Pre-Public Health at UH Mānoa

Text compiled from the Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) website, the Public Health Institute (PHI) website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, Pfizer’s Guide to Careers in Public Health website by ASPPH and the UHM 2017-2018 Catalog.

Public Health Programs in Hawai`i : University of Hawai’i Office of Public Health Studies

Field Description

The Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) defines public health as “the science and art of protecting and improving the health of communities through education, promotion of healthy lifestyles, and research for disease and injury prevention.

“Public health is concerned with protecting the health of entire populations. These populations can be as small as a local neighborhood, or as big as an entire country. Public health professionals try to prevent problems from happening or re-occurring through implementing educational programs, developing policies, administering services, regulating health systems and some health professions, and conducting research. Public health professionals also analyze the effect on health of genetics, personal choice, and the environment in order to develop programs that protect the health of your family and community.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, public health in the twentieth century dramatically increased the quality of life and average lifespan of Americans by developing programs for vaccination, motor vehicle safety, workplace safety, controlling infectious diseases, family planning, ensuring safer and healthier food supplies, and fluoridation of water, to name only a few.

Public health encompasses a wide variety of disciplines, such as biology, sociology, mathematics, anthropology, public policy, medicine, education, psychology, computer science, business, engineering, and more. Consequently, there is no single pathway to public health and there is no “typical” public health job.

Because public health is so broad, students pursuing a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree choose an area of specialization, or concentration. Schools vary in which concentrations they offer, but all accredited schools offer the five core disciplines.

Core Disciplines

Behavioral Sciences/Health Education focuses on ways that encourage people to make healthy choices. These include the development of community-wide education programs that range from researching complex health issues to promoting healthy lifestyles in order to prevent disease and injury.

Biostatistics identifies health trends that lead to life-saving measures through the application of statistical procedures, techniques, and methodology.

Environmental Health studies the impact of our surroundings on our health and how to reduce environmental risk factors.

Epidemiology investigates the cause of disease and controls its spread. Epidemiologists do fieldwork to determine what causes disease or injury, what the risks are, who is at risk, and how to prevent further incidences. They spot and understand the demographic and social trends that influence disease and injury and evaluate new treatments.

Health Services Administration/Management combines politics, business, and science in managing the human and fiscal resources needed to deliver effective public health services. Health services administration studies health care systems, health care reform, health care law, financial management, clinic management, and policy analysis.

Additional Concentrations:

International/Global Health addresses health concerns among different cultures in countries worldwide.

Maternal and Child Health improves the public health delivery systems specifically for women, children, and their families through advocacy, education, and research.

Nutrition examines how food and nutrients affect the wellness and lifestyle of populations. Nutrition combines education and science to promote health and disease prevention.

Public Health Laboratory Practice tests biological and environmental samples in order to diagnose, prevent, treat, and control infectious diseases. Practitioners include bacteriologists, microbiologists, and biochemists.

Health Policy works to improve the public’s health through legislative action at the local, state, and federal levels.

Public health professionals work in both public and private sectors, including local, state, or federal health departments, non-profit organizations, pharmaceutical companies, health insurance companies, and universities.

PH careers

Related Careers: social work, health administration, law, medicine, and dentistry.


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Public Health Programs

Years of Schooling to Become a Public Health Professional:

4+ years of education

  • Bachelor’s Degree (~4 years);
  • Master’s Degree (~2 years); and/or
  • Doctorate (~4-5 years).

The public health curriculum varies from school to school, but often includes courses in each of the five core disciplines, courses within the area of concentration (sometimes called the major), electives, practicum experiences, and a final, culminating experience, often conducted in a work environment.

Gap Year

Students may choose to take a gap year after they graduate with their undergraduate degree. A “gap year” is the period of time between the end of your undergraduate education and the start of your professional school. A gap year might be a year or more depending on each person’s particular circumstances. Students may choose to participate in longer term engagement activities during their gap year. Taking a gap year would change when to apply to professional school, please see a PAC peer advisor to help you plan in when to apply and fit in a gap year experience. When deciding to take a gap year, see our Taking a Gap Year page.

