You can take your passion for health and wellness to the highest level with a Ph.D. in health education where, through research, program development, and teaching, you can help others live healthier lives.
In the past few years, you may have noticed more health initiatives in your workplace or around your community. For example, maybe your boss sent out an email that detailed a weight loss or exercise competition. Or maybe you were grabbing a double shot latte from your favorite coffee shop and saw a flyer for nutrition classes at a local gym.
The need for more health and wellness initiatives is evident, as unfortunately, the majority of adults do not eat healthily (enough) or exercise (enough), which, in the long term, can cause a plethora of health issues. That’s where an advanced degree in health education can come into play!
What Is a Ph.D. in Health Education?
A Ph.D. in health education prepares students for a dynamic career in teaching, research, and service. If you are pursuing a Ph.D. in this field, you will need to be prepared for quite a bit of research, which is perhaps the most important part of an advanced degree program.
A typical Ph.D. in health education begins with coursework in related topics. Common courses you may encounter are Health Promotion, Research and Statistics, and Ethics in Healthcare. Of course, each university varies, but most of the time, doctoral students spend two full years completing the required coursework.
Some programs require research internships, while others require independent research, but all research options are designed to prepare you for your dissertation. Students generally spend two to three years researching and writing their dissertation. Then there’s the fun part, which usually concludes the Ph.D.: the presentation and defense!
To apply for a Ph.D. program in health education, make sure you review the specific university’s requirements, as they may vary. Some universities will accept those with bachelor’s degrees and require that these students take master’s prerequisite courses to enter the program. However, it is more likely that you will need to have already earned a master’s degree in health education or a related field. A minimum GPA of 3.0 is standard, but some universities, like Saint Louis University, require a 3.5. GRE scores are almost always required, and most universities give a cutoff score, for example, at least in the 50th percentile.
Careers for Ph.D. in Health Education Majors
Health education is a broad field, and many Ph.D. health education majors are coupled with a concentration such as health promotion or health behavior. In short, there are many outlets for those with a terminal degree in health education, and while their career settings may vary, the bottom line remains the same: they work to educate, promote, maintain, and improve individual and community health.
Specifically, professional health educators:
- Access health needs within an individual or community
- Design, implement, and assess health education programs
- Research latest health trends and how to reach certain populations
- Teach either at a post-secondary school or in another setting
- Advocate for specific health issues
A professional health educator may work in different settings. For example, you may find these professionals working at the following:
- Community health agencies
- Hospitals or healthcare clinics
- State or local health departments
- Universities or schools
- Nonprofit organizations
In addition, professional health educators may decide to become researchers or teach at a college or university.
Ph.D. in Health Education Salary Potential
Having earned the highest degree possible in health education, you will likely earn a decent salary. However, like most fields, salary potential varies depending on where you work and what your specific roles are.
Overall, most who achieve a Ph.D. in health education pursue post-secondary teaching, research roles, or professional health program planning in the community. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics gives average salaries for these careers, but keep in mind, with a Ph.D., it’s likely you will earn more than what they report.
Professionals who implement health programs fall under the “health service manager” category, and they can make an average of $99,730 per year, with the top-paying workers making $182,600. Those who work for government agencies typically make more than those who work for health care facilities or other nonprofit organizations.
Post-secondary health educators can expect to make at least $97,370 per year. Those who teach in colleges or universities generally make more than they do in community colleges.
Health researchers fall under the “health or medical science” field, so these professionals can make around $84,810 per year depending on where they work. The top researchers make more than $156,980!
What Are the Best Ph.D.s in Health Education?
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University of Utah
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Salt Lake City, Utah
“Imagine, then do,” is U of U’s motto, which has inspired many students to reach for and accomplish their dreams. Among these notable graduates is the President of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, Ed Catmull! He’s not the only one, though; many alumni have gone on to leave their mark on the world. You can, too! As Walt Disney’s famous slogan says, “Dreams come true!”
