Where Should Katie Master Public Health? (Pun Intended)

It’s Friday, and what better way to end the week than with a discussion that’s relevant to everyone? Today, a stressed-out lass from Maryland named Katie helps us explore the question of how much — if at all — the school you choose affects your future.

I’m guessing debate will rage on this on at a later date, when we can cover the topic more fully. Today, however, we’re going to stick to Katie’s situation and help her out. Feel free to hop in and add your two cents.  Here’s Katie:


My name is Katie and I am contacting you in regards to the dilemma you had responded to about Nancy who is a student in the process of choosing between a full ride at UMD or partial scholarship at her dream school at JHU. I thank you for your input and felt your advice was golden and was hoping you may be able to shed some light on similar issue I am facing at the moment.

Where should Katie do her public health graduate work?

I’ll do my best.

Much like Nancy, I am in the process of choosing between schools, however, this is for my graduate education. I am interested in the field of public health with a concentration in global health. I have applied to some of the best schools for that major (Boston University and Tulane University) and been accepted


although the price of this education is huge and haven’t received any of the scholarship offers I was hoping for.

Yeah…that’s the downside. Hearing that a lot lately.

I love the specific programs that both Boston and particularly Tulane with the tropical medicine focus, although I am having nightmares about financing this degree.

I am a current resident of Maryland and I am having second thoughts thinking I should have applied to University of Maryland and considering applying for there for the spring instead of going to Tulane or Boston. The two main reasons I did not apply to UMD is because they do not offer a MPH with a global health concentration and UMD is also not accredited by the American Schools of Public Health ( they are only associate members).

In your professional opinion, should the accreditation matter in terms of future employment?

Well, unfortunately this is something that’s pretty industry-specific, and my expertise doesn’t lie in the public health arena. One piece of information that we need to know first is what you actually want to *do* when you get that MPH degree. I admit that I had heard of the master’s in public health degree, but that’s as far as my knowledge goes. Otherwise, I had no idea what people do with that degree.

However, I did some research and found that those with an MPH degree are qualified to work in a variety of settings, but a preponderance of jobs seem to be in government settings. The federal government especially, it seems, will be a destination for a lot of MPH graduates. I don’t know whether you want to work in an office or in rural clinics or in the jungle somewhere, but I’m just getting the lay of the land here in terms of what you might want to do with that degree.

Because that makes all the difference in the world in terms of how you go forward with your educational plans. By my pencil, the MPH at Tulane will put you back about $60,000 total. That’s before any aid is offered, of course. I don’t know what kind of assistantships and fellowships are available there that could possibly get your tuition waived, but I know those are relatively common at some schools. My grad-school tuition was covered by an assistantship the first year and the Pulitzer fellowship the second year. Granted, that was a journalism degree and the situations could be miles apart, but my point is to check out what’s available at both BU and Tulane concerning those kinds of opportunities. If you can find something like that, that $60k number gets slashed really fast, and then your nightmares may subside a little as it does.

The lack of the global health concentration at UMD is also unfortunate although I have a hunch that if I work hard toward a general MPH degree and choose to seek out jobs and experience in global public health, I can make that happen on my own without necessarily needing the specific global MPH degree.

Despite my earlier-stated lack of expertise (or, to be honest, any preexisting knowledge of this subject whatsoever), I feel pretty comfortable saying that those cool-sounding “concentrations” that lots of schools use to entice you into the program are NOT prerequisites for any job.

They may be cool and interesting, but the more unique they are, the less *required* they are. I’m going to take a wild stab and guess that Tulane’s the only university in the discussion here who has “Tropical Medicine” in the name of the actual public-health college. Now, go around to the tropics of the world, find the public-health professionals who are working there, and then ask them where they went to school. Some may have gone to Tulane; most probably did not.

Am I off for thinking this about pursuing a degree at UMD or should I jump at the chance to go to one of the best schools for the major I am most passionate about? I dont have any student loans to pay off from my undergraduate education so I am tempted by the offers to attend Boston and Tulane. Any suggestions you may have would be truly helpful and much appreciated!

Thank you,


Well, to be honest with you, I don’t really find in your story any compelling reason to get on your case about spending too much money in student loans and try to get you to consider a cheaper public school. If you have zero student loan debt now, then you’re in a rare good spot from which it’s much more palatable to take out some now — especially if we’re talking about an elite program in a career you love and are passionate about.

