Data Science

What Are the Best Academic Degrees for a Career in Statistics?

What Are the Best Academic Degrees for a Career in Statistics?
Although some entry-level roles accept a bachelor's degree in statistics, job listings for data scientists, biostatisticians, and other problem-solving, senior-level positions, may require or prefer candidates with a master's degree. Image from Unsplash
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Courtney Eiland December 6, 2022

Looking for a career in academics, actuarial science, business analytics, data mining, or operations research? A statistics-related degree can give you the jumpstart you need.

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In today’s data-driven world, technology intersects our lives at multiple junctures. It takes knowledge and experience to collect, sort, interpret, and analyze these rich mines of information. That’s where statisticians come in.

Statisticians use data science, analytics, and mathematics to cull valuable insights from data to inform decision-making in areas ranging from business to healthcare to professional sports.

Those who build careers in statistics typically experience numerous perks that include:

A graduate degree in statistics can open the door to various industry roles. However, because statistics is multidisciplinary, you needn’t necessarily earn your degree in statistics to succeed in the field. Programs focused on data science, data analytics, biostatistics, computer science, and mathematics can all lead to successful careers in statistics.

Higher education plays a critical role in statistics careers. Although some entry-level roles accept a bachelor’s degree in statistics, job listings for data scientists, biostatisticians, and other problem-solving, senior-level positions, may require or prefer candidates with a master’s degree.

This article explores the question: what are the best academic degrees for a career in statistics? It covers the following topics:

  • What are the best academic degrees for a career in statistics?
  • Why get a master’s in statistics?

What are the best academic degrees for a career in statistics?

A Master of Science (MS) in Statistics program may seem a clear choice. However, many graduate degree programs can help you pursue a career in statistics. This article reviews the most prominent degrees with the best job prospects from degree programs specializing in business analytics, statistics, economic data analysis, mathematics, and machine learning.

Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA)

A Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) degree combines business acumen and data science. This degree equips students with advanced knowledge and skills to fill roles interpreting big data and influencing strategic business decisions.

Because business success is at the forefront of this specialization, some MSBA programs reside within the business school. These include programs at Georgetown University‘s McDonough School of Business and the University of Virginia‘s Darden School of Business. In addition, some programs offer a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Business Analytics.

Alternatively, the Stevens Institute of Technology combines business intelligence, data, computer science, statistics, and analytics through its Master of Science in Business Intelligence & Analytics (MSBI&A) degree. This program offers comprehensive classroom instruction covering artificial intelligence (AI), deep learning, data mining, statistical analysis, and predictive analytics. Graduates with MSBA degrees can land roles as:

MSBA programs typically take two years of full-time study or as little as one year to complete. In addition, some schools offer online or hybrid options, providing flexibility for working professionals.

Master of Science in Statistics (MS)

A master’s degree in statistics trains students in the theory and methodology of statistical aggregation and analysis. Programs integrate computing while exploring the multiple applications of statistics across business, social science, natural science, and academic research.

Statisticians work in varied business sectors, including finance, marketing, public health, agriculture, sports, education, and government. The curriculum found in Master of Science in Statistics (MS) programs offers foundational, advanced, and elective coursework for degree holders to gain essential knowledge to apply to their area of interest.

Top-ranking statistics programs in the nation include:

Many MS programs begin with foundational core coursework. Stanford, for example, requires incoming students to complete coursework in probability theory, stochastic processes, applied statistics, and statistical theory. Students who have completed qualifying coursework in these areas may take a more advanced course within the core areas.

Master of Science in Statistics degree holders can pursue careers as actuaries, biostatisticians, computer analysts, mathematical statisticians, polling analysts, and other data-based decision-making roles.

