Study Epidemiology: Master's Degrees & Online Courses

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Master's degrees in epidemiology can lead to an epidemiologist career. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and online options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Epidemiology Master's Degrees at a Glance

Epidemiologists are medical professionals who work with infectious diseases that affect communities. They typically work either in research or clinical settings. While most epidemiologists earn master's degrees, some earn PhDs or medical degrees. You can find relevant options in the field through Master of Science and Master of Public Health (MPH) programs.

The overall demand for epidemiologists was expected to increase by 24% from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS anticipated that significant demand may come from state and local governments. Also helping fuel the growth of this field is the lack of applied epidemiologists in many states.

Who is this degree for? - Students with bachelor's degrees who want to study the causes, cures and prevention of health problems
- Individuals who want to pursue a PhD in epidemiology
- Individuals seeking a broader public health education than an MS program provides
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean salary) - Epidemiologist ($70,000)*
- Microbiologist ($71,000)*
- Epidemiologist ($70,000)*
- Public health officer (salary unavailable)
Time to Completion 2 years (full time) 2 years (full time)
Common Graduation Requirements - 30-45 credits
- Maintain GPA standards
- Thesis
- Approximately 40-48 credits
- Internship/practicum
- Research paper or comprehensive exam
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Minimum GPA
- GRE scores
- Preliminary math and science courses (some programs)
- Same as MS degree
Online Availability Some courses might be available online A few options available

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

Master of Science in Epidemiology

An MS in Epidemiology can prepare you to work in various settings, including medical facilities, governments, research settings and private businesses. Your curriculum may include a mixture of epidemiology and biostatistics courses. Some schools may offer condensed MS programs for individuals with prior professional or doctoral degrees.

Pros and Cons


  • Some programs offer tracks or electives that allow you to navigate your education toward your career goals.
  • Epidemiologists may see rapid employment growth (24% from 2010-2020).*
  • Despite working with disease samples, little risk is posed to epidemiologists due to extensive precautions.


  • You may need a PhD if you plan to work at the university-level.
  • You may compete for jobs with medical professionals holding doctorate degrees.
  • Rapidly changing technology and health care laws may cause some employers to require or encourage you to complete continuing education courses.

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Common Courses and Requirements

In a typical MS program, courses may include advanced topics like epidemiology research methods, biostatistics, epidemiology principles and chronic disease. Depending on the nature of your program, you may be able to choose a concentration or electives that gear you toward your career goal or a specific research interest. In addition to academic coursework, you may also complete a thesis. Through your thesis work, you demonstrate your abilities to conduct independent research on relevant issues in the epidemiology field.

Online Degree Options

At this time, online MS degree programs in epidemiology aren't available. However, you may find that your campus-based degree program offers some courses online. Additionally, you may find graduate-level online certificate programs in epidemiology. These programs may be designed so that credits can transfer to a relevant master's degree program.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

Advanced molecular technology has allowed epidemiologists to explore new ways of studying diseases. You can make yourself more relevant in this scientific field by staying knowledgeable of the latest technologies being used. One way to do this is by reading scholarly journals relevant to the field. Additionally, you can master often-used software, such as disease mapping and analysis programs.

Mater of Public Health in Epidemiology

A Master of Public Health degree in epidemiology is typically a 2-year program that prepares you to work as an epidemiologist in various industries, including government, healthcare, academia and pharmaceuticals. MPH programs usually provide broader coverage of the public health field than an MS program. Students should note that degree formats may vary with each school. For example, some schools may offer an MPH degree with a concentration in epidemiology and/or biostatistics. You can expect to learn about diseases, including their causes and means of preventing and controlling infections.

Pros and Cons


  • Programs may allow for flexibility so you can learn various aspects of the public health field.
  • Practical learning is more common in an MPH program in epidemiology than an MS program.
  • Online options for this degree program are available.


  • You may need a doctorate degree to make yourself more competitive in the field.
  • Online epidemiology MPH programs may be geared toward individuals with prior work experience.
  • You typically need a strong quantitative background to gain entry into an epidemiology MPH program.

Common Courses and Requirements

As a student in an epidemiology MPH degree program, you will likely complete core coursework in topics such as epidemiology methods, biostatistics, epidemiological theory and research methods. Additionally, you may gain hands-on training through an internship or practicum. Your program may culminate with a research paper, thesis or comprehensive exam.

Online Degree Options

You may find some fully-online MPH programs, but they may not focus on epidemiology directly. Instead, they might offer other concentrations that include epidemiology-related courses in the curricula. These programs may be designed for professionals currently employed in healthcare. You may also find hybrid options that allow you to complete a portion of the curriculum online. In both options, you should be prepared to complete some field-based requirements, such as internships or practica.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

As with students in MS programs in epidemiology, you can enhance your resume by mastering technology and computer programs that are relevant to the field. Your campus may offer statistical computing resources or facilities where you can sharpen your knowledge of this technology.

Specializing in a specific area of epidemiology also helps set you apart from other individuals. If you're especially interested in conducting research, look for schools that offer research opportunities in your chosen specialty.

Alternate Degrees

Students who are interested in epidemiology may want to consider earning a PhD in Biology instead. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a PhD in Biology or a related life science may qualify you for a career as a medical scientist. The employment outlook for medical scientists was expected to be even stronger than the epidemiology field (36% compared to 24% from 2010 to 2020), according to the BLS. The BLS also reported that medical scientists earned approximate mean salaries of $88,000 in 2011. However, PhD programs typically require several more years of schoolwork.

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