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Online Masters in Statistics

March 31, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Statistics is an interesting field and one that allows people to work in a variety of roles. If you’re someone who enjoys working with figures, pursuing a master’s degree in applied statistics or a related field such as machine learning or data science could be an interesting option.

Most people who pursue a master’s degree in this area started with a degree in computer science, mathematics or statistics and have decided they’d like to narrow their focus into a more specific area of data science. Often, master’s degree students have spent a couple of years working in a specific industry before going back to continue their education.

This part’s important because knowledge of linear algebra is useful, but real-world experience and domain expertise are even more valuable. Classroom (or virtual) experience studying an applied statistics program is far more valuable if you have clear ideas of how you can apply this knowledge to the real world.

It’s common for data scientists to pursue a master’s degree while they’re working in an entry-level analyst role. After completing a master’s degree, many other positions may open up in research, risk analysis, market analysis, or more specialist roles.

What an online master’s in statistics covers

An online master’s in statistics is a highly focused qualification that delves into the field of statistics in depth. Exactly what the degree covers will depend on the area of specialization the student chooses. Most master’s degrees have several routes to choose from, allowing a student to pick the topics that interest them the most.

Some example areas of specialization that are open to students studying an online master’s in statistics include:

Economics

Statistics is a field that has many applications for those interested in economics, especially at the macroeconomic level. Many students who are interested in applied statistics pursue careers focused on economics, either studying economics or working on a policy level.

Computational statistics

Computational statistics can include machine learning, artificial intelligence, big data, and other forms of analytics. This area of study may be of interest to people working in marketing, market research, usability, or even other more specialized fields. For example, a nursing informaticist may use computational statistics to model patient flows and find ways to improve the efficiency of their clinic.

Econometrics and finance

Econometrics is a field of economics that focuses on using statistical methods to allow the empirical study of economic theories. There is some overlap between economics and econometrics, but economics looks at things on a broader policy level, where econometrics is more analytical. Combining econometrics and finance allows you to pursue a career in business and use your mathematics and statistics skills to guide budgeting decisions and manage a company’s finances.

Business analytics

Business analytics is the practice of using data to analyze past performance and make decisions about future actions and business operations. Someone with a master’s in statistics and a focus on business analytics can use their skills to predict market trends, understand the actions consumers are taking, and find ways to help a business increase its revenue. This is a highly practical field and business analytics experts are in demand in almost every industry.

Social work

  • Statistics and data science have a lot of value for people who are interested in public policy and using statistics to find ways to improve people’s lives. For example, a person could use statistics to identify patterns relating to health care delays, academic achievement, crime, or other issues and use that information to inform public spending. They could use statistics about drug use to prioritize outreach campaigns or build education models that look at attendance and achievement, and use that to guide policies and identify students at risk of struggling academically.

Statistics can be applied in a variety of settings and a person studying for an online master’s degree has the option of focusing on a variety of areas, depending on the organization they study with. If you have a specific area of study in mind, look for a course that includes those modules.

Don’t be embarrassed to contact the faculty and ask if they have lecturers with expertise in the area you’re interested in. A master’s degree is a very in-depth qualification and you will need a high level of support and engagement from the faculty to complete it.

What courses are required for an online master’s in statistics?

Entry requirements for online master’s degrees in statistics vary depending on the institution but are usually similar to the requirements for degrees taught at a traditional university.

For example, the London School of Economics, a university that offers both online and on-campus education options, runs an MSc in Statistics that can be taken as a nine-month full-time course, or a 21-month part-time course. To enrol on the course, a student is expected to have at least a 2:1 in a related discipline, and that their degree would have included a substantial amount of statistics and mathematics.

The latter part is important because computer science degrees, for example, can vary from being quite business and policy-focused to covering algorithms and a significant amount of data science and pure mathematics.

In general, students should have an understanding of:

  • Calculus and Mathematical Analysis
  • Linear Algebra
  • Probability I (e.g. moments, Bayes Theorem)
  • Probability II (functions, the Law of Large Numbers)
  • Statistics I (chi-square, F distributions, normal, descriptive statistics)
  • Statistics II (Likelihood ratio tests, simple regressions, analysis of variance)

If you don’t have a grounding in those subjects, you may need to do some catch-up courses before you move on to a master’s degree.

What kinds of graduate projects or theses are needed to complete an online master’s in statistics?

If you enroll in a statistics degree course at master’s degree level, you’ll be expected to complete an extensive project as a part of your studies. You’ll have the opportunity to submit ideas for your project or choose a project from a list of suggestions, and the project options available should be quite varied.

The University of Hasselt in Belgium offers some examples of the projects their students take on as part of their Master of Statistics and  Data Science course. This is an on-campus course, but a student studying online would be expected to undertake a project of a similar level of depth and caliber.

For this master’s degree, students specializing in bioinformatics might be expected to design and analyze experiments looking at the human genome. A student who is studying public health and statistics may take on a project modeling infectious diseases and performing risk assessments.

This is one reason that it’s a good idea to have some work experience before starting a master’s since it gives you more ideas for how the theoretical concepts you’re studying in your degree can be applied in the real world to analyze data and inform important decisions.

