Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The doctoral program in Health Behavior and Health Education prepares professionals for research, teaching, service, and leadership positions with the overall objective of improving the health of populations. To meet this objective, all students in the program are trained to conduct independent research. The primary focus is on applied research that informs the development of interventions and policies to promote health at the individual, community, population, societal, and/or global levels.

Students enter the doctoral program in Health Behavior & Health Education after having completed a relevant Master's degree. Each student in the PhD program is expected to meet minimum requirements for a set of competencies. Upon completion of the program, each doctoral student will have the ability to:

  • develop scientific literacy. This includes a critical understanding of the scientific method, quantitative and qualitative research methods, and the ability to critically evaluate scientific literature;
  • understand the history of theoretical knowledge in health behavior and education, and in public health and social sciences more broadly. Understand how these historical developments reflect broader changes in political and cultural values, and scientific ethics;
  • demonstrate the ability to synthesize and apply scientific knowledge to develop new conceptual models and/or research hypotheses. This includes justifying new question(s) with existing literature, selecting appropriate methodologies for their examination, and indicating potential contributions of the proposed research; and
  • acquire professional skills in the production of their own ideas. This includes developing skills in scientific writing, oral communication, grant-writing, teaching, and scientific service.

Students enter the Doctoral Program in Health Behavior and Health Education after having completed a relevant master's degree, often the Master's of Public Health (MPH). Course requirements usually entail between one and a half and two and a half years of full-time coursework and study, depending on the student's background, desired electives, and success on the preliminary examination.

Core Curriculum

The basic core curriculum of the program consists of four doctoral seminars, a minimum of three additional substantive courses offered by the department, two courses in research methods, two advanced-level courses in statistics, and two terms of supervised research experience. Students must also achieve a basic level of proficiency in biostatistics and epidemiology.

Foundations of Public Health Practice

All PhD students must complete an online course, Foundations of Public Health Practice, which is offered as a non-credit requirement. Students must pass the course exam with a cumulative score of 80% or better to fulfill this degree requirement. PhD students must complete this requirement while in pre-candidate status.


Students must complete one of the following courses to fulfill the Biostatistics requirement:

An exemption may be granted for students who took a similar course at another university prior to enrolling in the PhD program.


Students must complete one of the following courses to meet the Epidemiology requirement:

Doctoral Seminar Requirements
Additional HBHE Courses

Doctoral students must also take three substantive courses offered within the Department, in addition to any HBHE courses taken to satisfy the Research Methods requirement. The selection of specific courses to satisfy this requirement should be made in consultation with the student's advisor.

Advanced Statistics

The program requires a minimum of six hours of advanced statistics above and beyond the basic biostatistics course requirements. This requirement may be satisfied by courses offered outside the department. Students have satisfied these requirements by taking courses offered in the Biostatistics, Psychology, and Sociology, and other departments across the university that are offered for graduate-level credit.

Research Methods

The program requires a minimum of six hours of research methods. This requirement may be satisfied by courses offered inside or outside the department. Students have satisfied these requirements by taking courses offered in HBHE, Psychology, Sociology, and other departments across the university that are offered for graduate level credit.

Research Experience

The intent of the research experience requirement is to enable the student to obtain hands-on training in one or more ongoing research projects. Students are expected to participate in supervised research for at least two terms (the equivalent of six credit hours). This research can be conducted under the direction of a faculty member from either inside or outside the department, and should be arranged in consultation with the student's faculty advisor.


Rackham Graduate School requires that all students select a cognate area to ensure more in-depth training in a specific field of study outside of that offered in the home department. The faculty advisor should guide the student in selecting the cognate area. Students are encouraged to make plans for their cognate areas by the end of their first year.

The HBHE cognate requirement is fulfilled by nine hours of coursework in the chosen area (usually three courses, none of which are in or cross-listed with HBHE). Cognate areas chosen by previous students have included Social Psychology, Women's Studies, Communications, Aging, Population Studies, Public Policy, Native American Studies, and Business Administration to name a few.


In addition to fulfilling the core and cognate requirements, students will take additional coursework selected on the basis of their own backgrounds and interests. Any course in the department can be taken as an elective, but some courses have been designated with differing requirements for doctoral and masters students.

NOTE: Elective courses do not include courses used to satisfy any of the other aforementioned requirements.

Funding for Doctoral Students

All students admitted to one of our doctoral programs are considered for financial support. There are four types of financial support that we offer our students: Graduate Student Instructor (GSI), Graduate Student Research Assistant (GSRA), Training Grants and Fellowships.

