How to earn a spot at George Washington’s online master’s of public health program

BY Rich GrisetApril 26, 2022, 1:41 PM

George Washington University, as seen in August 2020. (Photo by Jonathan Newton—The Washington Post/Getty Images)

George Washington University became the first university in Washington, D.C., to host a school of public health when its Milken Institute School of Public Health debuted 25 years ago. This year, George Washington landed in the No. 1 spot on Fortune’s first-ever ranking of the best online master’s of public health programs. And those are but a couple of its distinctions.

Milken remains the only public school located in the nation’s capital. Given its location, faculty from Milken are often called to testify in front of Congress and speak with the media about their research and public health events. And the school is home to the largest online master’s of public health program in the U.S..

The MPH program at George Washington has seen growing demand from students for nearly a decade. The pandemic spurred even more interest—particularly for the online program that began in 2013. 

“We have had a huge surge. We’re up 50% in enrollment in the last couple of years,” says George Gray, associate dean of MPH programs and program director. He adds that Milken is thrilled to benefit from the so-called “Fauci Effect,” a term for the growing interest in public health since the pandemic took hold. “We’re really happy that we can provide the future public health infrastructure the country needs.”

What does it take to earn a spot at this top-ranked program? Here are four things that can help increase your chances of getting admitted.

1. Choose your desired start date

GWU’s online MPH program has four terms per year and admits students at the start of each term. The terms begin in January, April, July, and October. The admission rate for the university’s online MPH program mirrors its residential program at about 70% to 80%.

Gray says that the fall term sees the highest enrollment, generally in the range of 150 to 200 new students. The other terms generally take in roughly 100 students each. Just like GWU’s residential MPH program, online applications are reviewed by faculty.

2. Highlight what you’ll bring to the diverse cohort of students

George Washinton’s online master’s program attracts a diverse cohort of students—they’re typically older than the average age of students in the residential program, and students pursue the master’s degree with the goal of moving up at their current organizations or looking for career change.

“A lot of them are people in careers, in places where they want to do a master’s of public health, but they’re far from a school for public health,” Gray says.

GWU’s online MPH program pulls students from around the nation and the world, with roughly 30% coming from the DMV—a term for the DC, Maryland, and Virginia metro area. It also sees a high number of students from more populous states like California, Texas, and Florida. “We have students from every state but Montana,” Gray says. “Why we don’t have Montana, I don’t know.”

The Miliken school has been able to accommodate the pandemic-related surge in applications by offering additional live sessions—and without sacrificing on quality, according to Gray. “We can make sure they get a great, personalized education.” 

Still, no matter their age, career goals or where in the country they live, students in the online program have one thing in common: they’re passionate about public health. “The person we’re looking for is someone who’s excited about public health,” Gray says. “We also look for someone who has undergraduate experience with at least some of the courses that are going to be relevant to public health.”

3. Prepare for a program that’s both immersive and intimate

Like many other online MPH programs, GWU offers a “flipped classroom” model, meaning students watch pre-recorded lectures, guest interviews, and roundtables asynchronously, then convene online to deepen their understanding of what they’ve learned. Because live sessions are kept small, Gray says students get to know each other as well as their instructors. 

“Once a week, they get together with an instructor and 15 other students—the same group—for discussion, for exercises, for role plays, practice,” Gray says. “Our instructors are really great. It’s both our regular faculty and people from around D.C. with great Washington experience—people who work in federal agencies doing public health, people who work in NGOs doing public health.”

Gray stresses the intimate nature of the program.

“I know the students well enough that I write them letters of recommendation for medical school or law school,” he says.

As students can watch the pre-recorded material whenever they wish, they can work full-time jobs while still attending class. Students sign up for live teaching modules in the lunchtime or the evening. As an example of what these live sessions look like, Gray says students might engage in a role play about the correct way to deal with mosquitos carrying the Zika virus. 

“They do these exercises that allow them to use the material that they’ve learned in those pre-recorded sessions,” Gray says.

GWU’s online MPH program also assigns a dedicated admissions counselor when a prospective student reaches out—and the counselor is available via phone, text, or email. This counselor can walk through the application process, help with understanding the time commitment required of the program and the role of electives, and help students obtain letters of recommendation and undergrad transcripts. 

Prospective students are not required to submit GRE scores to be admitted. In the next upcoming cohort, GWU’s MPH@ program is guaranteeing a tuition scholarship of $10,000 to students who are accepted and enrolled.

An online MPH at GWU can be completed in a year if students attend all four terms. “That requires some dedication and pretty much a full-time commitment,” Gray says, adding that students can take as long as three years to complete their degree, if they enroll in one or two classes each term.

4. Identify your goals for obtaining a master’s of public health degree

The online MPH program has electives that allow students to tailor their interests to topics like global health and the environment. GWU currently offers one concentration: health informatics and analytics. This fall, GWU plans to add three new concentrations: climate and health, global health, and maternal and child.

And GWU has been able to provide a scholarship to every admitted online MPH student for roughly the past two years. “It is something that makes it a little more accessible, we hope, for our online students,” Gray says.

Finally, you’ll want to consider your post-graduation goals even before your first class. As you might expect from an MPH program located in the nation’s capital, many graduates are looking to get involved with governmental work. 

“Our school knows a lot about health policy,” Gray says. “We have people who are involved with Congress and the executive branch identifying, writing and executing health policy.”

And Gray says Milken is happy to facilitate those connections.

“The thing that we have that’s special is our relationships with government agencies and NGOs,” he says. “We can help students find a place to go.”

See how the schools you’re considering landed in Fortune’s rankings of the best master’s in public health programs, business analytics programs, data science programs, and part-time, executive, full-time, and online MBA programs.


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