20 Tips for Getting into a Top MHA Program

Written By: Caitlin Goodwin DNP, CNM, RN

The master of health care administration (MHA) or master of health administration (MHA) degree is the perfect educational goal for health administrators. Getting into top MHA programs is an important goal for those who possess both a heart for patients and business smarts.

Working in the business of healthcare requires a different, specialized focus than any other area. If you cut the costs in the wrong areas, it can affect lives. As the cost of healthcare continues to grow, the U.S. needs health care administrators who care just as much about patient outcomes as they do the bottom line. You probably feel drawn to the profession for several different reasons. Healthcare administrators work in a rewarding field where they can lead the charge for change in medicine without working in direct patient care. These busy professionals benefit from getting into a top MHA program and exceeding expectations every step of the way. Are you wondering how to get into a top MHA program? This article will give you 20 tips for getting into a top MHA program.

What Do Top MHA Programs Look For In Potential Applicants?

When seeking admission into a prestigious MHA program, it’s important to know what they look for in potential applicants. Typically, you will need a bachelor’s degree with a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of at least 2.5. The degree does not necessarily require a health care specialization. Some MHA programs require standardized tests like the GRE, while others may require specific prerequisite courses. Most programs want you to have prior career experience in health care. However, that’s the bare minimum to get into a top MHA program.

Top MHA programs want you to go above and beyond in every possible admission category. Thus, it may make sense to take these prerequisite courses, particularly if you need to boost your GPA. Leadership experience is an ideal attribute for a potential candidate. Also, applicants who have experience in health information management or organizational management will exceed expectations.


How Hard Is It To Get Into A Top MHA Program?

If you are a professional who wants to become a high-level executive, you should pursue an MHA degree. While a master of business administration (MBA) is well received, the MHA is not nearly as popular. It is easier to get into a top MHA program than an MBA. However, don’t let that lull you into security because achieving an advanced health administration degree is still hard work. Intellectually, an MHA is a challenging degree. For example, at the University of Minnesota, the average full-time MHA student has a 3.6 GPA. The University of Minnesota received 150 applications, interviewed 100 candidates, and offered 57 applicants positions in their program. That means that there was a 38% acceptance rate at U of M in the MHA program for the class of 2022.


(The following 20 Tips will be helpful in your pursuit of getting into a Top MHA Program.)

1. Find the right fit:

It is crucial to be in the correct healthcare administration program. Make sure it aligns with your background, career pals, learning style, and personal interests. If you can be genuine throughout this process, you will succeed in getting into a top MHA program. Schools have different missions, values, and social landscapes, and it’s ideal to find one that matches yours. Do you learn better in a smaller classroom? Ask about class sizes. Are you looking for a virtual experience, or do you crave the in-person connection of a brick-and-mortar school? Make sure to pick a program that suits your preferences. Finally, are you looking for a nearby school, or are you willing to commute or relocate?

2. Check out the HAMPCAS:

The HAMPCAS is the portal for the Health Administration, Management & Policy Centralized Application Service. It’s a streamlined national service where many MHA schools have their applicants sign up and become verified. You can apply to multiple programs across different colleges and universities throughout the United States with a single application. Schools with MHA degrees like the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), George Mason University (GMU), and Indiana University are all members of HAMPCAS. One thing to keep in mind is how crucial it is to input everything properly. Unfortunately, because of the nature of this application tool, the HAMPCAS will share one mistake on your record with multiple colleges and universities.

3. Meet the admission requirements:

These are the crucial steps to meet the bare minimum requirements to get into top MHA programs. Start by running down your portfolio to make sure you’ve checked all your boxes:

a. Obtain a Bachelor’s degree, preferably in Healthcare Administration or with coursework in medical terminology, business, marketing, health care policy, human resources, leadership, and finance.
b. Secure a grade point average (GPA) of at least 2.5. However, some programs require a 3.0 or higher, so a greater GPA will give you better odds. Request your transcripts from all postsecondary institutions. One should show a conferred baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university.
c. The application fee for each program you are interested in applying to usually ranges from $65 to $100. Your fees can quickly add up, so make sure to apply to programs that you will realistically attend.

