Community Health Degrees: Bachelor's, Master's & Course Info

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What will you learn in a community health program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a bachelor's and master's and potential careers.
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Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in Community Health at a Glance

A bachelor's or master's degree program in community health can prepare students to work in public health settings, educating audiences to promote healthier lifestyles and better health choices. This field was expected to grow at a rate of 37% in the years 2010-2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This rate is well above the average across all industries. Those in leadership positions will likely experience a rate of growth that is slightly slower, but still faster than average, at 22%.

Bachelor's Master's
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in a career as community health advisors and advocates Same as bachelor's, as well as individuals seeking leadership roles in the community health field
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Health educator ($48,000)*
- Health managers ($86,000)*
Same as bachelor's, plus:
- Epidemiologist ($64,000)*
Time to Completion Four years full time 1-2 years full time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 40 courses - Roughly 12-18 graduate level courses
- Master's exams
- Thesis proposal
- Thesis
Prerequisites High school diploma Bachelor's degree in health or a related field
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Bachelor's in Community Health

A bachelor's degree in the field of community health prepares students to work as community health educators for nonprofit organizations, in hospitals or elsewhere, wherever the health field meets education. As many community-wide health challenges are related to behavior and may occur in varying contexts, these programs cover a range of topics. Students seek to understand human behavior, disease vectors, epidemiology and other aspects of health. From creating health pamphlets to analyzing data and advocating for health resources, community health specialists advocate for the improvement of health among the population and seek to influence policy decisions.

Pros and Cons


  • Completion of a community health bachelor's program will prepare students to earn the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) certification
  • Because of increasing healthcare costs, hospitals, employers and insurance companies are hiring community health educators to improve public health and promote cost savings
  • By focusing on large-scale problems, community health educators are in a position to impact significant numbers of lives through their work


  • For some positions, especially in public administration, a completed bachelor's degree program is not considered enough education
  • Compared to some other positions in medicine-related fields, community health may not be considered lucrative
  • Many positions will be in the public sector, and may be subject to funding restrictions based on political and economic realities rather than on community needs

Courses and Requirements

Students studying community health at the undergraduate level must complete all of the core requirements for graduation as well as the coursework within their major. As the role of community health educators combines an understanding of health with human behavior, the courses for community health are generally cross disciplinary, drawing from mathematics, health, psychology and sociology. Course topics might include:

  • Biostatistics
  • Community health practices and principles
  • Epidemiology
  • Health behavior theory
  • Linking community and personal health
  • Physiology and anatomy

Online Degree Options

The Bachelor of Science in Public Health (BSPH) and related degrees may be available through online delivery. These programs may be complete programs, or may be adjunct programs that require coursework completed through other institutions. Online coursework and programs are often delivered asynchronously, which may be of benefit to working professionals who must balance the scheduling requirements of current employment.

Stand Out with This Degree

Especially considering the community-outreach aspects of some positions, you may benefit from seeking out internships and other opportunities, paid or voluntary, to develop hands-on experience within the field during your educational experience. Because of the breadth of this field, you may also want to focus on specific aspects of training, especially with the advice of mentors and with long-term career goals in mind. When earning your bachelor's degree, keep in mind that these are the same professors you may later ask for references for a graduate program.

Master's in Public Health

The Master of Public Health (MPH) is a post-baccalaureate professional degree. Usually completed in one year of full-time study, these programs teach students to take a role in the public health field. For some leadership positions, this master's degree is a necessary part of the educational process. Completion of the MPH can open up opportunities to take part directly in policy discussions and decisions. With the aging demographic of the American population, the delivery of health care is a rising concern; these discussions have not only health, but also economic, impact.

Pros and Cons


  • The MPH is the basic professional degree for those involved in discussions of health policy
  • Master of Public Health and equivalent degrees from other countries further open up job opportunities for those looking to address global health challenges
  • Unlike many other master's programs, MPH programs commonly take only one year to complete


  • For some researchers, such as those in the field of epidemiology, an MPH may need to be supplemented with further education, either at the doctoral level or through another professional program
  • Governmental and other public service positions may pay significantly less than work in the private sector
  • Some competitive programs may require an additional professional degree for entry, such as a Doctor of Medicine (MD), Juris Doctor (JD) or equivalent

Courses and Requirements

Coursework in an MPH program is intensive, as these programs are designed to deliver all of the necessary skills and knowledge in the context of a 1-year master's program. From data gathering and analysis to strategies for public health and a working knowledge of the health system as it stands, MPH programs work to deliver a broad range of knowledge that will assist those in the field with good decision making and opportunities for career development. Some topics covered might include:

  • Community level public health promotion
  • Data analysis methodology
  • Epidemiology
  • Health behavior theory
  • Planning and evaluating health promotion
  • Statistics for public health
  • U.S. health services

Online Degree Options

Online options are available for the delivery of MPH programs. As many of these programs offer asynchronous courses, they may be of added value for students who are working professionals. Online courses are not ideal for all students, but may assist those seeking to balance the demands of their current careers with educational plans.

Stand Out with This Degree

Programs that grant Master of Public Health degrees are relatively brief and rigorous, so as a student looking to stand out, you may want to move quickly to develop close professional relationships with mentors. If this goes well, these mentors will then be available to express themselves personally regarding your qualifications during your job search. Further, selection of a thesis topic should be done not only in conjunction with advisors, but also with long-term career goals in mind.

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