One challenge someone taking on an online master’s degree might face is that they’re more isolated than a student working on campus. It’s harder to ask for advice and find other students to brainstorm with. It’s vital that master’s degree students following an online program are proactive and do their best to remain engaged with their faculty throughout their studies.

What you can do with an online master’s in statistics

An online master’s in statistics can open up a variety of job opportunities, including:

  • Actuarial analyst
  • Data analyst
  • Data scientist
  • Financial risk analyst
  • Market researcher
  • Investment analyst
  • Research scientist
  • Economist
  • Insurance underwriter
  • Machine learning engineer
  • Business analyst

Some people who pursue a master’s in statistics online remain in academia and focus on research or education. Others move into finance and focus on trading and investment, or seek employment in a business where they can apply the statistical analysis techniques they’ve learned on a broader scale.

A person who is interested in technology and computer programming has the option of applying their skills in a machine learning environment, building simulations and models, or programming computers to do in-depth analysis on huge data sets. Big data is a rapidly growing field that has applications in almost every area of life.

What is the average salary for a master’s in statistics graduate?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that people who work as mathematicians or statisticians have a median annual wage of $92,030 per year. This covers a variety of job titles and assumes the employee has a master’s degree.

Actual salaries may vary, but in general, those who have some field expertise can command higher salaries than those whose education focused exclusively on mathematics. For example, an accountant or a finance specialist with an advanced education in statistics would be a stronger candidate for a job in the financial sector than someone with a pure academic background.

A person who moves into Operations Research Analysis could expect a salary of $84,810 per year. Someone with a technical background who focuses on Computer and Information Research could command a salary of around $122,840 a year.

What industries need online master’s in statistics graduates?

Graduates from online masters in statistics programs could carve out a niche in almost any industry that they’re passionate about. Health care providers need people who understand statistics to analyze patient trends. Financial institutions need a graduate from a data science program to help them make decisions.

Town planners need people who can use statistics to predict traffic patterns. Fashion brands rely on data science to understand the results they get back from market research. Food companies use statistics to understand how to optimize their supply chains. Web designers have access to huge amounts of information in their server logs and that information can be used to understand how visitors interact with websites, helping the designer make changes to get users to spend more time interacting with their sites.

Statistics may seem like a dry subject to a young person taking an AP course, but those who enjoy the subject enough to enroll on an applied statistics program will find the tools they learn about have applications almost everywhere. Statistical science is a fascinating subject, and the skills you gain from an online master’s program can be applied to any industry, so if your interests change or you want to pursue a career in a different field you’ll have skills you can transfer to almost anything.

How to choose an online master’s in statistics program that fulfills your goals

Deciding to go to graduate school is a big step. After spending several years as an undergraduate student, you’ll most likely be worried about the cost of the master’s program, how long it will take, and how much of a time commitment it is.

While these are all concerns that make sense, master’s degree students have some advantages over their bachelor’s or foundation degree peers. By the time you’re considering enrolling on a graduate program you have a robust understanding of the subject you want to study.

You already know that you’re interested in pursuing a statistics degree at a higher level. You know enough to decide whether you’re interested in focusing on data science or applied statistics and you probably even have a few ideas for what you’d like to do as a project for your master’s.

This means you’re unlikely to want to drop out of your master’s partway through the studies. The program could be challenging and there may be days that you feel you’re out of your depth, but you know that you want to pursue the program. The main thing you need to think about when you’re choosing where to complete your studies is how you can make it as easy as possible to complete your course.

What are the most important things to look for in an online master’s in statistics program?

Some things to think about when you are choosing a course include:

  • Specialization
  • Whether the university is accredited
  • How much freedom you have to choose your project
  • The cost of the program
  • How long you have to complete the program
  • Whether it’s entirely online or has some mandatory on-campus elements
  • Graduation rates
  • How the content is delivered

Online learning means students can study for a master’s degree at a university that is in a different country to the one they live in if they wish. Platforms such as Cousera offer a variety of master’s degree options that can be studied entirely in your own time, at your own pace.

For example, the Master of Data Science from HSE University is an entirely online program. HSE is based in Russia, and the program uses applied projects and lecturers who have extensive real-world experience. If you’re more comfortable pursuing a degree with an American university, then the Master of Computer Science in Data Science could be an option for those who are interested in data and statistics from a technical standpoint.

Both of these programs are delivered through Coursera. Some other universities offer courses that are taught via their own online learning platforms.

How do you choose an online master’s in statistics program?

When you’re deciding which course to enroll on, think about the cost of the program and how you’re going to pay for it. Most universities charge a small application fee and a fee for having you ‘on their books’ as a student. This fee is payable each year while you’re taking the course (making it cheaper if you complete the course in a single academic year).

American universities often charge per credit hours, while European universities charge per course or per point towards the qualification. You might have the option of paying for the entire course up-front, paying in monthly installments or paying for each module as you enroll on it.

