How Hard is MPH Program – (15 Biggest Challenges & How to Overcome)

Written By: Darby Faubion BSN, RN

Are you interested in a career in public health and wondering about options? Perhaps you have a public health or related degree and want to earn a master’s degree to boost your career to the next level. If so, pursuing a Master of Public Health degree could be an excellent option. Maybe you have thought of getting a master’s degree in public health but wonder, “How hard is an MPH program?”

MPH programs have some challenges, but if you know what to expect, you can improve your chances of succeeding and becoming a Master of Public Health. In this article, I will share information about the 15 biggest challenges you will face in MPH programs and how to overcome them. As you continue reading, you will learn why these programs are hard and learn ways to face challenges so you can succeed in an MPH program.


Many students feel an MPH program is hard. These programs are graduate-level programs and involve in-depth content and require solid dedication to learning. While the program may be difficult, the benefits of earning the degree are worth the effort it takes to overcome the challenges.



There are several reasons MPH programs are hard. Knowing why the program is hard and what challenges to expect is necessary so you can prepare to face the challenges. The following are a few reasons you may find MPH programs difficult.

1. You must learn in-depth content covering diverse topics.
2. MPH programs require you to dedicate significant time to studying and completing field practice requirements.
3. MPH programs can be incredibly stressful!


(The following are the 15 biggest Challenges you will face in MPH Program and the ways you can successfully overcome them.)

CHALLENGE #1: MPH Programs Require a Significant Time Commitment

About the Challenge:

One thing that makes an MPH program hard is the time commitment. Most programs take at least two years to complete. You must find ways to prioritize tasks and use your time wisely to succeed.

How to Overcome:

A great way to overcome the time commitment challenge is to prepare in advance. Talk with academic advisors and ask questions about the coursework and the amount of time you should devote each week to school. Create a schedule that works for you. Set aside time for personal responsibilities, family time, and self-care. Finally, be honest about what you can handle, and take on a course load that you feel you can accomplish without becoming overwhelmed.

CHALLENGE #2: MPH Programs Can Be Expensive.

About the Challenge:

Another challenge of MPH programs is they are not cheap. Students in MPH programs must pay for tuition, books, and supplies, and travel to school and field training sites. Programs can cost from $30,000 to $100,000 or more. Most students do not have the financial reserves to pay cash for programs, which means they need to take out student loans. If you are unable to work while enrolled in an MPH program, that can add to the financial burden of the program.

How to Overcome:

The first step in overcoming this challenge is to evaluate your current financial status and determine what you can afford. If you must work to make ends meet now, paying out-of-pocket for school may not be an option. Many schools offer scholarships, grants, and work-study options. Additionally, there are several privately funded public health scholarships and grant opportunities. A few examples include the Cathy L. Brock Health Care Scholarship, Dr. Alma S. Adams Scholarship, and the Elliot C. Roberts Scholarship. You can also consider applying for federal financial aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

CHALLENGE #3: The course load in MPH programs can be heavy.

About the Challenge:

MPH programs are graduate-level programs and, as such, come with a content-heavy course load. Some students find the amount of content overwhelming and quite challenging to overcome.

How to Overcome:

Although heavy course loads can make an MPH program hard, there are several ways you can overcome this challenge. First, consider how much time you can devote to school each week. If you have a job, family, or other responsibilities, you may find pursuing the degree part-time makes it easier to succeed. Remember, what is best for someone else may not be the best option for you. Decide what works for you and go with it so you can improve your chances of success.

CHALLENGE #4: Admission to MPH programs is competitive.

About the Challenge:

Another challenge of MPH programs is that admission is competitive. Schools offering the best MPH programs often have a big candidate pool, which means you must put forth the effort to make yourself a favorable candidate.

How to Overcome:

The best way to overcome the challenge of competitive admission is to make sure your application gets the attention of admission faculty. Take your time writing a great admission essay or Statement of Intent that clearly describes your academic and professional goals and includes why you feel their school is the right choice to help you accomplish your goals. Get relevant volunteer and/or work experience, and make sure you have excellent letters of recommendation.

CHALLENGE #5: Sometimes it can be confusing to understand your role in public health.

About the Challenge:

One of the awesome things about earning a Master of Public Health degree is that there is a wide range of specialties and possible job options. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are more than 170 categories of public health jobs. Because there are so many diverse options, it can leave you feeling overwhelmed or as if you are unsure about your role and responsibilities.

How to Overcome:

To better clarify your understanding of your role, the first step is to choose a specialty of interest to you. Some common areas of public health interest include Behavioral Science & Health Education, Environmental Health, Biostatistics, Health Services Administration, and Epidemiology. Once you determine the public health specialty that interests you most, you can pursue field practice and internship experiences that complement your interests. By doing this, you can develop a clearer understanding of your role in public health.

CHALLENGE #6: Realizing there may be a lack of funding for your chosen specialty

About the Challenge:

One of the challenges MPH students face is the reality that work depends largely on available sources of funding. For example, if you choose to specialize in public health research, your job could come to a screeching halt if funds are frozen or if additional sources are unavailable.

