How to Choose an MPH Concentration

Choosing a concentration for the online Master of Public Health (MPH) program at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health is an important decision, and we want to make sure you have all the information you need.

Here are the answers to a number of frequently asked questions.

The Admissions Process

When you submit an application to the online MPH program at the UNC Gillings School, you will apply to a specific concentration. We offer the following options:

  • MPH Leadership
  • MPH Nutrition
  • Applied Epidemiology
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

You will select a first-choice concentration with the option to select a second choice.

Admissions FAQ

Why should I choose a second concentration on my application?

We recommend selecting a second concentration to increase your chances of being admitted into the MPH@UNC program. If you are not admitted to your first choice, your application will then automatically be considered for your second choice.

Choosing a second concentration does not affect your likelihood of being admitted to your first choice. It is not a criterion the admissions committee considers when reviewing applications.

If I don’t get into my first choice, can I switch concentrations later in the program?

No. Your curriculum and pacing options are specific to certain concentrations, so it’s not feasible to switch midway through the program. 

However, if you are an MPH Leadership, MPH Nutrition or Applied Epidemiology student, you can take electives (9 credits) from several public health departments on topics such as health policy, epidemiology, and nutrition, allowing you to tailor your education to support your career goals. (Nutrition and Dietetics does not include elective options.)

What if my field of interest is not offered as a concentration?

You might consider the MPH Leadership concentration, which is our most versatile option and equips you with the skills to grow as a leader within any subfield of public health. You also have the opportunity to take elective courses from the Health Policy, Epidemiology and Nutrition departments.

Ready to Learn More about MPH@UNC?

No matter which concentration you choose, you’ll be learning from and networking with globally renowned public health experts. Learn more about the online MPH at the UNC Gillings School, the No. 1-ranked public school of public health by U.S. News & World Report.1

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Deciding on a Concentration

If you know you want to specialize in a particular area of public health, a good place to start is reviewing the courses in each concentration to see which topics best relate to your field of interest. If you aren’t sure of your career path or prefer a more general course of study, the MPH Leadership concentration can benefit you in any area of public health.

Each concentration for the online MPH program uses the same rigorous curriculum as the corresponding concentration for the on-campus MPH program. All concentrations include the 15-credit Gillings MPH Core, a comprehensive exam and a 3-credit culminating experience.

Here is a breakdown of details about our concentrations:

MPH Leadership | MPH Nutrition | Applied Epidemiology

Accreditation: Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)

Credits: 42 credits

Concentration Courses and Electives: 15 credits of concentration courses, 9 credits of electives

Time to completion: As few as 16 months or as many as five years (Part-time and full-time options are available.)

Annual start dates: January, May, August and September

Field work: 200+ hours of in-person field work (Gillings MPH Practicum)

Nutrition and Dietetics

Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)

Credits: 42 credits

Concentration Courses and Electives: 24 credits of concentration courses

Time to completion: 32 months (Nutrition and Dietetics follows a lock-step cohort model and is only available part-time.)

Annual start dates: January

Field work: 1,000+ hours of supervised practice experiences

Our admissions counselors are available to help you decide on a concentration and walk you through the courses, expectations and program requirements. Reach out at (855) 534-2409 or email our admissions team at admissions@onlinemph.unc.edu.

FAQ About Each Concentration

Jump to:

MPH Leadership FAQ

MPH Nutrition FAQ

Applied Epidemiology FAQ

Nutrition and Dietetics

MPH Leadership FAQ

Who should choose this concentration?

This concentration is designed for individuals who want to build leadership skills applicable to any subfield of public health. We have found that students with a few years of work experience get the most out of the concentration, but we do not require applicants to have prior experience.

Our MPH Leadership students enter the concentration with a variety of backgrounds:

  • While in medical school, Askia Dunnon pivoted so he could focus on public health research and leadership.
  • Victoria Oropello wanted to expand her influence after 20 years of providing mental health services to incarcerated individuals.
  • Courtney Peragallo began MPH@UNC shortly after earning her bachelor’s degree and interning with a public health nonprofit.

What can I do with this concentration?

MPH Leadership prepares you for a variety of public health leadership positions by building your knowledge and skills in leadership, assessment, system design, policy development, and community engagement.

Our students and alumni have served in a range of roles, including safety and health specialists, process integration managers, public health nurses, physicians, dentists, veterinarians, clinical trials coordinators, environmental health coordinators, public health educators, and bioterrorism preparedness specialists. 

What is the difference between this concentration and a general MPH program?

While the applicability of the MPH Leadership concentration mirrors that of a generalist track, this concentration also focuses on building up leadership skills within the public health field. 

MPH Nutrition FAQ

Who should choose this concentration?