4. Make sure your program is accredited:

Accreditation is the process that guarantees the quality of education from your degree program—getting into top MHA programs pairs with some of the most exemplary accredited programs. However, it is up to you to ensure the program you are applying to has been accredited. An accrediting body is an organization tasked to accredit programs by ensuring they’re upholding rigorous standards. The Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) is the most reputable accrediting agency for MHA degrees and the only body that grants MHA program-specific accreditation. It is considered the highest standard by students and employers. Accreditation guarantees that the school’s degree program has met the gold standard of education. Make sure that the CAHME has accredited your program before applying.

5. Prepare for the curriculum:

The coursework for an MHA is challenging, and having excellent grades in relevant courses will help you get into a good Master of Healthcare Administration program. Be familiar with the upcoming advanced curriculum. Stony Brook Medicine provides a list of all of the potential courses that you should consider. There are many different areas that you should brush up on, like:

a. statistics or biostatistics
b. epidemiology
c. healthcare legal issues
d. ethics of healthcare
e. healthcare strategic planning and management
f. organizational leadership
g. health economics
h. healthcare policy
i. health finance and accounting
j. human resources
k. health quality and information systems management
l. long-term care
m. health operations
n. health information systems

6. Choose the best extracurriculars:

It’s time to pad your experience with the most relevant and pointed activities. If you can get involved in research or publish a journal article, those would be tremendous assets. Participating in honor societies is also helpful. Join relevant organizations, volunteer at the hospital, or take leadership roles in community clubs. If that’s not enough, you can always consider professional associations like:

a. American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management (AAHAM):

This national membership association for healthcare management professionals provides opportunities for publications, conferences, benchmarking, certification, and networking.

b. Medical Group Management Association (MGMA):

This organization is for medical practice managers, executives, and leaders from small practices to large health systems.

c. Professional Association of Health Care Office Management (PAHCOM):

The PAHCOM focuses on small group or solo provider practice managers and promotes networking and information access.

d. American College of Health Care Administrators (ACHCA):

This non-profit professional membership association provides educational programming, networking, and career development for long-term care and assisted living facility administrators.

e. American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE):

The ACHE professional organization is for healthcare executives like CEOs or those who want to be! This organization helps professionals become their very best while making healthcare safer, more accessible, and affordable to all.

7. Focus on your admission packet:

When applying for admission into a top MHA program, you should organize your entrance requirements as soon as possible. Get your transcripts together, particularly if you are applying to several schools. You will want to collect each transcript from every post-secondary school that you attended. Make sure that you have enough money to pay for any standardized tests or admission fees. Start searching for test times and familiarize yourself with exam registration. Apply to Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to cover any expenses while you are attending school. Carefully read the admission requirements for each program for which you would like to apply.

8. Get at least two glowing letters of recommendation:

You should start by seeking professionals that you know in the health care or business arenas. Some potential applicants choose to request a letter from a professor, while others get a letter from a boss or colleague. The letter should validate your academic or professional history. This letter should vouch for your knowledge and skills and align with the picture you painted in your application packet. Never ask someone for a recommendation letter or reference unless you know exactly what they will say. You should only choose people who will write an honest yet positive account. Give them a copy of your resume, the MHA program you are applying to, and the requested deadline. You can always offer to provide an outline of:

a. how they know you
b. relevant skills
c. pertinent strengths
d. specific examples they have witnessed
e. applicable feedback

9. Draft a first-class personal statement:

A personal statement discusses why you are pursuing an MHA degree and what you plan to do with it after graduation. This statement is an essay about your experience, qualifications, and why you want to attend this institution. It can give you a competitive edge over other potential applicants. Outline your commitment and why this has been an important part of your life. Highlight your skills and goals to the university. Review the school’s history and any specialized classes and include them in the statement, if appropriate.

a. What are your academic goals?
b. What are your personal achievements?
c. How will earning your MHA help you to reach your professional goals?
d. What interests align with the MHA program?
e. What are your relevant interests, knowledge, and skills?
f. How will you balance your education and work?
g. What is the motivation to obtain your MHA?
h. What will you bring to the educational institution?

