Today’s Best Online DrPH Programs

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

Written By

PhDs.me Staff

Last updated

Feb 15, 2021

The Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree is the terminal degree for public health professionals working (or looking to work) in a practice-based setting. Students can focus their research and coursework on public health policy, global health, leadership, and a variety of additional tracks that line up with their career goals. Because many students are mid-career and working, colleges and universities have moved some or all of their DrPH programs online, giving those admitted the ability to study part-time, full-time, and with tremendous time and place flexibility.

The following guide on online DrPH programs is a great starting point. It answers these questions and addresses others that could make a college decision tough. From program basics to understanding accreditation, start your online program journey here.

Find Your Program: The Best Online DrPHs Today

Finding the right Doctor of Public Health program is personal. It depends on each student’s unique academic and professional wants and needs. For some, affordability is the most important characteristic, as long as basic accreditation requirements are met. For others, academic reputation in a specific area of interest takes center stage, allowing the student to work in a certain field or with a certain professor. Whatever you’re looking for in a program, it starts with research. Here’s a complete directory of blended and online DrPH programs in the U.S., along with spotlights of three of today’s most notable programs for students.

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 targets mid-career professionals in the field who are looking to grow as leaders in the health community. In contrast to the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Public Health, the DrPH is more clinical in nature, helping students build knowledge and skills that apply directly to patient-oriented environments. Graduates of DrPH programs often build on current careers as health policy analysts, public health advisors or directors, or executives at non-profit organizations or private businesses. Here’s how the DrPH and the PhD in public health differ.

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

With many DrPH applicants years into their careers already, colleges and universities understand the need to provide flexible academic options. As a result, blended and online programs and courses have become more popular, with students able to take some or all of their coursework online. This convenience can make the degree-earning process easier in two distinct ways. First, it allows students to pursue their degree at their own pace, as long as their schedule falls within the program’s minimum requirements. For example, a busy professional with family commitments may opt to take just one course per quarter or semester. Second, an online DrPH makes it easier to complete and submit coursework from anywhere, reducing the need to work on, turn in, or discuss materials in-person.

Not all online DrPH programs are the same, however. Each comes with its own standards, requirements, and policies that each potential student should vet carefully before applying. Here’s a more detailed look at some of the differences when it comes to blended and online DrPHs.

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

Once coursework has been completed – both core and electives – online DrPH students prepare for comprehensive examinations. This exams can have both written and verbal elements and aim to test students on what they’ve learned during their first two years in the program. Students who pass the exam move on to candidacy and advanced study. Those who don’t may need to apply to retake the exam with the blessing of their faculty advisor.

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 goal of applied practice is twofold. First, to meet the needs of the target organization. With a mentor, the student identifies a problem or improvement area to address within the target organization, and then crafts a set of deliverables to solve the problem. Second, to demonstrate fulfillment of DrPH program learning objectives. This may be proved via a summary of data collected, an evidenced-based report, or other written and verbal communication on results.

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

At the college level, all institutions you consider should hold regional accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education recognizes just five agencies that accredit degree-granting universities: 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 vet colleges and universities thoroughly for quality of education, faculty experience, and 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?

One of the toughest question doctoral students need to answer is…can I afford it? Will earning an online DrPH be worth the time, effort, and cost? The answer is different for each student, although a quick look at both tuition rates and salary boosts can be a great place to start. Let’s take a closer look at these costs and if they might be worth the multi-thousand-dollar 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