Degree Conferred

Schools of public health offer a variety of degrees, which can be separated into two categories: professional or academic. Professional degrees (e.g., Master of Public Health (MPH), Doctor of Public Health (DrPH), Master of Health Administration (MHA)) are oriented toward practice in public health settings. Academic degrees (e.g., Master of Science (MS), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Doctor of Science (ScD)) are oriented toward careers in research or university teaching.

Combined Degree Programs

Because public health incorporates such a broad spectrum of disciplines, many students pursue a public health degree in tandem with a second degree related to their intended area of specialization. Joint/dual degrees can be completed simultaneously or sequentially. Some of the most common joint/dual degrees include: MPH/MSN (nursing), MPH/MPP (public policy), MPH/MD (medicine), MPH/DDS (dentistry), MPH/JD (law), MPH/MBA (business administration).

The University of Hawai`i Office of Public Health Studies (OPHS) currently offers the following degree programs:

Bachelor of Arts (BA)*Public Health
Master of Public Health (MPH)Epidemiology
Health Policy and Management
Social and Behavioral Health Sciences
Native Hawaiian and Indigenous health
Master of Science (MS) in Public Health**Epidemiology
Social and Behavioral Health Sciences
Doctor of Public Health (DrPH)Community-based and Translational Research
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)Epidemiology
Graduate CertificateGlobal Health Protection and Security

* The Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Public Health is intended as a generalized health science degree to prepare students for graduate studies in public health, medicine, and other health professions. Students are still able to obtain careers with a Bachelors in public health. Please remember that if students want to pursue a career in a specific concentration of public health, the typical entry-level degree for public health practice is a MPH or any other variation of such degree (MSPH, MS, etc.)

** The Master of Public Health (MPH) degree provides a set of skills and principles essential for students who intend to apply their training in a professional setting, provide leadership in a specific health specialty, and improve and protect the health and well-being of populations. In general, the MPH degree will include coursework in a number of public health disciplines, such as administration, epidemiology, environmental health, and behavioral health. The MS in Public Health degree prepares practitioners for a career that includes research in a specific aspect of public health. It provides a set of skills in research design, data collection, analysis and application of research in public health intended to improve and protect the health of populations. The degree is suited for students with good quantitative and/or qualitative skills and an interest in the science of public health and a comprehensive research experience. The MS degree usually requires completion of a research project.

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Most importantly, remember that requirements vary from school to school!  Almost any major can prepare students for a career in public health, but it does help to have foundation courses in your intended area of concentration. For example, to pursue biostatistics, a student does not have to major in mathematics, but does need to have basic competency in pertinent math principles.

The following list, provided by the Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) and adapted to UHM majors, demonstrates how a variety of majors can prepare students for a career in public health. Whatever your major, courses that develop strong verbal and written communication skills are essential.

Public Health ConcentrationUndergraduate Major/Minor
Behavioral Sciences/Health EducationAnthropology, Communication, Education, Marketing, Psychology, Social Work, Sociology
Biostatistics or EpidemiologyBiology, Computer Sciences, Mathematics, Microbiology
Environmental HealthBiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Global Environmental Science, Microbiology, Natural Resources and Environmental Management (NREM), Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences (PEPS)
Health Services AdministrationEconomics, Family Resources, Human Resource Management, Journalism, Management Information Systems, Marketing, Political Science
International/Global HealthAnthropology, Biology, Communication, Ethnic Studies, Foreign Languages, Geography, History, Linguistics
Maternal and Child HealthBiology, Family Resources, Psychology, Social Work, Sociology, Women's Studies
NutritionBiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Food Science and Human Nutrition

Although no specific major or degree is required, OPHS recommends the following academic preparation for the various specializations:

SpecializationDegrees RequiredRecommended Coursework
Epidemiology (MPH/MS)Bachelor's degreeBiology
Health Policy and Management (MPH)Bachelor's degreeTraining in social science, health, or human services
Social & Behavioral Health Sciences (MPH/MS)Bachelor's degreeMathematics or Statistics
Biology or Human Development
Sociology or Psychology
Epidemiology (PhD)Master's degreeNatural and/or social sciences
Community-based and Translational Research (DrPH)MPH or graduate degree in allied profession
Global Health Protection and Security (certificate)Bachelor’s degree or concurrent graduate degree

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Experience and Personal Development

Gaining experience in the health professional field in which you are interested is a huge benefit in figuring out if that is the field you want to work in and provides you with a deeper understanding of the field. Some professional schools want to see that you have experience in their field and some schools may require a large amount of particular experience such as hands-on, patient contact experience or experience shadowing a professional in that field. Schools need to be certain that the students they accept are capable of completing the curriculum and are likely to become strong professionals in the field. Schools may see this through the experiences students had.

