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M.A. Admissions

M.A. in the Social Foundations of Health

The M.A. in the Social Foundations of Health provides students with the interdisciplinary knowledge and skills that future health care professionals require. The field of contemporary health care is increasingly shaped by the realization that social, environmental, personal, and structural factors are as essential as basic biological processes to understanding patient’s illness and suffering. Social and cultural aspects of illness and health are a growing component of pre-health education. The program is aimed at students who want to gain research experience, enhance their interdisciplinary training, and strengthen their applications before entering the job market, medical school, professional school, or doctoral programs.

Our broad curriculum allows students the unique opportunity to take classes in the Vanderbilt Graduate School as well as the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Law, and the Master of Public Health Program. Through interdisciplinary course work, faculty mentorship, and research collaborations, students learn skills now emphasized on the MCAT and essential to success in health care.

The department also offers a Certificate in Medicine, Health, and Society for currently enrolled graduate and professional students at Vanderbilt.

Internal and External Candidates Accepted

MHS offers two different pathways to the M.A. in the Social Foundations of Health: one for current Vanderbilt students and one for external students.

  • For current Vanderbilt undergraduates: MHS offers students the opportunity to earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in just five years of study through the 4+1 B.A./M.A. program.
  • For students outside of Vanderbilt: MHS offers a one-year M.A. degree to students who have earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution.

Requirements are the same for both the one-year M.A. degree and the 4+1 combined BA/M.A. program.

Interested in learning more about the program and applying? Plan to attend one of our prospective student events.


External Candidate Eligibility

We encourage candidates who have earned their bachelor’s degree at an institution other than Vanderbilt to apply. Individuals should:

  • Be passionate about health disparities, health justice, and the connections between the biological and social foundations of health.
  • Be interested in science communication, bioethics, and health policy.
  • Be interested in broadening their knowledge and skill base before pursuing medical school or other advanced degree programs.
  • Want to approach contemporary health care from an interdisciplinary perspective.
  • Be driven to understand the social and cultural aspects of illness and health.


  • Bachelor’s degree or equivalent in any subject
  • GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • GRE scores are accepted, but not required

Internal Candidate Eligibility

The 4+1 program is available to current Vanderbilt undergraduate students majoring in medicine, health, and society, or related disciplines. Accepted students receive registration priority in their senior year in order to complete their B.A. and begin M.A. requirements. The M.A. requires 30 credit hours including up to 6 credit hours of thesis research. Typically, MHS 4+1 students take 3 to 6 credit hours of graduate coursework in their senior year.

Most 4+1 students engage in research, service learning, or internships in the summer between their 4th and 5th year.


  • Vanderbilt students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • Major in MHS or related discipline
  • GRE scores are accepted, but not required

Applying to the Program

The MHS M.A. program accepts applications in two cycles. Current Vanderbilt undergraduate students planning to begin courses in spring should apply during the priority cycle. All other prospective students should reference the fall admissions timeline below. Applicants graduating in December should contact for advising about their application and program start date options.

We evaluate applications holistically. The writing sample and personal statement are especially important in our ability to assess an applicant’s quality of work, research experiences, research interests, creativity, and potential match with the department’s strengths.

All application materials should be submitted through the Graduate School application portal.


Internal Candidate Priority Application Timeline (Spring Start)

Current Vanderbilt undergraduates applying to the MHS M.A. program with plans to enroll in classes during the spring semester of their senior year should refer to the timeline below for deadlines. Applicants starting graduate coursework in the spring should submit one letter of recommendation by the September 30 deadline. Additional recommendation letters will be solicited later.

  • August 2023: Applications open
  • September 30, 2023: Complete the A&S Petition to Apply to the 4+1 Program
  • September 30, 2023: Application deadline
  • October 6, 2023: Prospective candidate interviews
  • October 16, 2023: MHS sends admission letters
  • February 1, 2024: Admission response deadline

External Candidate Application Timeline (Fall Start)

Prospective students external to Vanderbilt should refer to the admissions deadlines below:

  • August 2023: Applications open
  • February 15, 2024: Application deadline (extended)
  • February 9 – 23, 2024: Prospective candidate interviews
  • March 1, 2024: MHS sends admission letters
  • April 15, 2024: Admission response deadline

Application Components

As part of the online application, candidates will provide:

  • Three academic letters of recommendation. For current Vanderbilt students, letters do not need to be only from MHS or MHS-affiliated faculty members, but at least two should be from faculty members at Vanderbilt or another institute of higher education. Students applying to start graduate coursework in spring 2024 should submit one letter of recommendation by the September 30 deadline. Additional recommendation letters will be solicited later.
  • Statement of purpose (2-3 pages) describing your likely research interests and how the M.A. will further your career and educational goals. Applicants are encouraged to state their research interests, research experience, and the names of 1-3 primary MHS faculty members with whom they would most like to work based on shared research interests.
  • Writing sample that demonstrates your ability to do research, make scholarly arguments, and/or apply key concepts to health. Most applicants select a course essay, term paper, journal article, white paper, or short undergraduate thesis, but other documents that reflect your research and writing abilities are accepted.

Unofficial transcript(s) for undergraduate degree should be submitted in the application. Admitted applicants will be required to submit official and final transcripts as a condition of enrollment.