Recently, the Ph.D. in health education at U of U has merged with kinesiology, so good news: you will have several options to earn a Ph.D. tailored to your interests and career goals. Specifically, you can earn your degree in health education and choose one of the following concentrations: physical activity and well-being, exercise and disease, cognitive-motor neuroscience, or healthy communities and environments.
Along with your dissertation, you will complete a 67-hour program of study in courses that encompass content area, research methods and statistics, and seminars with your faculty mentors. Throughout this program, you will work with a faculty mentor whose research interests mirror yours. Because of this, applicants are advised to do a little pre-research on potential faculty mentors who would be a good fit for them.
If you are interested in this degree, you will need to have a master’s degree in kinesiology (or a related field) with an undergraduate and graduate GPA of 3.0 or higher. You also need at least a 150 score in the Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning portion of the GRE and a 4.0 or higher on the Analytical Writing portion. Applications are due January 15 for the fall start date.
University of Michigan
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Ann Arbor, Michigan
University of Michigan is well-known for its rich athletics that began in 1865 and continue to thrive, claiming more than 50 national championships in 12 sports. Go Wolverines! UM excels in academics, earning national awards from U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, QS World University Rankings, and Times Higher Ed. If you needed another reason to check out UM, they also offer free tuition for families who qualify (with incomes of $65,000 or under), and tuition support for families who make up to $180,000 per year.
If your aim is to pursue a leadership career that enables you to research, teach, and serve with the goal of improving others’ overall health, UM offers a Ph.D. in health education and health behavior that may be the perfect pathway for you. The purpose of this degree is to help you build the expertise and skills to develop interventions and policies that promote health for individuals, communities, populations, and even globally.
The course requirements include between one and two and a half years of full-time doctoral classes, two terms devoted to a research project, and nine credit hours towards a cognate area, which includes social psychology, women’s studies, aging population studies, among others. You will need a solid background in health in order to apply for this degree—specifically, a master’s degree in public health (or related). For inspiration, here is a list of doctoral student profiles from UM.
The University of Texas at Austin
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You’ve surely seen all types of slogans from schools, and while some are just corny and silly, a good, motivational one always adds something special to a school, and the University of Texas at Austin has a good one: “What starts here changes the world.” So, what makes UT Austin so special? The sheer amount of opportunities sets this university apart from others. With 18 colleges and schools that house 156 undergraduate programs, 237 graduate programs, and 6,237 sponsored research projects, UT Austin has something for all of its current 51,832 students, and for you too!
If you want to pursue an academic and research career in health promotion, check out UT Austin’s Ph.D. in health education and health behavior. The program focuses on risk and protective factors and how they influence health across an individual, family, group, or community’s lifespan. In this program, you will study health theory and methodology, as well as behavioral and developmental perspectives of health, all with the goal of implementing positive programs and interventions.
The 63 credit-hour program first sets the foundation of research with core classes such as Statistics and Research Methods, Foundations of Epidemiology, and Planning Health Promotion Programs. Armed with the knowledge and skills they need, students then conduct their own research, attend developmental seminars, and write and defend their original dissertation. To apply for this program, you need a master’s degree and a minimum of three hours of coursework from Research Methods, Statistics, and Behavioral Sciences.
University of Connecticut
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A national leader among public research universities, the University of Connecticut, or fondly known as UConn, fosters a community of innovators—students seeking and discovering answers to critical questions through original research and their academic mentors and peers. UConn’s Ph.D. in health promotion sciences prepares you for an exciting career in research, teaching, consulting, or other leadership roles in promoting health and preventing diseases.
In this program, you will work with a faculty advisor to design your own plan of study to meet your professional and educational goals. This 48-credit hour program includes Health Promotion, Methodology and Statistics, Advanced Research courses, electives, and dissertation preparation and delivery. Fellowships such as the Jorgensen Fellowship and the Harriet Fellowship are available for students through the SLATE application. It should also be mentioned that, at just 48-credit hours, this program is the shortest on our ranking.
At a minimum, to apply for this program, you should have a bachelor’s degree, but preferably a master’s degree in a related field. UConn also gives preference to applicants who have work and/or volunteer experience in health promotion, those who have authored research publications, and those who have a strong statistical background. To begin in the fall semester, applicants must submit their applications and supporting materials by February 1.