Yeah, there’s the issue of money, and repaying your loans. That issue never goes away, so get comfy with it. And again, I don’t know exactly what you want to do with the degree, but I just get a sense that you should have some pretty well-paying options if you go to a great school and keep your options open. Even if you’ve got a lot of student debt, a federal-government gig is pretty sweet money- and benefits-wise.

Plus, public health is one of the few fields that you can confidently say is going to grow constantly for a very long time. Sickness, death, suffering, disease — these things have been with us since the beginning of time and always will be.

So yeah, if I were you, I’d go for it at Tulane or BU. Good luck!

That’s all for today. It’s a busy weekend coming up here in Rapid City, South Dakota. Selling off as much junk as I can tomorrow at our yard sale, then helping host an open house Sunday at Children’s House Montessori, where my kids go to school. A wonderful place to send your kids if you happen to live in our tiny corner of western South Dakota.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Oh yeah, and if you’re on Facebook and are so inclined, please become my fan. I’m in a friendly competition with my buddy Big Robbo from MamasFallenAngels.com about who can get more FB fans, and he’s kicking my butt right now.

15 thoughts on “Where Should Katie Master Public Health? (Pun Intended)”

  1. I am in a similar situation and I am running out of time. I moved to California from Texas to study environmental science or oceanography in a perfect location for it. Now it’s just time to pick a university. One of which is very pricey, but I hear is also very reputable. I am the first in my family to go to college, so needless to say I also qualify for a bit more funding than most. Maybe one of you guys can help me out. I need to choose between the CSU Monterrey Bay, Humboldt State, The University of San Francisco, or CSU Long Beach (still waiting for their response), and CSU San Francisco and Sonoma State said they will let me know if a space opens up (just one of the many problems with state schools right now due to budget cuts). I have a couple of good internships under my belt, but I still need a good school on my resume. Thanks for your help, if you can provide any, and for your time.


  2. I would recommend the partial scholarship at her dream school at JHU. Dreams are very closely tied to our personality and character. With lots of hard work (long nights studying and writing) you may be able to make an IMPACT if you remain focused and execute with precision.

  3. Okay my comment is to these high education costs – $60,000 for a masters? Wow – I paid around $20,000 for my masters which I finished last year at a highly rated private school in California.

    For Marinda – I wasn’t aware that CSULB had environmental science or oceanography. I went there for marine biology, because they were the only cal state that offered that program. I was looking at Monterey, but they didn’t have the marine biology, just marine science. I also looked at Humboldt but the “scene” just wasn’t for me. I would have to say if you can swing it (the cost of living is pretty high near Monterey) go with Monterey for those majors.

  4. I am in almost the exact situation; I was actually shocked to read this. I am planning on getting my Masters in Public Health with a concentration in global health and I’ve been accepted to Emory, a top-ranked/really expensive school. The difference is I have LOTS of undergrad loans to pay off. I’ve been searching for scholarships/fellowships like crazy! Nothing yet, but I’m still hopeful.

  5. I would suggest talking with professors in my major to ask them if there is a perception difference between UMD and your other two schools.

    I know that for my degree (international relations) I hear that there is a HUGE difference. I am grappling with a similar situation to yours, and am still not sure.

    However, if there is a difference in possible “% of students employed after 6 months” or if one of those will get a resume catching headline. I say go for your dream school.

    Since both of your schools are private, in state doesn’t matter. However, you could see if you could defer both or one program. If you can, you could move to that locale and get a job to save money up for a year or so, that way you have to take out less student loan debt.

  6. Marinda-

    I am currently a student at CSU Monterey Bay. Monterey is a small school, so you will get a lot of one on one time with your professors compared to much larger schools. I am a Liberal Studies major in the teaching pathway program, so unfortunately I do not know a lot about the science programs offered. I do know that our science building is brand new. Denise commented that living in Monterey is expensive, but the campus is not actually in Monterey. It is between Marina and Seaside, both of which have a lower cost of living. Monterey is about a 15 drive to get to from campus. Off campus housing is also very affordable, most people I know did not pay more than $400 a month rent including cable and utilities. I even heard of a few people managing $200 a month in rent when sharing a room. Parking is also ample and the only permit you would need would be to park on campus. I do know a few people who live in Monterey and were able to find affordable rent by bay area standards. You also would most likely be able to get access to the Monterey Bay Aquarium through various classes for your major, which would be a great learning experience. I hope this information helps! Good luck in choosing a school!