This concentration is designed for passionate individuals at any experience level who want to provide nutritional and dietary guidance to improve health outcomes for communities and populations. There are no specific work experience requirements to enroll.

MPH Nutrition student Anna Feld, for example, chose the concentration after working as a pediatric dietitian in a children’s hospital. She is interested in developing mass communications regarding nutrition as treatment and disease prevention.

What can I do with this concentration?

MPH Nutrition prepares you to work in a range of professional settings where disease prevention and nutrition promotion are needed, such as public health nutrition programs, governmental agencies, nonprofits, public policy organizations, and nutrition marketing and media companies.

Examples of potential careers in nutrition might include:

  • Nutrition and health policy expert
  • Industry product development consultant
  • Fitness industry health coach
  • Correspondent or journalist for a media publication

Graduates of the on-campus MPH program with a Nutrition concentration have gone on to work for a variety of lifestyle- and health-related companies, including the Food Network and publications such as Southern Living, EatingWell, and Shape.

How is MPH Nutrition different from the Nutrition and Dietetics concentration?

MPH Nutrition will equip you with the skills needed to offer nutritional and dietary guidance to communities and groups, while Nutrition and Dietetics prepares you to provide one-on-one nutrition counseling, including in clinical settings.

With the MPH Nutrition concentration, you will have the flexibility to take electives in other areas, such as epidemiology, leadership, or health policy. Because the Nutrition and Dietetics program follows a lock-step cohort model, all students take the same courses and do not have an elective requirement.

Applied Epidemiology FAQ

Who should choose this concentration?

The Applied Epidemiology concentration is designed for data-driven students who want to use epidemiologic tools and approaches to find innovative solutions to public health problems.

Because the Applied Epidemiology concentration requires analyzing data and using statistical methods, applicants will need to demonstrate their quantitative skills, either through their education or prior experience.

What can I do with this concentration?

Applied epidemiology has far-reaching implications for the field of public health. As a practitioner, you’ll be able to apply your skills in many settings, such as federal, state, territorial, and local health agencies; global public health agencies; nonprofit and health care organizations; hospitals or health systems; and the pharmaceutical industry.

Graduates of the online MPH program with an Applied Epidemiology concentration might serve as epidemiologists, project managers, project coordinators, data analysts, researchers, or data scientists.

How is applied epidemiology different from traditional epidemiology?

Our Applied Epidemiology concentration is focused more on real-world applications than research. Instead of working in a lab, you will use your knowledge of epidemiological tools and data to inform practice. Applied epidemiology can be used to:

  • Prioritize public health practice and policy
  • Respond to outbreaks
  • Implement risk assessments and surveillance
  • Guide interventions to improve population health
  • Use data to inform precision medicine and pharmacy
  • Evaluate programs and policies
  • Identify determinants of disease

Nutrition and Dietetics FAQ

Who should choose this concentration?

The Nutrition and Dietetics concentration is designed for students who want to practice on a patient-provider level while also improving population health on a larger scale.

Nutrition and Dietetics student Amanda Fitterer, for example, entered the concentration after working in a sports medicine/primary care practice. She wants to provide nutrition and dietary guidance to both individual patients and her broader community.

What can I do with this concentration?

Upon completion of the Nutrition and Dietetics concentration, you will be prepared to sit for the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) exam to become a licensed registered dietitian. Licensed RDs can prescribe treatments, provide customized nutritional counseling and work on a patient-provider level. As of 2024, all aspiring RDs will be required to have a master’s degree in order to sit for the CDR exam. 

After completing the Nutrition and Dietetics concentration, you will be prepared to:

  • Tackle real-world nutrition problems in your community and around the world
  • Design specialized meal plans for patients with chronic and acute illnesses
  • Oversee meal program development in food service environments
  • Advocate for affordable, healthy food options on behalf of communities and populations

Will I graduate with an RD license?

No. You will have to pass the CDR exam to become a licensed RD. The Nutrition and Dietetics concentration equips you with the requisite knowledge to take the exam while also providing a foundation in public health practice and research. 

Where will I complete my supervised work experience?

Placements are based on site availability as well as input from students and faculty. The MPH@UNC placement team will assist you in identifying sites near your home, where possible, though location cannot be guaranteed. Depending on site availability, you may have to relocate temporarily at your own cost to complete practicum requirements.

Students who are able to relocate to North Carolina may have access to Area Health Education Center housing, which provides short-term lodging accommodations for minimal or no cost.

Let’s Get to Work

Advancing health for all isn’t optional — it’s the fight of our lives. Choosing the right concentration is important, but in the end we’re all pursuing the same goal: tackling today’s biggest public health challenges.

Learn more about UNC Gillings School’s online MPH and the work we’re doing on the front lines of public health.

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