How do I Earn a Statistics PhD?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 October 2018
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There are many statistics PhD programs, and each may have slightly different requirements for entry and completion. Some people earn a PhD in mathematics with an emphasis in statistics, and others earn a doctoral degree specifically in statistics. It’s not clear that either degree is preferable, though students may naturally want to attend a school with professors who have strong expertise in statistics, if they intend this as their primary focus.

The variations on requirements and the way students are admitted to statistics PhD programs mean students will want to identify programs of interest early and design their pre-doctoral studies to meet minimum entry prerequisites. The undergraduate major is important and most students will need to major in math or statistics. Many programs accept students who are math majors or who have majored in other fields, provided they have pursued certain math studies like linear algebra, a few years of calculus and advanced statistics. It should be noted, that a statistics bachelor’s degree isn’t always necessary, but again, students need to refer to individual program requirements to verify this.


Many doctoral programs have an M.A./PhD admission strategy. If students only possess a B.A. or B.S., admission to the PhD program doesn’t take place immediately. Instead, students are first admitted to the M.A. program, and before being accepted for PhD candidacy, they have to complete a couple of years of school and pass examinations. Should they pass these, they gain automatic admission to the doctoral program. Other schools may only admit people who’ve already earned a master’s degree, or they may admit students with a master’s and give them advanced standing, so that they take fewer courses and spend less time on coursework before beginning dissertation work.

Other qualifications students may need to have to successfully apply to a statistics PhD program include very strong grades, good letters of recommendation, and a strong entrance essay. Standardized tests like the general and subject (math) Graduate Record Examination (GRE) are frequently expected as well. Additionally, students who are studying in a country with a language other than their native language often need to prove fluency through testing.

The average statistics PhD takes about four to seven years to complete, though time can be shorter if students enter a program with a master’s degree. Studies in a program are a combination of coursework and then preparation and completion of a dissertation. Students also frequently work as teaching assistants or teachers as part of doctoral requirements. The dissertation is arguably the most difficult part of earning the degree since this should represent a lengthy piece of scholarship on statistical matters, and faculty must approve it before the doctorate can be awarded.



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