  7. I am currently in an MPH program (not SCHOOL of public health) in the International Health track and can understand the delima Katie is going thru. However, I 100% agree with what “Liz Smith” says. The field of Public Health is by no means too big, ALOT of people KNOW & HAVE WORKED WITH ALOT OF PEOPLE!!!! Honestly, if you dont have to accumulate loan debt then dont. What’s important is seeing if your program offers networking opportunity that can put you in places and spaces where your career interest are. Many decision makers in the Public Health industry are really beginning to re-think their approach in how they hire students from “popular name” institutions. At the end of the day it’s really about WHO KNOWS YOU AND WHO CAN SPEAK TO YOUR CHARACTER & ABILITIES!! Please remember that! So dont get lost in a pool of students at a popular name institution where its hard to stand out, especially in the are of Global Health wereby innovative health impacts and community engagement is really what’s important!!

  8. Hi Katie, I know how it feels to be unable to afford an education at your dream university. Sometimes our dreams and goals are just bigger and further away from this realistic world. There may be some things that we may have to AND need to sacrifice in life. One best advice that I have for you is simply, just follow the path that will lead you to a good future of opportunities. We made decisions based on reasons and there may be a reason why you carefully chosen Boston University and Tulane University. Like you said, these two universities are the best schools for your major, public health with global health. All I would say is go for it because it will pay off at the end. You are already at the advantage of not pining down any undergraduate debts like many of us does. I think you have a very good major at hand and keep on continuing to accomplish your goals. I know that financing for a good education is difficult but “if there’s a will then there’s a way.” I am pretty sure you will find wonderful scholarships and programs that will eliminate many of the loans. To summarize it all, education first and money later. I hope my advices will be a useful tool for you and I am confident that you will make the right decision based on your interest. Good luck and have a tremendous journey to getting your Master’s.

  9. A couple of things to keep in mind about a degree like this:

    1: When your job is likely to put you into public or government service, it’s often possible to get some or all of your educational loans forgiven through public service loan forgiveness. If you’re planning to go into that sort of work *anyway,* then it’s not even a sacrifice for you to take a job you’re less than gung-ho about after graduation! Check it out; options abound for students in health and medicine especially! http://www.finaid.org/loans/forgiveness.phtml

    2: Having just gone through the same sort of introspective process on specializations while I was investigating grad schools (for Information Systems), I have learned that by and large, specializations really are nothing more than pre-fab class schedules. I can’t speak for certain on health and medicine degrees, of course, but chances are good that in a school that doesn’t come pre-equipped with your favorite degree focus, you can build it yourself through canny choices in coursework and volunteering, research, and internships.

    That said, if Tulane and Boston simply have better programs all around, then the boost to your preparedness may be worth the extra cost. After all, even “cheap” graduate programs are only cheap comparatively speaking, and there’s that whole loan forgiveness issue.

  10. I was in a similar position like Katie 2 years ago. Decided to follow my passion and move from NY to LA to go to one of the top ranked universities in my field with no debt (no undergrad loans or credit cards) to very expensive, private, prestigious university, USC. The Masters cost me about 80K with living expenses, etc. However, the one thing that I don’t think people take as much consideration with is that it’s not always about what you know or where you get your education, but WHO you know. So that should also be a deciding factor. Which school has faculty and alumni that you can reach out to for great connections and job opportunities when you’re done? Which university is attracting the best and the brightest in the specialty as these classmates who will become your friends will soon be your industry peers who can assist you in elevating your career in ways you never thought possible? Isn’t that worth the money? Look, very few people live a debt free life. The US isn’t set up like that. You’ll eventually get house debt, car debt, etc. So don’t be intimidated by the debt, just do what is best for your life and your livelyhood. Afterall, we only get one life!