If you’re self-funding the course, then the way the course is charged for may be of importance to you, since you’ll need to budget for enrollment, textbooks, and other study-related expenses, exams, and potentially travel if you’re expected to attend lab sessions at an educational institution.

Master’s degrees that are offered entirely online are usually less expensive than ones that have an on-campus component, but if you’re focusing on something like statistics for bioinformatics you might need to attend university campus sessions so you can make use of specialized lab equipment.

Whether you’re self-funding or not, you should consider how the program is delivered and whether you think you’d be able to complete it. Most institutions allow students to sample their course and look around the learning platform before they enroll. It’s a good idea to take advantage of this so you can get an idea of how easy the platform is to use.

Some e-learning platforms, such as the ones offered by Coursera and Udemy are quite sophisticated, interactive and lend themselves to multimedia learning quite well. Some older universities that primarily offer on-campus learning have much more basic online platforms and may rely almost exclusively on text-based delivery.

As a learner, you may find you prefer one platform over another, and it’s well worth taking that into account when choosing which institution to study with, because you’ll be investing a lot of time into your studies over the next year or two.

How should your future plans influence your choice of online master’s of statistics programs?

Prospective students should consider their career goals when they’re trying to decide where to study. Having any form of graduate school on your record is going to help your employment prospects massively, but if you want to work for a specific company or in a particular industry, sometimes choosing the right university can help with that.

Take a look at the LinkedIn profiles of people who work in the industry you’re interested in. Is there a common thread in terms of which universities they studied at or what they focused on for their master’s degree? If you’re interested in a specific field, is there a university that has close links to companies in that field, and perhaps helps students get placements or work with a company on their projects?

Networking is an important part of growing your career and is something that on-campus studies help a lot with. When you’re studying for a master’s degree online it’s harder to network but some of the best online programs do provide virtual opportunities to further your career.

Best online programs for master’s in statistics

Any accredited master’s degree program in statistics or data science is going to help you get a better job and will further your understanding of this fascinating field. However, there are some online programs that are more respected than others. Choosing a master’s degree program that is delivered by a university with good brand recognition will help you advance your career even better.

Which online master’s in statistics programs are the most respected?

Some of the most respected graduate programs in statistics, data science, and other related fields include those delivered by:

  • Oklahoma University
  • University of Houston
  • Colorado State University
  • The University of Texas
  • Emporia State University

Oklahoma University

Oklahoma University offers an incredibly affordable online master’s in statistics. This degree includes 36 credit hours of coursework and is aimed at those who are looking to enter employment in a data-focused or scientific field, rather than those who are aiming to pursue further doctoral-level education. Would-be students are required to have a GRE and an understanding of linear algebra, calculus, and computer science.

University of Houston

The Master of Science in Statistics and Data Analysis from the University of Houston is a one-year distance learning degree covering 30 credits. The course focuses on hands-on assignments and research projects and includes an internship over the summer. Students are expected to have a bachelor’s degree with a GPA of 3.0 or better and will have a much higher chance of acceptance if they have a background in probability and statistics. Places on this course are in high demand due to the low cost and the practical nature of the studies. Applicants are asked to provide three references and a personal statement.

Colorado State University

Colorado State University has an online version of its Master of Applied Statistics course. The program has two specialization options: Data Science and Statistical Science. To join the program, students are expected to have a four-year bachelor’s degree from a recognized university, with three semesters of calculus, at least one statistics course, and a linear algebra course. Students whose prior qualifications are not recognized have the option of completing the GRO or a Math Entrance Exam.

The University of Texas

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley offers a Master of Science in Mathematics with four specialization options including Industrial and Applied Mathematics, or Statistics. The program includes modern research and communication skills as well as advanced mathematics concepts. This is a highly respected program, and entry into it is very competitive, so applicants must have a bachelor’s degree with a GPA of 3.0 or better in all math courses.

Emporia State University

Emporia State University in Kansas offers an online delivery option for its Master of Science in Mathematics course which includes statistics, mathematics, and applied mathematics in its specialization options. The course prepares students for entry into industry, business, teaching, or governmental positions. One interesting thing about this course is the learner support available through the Brighton Math Lab and the AfterCollege job search service that all Emporia students are able to access. There’s no GRE required for admission, but college transcripts will be necessary.

If you would like to attend a specific university, but don’t have the grades required, you may still be able to get an entry on to your course of choice if you re-take the modules you struggled with at the undergraduate level. Most of the universities listed above ask for letters of recommendation or references and also ask prospective students to write a letter of intent as a part of their application.

This is your chance to explain any extenuating circumstances that may have led to your grades being lower than you wanted at the undergraduate level. If you can demonstrate that you have taken the initiative to improve your grades and that you are committed to pursuing a career in statistics, there’s a chance the university will offer you a conditional place on a graduate program.

Be aware that master’s degrees in mathematics and statistics are very demanding, and you will need to be able to understand the material and do a lot of self-directed learning. So don’t rush ahead into an advanced statistics course unless you’re truly confident in the material you studied at the undergraduate level. You have the rest of your life to go back to university as a mature student, so there’s no need to throw time and money at a course you might struggle with.

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