7 Majors for Students Interested in Public Health

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In this article, CollegeAdvisor.com admissions expert Rashmi lists public health programs and majors for students interested in the healthcare field. For more guidance on the college application process in general, sign up to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

Many students are interested in public health but have no desire to become healthcare providers. It may seem like biology, chemistry, and biochemistry are the only viable majors for students interested in healthcare. However, that is not the case.

This article aims to offer applicants who don’t plan to study pre-med seven majors they could pursue to prepare for a career in public health. This list is not comprehensive; instead, it provides students with a starting point for further exploration.

1. Public Health

A public health major is an excellent way to gain a solid foundation in the field. These programs tend to be interdisciplinary; the combination of both natural and social science classes helps students to develop a broader perspective on public health.

Some students may need to complete an experiential program as part of the public health major. These classes motivate students to address a public health issue in their community. The Public Health Studies program at Johns Hopkins is particularly notable for its field-based and immersive nature.

2. Public Policy

Public policy programs help students understand the intricacies of formulating and implementing health policy. After all, efforts to improve public health require professionals who understand how to apply research.

The beauty of public policy programs is that they push you to take courses outside of health and healthcare. Courses in this major often include economics, politics, sociology, and ethics. By taking such a broad variety of classes, you learn about how policies in a wide array of fields interact. For instance, Stanford’s Public Policy program allows students to gain generalized knowledge in policy-making as well as specialized information in the field of their choice (i.e. healthcare policy).

3. Economics

Understanding economics can be game-changing for students interested in public health. Health and healthcare are, unfortunately, scarce resources. As public health professionals, it’s important to understand how they are produced, distributed, and consumed.

While not all programs offer concentrations in health economics, students can complete a thesis that allows them to dive deeper into a particular field. Regardless, students can apply macroeconomics, microeconomics, and statistics to most facets of public health. Johns Hopkins even offers students majoring in either public health or economics the opportunity to obtain their Masters in Global Health Economics.

4. Sociology

Public health programs are essentially the study of health behaviors and outcomes within diverse communities. The study of public health, therefore, is inherently a study of social interaction.

A sociology major allows students to better understand concepts critical to improving public health, including race, ethnicity, gender, and education. After all, strong public health measures should recognize and address these nuances to achieve health equity. The University of Alabama at Birmingham offers a Medical Sociology major that educates students on these concepts while also preparing students to conduct their own research in the field.

5. Anthropology

Similar to sociology, anthropology is the study of humanity in relation to evolution, behavior, culture and more. Given the insight anthropology can offer into the human psyche and development, it has an important place among public health programs. In fact, one of my favorite public health-related classes I took in college was in the Anthropology Department.

Emory’s Anthropology and Human Biology major caters to pre-med students. However, its focus on understanding evolutionary heritage, complex interactions between behavior and biology, and cultural nuances in values and beliefs can shape culturally competent public health professionals.

6. Statistics

At first glance, statistics may not seem like the best major for a budding public health professional. However, the skillset it offers may make you an attractive candidate for future positions.

The field of public health grows through research. Good research is grounded in a strong understanding of qualitative and quantitative research methods, as well as data-based analytical skills. For example, without professionals who knew which methods to use to study rates of COVID-19 within underserved patient populations and which statistical analyses to employ to understand the significance of the results, we would not have the knowledge that we have today. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a Biostatistics major for students who are more interested in research side of healthcare.

7. History

If there is one thing that the past year has taught us, it is to learn the histories of the individuals, communities, and populations with whom we interact. In healthcare, history holds a particular importance, as histories of medical discrimination and marginalization can greatly impact how public health measures are perceived within certain patient populations.

Insight on the history of medicine in general can also help prepare students for future public health crises. For example, quarantine was actually first implemented during the plague (and as we know, quarantine became a major part of our public health response against COVID-19). Yale University offers a History of Science and Medicine major for students interested in both facets of history mentioned above.

Final Thoughts

If it was not clear already, students interested in public health can find a way to make many programs and majors applicable for their future goals. While I only list seven majors and programs, many other institutions offer similar opportunities. If you are still unsure about your major, I encourage you to think about what aspect of public health appeals to you. For example, if you are interested in shaping policy, the public policy major may be more suitable for you. If you really like the mathematical aspect of the field, you could consider economics or statistics. Regardless, I hope that this article gave you some ideas of how to explore the public health field outside the pre-med major.

This informational article was written by Rashmi Bharadwaj, Vanderbilt ‘21. If you want to get help with your college applications from Rashmi or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.