Admissions committees seek students who have completed the pre-requisites, have high overall and science/math GPAs, performed well on the entrance exam, and have balanced course loads which are challenging yet realistic. These are indications that students are capable of completing the curriculum. Opportunities for exam preparation can be found here: Entrance Exam Preparation Opportunities.

Experiences can provide proof that students will likely be strong practitioners. Admission committees seek students who demonstrated empathy, compassion, and a commitment to public service which can be shown through community service or volunteer work. Committees also want to see high ethical and moral standards and a conscientious work ethic as well as demonstrated maturity through judgement, responsibility, and dependability. Work ethics can be shown through employment opportunities.

Committees seek students who understand the field and what it entails. Different experiences that could provide exposure to the field include enrichment opportunitiesinternshipsshadowing, or volunteering. Through experiences students may show that they have excellent communication skills and a high degree of professionalism in all aspects of life, and potentially gain strong letters of recommendation from supervisors.

Students should aim to have a well-rounded life that balances academics which include a broad liberal arts education with the humanities and social sciences, research, social activities, and personal interests (hobbies, skills, sports, etc.) through Clubs and Organizations.

Students may choose to take a gap year after they graduate with their undergraduate degree to gain more experience. When deciding to take a gap year, see our Taking a Gap Year page.

When applying for professional school, you will be asked to list and describe the experiences you have gained in preparation for the profession of your interest. Rather than having to recall from memory all your experiences, having an experience log will allow you to fill out your application with more ease. Students can use their C.V. as a record of these experiences. However, an experience log can include additional beneficial information, such as your employer’s contact information and a reflection portion of what you learned. You may choose to make a personalized experience log or use our sample by clicking here.

Please click on the following links to explore the different opportunities.

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Researching Schools

There are currently about 78 accredited schools and programs of public health in the US, each unique in its mission, philosophy, criteria, and strengths.  Applicants can research schools using the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health Program Finder.


Although there are resources that “rank” schools, the rankings are rarely pertinent for individual applicants. More important is whether there is a good match between applicant and school.

To find schools that are good a fit for you (PAC peer advisors can help with this process):

  1. Assess your individual strengths and weaknesses, your professional interests, learning style, and personality;
  2. Start by considering all schools, which usually includes all 78 schools;
  3. Create your “Long List” by omitting the schools that do not match your professional interests, learning style, and personality;
  4. Once you have your GRE scores, create your “Short List” by categorizing the schools into ‘Reach’, ‘Match’, and ‘Safety’, ranking the schools by preference, and finally choosing how many schools to apply to. Be sure to apply to schools in all 3 categories (“Reach,” “Match,” and “Safety.”) and to select schools that you would really want to attend if/when accepted.

Here is more information on researching and selecting schools to apply for. If possible, visit the schools to see their facilities, talk to admissions directors, and chat with students.

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Entrance Exam

Schools of public health accept a number of different standardized tests, including the Dental Admission Test (DAT), the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT). However, the most frequently requested test is the GRE.

Preparation: Your most important preparation for the GRE is your undergraduate courses, many of which sharpen your writing and verbal reasoning skills.  Remember that the verbal sections are not only the most accurate predictor of how well you will do in a public health program, but also the most difficult scores to improve.

GRE Summary: The GRE assesses your knowledge and skills in Verbal Reasoning, Analytical Writing, and Quantitative Reasoning. The test requires approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete. The GRE is offered in computer-based and paper-based formats, and is offered year-round for computer-based administrations and up to three times per year for paper-based administrations.

GRE Scoring: The Verbal and Quantitative sections each receive a score between 130 and 170, in 1-point increments.  The Analytical Writing section is scored on a scale of 0 to 6, in half-point increments. GRE scores are often reported as percentiles, with the median score (50th percentile) among examinees being 150 for the Verbal and Quantitative sections and 3.5  for the Analytical Writing section. Scores at around the 50th percentile or higher are considered competitive for public health programs.

