BY Rich GrisetApril 28, 2022, 1:17 p.m.
People walk past a sign for the City College of San Francisco financial aid office, as seen in December 2017. (Photo by Lea Suzuki—The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images)
Pursuing an online masters in public health is no small feat. In addition to tuition and study time, there is also the high price to consider. Obtained an online MPH at George Washington University, holder of the No. 1 spot on FortuneThe very first ranking of the best masters in public health programs online will set you back $81,000. Other online programs, such as those offered by Baylor University and the University of Southern California, cost upwards of $40,000.
While scholarships and financial aid can help cover this cost, private loans are the most common way for students to pay for their Master of Public Health (MPH) degree.
“In pursuing a master’s degree, students often end up borrowing and borrowing a lot of money,” says Leissan Sadykova, associate director of financial aid, scholarships, and graduate assistantship at GWU’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. . With a student body of over 1,000 students, GWU is the largest online MPH program ranked by Fortune– and the school has been helping students pay for their degrees since the program’s inception nearly a decade ago.
While students must navigate to pay for the degree, there are plenty of benefits to earning an MPH. Not only are graduates trained in a field dedicated to promoting health, prolonging life, and preventing disease, but they can also earn higher salaries, such as earning $120,000 as a biostatistician.
So how can prospective students cover the cost of an MPH degree? Continue reading.
Where should prospective students begin their search for funding for their MPH?
When considering paying for your MPH degree, Sadykova recommends starting with the public health school you’re interested in and researching scholarships, as scholarship awards can vary widely from school to school.
“Check the school’s website or contact the scholarship office directly,” she says. “Some schools have scholarships awarded within their admissions office, so sometimes you go to admissions, which might be a good place to start.”
And pay attention to deadlines, advises Sadykova. While a school of public health may have rolling admissions for its online MPH program, that same school may have annual deadlines for applying for financial aid and scholarships.
How do most people pay for their MPH degrees?
Students pursuing a master’s degree in public health primarily pay for their degrees through unsubsidized private loans.
“Unfortunately, graduate students are not eligible for any need-based government aid, so when completing their [Free Application for Federal Student Aid form], they will only see an unsubsidized loan. They won’t see any subsidies [loans]they won’t see any Pell grants,” Sadykova says, referring to federal grants given primarily to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need.
Because there are annual loan limits for unsubsidized loans—and students sometimes need more funding than their annual loan limit to pay for tuition, room, and board—students can apply federal PLUS loans. These loans are part of the federal student direct loan program and offer a variety of flexible repayment plans.
Federal loans have particular appeal for students who wish to teach after graduating from MPH or pursuing a doctorate. program. “With federal loans, as long as you’re enrolled in an accredited program, your loans aren’t repaid, which is really good,” Sadykova says.
Federal borrowers may be able to alleviate their student loan debt through loan forgiveness programs after graduation. For example, individuals employed by a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or nonprofit organization may be eligible for the Civil Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
Most federal student loans also qualify for income-tested repayment plans. Additionally, federal student loans usually have forbearance options; Since March 2020, federal student loan repayments have been suspended and the interest rate has been set at 0%.
Students can also consider private loans to help pay for their MPH. Since interest rates on federal loans are set by the federal government each July 1, these loans may have higher interest rates than private loans. For borrowers with good credit, private loans can be attractive, especially if the borrower’s goal is to repay these loans as quickly as possible.
“If they have great credit, they could get a 3% loan, compared to 4% on the feds side,” Sadykova says, adding that she’s not advocating one type of loan over another.
What other ways can someone pay for an MPH?
Some institutions of higher education offer scholarships for MPH degrees.
“These are usually merit-based, and they’re usually based on the admissions application itself,” Sadykova says. “Some schools may have additional essays they want you to do for certain scholarships.”
Some scholarship offices will contact students and invite them to write an essay. Other offices will simply use their admissions applications to award scholarships.
Colleges may also choose to use a student’s FAFSA or CSS profile to determine need-based financial aid. Administered by the College Board, a CSS profile collects financial information about students outside of what a FAFSA can provide. Schools may use a combination of these methods to determine financial need.
Because MPH programs typically last two years, Sadykova says schools typically award scholarships when students are admitted and usually don’t deviate from that amount.
Still, students can receive financial aid through exchanges, such as serving as a teaching assistant or conducting graduate research. While developing a relationship with a professor is the normal route for these exchanges, students can also pursue them at the time of admission, by notifying the admissions office and indicating on their application that they are interested in these opportunities.
There are also scholarships from outside the university that can be applied to an MPH, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Fellowship in Injury Prevention. Sadykova says it’s important to understand the terms and conditions of these types of scholarships, as they may not cover all of the credit hours in a term.
Although rare, it is also possible for a student to ask their employer to help pay for an MPH. Sadykova says it’s usually best to approach your employer first and ask if they have any tuition rebate or support programs.
If approved, some employers will pay the school directly for their employee to attend; others may ask their employee to pay the money and then pay it back quarterly after their grades are posted. Sadykova warns students that some employer tuition discounts cannot be combined with a scholarship.
What are the dangers of borrowing for your MPH?
As loans start piling up, Sadykova says many borrowers stop keeping track of the money they owe; less than half of student borrowers know the total amount they are borrowing.
She insists that prospective students should budget by considering the average cost of attendance listed on a school’s website. It is important to ensure that your budget is equal to or less than the cost of participation.
Sadykova recommends prospective students use Grad Path, a tool created by the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that estimates how much they’ll have to pay back each month after graduation. By putting their tuition, scholarships, and loans into the tool, prospective students can get an idea of what their monthly loan repayments will be.
“It’s really important to understand the consequences of this borrowing,” Sadykova says. “Having this information up front makes loans a little more real.”
Find out how the schools you’re considering have landed in Fortune’s rankings of the best master’s programs in public health, business analytics programs, data science programs, and part-time, executive, full-time, and online MBA programs.