10. Brush up your résumé:

You will surely get into a top MHA program if you create a résumé that is full of healthcare and business experiences. Make sure to tie in any skills or duties directly with program requirements. Don’t just stop at your word document. Update your LinkedIn profile too. The school admissions committee may be checking your social media profiles out, as well. Make sure that they are appropriate and avoid any photos of drinking, partying, or anything controversial. Keep your résumé up to date and accurate. If you’re not sure if it is a strong document, find a professional to review it for you. If you’re not sure who to ask, sometimes your alma mater’s alumni relations offer career or résumé support.

11. Take the GRE or GMAT:

When it comes to the MHA, many schools are getting away from requiring the GRE or GMAT. However, some do require it. For those pursuing a combination MBA and MHA, it may be obligatory. The GRE is a mandatory exam for many graduate schools, while many business schools require the GMAT. Check out the schools that you are interested in and see if they require a GRE or the GMAT. If so, pick up a test prep book from your library or bookstore and see how well you do. If you have any deficiencies, take a test prep class or start studying. Recently, these tests began to allow online testing from the comfort of your home.

12. Get an internship:

When looking to get into a top MHA program, you should pursue an internship. You can discover what you like and don’t like about your chosen major by completing an internship. This experience will strengthen both your résumé and your self-confidence. Consider this networking in action. An internship provides a competitive edge to demonstrate that you have the skills and experience to be an asset to the MHA program. For example, Columbia University has a summer Public Health Scholars program and the Kennedy Krieger Institute offers maternal child health careers and research initiatives for student enhancement. Sometimes working as an intern is difficult unless you are currently enrolled in school. Suppose you are unable to find an internship, volunteer for a relevant position in a health organization.

13. Experience matters:

When writing your résumé and personal statement, include any relevant healthcare or leadership experience (or a combination of the two). Try to find angles in your career experience that would benefit health care or business. Have you worked as a nursing assistant? You worked in direct patient care and prioritized care. Were you a retail store manager? You organized, strategically planned, and managed. Did you work in marketing or social media? You have experience in quality and information systems management. Maximize your experience to the best of your ability. It’s okay if you’re not currently in a health care role.

14. Attend Conferences:

Make sure to participate in healthcare or business conferences to get into a top MHA program. Beyond that, highlight it on your résumé. If the conference was significant to your healthcare background, incorporate it into your personal statement.

a. Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, Inc. (HIMMS):

This conference is held both digitally and in person. Keynote speakers discuss:

i. Digital health transformation
ii. Delivering innovative care
iii. The business of health
iv. Follow the data
v. Technology
vi. Innovation

b. HLTH:

This four-day conference for senior leaders in the health industry aims to solve healthcare’s pain points and realize the best opportunities to create the future of health. There is networking, education, and events for all stakeholders in health care.

c. The Medtech conference

is the premier medical technology conference for executives connecting network innovators, sharing insights, and conducting business. The conference currently has a hybrid format.

d. Reuters’ Digital Health conference:

This conference addresses the current challenges of healthcare and how the rise of telehealth provides a necessary resource. Reuters is the world’s largest multimedia news provider.

e. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI):

The IHI conferences focus on quality improvement, patient safety, and healthcare practice transformations. This conference is the pinnacle of quality improvement and change in healthcare.

f. World Healthcare Congress (WHCC):