  11. Well, what it would come down to for me is my big priorities; if you haven’t yet, it might be helpful to write down what you want for your life after you’ve completed graduate studies. It sounds silly because everyone’s thought about what they want out of “life”; but actually sitting and planning out how many years it will take to get to where you want to be, or before you feel you take the next step (like have a baby, by your dream car, have your dream wedding, etc.). If financial security is more important to you than anything else, especially if you have not already purchased a home of your own, it would be wise to work on your Masters degree over a longer period of time, paying for it as you go, so you are able to work and save for your life after graduation. If you’re already married, have children, own a home, etc., or wont be wanting to make any big “life” changes while in school, then splurge a bit and go with the half-scholarship to your first choice school.

    It’s also not good to rush into anything without knowing what you’re walking away from; I always try to make myself come to terms with doing the opposite of what I think I should do. I do the research and try to justify it to myself, so that I am ok with it, but if I still feel the same, then I know my original instinct are probably telling me what’s best for me because it’s probably closer to what I can handle. The big stressor about making such a huge decision like this, is that it can be very hard to predict the outcome of what will happen down the road. By trying to convince yourself to come to terms with BOTH options,, and saying walking away from both options, it might help you understand better what you would be able to handle.

    Chances are, you already know the decison you’re going to make; the indecision comes from lack of confidence in it, probably because the future is always uncertain. The only thing you can do is be brutally honest with yourself about what you want out of life, and stick to that (and don’t try to tell yourself you’ll be ok with the mountain of debt, if you really wont be). The soul-searching will remind you of what you are capable of, but also remind you to respect what you aren’t capable of. Having confidance in yourself, and your ability to tackle the “unknowns” of whatever happens after you make this decision, will strengthen knowing the decision which is best for you. Good Luck!

  12. Personally, I say go for the dream school. You don’t have any built up debt already and that is going to be where you are the happiest. So go for it.
    I am in the exact same situation, and I was amazed to find this story in my inbox too. The only differences are thatmy major is journalism and I have debt from my undergraduate degree. I’m currently studying abroad and I have 2 weeks to figure out which school to go to. Mine is between the University of Hartford (for communication MA) where I can have a teaching assistantship, (go for free, get paid a stipend and come out with teaching experience) but at a lesser college where I will learn less about the technical aspects of journalism, or Emerson College (for journalism) and pay 45k on top of my current 80k debt (and have no teaching experience when I come out).
    My plan for after school is to do both; teaching journalism and practicing journalism. So I need both aspects, but is it better to splurge on the better school because ultimately the name might get me a teaching job as easily as the experience teaching (at UH) would? Or not? And would graduating with a Communications degree from UH hinder my ability to get a good journalism job?
    As for Katie- I understand where you are coming from.. but in your situation, it is not worth it to chance it with an unaccredited school. And if you think logically, you will make 60k back in no time with a good MA education. You really have the benefit of not having any undergraduate debt. I strongly say go for it.

  13. Although I agree with most of what Sara has said, it has always frustrated me to hear people being so passive about learning; so long as the degree you receive meets the requirements for the field you are entering into, the school itself does not matter. For potential employers, where you go to school only gets you so far, if they place any emphasis on it at all. Employers hire the person in the chair; true, they select those to interview based on resumes/cvs, but if that’s the only thing going for you, you wont get far anyways – any employer worth working for will tell you that too.

    Secondly, it is a student’s responsibility to learn while they are in school; by the time you’ve reached graduate studies, independently driven research is a given. If I’m not getting what I want out of my classes, I pick up a different textbook and snoop through academic journals. I come up with questions to speak to my professors about and I spend time with them over their office hours. Professors are such a wealth of knowledge, if you want to learn about an area the they aren’t covering, go and ask them about it yourself. It’s about taking responsibility for your own learning. Obviously, it is more ideal to luck out and get the amazing, life-changing, prof but the reality is, crappy profs are everywhere and it’s better to find ways to make the learning happen for yourself because you are the only one who really can.

    Inquiry-based learning is key to becoming more critically minded and a higher-order thinker. Relying on your school to give you that is just lazy, irresponsible and a waste of both time and money. The whole point of post secondary education is to push yourself and expand your skills and abilities – that’s what will make you a better learner and more successfull in the field of your choice because you will be the go-getter who doesn’t wait for someone to hand them the correct answer. Learning, true learning that is, is intrinsically motivated and cultivated by the learner. The student should not simply be the “empty vessel” who sits, expectantly, for the professor to transmit a daily dose of “knowledge”. Iif you approach your studies this way, how will you approach your job? your career? If you make learning happen for yourself, you will make life happen for yourself – period.

