy and advanced study. Students who don’t pass may need to seek approval from their faculty advisor to retake the exam.

Once the exam is passed, what’s next? What do blended and online DrPH students face as doctoral candidates in the field? Here’s a look at the two most common next steps:

Applied Practice Experience

Some practical (non-PhD) doctorates such as the online DrPH include an advanced non-dissertation element. This is especially popular in programs with extensive patient or student work. In public health, this comes in the form of applied practice experience or fieldwork, where doctoral candidates work with mentors at non-profits, NGOs, businesses, or other organizations to set up meaningful and measurable projects.

The objective of applied practice is twofold. Firstly, it aims to meet the needs of the target organization. With the guidance of a mentor, the student identifies an area for improvement or a problem to solve within the target organization and then creates a set of deliverables to address the issue. Secondly, it aims to demonstrate the fulfillment of the DrPH program’s learning objectives. This can be accomplished by summarizing the data collected, producing an evidence-based report, or creating other written and verbal communications to showcase the results achieved.

Dissertations

Like the PhD in public health, online DrPH programs can have a dissertation requirement, as well. This involves in-depth research into an area specific to the student’s concentration. Here’s a simplified version of the process from initial candidacy to publishing the dissertation. For a more detailed version with a careful walkthrough of each step, check out George Washington University’s PDF on the dissertation process.

Step 1:
Candidacy.

Students moved to the candidacy phase of a DrPH program once they’ve completed the necessary coursework and passed their comprehensive examinations. However, by the end of coursework and exams, students should have a dissertation topic in mind.

Step 2:
Select a committee.

By candidacy, students should have a faculty advisor with whom they work regularly. This can be the beginning of a dissertation committee. This person can help the student identify research areas, data availability, potential limitations or challenges, and other faculty members who may be excellent candidates for the committee. Committees tend to have between 3 and 5 professors.

Step 3:
The proposal.

Dissertation proposals usually have five main elements to help the committee understand your goals. These elements are often folded into the dissertation itself as the first three or so chapters. These include but are not limited to:

1 The problem statement.
A clear definition of the problem, its importance to public health, and details on how the research/problem is original.

2 Research review.
A description of past research on the topic to provide context and scope. This helps both the student and committee understand the landscape and how the student’s dissertation will enhance scholarship in the field.

3 Methods & hypothesis.
A detailed look at the research methods involved and an early hypothesis in place. This can also include tools to be used, potential limitations, data to be analyzed, and a timetable of milestones to be completed.

4 Proposal defense.
An oral presentation and defense of the entire proposal in front of the committee to gauge whether or not the student is ready to move onto the dissertation phase. At this point, the committee can approve the proposal, approve with revisions, or reject.

Step 4:
Research, writing, and revision.

The lengthiest step in the process, the research, writing, and revision phase can take up to two years. Some programs require the student to check in with and discuss dissertation progress with advisors fairly regularly. Some give more leeway and allow the rare check-ins with focus on the final defense.

Step 5:
Defense.

This is where the dissertation proposal comes full circle. This step involves a two-hour (or more) presentation and defense of results of the dissertation. This time also includes a lengthy Q&A session with the dissertation committee. Students must submit their dissertation between two and four weeks ahead of time to allow the committee to prep. At the end, the committee votes on whether to recommend the candidate for graduation.

Accreditation

When considering colleges, it is crucial to ensure that they hold regional accreditation at the college level. The U.S. Department of Education recognizes only five agencies that accredit degree-granting universities, which are the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), and the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). These agencies conduct a thorough evaluation of colleges and universities, taking into account factors such as quality of education, faculty experience, and the institution’s student-focused mission and vision.

In addition to regional accreditation, public health programs may seek accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). The CEPH examines public health program to ensure comprehensiveness, rigor, flexibility, qualification, and recognition. To see what this could mean for your program and your future employment, visit the CEPH directly.

How Much Does an Online DrPH Cost?

For doctoral students, one of the most challenging questions to answer is whether they can afford to pursue an online DrPH program and whether the investment in time, effort, and cost is worthwhile. The answer varies for each student, but analyzing tuition rates and potential salary increases can provide a good starting point. Here is a closer examination of the costs associated with a DrPH program and whether they are worth the significant financial investment.

SchoolCost per CreditTotal CreditsSubtotal
University of Illinois at Chicago$83064$53,120
Johns Hopkins University$1,12864$72,192
University of South Florida$34843$14,960
Penn State University$35960$21,540

When it comes to tuition, keep in mind that many schools and programs handle this cost differently. In some cases, they grant online students the same tuition rate as in-state residents. Others add an “online” fee to the sticker price to support the maintenance of or payment for use of online learning systems. When narrowing down your potential programs, make sure you research your possible tuition carefully. Also, don’t forget to look into the fees you may face as an online doctoral student.

Grants & Scholarships to Earn Your DrPH Online

While students can pay for their tuition and other expenses out-of-pocket, grants and scholarship help defray the costs. These types of payment options are especially critical for the top-tier programs that may run more expensive than others. To learn about grants and scholarships in public health, including how to find and apply for them, visit our full-length guide on doctorate-level scholarships.

Careers & Salaries for Online DrPH Graduates

We’ve taken a quick look at tuition rates across a few top online DrPH programs. We’ve even discussed, in brief, the importance of grants and scholarships. But with both cost and financial aid in mind, is the degree still worth it? The quick answer is, it depends on your motivation. Is money driving your decision? Exploring salaries for DrPH holders is a key step to making your decision. Driven by the work? Salary potential may not matter as much, but it’s still good to know what you might earn when you have that DrPH in hand. Let’s see where these degree holders work after graduation, and how much they earn.

PayScale.com collects salary and career data from degree holders nationwide. According to PayScale, professionals with a Master in Public Health earn an estimated $62,000 per year. The most popular occupations for these MPH holders include:

  • Epidemiologist: $57,333
  • Program coordinator, non-profit: $46,090
  • Program manager, non-profit: $57,713
  • Healthcare consultant: $76,518
  • Data analyst: $61,208

The key to ascertaining the value of a DrPH, at least monetarily, requires a closer look at salaries and occupations for professionals who hold that degree. According to PayScale, DrPH holders earn $85,000 per year on average, a full 37% more than their MPH-holding counterparts. Here are the top professions and salaries for the DrPH:

  • Assistant professor, post-secondary: $74,800
  • Research scientist: $90,700
  • Research analyst: $56,704
  • Executive director: $106,735