University of Massachusetts-Amherst
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If we’re honest, when looking at a school to pursue academic and professional goals, we look at the academics, the community, and well, the food. It is important to note that the University of Massachusetts in Amherst has ranked No. 1 in Campus Dining for the fourth straight year in a row, and from the prestigious Princeton Review, of all sources.
Of course, UMass Amherst offers much more than their delicious dining—they are nationally recognized in academics and serve more than 30,500 students from 49 states and 71 countries. Committed to public health as social justice, The Community Health Education (CHE) program at UMass Amherst’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences offers a Ph.D. in community health education.
In this program, you will complete two years of coursework, followed by comprehensive exams, and then the fun part: your dissertation project. Two past student dissertation topics include a policy-based analysis of the science of teen pregnancy prevention services, and how globalization, food, health, and policy are intertwined.
CHE faculty actively conduct research across the United States (Alaska included), as well as several countries. They recruit doctoral students to join them in research projects that include community resilience in Alaska, prescription opioid abuse, preventing postpartum depression among teenagers, and more intriguing topics. The application process is contingent on five factors: GPA in previous coursework, GRE scores, prior work experience, letters of reference, and your personal statement.
University of Toledo
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“See you at the game!” is a phrase you will hear from students, faculty, and fans at the University of Toledo, a public research university in Ohio. UToledo games are a blast because they are not just about the sports (Go Rocket!); they are about the spirit of connection that encompasses this school. Dance contests, giveaways, character nights, meet-the-player nights, and the Rocket Kids’ Club all contribute to UToledo’s spirit. So, how about it? See you at the game!
UToledo’s Ph.D. in health education entails 70 credit hours and focuses on six domain areas:
- Assess needs; plan, implement, and evaluate health education programs
- Teaching and research
- Grant writing
- Advocates for health and the health education profession
Health and research courses are required, of course, but this program is individualized to each student through elective courses and a cognate which prepares them for leadership roles in academia, the healthcare setting, or even government agencies.
If you need additional reasons to check out UToledo’s Ph.D. program, here they are: Students have opportunities to research and publish along with faculty, attend conferences, and even teach in the classroom. The classes are small, the faculty is superb, and did we mention this program is nationally ranked as one of the best doctoral programs in the country by the American Journal of Health Education?
University of South Carolina-Columbia
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Columbia, South Carolina
If you love an atmosphere bubbling with constant activity and plenty to do, you will fit right in at the University of South Carolina. A University with more than 200 years of rich history and tradition, U of SC promotes and encourages complex, critical inquiry, strong conviction, and future leaders who touch the world in unique ways.
National publications rankings, such as Forbes and U.S. News and World Report, prove that the community of learners, researchers, and leaders excel at making this university one of academic excellence. One vibrant program is offered by U of SC’s Arnold School of Public Health: a Ph.D. program in health promotion, education and behavior.
This program successfully prepares its graduates for a fulfilling career of research, teaching, and professional service in various leadership roles. Along with expert faculty, you will address “how interventions, social context, health care systems, and physical environments influence health behaviors and health status, with an emphasis on disadvantaged populations” (U of SC website).
This degree involves 36 credit hours of coursework, along with at least 12 hours of dissertation research for students who enter the program with a master’s degree. For those who enter without a master’s degree, 48 credit hours of graduate coursework, along with 12 hours of dissertation research is required. To apply, you need either a bachelor’s or master’s in a related field, GRE scores, recommendation letters, a letter of intent, and a resume. Most students complete this Ph.D. program in four years.
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
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Greensboro, North Carolina
“Powerful collaborations that define our communities.”
These powerful phrases describe the community of scholars at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a public research university in Greensboro, North Carolina. UNCG serves as the largest state university in the Piedmont Triad and takes pride in offering more than 125 areas of study and 80 graduate programs to the more than 20,000 currently enrolled students.