Master of Science in Economic Data Analysis (MS)

Statisticians interested in pursuing advanced roles in businesses and government agencies could benefit from a Master of Science in Economic Data Analysis. This two-year degree focuses on some of the following techniques:

  • Decision analysis
  • Econometrics
  • Economic statistics
  • Operational research
  • Regression analysis
  • Statistical modeling

This type of degree may go by other names, such as the STEM-focused Master of Science in Economic Analytics at Clemson University. Others might go by Master of Science in Data Analytics, such as the program offered at Butler University, which focuses more on technical skills. No matter the name of the degree, career paths common for this specialization include:

  • Business analyst
  • Financial markets analyst
  • Logistics analyst
  • Project management specialist
  • Researcher
  • Strategy analyst

Master of Science in Mathematics and Statistics (MS)

This cross-disciplinary degree bridges concepts highlighting mathematical foundations and applies them to business and analytics. Johns Hopkins University offers an MSE in Applied Mathematics and Statistics with four primary areas of focus:

  • Computational mathematics
  • Discrete mathematics
  • Optimization/operations research
  • Probability and statistics

Other course offerings from similar blended programs may cover mathematical modeling, statistics, finance, risk management, and actuarial sciences to prepare graduates for careers in financial institutions.

Master of Science in Statistics and Machine Learning (MS)

Professionals with extensive experience in statistics and machine learning are in high demand. Many companies rely on data analytics, data science, artificial intelligence, algorithms, and machine learning to inform decisions and forecast trends in a data-driven world.

A Master of Science in Statistics and Machine Learning degree program, like the one found at Carnegie Mellon University or Claremont Graduate University, includes core coursework with such titles as:

  • Introduction to Machine Learning
  • Intermediate Deep Learning
  • Linear Statistical Models
  • Nonparametric & Computational Statistics
  • Probabilistic Graphical Models
  • Probability & Mathematical Statistics

In addition, students can choose from elective courses covering advanced statistical theory, regression analysis, and biostatistics. Most programs require two years of full-time study, including a semester-long full-time practicum to gain hands-on experience in research or machine learning.


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Why get a master’s in statistics?

Learning analytical or technical skills through alternate routes such as community college courses, boot camps, or certificate programs is possible. However, these options have pros (lower costs and shorter time commitment) and cons (novice curriculum and low recognition from potential employers).

On the other hand, a master’s in statistics degree offers versatility regarding career opportunities. The knowledge and experience gained from a graduate-level degree are in high demand across various industries. Master’s degree programs provide comprehensive coursework coupled with an independent study, internship, externship, or capstone project to deliver career readiness for post-graduates pursuing advanced or leadership roles.

It’s true that some statistics roles only require a bachelor’s degree in statistics, mathematics, or a related field to fill entry-level jobs. However, higher education programs prepare statisticians for senior-level positions that “rub shoulders” with executives and board members and contribute to decision-making and problem-solving strategies using data science and analytics. A master’s degree offers a leg up to those hoping to ascend the org chart.

Master’s in statistics application process

Getting into a master’s in statistics program can be a competitive process. Some programs may only select a limited number of students per enrollment period, and some may require incoming students to know programming languages (SQL, Python, Javascript, etc.). In addition, some programs may offer on-campus learning; others have flexible hybrid and online options.

While there are vast differences from program to program, many have similar application requirements, such as:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
  • Background in statistics, calculus, linear algebra, and other coursework displaying a solid math background
  • Professional resume highlighting relevant work or internship experience
  • Official academic transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement of interest
  • English proficiency exam (for international applicants)

Some schools provide enrollment advisors and informational webinars or conduct campus visits to guide prospective students through the admission process.

Master’s in statistics admission qualifications

To qualify for a master’s in statistics program, potential students should take a significant number of math courses as early as high school. Although you may not need an undergraduate degree in mathematics, it’s highly recommended for prospects to obtain a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts degree in statistics or another math-centered STEM field to gain fundamental knowledge in preparation for more advanced courses. In addition to statistics courses, students can take electives in computer science, life sciences, social sciences, and other scientific areas during their undergraduate studies.

There are many perks for individuals interested in pursuing a statistics career. However, when searching for the right degree program, it’s best to look for schools that allow you to explore the multidisciplinary functions of statistics through elective coursework or concentrations. Also, seek a program with a solid job placement record that can help you land a high-demand role in a growing profession.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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