This conference discusses health care delivery and its’ intersection with:

i. Value-based care
ii. Behavioral health
iii. Self-insurance strategy
iv. Policy
v. Employee health & well-being
vi. Member engagement
vii. Social determinants of health(SDOH)

15. Network with as many colleagues as possible:

Whether you prefer the virtual approach or to rub elbows in person, getting to know people in high places will only help your attempts to get into top MHA programs. Consider joining relevant groups and connecting with industry leaders with social media networks like LinkedIn. Join organizations like the American College of Healthcare Executives to connect with local peers, leaders, and job opportunities. You may find someone who is willing to provide on-the-job experience, a fantastic recommendation, or guidance in the best steps to take next. By networking, the possible benefits go significantly beyond the benefits of boosting your MHA application.

16. Apply to more than one school:

There is no guaranteed sweet spot to ensure you are granted admission to an MHA program when applying to the perfect number of schools. However, you should apply to more than one school. Realistically, you should apply to anywhere from two to fifteen programs, including programs that are your top choices, schools you are targeting, and then your backup plans. Aim for at least five applications, and see where your journey takes you. When it comes to getting into a top MHA program, you can increase your likelihood of acceptance by not putting all your eggs in one basket.

17. Edit all parts of your application:

You want to make sure this is some of the best writing that you have ever done. Don’t edit your packet until you’ve had the chance to sleep on it. Print it out so you can look at it with fresh eyes. Ensure consistency- if you use a period for every line, make sure to keep it up. If you opt not to, that’s okay but keep it constant. Also, check spelling and verb tense. If you can, ask a colleague to proofread your application. If you can’t find a professional to review your application, have a family member or friend review it before you press submit.

18. Connect with the admissions team:

Getting into a good Master of Healthcare Administration program is more than just looking good on paper. The college admissions representatives help you understand the process. However, keep in mind that they are also the ultimate decision-makers whether you get in or not. You need to be articulate and polite in all interactions with the admissions committee. When you are emailing, make sure to proofread it before sending it out. Attend school fairs and information sessions, even if they’re virtual so that the team can put a face to a name. It also will enable you to make sure that this school will be a good match for you.

19. Pursue a certification:

There are many different certifications that you can obtain that span the healthcare administration professional field. While a certificate is not required, it shows that you are serious about your future career. Opt for the following:

a. Certified Revenue Cycle Professional (CRCP):

A certification offered by the American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management (AAHAM) for those who capture, manage, and collect patient service revenue.

b. Certified Compliance Technician (CCT):

This certification is by the AAHAM for healthcare administrators who work on government and insurance compliance issues.

c. Certified Medical Manager (CMM):

A certification by the Professional Association of Health Care Office Management that is designed for healthcare administration professionals who manage a practice or medical office. To qualify for this certificate, you must have at least two years of on-the-job experience.

20. Prepare for your interview:

If you make it this far in the application process, you are close to the end of your goal to get into a top MHA program. The interview may be held on campus or virtually, but it will include meeting with members of the admissions committee- including faculty, alumni, or students. You will likely get a tour of the campus and have a question and answer session to address any concerns. Before your interview, you should make sure to prepare and come with some questions of your own to ask the admissions committee. Make a list of any possible interview questions, write your ideal answers, and practice as much as you can.

My Final Thoughts

This article helps future healthcare administrators learn how to get into a top MHA program and prepare for a professional career with the opportunity to change medicine for the better. Take an honest inventory of your skills and experience. Put together an attractive portfolio to demonstrate why you’d be the perfect candidate. These 20 tips for getting into a top MHA program should carry you into the next phase of your brilliant career. There is no time like the present to apply to your dream school!

Caitlin Goodwin DNP, CNM, RN
Caitlin Goodwin is a Certified Nurse-Midwife who has been a nurse for 12 years, primarily in women’s health. She is passionate about caring for children with developmental disabilities, as her son has Autism Spectrum Disorder. She is currently working as a freelance writer and consultant and is passionate about advocating for her patients, students, and profession.