UNCG’s Ph.D. program in community health education focuses on the connections and dynamics among communities, public health, and health education. Specifically, you will research the behaviors and factors that influence healthy populations and how to apply those strategies, policies, and interventions to educate and advocate for the health of other community populations.
Graduate students will complete 66 credit hours of work, which includes public health core classes; health education core classes; professional development; research courses; electives; and dissertation research, preparation, delivery, and defense. To apply, you will need a master’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA (but it does not need to be in a related field,) GRE scores (although no minimum score is specified), a statement of purpose, and letters of recommendation.
Check out this list of current student profiles and their research interests.
Georgia State University
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A cool fact: Georgia State University is among the most diverse colleges and universities in the U.S. Annually, GSU graduates more African American students than any other public higher education institution. More than 53,000 students from more than 170 nations attend GSU each semester. Another cool fact: with over 250 degree programs in 100 fields of study, GSU offers more programs than any other academic establishment in the state.
GSU’s Ph.D. in public health teaches students the knowledge and skills they need in order to become public health leaders in academia, health care organizations, governmental public health, and private health organizations. Along with the dissertation, the Ph.D. degree requires students to complete a minimum of 62 credit hours of coursework and pursue a concentration of 27 credit hours. Concentrations include:
- Health services and policy research
- Health promotion and behavior
- Environmental health
Some good news about this program is that the 16 credit hours of health core classes may be waived if the student enters with a master’s of public health degree and a minimum GPA of 3.0 OR if a student has work experience that demonstrates the knowledge in the classes. To apply for this program, you need a master’s degree in a related field (no minimum GPA is required) and GRE scores that range in the 60th to 70th percentile in all sections.
Kent State University
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Since 1910, Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, has produced the most graduates of any university in Northeast Ohio. To date, more than 251,000 alumni from all 50 states and 98 countries call KSU “home.” When you explore KSU, you will see why. This university details five priorities that drive its vision, “A strategic roadmap to a distinctive Kent State.”
- Students first
- National distinction
- Global competitiveness
- Regional impact
- Organizational stewardship
KSU has a Ph.D. in health education and promotion that “emphasizes the interaction among the theoretical, empirical, and applied nature of health education” (KSU’s website). Even though this program is tailored towards those who are health educators, KSU values diverse backgrounds, so applicants from nursing, nutrition, healthcare, and social sciences are also accepted. Students can enter this program on a full-time or part-time plan of study.
Thirty credits of master level courses serve as the prerequisite for this program. The doctoral courses are divided into research (12 credits), core courses (24 credits), specialization courses (6 credits), and the dissertation (30 credits) totaling a minimum of 72 credits. Requirements for this program are standard: a master’s degree in a related field (or if you do not have one, you will need to take 30 credits of master’s courses), GRE scores, recommendation letters, and a letter of intent.
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
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Six campuses, four departments, and one school make up the UTHealth Science Center. The main campus, located in Houston, is the largest campus and the location of our recommended Ph.D. program. In addition to the School of Public Health, UTHealth also houses Schools of Biomedical Informatics and Sciences, Dentistry, Medicine, and Nursing. The School of Public Health is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH).
The Ph.D. in public health with a concentration on health education and health promotion educates students, through the application of social and behavioral sciences, on how to teach others to live healthy lifestyles and prevent diseases. This doctoral degree requires you to complete 54 credit hours, which includes six credit hours towards the dissertation.
Active research projects in this program include the cost-effectiveness of reducing obesity in elementary and middle schoolers across Texas, an interactive gaming program designed to educate middle schoolers about HIV, and evidence-based cancer control in Latinx communities. Most full-time students take three to five years to complete this degree. Interested applicants can apply through the platform SOPHAS.org.
University of Alabama at Birmingham
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Not only is the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s campus home to more than 4,400 trees earning the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree Campus USA Award for five straight years. The city of Birmingham has more green space per capita than any city of its size in the country! (UAB website)
UAB not only values the environment, but it also values campus diversity—41.9 % of its students are from underrepresented groups, earning it a national Diversity Champion award from INSIGHT Into Diversity Magazine. UAB excels in academics as well, offering 85 doctoral, masters, and professional programs in the graduate school.