    Personally, and maybe it’s just me, but why would you want to work for a narrow minded company who wont hire you, even if you are more qualified and talented, simply because of where you completed your post-secondary degrees? Saying you went to a bad school so that’s why you have a bad job, or even a bad life, is simply passing the buck. As human beings, every single one of us is a creative, intelligent, and gifted individual, so why would we allow an establishment determine what we are capable of? If a company wont hire me because of where my degree is from, they why should I want to work for them!? The beauty of our society is the vast amount of opportunities available – whether an opportunity is better/worse, good/bad, is determined by the person and how they choose to approach it. But the choice is up to the person, it may require a change in perspective, but how we approach every opportunity in our lives is driven by the power of our choice.

    Again, it comes down to priorities – if you want to be the book selected by your cover, then choosing a school based on its reputation is fine because you are simply paying the money to secure yourself a job. However, if you want to emerge a stronger and more qualified professional, who will truly make a difference in the world they live in because by being selected not for what they should be able to do, but what they can do, rely less on the value society places on the school you choose. In the end, you are the one responsible for how qualified you are and how far you will go.

    Learning can happen at every stage of life, and in every aspect of life (careers, parenting, marriage, friendship, etc.) – as well it should! Lifelong learning is about constantly moving forward, making mistakes, picking yourself back up, figuring out what went wrong, then trying again until you get it right. But getting it right is only the end of the first chapter because when you finally discover the “right answer”, you realize how many other opportunities there are, to beat even bigger obsticals!

    Don’t make yourself fit the school; if the school you think you “should” go to doesn’t fit within the life goals, and the bigger picture, you have for youself, it’s not worth it to sacrifice the other things that are (equally) important to you. You’ve expressed concern about taking on such enormous debt (GOOD FOR YOU!); people can be cavalier with their financial security, and society does a good job justifying why that’s a good thing; the recent economic temperature, though, should be teaching us some important lessons but as things are improving, you can see people reverting back to their old habits. You made it through undergrad without incuring any debt (CONGRATULATONS!) and it’s okay to want to hold onto that achievement; to me, that show enormous effort, planning, and goal-setting. It also tells me that you value your future financial abilities but also that you recognize how uncertain the future can be, the better to be safe than sorry philosophy. Unless someone was forcing you against your will to finance your education yourself, it might not be a bad idea to continue to follow your instincts in making the latest decision. Don’t throw everything you worked for, you valued being debt-free then, why give in now?

  14. Wow, thank you everyone for all of the wonderful responses! Very encouraging and motivating. I am glad that many of you could relate as well, I had a good feeling that so many were facing a similar situation which is why I was confident in writing in on this issue in the first place.

    Miranda- I marvel at how you were able to pick your life up and move from NY to CA. It sounds like with the experience you have already accumulated you will be very marketable to many of the schools. You definitely are in a great area for your professional interests. Unfortunately I do not know much about the schools you have applied to so I am afraid my area of expertise lacks productive advice for you however I do sincerely wish you all the best in your decision 🙂

    Sara- The fact you know you want a professional career in journalism that encompasses both teaching and practicing journalism is something that is golden and you shouldn?t let go of no matter which school choice you decide on. Being a good journalist and having good experience practicing journalism would offer so much in the realm of educating others on journalism. Of course teaching others what you know can be a challenging task that takes practice in the classroom as a teacher (I was a student teacher for a year of my undergrad and so thankful for the experience). Gaining experience in journalism and in teaching in my opinion would be something worth pursuing regardless of which school you choose. I’m sure both paths will open new doors that will take you where you want to head professionally as long as you keep those goals close at heart. Good Luck!

    Julia- Thank you for the suggestions, I have checked out the link you posted and am currently exploring additional options I was not aware of before that I know will be helpful for reaching my professional goals in public health. Many thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    Liz- Your comment on “who you know” is very valuable to consider, thank you for that!

    Jessica- Your comments were spot on, thank you so much for all you had to say and taking the time to comment in such detail. Your input and encouragement for individuals to take their education into their own hands and reach for academic and professional goals under their own conviction is truly inspiring and I though excellent advice!

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