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Should you major in public health?

Updated: Feb 22

Deciding what you want to study in college can be tough. Our new series examines popular college majors and answers your pressing questions. Today, we’re tackling public health! 

As the University of Maryland describes it, public health is a “the science of increasing the health and safety of communities through education, policy making and research for disease and injury prevention.” Does that sound impactful? Difficult? Confusing? Either way, read on to see if public health is the right fit for you! 

“Why do people study public health?”

There are many reasons why someone might choose this path — this collection from the UCLA Master of Public Health program showcases several different student narratives. Public health allows you to enact lasting impact on local communities now. You’ll deal with tangible, pressing issues (e.g. tobacco use, teen pregnancy), and the results of your work will be tangible too. You’ll examine life in a diversity of communities, allowing you to interact with people from various cultures and backgrounds. 

“What’s the difference between an undergraduate public health degree vs. a Master in Public Health (MPH) or Doctor of Public Health (DrPH)?”

The undergraduate degree is interdisciplinary and open-ended — there are so many paths you can go down! On the other hand, people who opt for advanced degrees in public health are generally certain that they want to work in public health.

“I’m interested in medicine, but I’m scared of blood and guts. Would this be a good fit?”

If you’re a bit squeamish, public health may very well be the option for you. You’ll likely be seeing far less gore than if you were to be in, say, the ER, but that doesn’t mean your work will be easy! And, if you change your mind and want to pursue medicine after all, you will be perfectly prepared for med school as long as you’ve completed some general prerequisites.

“What kind of classes will I take?”

The curriculum varies by school, especially since public health as an undergrad degree isn’t particularly common. Here are a few classes you might see! Do they sound interesting to you?

  • “Healthcare Delivery Systems”

  • “Population Health”

  • “Data Analysis in Public Health”

  • “Disaster Management”

  • “Infectious Diseases in Society”

“What else will I learn?”

As mentioned before, public health is an interdisciplinary degree. That means you’ll dabble in several different fields, such as:

  • Data analytics/statistics