Graduates of UAB’s Ph.D. in health education and health promotion typically pursue research and service careers in academia or notorious public institutions, such as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This 73 credit hour program includes coursework; a qualifying exam; and researching, writing, and defending a dissertation.
Throughout this program, students will learn state-of-the-art techniques and approaches for researching and evaluating health programs. They have the opportunity to aid faculty with research projects on a myriad of topics, including behavioral interventions, obesity prevention, prevention and control of addictive behaviors, and sexual health risks. To apply, you need a master’s degree in a related field and GRE scores in the 70% percentile for the verbal and quantitative sections. In order to start in the fall, applications are due by April 1.
University of Nebraska Medical Center
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“Breakthroughs for life” is the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s motto, which is appropriate considering its mission “to promote optimal health and well-being through robust education, research, and service in collaboration with Nebraska, across the country, and around the world,” (UNMC website). UNMC is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health.
If you are solely interested in the research side of health, then UNMC’s Ph.D. in health promotion and disease prevention research may be just what you’re looking for. Offered through the Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health in the College of Public Health, this Ph.D. program provides students with the knowledge and training to become skilled research scientists investigating complex health issues.
According to the program’s page, research “involves epidemiological, intervention, evaluation, and dissemination studies, using qualitative, quantitative, and/or systems tools.” To complete this Ph.D. degree, you will need to take 48 credit hours of coursework, a comprehensive exam, 12 credit hours of dissertation credits, and successfully write and defend your dissertation. Applicants must hold a master’s degree in a related field with a minimum GPA of 3.0; however, exceptional students with a bachelor’s degree are also welcome to apply.
Saint Louis University
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St. Louis, Missouri
Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s most prestigious Catholic universities. Its campuses and colleges are spread across the world (including Madrid, Spain!). SLU’s College for Public Health and Social Justice encompasses 1,059 students, representing 38 states and 18 countries. It is ranked No. 23 by U.S. News and World Report and has earned the field’s highest accreditation, the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH).
SLU’s Ph.D. in public health studies teaches students research design, methods, and how to teach health education across diverse populations. Students must choose from the five following concentrations:
- Behavioral science and health education
- Health management and policy
- Health outcomes research
Doctoral students will work with their faculty mentors throughout the program, which includes active research and professional programming. Students will present their research at a local symposium and at regional, national, and even international conferences.
SLU’s public health Ph.D. program entails 72 credits which are divided up into 42 credits of coursework, 18 credits of doctoral courses, and 12 credits of dissertation research. Applicants must hold a master’s degree in public health or a related field (those with bachelor’s degrees are not accepted). Students must have earned a minimum of 3.5 in graduate work and scored at least in the 50th percentile for the GRE verbal and quantitative reasoning sections.
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Emory University, a private research institution in Atlanta, Georgia, holds an unusual quality for a university of its standing: its scholars generate $689.1 million in research funding annually. That’s pretty impressive, considering EU is a medium-sized university, serving a little over 15,000 students each semester. EU students work hard, but they still have time for fun! Each week the school enjoys a host of traditions from “Wonderful Wednesdays” and Dooley’s Week to “Classroom on the Quad.” (Check out Dooley’s Week! So intriguing and unique!)
A second-year doctoral student in EU’s Ph.D. in behavioral sciences and health education wrote, “For me, the BSHE Ph.D. program merges training in advanced research techniques with a philosophical orientation rooted in social justice. Without the latter, behavioral scientists can be remiss. The program engages both the mind and the heart to encourage rigorous, ethically-sound research with real-world application.”
This program trains students to study and propose solutions for today’s biggest public health issues. All Ph.D. students must participate in the Teaching Assistant Training and Teaching Opportunities (TATOO) program. In addition, they need to complete the Jones Program in Ethics that provides students with ethics training for their research and future careers.
The dissertation project, to be completed during the last two years of the program, should make an original contribution to the field or a unique, new interpretation of existing studies. Applicants need a master’s degree in a related field and scores within the 70th percentile or higher for the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections and a 4 or 5 for the analytical writing.