Graduate Student Instructor (GSI)

Graduate Student Instructors are appointed at 50% effort, which involves working approximately 20 hours per week. This appointment includes full payment of tuition, health insurance coverage, registration fees, and a monthly stipend. The duties of a GSI can include preparing materials for labs, teaching labs, holding office hours, grading homework and exams, and tutoring.

Graduate Student Research Assistant (GSRA)

Graduate Student Research Assistants are appointed at 50% effort, which involves working approximately 20 hours per week on a research project. This appointment includes full payment of tuition, health insurance coverage, registration fees, and a monthly stipend. GSRAs generally work closely with a faculty member who is a principal or co-investigator on the research project. The duties of the GSRA can involve analysis of biomedical research data or statistical research. Currently, GSRAs are working on projects involving statistical methods development and application to bioinformatics, cancer, clinical trials, dentistry, diabetes, environmental health, epidemiology, genetics, health education, kidney disease, and survival analysis.

Training Grants

Some students are supported through involvement in training grants which provide support similar to the GSRA or GSI appointments. Check with your department for specific training grants available.

Scholarships, Fellowships and Awards

Awards for tuition assistance are available and are granted without a work obligation. These awards are generally made on the basis of academic merit, expected contribution to the field, and to students with underrepresented backgrounds. Some examples of awards our students have received include:

Other award/scholarship opportunities exist for continuing students. They include:

Financial Aid for Doctoral Students

Many of our students are offered funding as GSIs, GSRAs or graduate fellows. If you do not receive such an offer, you may apply for financial aid through the University of Michigan’s Office of Financial Aid. This office requires applicants for any and all types of financial aid to complete the Free Application for Federal Student AID (FAFSA) provided by the American College Testing Center (ACTC).

A FAFSA will be sent to you directly if you indicate your interest in financial assistance on the admission application form. FAFSAs are available from most high school or college libraries and financial aid officers, as well as from the School of Public Health Office for Student Engagement and Practice. FAFSA is also available at

Application Deadline and Requirements
  • Final deadline for application: December 1.
  • Applicants are expected to have completed a relevant Master's degree.
  • Transcripts from degree-granting universities and three letters of recommendation.
Admission Procedure
Minimum Requirements for Applying
Application Information
  • Statement of Purpose- a concise, well-written essay about your career goals and how the graduate program will help you meet your career and education objectives. (Please follow prompts listed in the application.)
  • Personal Statement - a brief description about your background.
  • Transcripts:
    • Applicants who attended or are attending a U.S. Institution:
      • Upload an electronic version of your official transcript(s) for each Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, or Doctoral degree earned or in progress through your ApplyWeb application account. ​​​​​​​​​​
      • If you are recommended for admission, the Rackham Graduate School will require official transcript(s). Recommended applicants will receive an email notification when the official transcript(s) are required for submission. All students are asked to include an electronic unofficial transcript during the online application.
    • Applicants who attended or are attending a Non-U.S. Institution:
      • Review Required Academic Credentials from Non-U.S.Institutions for transcript/academic record requirements by country or region. Submitting transcript/academic records is a two-step process.
      • ​​​​​Upload an electronic version of your official transcript/academic record for each institution attended through your ApplyWeb application account.
      • At the time of application, you must also submit an official transcript/academic record for each institution attended. See Rackham’s detailed instructions on how to submit transcripts/academic records to the Rackham Graduate School. 
  • Three Letters of Recommendation - academic and professional recommendation are desired; personal recommendations are not accepted. All letters of recommendations should be submitted electronically.
  • Application Code: 00222

Standardized test scores are not required for applicants applying to any master’s- or doctoral-level program for the academic year starting fall 2022. If you have taken a standardized test such as the GRE or MCAT and want to submit your scores, please note that they will not be used as an official metric during application review. Scores may be used by some programs after the admissions decision is made to inform future use of standardized test scores in the admissions process. Reach out to admissions staff at if you have questions.

To submit standardized test scores, follow the instructions below.

Graduate Record Examination (GRE): All programs accept general official GRE scores taken within the last five years. Test scores should be submitted electronically to institution code 1954 and/or 1839; there is no need to enter a department code. 

Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT): MCAT scores may be submitted electronically from AAMC to SOPHAS. No code is used.

International Applicants

Applicants whose native language is not English must demonstrate English proficiency (TOEFL scores). The TOEFL University of Michigan Institution Code is 1839. Applicants who have earned a degree from an institution where the language of instruction is exclusively English are exempt from submitting an official English proficiency score.

The minimum scores required for admission:

  • TOEFL Paper-based 560+
  • TOEFL Computer-based (CBT) 220+
  • TOEFL Internet-based (iBT) 100+
  • IELTS 6.5+

Additional information for those who may be admitted.

Ready to Apply?

Visit the Admissions & Aid section of the U-M SPH site for details on the application process and financial aid options.