How to Overcome:

If you truly desire a career in public health, you must learn to balance the advantages and disadvantages. Perhaps the best way to overcome this challenge that makes an MPH program hard is to learn about resources and MPH specialty options. You may want to consider specialties or roles that do not rely solely on funding. For example, you may choose to work in public health education, as a community services manager, or in hospital administration.

CHALLENGE #7: Practicum experiences are one thing that make MHA programs hard.

About the Challenge:

Field experience is a required component of Master of Public Health programs. Some schools offer assistance finding clinical placement, while others require students to locate practicum sites and preceptors. Field training experiences are an excellent way to gain hands-on knowledge and glean from the experience of others in the profession. However, it is normal to feel overwhelmed as you learn new things and work in different environments.

How to Overcome:

Although practicum experiences in MHA programs can be challenging, they are necessary to prepare you for practice. One of the best ways to overcome the challenge is to face it head-on. Talk to academic advisors and field placement coordinators to identify appropriate settings and preceptors ahead of time. Doing this will help reduce the stress associated with finding the right place to get field experience.

Also, work to develop a good rapport with clinical faculty and preceptors. Be honest about things that bother you or feel challenging. Everyone faces difficult days at work, and you will have tough days during your field practicum. However, if you focus on the end goal and keep pressing forward, you can overcome the challenges and succeed.

CHALLENGE #8: You need to complete difficult prerequisites.

About the Challenge:

Graduate programs, like MPH programs, require prospective students to complete several prerequisite courses. If you have been out of school for a while, or if this is a career transition for you, completing necessary prerequisites can be challenging.

How to Overcome:

The first step in overcoming the challenge of difficult prerequisites is to understand that earning the degree is a process, and all students must meet the same requirements. If you are concerned about taking difficult prerequisites, talk to an academic advisor to find out which classes you need and how to begin. Common prerequisites include Introduction to Statistics, Basic Epidemiology, and Introduction to Global Health. If you are not rushed to begin your degree program, consider starting out with one or two prerequisite courses to help you get back into the habit of studying. Then, you can take on bigger courseloads and complete the prerequisite requirements.

CHALLENGE #9: You may find working while in an MPH program hard.

About the Challenge:

Because of the rigorous courseload and practice experience requirements, you may find working while enrolled in an MPH program hard. You must dedicate time to study, completing assignments, and participating in practicum experiences. If you rely on your income to make ends meet outside of school, it may be difficult to juggle work and school responsibilities.

How to Overcome:

Unfortunately, the only way to get through this challenge is to weigh your options and plan based on what is best for you. If your family relies on your income, you may not have the option of whether to continue working. Look at your financial obligations and responsibilities and determine if there are ways to cut back on expenses. Talk to a financial aid advisor at the schools where you plan to apply to see what financial aid options are available, which could help relieve some of the urgency to continue working. Additionally, speak with your employer to discuss whether a schedule change may make it possible for you to continue working while enrolled in your program.

CHALLENGE #10: Getting and maintaining the required GPA

About the Challenge:

Most MPH programs require candidates to have a minimum GPA of 3.0 for any previous college coursework. Additionally, once you begin the program, you may be required to maintain at least a 3.0 to continue in the program. If your GPA is close to the minimum, you may find it challenging to get into a program. Further, if you struggled in college classes before, you may find an MPH program hard.

How to Overcome:

The best way to address this challenge is to review your previous transcripts and talk with an academic advisor. If you find your grades stay along the line of the “bare minimum,” chances are you need to find more effective ways of studying to help you retain information so you can improve your grades. Consider joining or forming study groups with classmates. If your program offers recorded lectures, listen to them again during your free time. Also, remember that your instructors and advisors want you to succeed. So, do not be afraid to reach out for help when you need it!

CHALLENGE #11: Finding the right MPH program is hard.

About the Challenge:

While there are many MPH programs to choose from, finding the right one can feel a bit challenging. Prospective students must consider cost, the amount of travel to and from school and field practice, how long programs take to complete, and whether full-time or part-time study is the best option. Once you consider all these factors, you must then find programs that align with your goals and that offer specialties that interest you.

How to Overcome:

Finding the right MPH program can be challenging. One of the most effective ways to overcome the challenge is to set clearly defined academic and professional goals. Make a list of things you hope to accomplish and decide the timeframe in which you want to accomplish them. Then, as you begin to research MPH schools, compare your goals with the program’s goals and expected outcomes. If you get to talk to admission or program faculty, ask about their goals and expected student outcomes and choose MPH programs that align with what you want to accomplish.

CHALLENGE #12: Competition for good entry-level jobs can be fierce!

About the Challenge:

One of the most frustrating challenges of MPH programs is knowing that when you graduate, you may have to compete for jobs. Many entry-level jobs have lots of applicants, which means you must prove yourself worthy of a job offer.