Official Test Preparation Material

Note: For tests other than the GRE, you will need to provide a designation code to indicate that you are applying to schools of public health; the codes are available on the SOPHAS website.

Commercial Test Preparation Companies

Here is more information on how to prepare for an entrance exam.

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Application Process

There are three general steps in applying to public health programs: the primary application, the secondary application, and the interview. The process follows a standard timeline.

1. Primary applications must be filed with the Schools of Public Health Application Service (SOPHAS), which is a centralized application system that opens in mid August. The application includes references, academic history, a curriculum vitae or résumé, and personal statement (1500 characters)Once the application is complete, SOPHAS forwards it to whichever schools the student has designated. The SOPHAS application fee is about $135 for the first program and $50 for each additional program designation. For schools with rolling admission, submit your primary application as early as possible.

2. Secondary applications are specific to individual schools, and are sent to applicants after receiving the SOPHAS application. Some schools screen applicants before requesting secondary applications. Secondary applications commonly request additional information, essays, letters of recommendation, and/or fees.

Note: Most public health schools participate in SOPHAS. Students interested in applying to other schools must complete each of their prospective schools’ individual applications. For these schools, the application process consist only of steps 2 and 3.

3. Interviews: After reviewing the primary and secondary applications, some public health programs invite promising applicants for an interview. Applicants are responsible for all costs incurred while interviewingincluding airfare, lodging, ground transportation, professional attire, and meals. To learn more about interviews, attend our upcoming interview-related orientations and workshops here. For sample interview questions click here.

Re-applying Students: Many applicants may not be admitted to the professional school that they desire on their first try. However, if an when you choose to re-apply, there are many things to consider before re-submitting another application the following cycle. For more information on how to improve your application, click here.

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Financial Aid

Financial Planning is a crucial step in applying to public health programs. It is important for students to create a plan and make decisions in their educational expenses. Students are highly encouraged to budget their finances before, during, and after a public health program. To learn more about financial planning, click here.

WRGP: Hawai`i residents are eligible to participate in the Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP), a service of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). WRGP enables qualified residents from WICHE participating states affordable access to enroll in selected out of state master’s, graduate certificate and Ph.D programs at participating WICHE institutions. WRGP selected students pay the resident tuition rate at the WICHE participating institution. No payments are made directly to students.

To be considered for the WRGP resident tuition rate, apply directly to the department or graduate studies department of the institution where you want to enroll, and identify yourself as WICHE WRGP applicant. WGRP students must fulfill the usual admission requirements and deadlines of the department and institution concerned. Contact each school you are interested in for more information. To view a list of schools that may be participating, click here.

For more information on the Hawai’i WICHE WRGP program, please visit

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Contact Information

University of Hawai`i Office of Public Health Studies
1960 East-West Road
Biomed D204
Honolulu, HI 96822

Phone: 808-956-8577

EpidemiologyDr. Andrew Grandinetti
(808) 956-7495
Health Policy and ManagementDr. Tetine Lynn Sentell
(808) 956-5781
Native Hawaiian and Indigenous HealthDr. Alan Katz
(808) 956-5741
Behavioral Health SciencesDr. Claudio Nigg
(808) 956-2862
Community-Based and Translational ResearchDr. Kathryn Braun
(808) 956-5768

For Application Information:

Office of Graduate Student Academic Services (OGSAS)
John A. Burns School of Medicine
1960 East West Road
Biomed D204
Honolulu, HI  96822

Phone: 808-956-8267

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Additional Information

UHM’s Pre-Health/Pre-Law Advising Center (PAC) has reference books, lists of volunteer opportunities, academic planning worksheets, and one-on-one advising by peers who can help you prepare for and apply to schools of public health.

Associations Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health (ASPPH)

American Public Health Association (APHA)

Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)
Entrance Exam Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
Researching Schools ASPH Academic Program Finder
Applications Schools of Public Health Application Service
Programs in Hawaii UH Office of Public Health Studies

UH Global Health Protection and Security

Hui Ola Pono: Public Health Club at UHM
Current Opportunities
Health – Current Opportunities
EngagementExperience and Opportunities