How to Overcome:

Public health is an ever-growing field, which means there is a demand for public health professionals. So, do not let the fear of not finding a job keep you from pursuing your dream. Instead, choose a concentration you are passionate about and work hard to earn your degree. Seek opportunities for internships and extra field practice experiences, as these can help boost your resume and make you a favorable job applicant.

CHALLENGE #13: MHP programs can be stressful.

About the Challenge:

One of the things that makes an MPH program hard is stress. Students in MPH programs learn a lot of information in a rather short time. In addition to learning course content, you will participate in field training at various settings while still managing your personal, family, and/or work responsibilities.

How to Overcome:

To succeed in an MPH program, you must find ways to reduce stress and anxiety. One of the easiest things you can do is create a schedule that outlines your home, school, and work commitments. Discuss options with your family about what everyone can contribute to household chores to free some of your time for studying and required school activities. Getting to know classmates is an excellent way to develop relationships with people experiencing the same things as you. You can talk about your classes, areas of study where you struggle, and encourage one another. If you begin to feel overwhelmed or stressed, reach out to your instructors or faculty advisor for direction. Remember, an MPH program is hard, but it is possible to succeed!

CHALLENGE #14: Your role may involve exposure to hazardous agents or dangerous work conditions.

About the Challenge:

One of the biggest challenges in MPH programs is learning to protect yourself when you are exposed to hazardous pathogens, or you work in dangerous environments. You may work in infection control, epidemiology, or in a laboratory setting where exposure to pathogens is a high risk. On the other hand, you could work in areas where the risk of exposure to infectious diseases, such as with populations affected by disease outbreaks, is possible.

How to Overcome:

Although an MPH program is hard and carries risks, your instructors and preceptors are there to teach you protocol to help reduce your risks. Take advantage of their experience and learn as much as possible. Get involved in opportunities outside the classroom that broaden your scope of understanding and hone your skills. The more you learn, the more capable of protecting yourself you become.

CHALLENGE #15: Feeling like you do not have time for yourself

About the Challenge:

Graduate degree programs, like MPH programs, require a lot of time and can leave you feeling as though there is not enough time to accomplish things that are important to you. When you are in school, it can be easy to overlook important things like self-care. Unfortunately, if you do not take care of yourself, it could lead to problems. You can end up fatigued, stressed, and may struggle in school.

How to Overcome:

Just because an MPH program is hard, that does not mean you have to struggle or sacrifice your well-being to get through. In fact, the best thing you can do to help improve your chances of success in an MPH program is to take care of yourself. Eat a well-balanced diet, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly to help your body and mind stay fresh and healthy. Remember, it is much easier to maintain health than to try and recover it after you neglect it for too long.


Considering earning a master's degree in public health is an important decision. Therefore, it is natural to wonder, "How hard is an MPH program? If a graduate degree in public health is something you desire, you can prepare and improve your chances of success. Knowing the 15 biggest challenges you will face in MPH programs and how to overcome them is the first step. Once you understand the challenges and plan ways to overcome them, you can pursue the degree and job of your dreams!


1. How Long Does MPH Program Take?

MPH programs typically take one to three years, depending on whether you study part-time or full-time.

2. Is It Normal To Struggle In MPH Program?

Yes, it is normal to struggle in MPH programs, especially at first. Adjusting to a new schedule and program requirements can be a little overwhelming. However, with determination, you can press through and succeed.

3. Which Year Of MPH Program Is The Hardest?

Most students report the first year of an MPH program is the most difficult. It is during this year that you transition to graduate-level coursework, which can be challenging, especially if you have been out of school for a while.

4. What Are The Hardest Classes In MPH Program?

Opinions vary about which MPH classes are hardest. Many students report biostatistics and epidemiology are the most challenging.

5. How Many Hours Do I Need To Study In MPH Program?

The general rule for determining how many hours you need to study in an MPH program is to calculate three hours of study for every credit hour you are taking. For example, if you are enrolled in six credit hours, you would need to dedicate 18 hours each week to study.

6. Is It Hard To Work During MPH Program?

It can be difficult to work while enrolled in an MPH program. Students who need to work often perform better if they pursue the degree part-time instead of trying to work full-time and carry a full courseload.

7. What Percent Of MPH Students Drop Out?

It is estimated that 12% of graduate students, like MPH students, drop out of their programs.

8. Is It Common To Fail MPH Program?

MPH programs have an average completion rate of 87%, which indicates 13% of students leave the program for one reason or another. While some of the students who leave the programs may do so because of failing to progress, most students do well in MPH programs.

9. What Next After Failing MPH Program?

If you fail in an MPH program, you have the option of applying for readmission or choosing another career path. Consider your options and goals carefully. Then, talk with an academic advisor to find the best course of action.

Darby Faubion BSN, RN
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years of experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels. Because of her love of nursing education, Darby became a test-taking strategist and NCLEX prep coach and assists nursing graduates across the United States who are preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).