Online Master’s in Statistics

Analyzing an In-Demand Degree

Statistics is a unique discipline that has applications in every industry and business sector. Both an art and science, statistics involves the scientific study and use of data, including its collection, analysis, interpretation and implementation. As a quantitative area of research, statistics is widely used to design, support and validate business decisions, scientific experiments and public policy.

Once existing quietly as a specialized field of study, data – especially big data and data science – have become popular topics of discussion in today’s globally interconnected world. For example, two of the world's largest companies, Google and Facebook, are powered by a vast sea of data. Their success relies on their ability to apply quantitative reasoning to extract and leverage endless data streams.

Because of its expansive applications, statistics draws attention from many different professions, such as biology, aerospace, engineering, pharmaceuticals or computer science. The pool of prospective students is diverse, including candidates from any number of career paths requiring statistical analysis or research. The value and potential uses of a master’s degree in statistics are continually expanding, giving graduates the chance to leverage their education well into the future.

This guide offers an overview of online master's programs in statistics, providing insight into degree options, specialized areas of study, degree expectations and career information that can help a prospective student make an informed decision about their future graduate studies.

The Online Master’s Degree in Statistics

Although it may seem counterintuitive, the study of statistics is an interdisciplinary practice, drawing upon skills in mathematics, computer science, statistics, engineering and other areas. The online master’s in statistics is a flexible degree that attracts students from a variety of backgrounds. Most graduate programs in statistics offer two divergent paths of study: applied degree tracks that result in a terminal master’s degree and pure math tracks designed for mathematical statistics students transitioning into PhD programs.

Career options are diverse, as graduates may do one or several of the following:

  • Perform advanced statistical research in mathematics or related fields
  • Conduct research into applied mathematics and statistics
  • Teach statistics at the post-secondary level
  • Work in professional industry positions in applications of statistics

Master’s in statistics programs can be completed entirely online, with graduate students able to choose from several specialized degree tracks. Although specific tracks vary by university, common examples include the following:

Applied Statistics

Broad program of study focused on statistical applications, such as SAS software, and industry-based applications such as data mining, statistical consulting, data modeling and biostatistics methods.

Computational Statistics

Analytical study of the fundamental concepts of machine learning, data science, bioinformatics, artificial intelligence and quantitative finance.

Mathematical Statistics

Geared toward a pure math orientation, offering both theoretical and applied statistics programs of study in statistical and probability theory.

Actuarial Science

Focused on applying the study of statistics to the relationship of financial and economic principles and theory. Includes research into financial mathematics, probability, risk management and derivatives.

Online programs in statistics are designed to mirror their on-campus counterparts, providing students with a rigorous educational experience that prepares them for diverse career opportunities. Depending on the institution and department, the learning format may vary – offered either as a self-paced degree or one that requires real-time online participation. Students should be comfortable with the learning format, and should understand theexpectationsfor instructor-to-student and peer-to-peer interaction.

Five Factors to Consider in an Online Master’s in Statistics Program

SAS Certification Preparation

After graduation, statisticians may want to pursue post-master’s certifications. Does the degree program prepare students for the SAS Base Programming Certification examination or statistical accreditation from the American Statistical Association?

Graduate Project

Graduate students in statistics programs are usually required to complete a multi-semester project involving large-scale data collection and analysis. Students should ask about business and community relationships involved with the graduate projects, and inquire about the availability of partnerships with local organizations.

Applicant Background Expectations

Given its quantitative nature, the online master’s of statistics is typically geared to students with undergraduate degrees in areas such as mathematics, computer science, engineering or biological sciences. Prospective students should ensure that their background aligns with the rigors of the potential graduate program.

Academic or Professional Orientation

Depending on their intent – academic or professional preparation – prospective students should talk with department representatives about the outcomes and goals of the graduate program. For future academics, does the program allow for transition into the university’s PhD program in statistics, or must they apply separately as part of the larger candidate pool?

Residency Requirement

Some online programs require students to participate in intensive on-campus learning sessions, or to complete a hands-on consulting internship prior to graduation. Students should clarify the in-person requirements to set expectations of the time investment required for the master’s degree.

Statistical Concentration Areas of Study

In both applied and theoretical tracks, master’s programs in statistics allow students to specialize their studies in several subject areas. The focus of a graduate program in statistics can be customized to meet the student’s professional needs, whether that is conducting research in experimental design, survival analysis or statistical modeling.

Research principles differ for each graduate school, which means it is important for prospective students to understand the faculty’s application in each concentration. Below is a list of example concentrations available through online master’s degree programs in statistics.

Bioinformatics

An emerging field of study, bioinformatics is a direct result of a shift in thinking of the multidisciplinary of science. Most recently, bioinformatics has been broadly defined as the research of biological data, including the production, collection and analysis of that data. A branch of bioinformatics is Statistical Bioinformatics, which concentrates on biological processes, such as the DNA sequence and gene research.

Computational Finance

Blending computational experience with financial theory, the Computational Finance concentration focuses on the quantitative study of today’s financial industry, including portfolio and risk management, derivative pricing and security analysis. In this interdisciplinary field of study, students develop applied knowledge in mathematics, statistics and computer science.

Data Visualization

A new area of study, Data Visualization is at the crossroads of analytics and design, introducing an interdisciplinary approach to statistical methods. This dynamic field of study combines the theory and application of computer science, statistics and design to critically analyze and present data in a variety of contexts.

Data Mining

The heart of Data Mining is translating mass quantities of raw data into actionable information for a variety of uses and business sectors. This concentration focuses on using data mining techniques and SAS software to identify trends and patterns, and to solve problems in areas such as engineering, health, economics, business and science.

Probability Theory

This specialization combines pure math foundations with applied mathematics methods, creating a framework for exploring the intrinsic nature of chance, especially in regard to interpreting scientific experiments. A continually adapting and changing field of study, Probability Theory is a driver of new theories, theorems and mathematical mechanics that have applications outside the realm of Probability Theory.

Machine Learning

This academic track is designed to further the study of automated learning and its relationship to data analysis. A rapidly growing field, Machine Learning has wide-ranging implications and uses in areas including intelligent systems, finance, bioinformatics and fraud prevention.

Statistical Coursework

Given the numerous areas of concentration, it’s important for students to understand the specific courses offered in statistics graduate programs. Reading the course descriptions can help them determine whether a program is a good fit, although not every class in probability theory or SAS programming will be taught in exactly the same manner or cover the same topics.

Below is a list of online master’s in statistics course descriptions across various disciplines within the field:

Introduction to Probability Theory

In this class, students are introduced to probability theory, covering topics such as central limit theorems, discrete variables, probability spaces, the law of large numbers, conditional distributions and multivariate distributions.

SAS Programming

This course teaches students about SAS programming, specifically covering data processing, data reporting and data management. Topics of study include applied statistics, SQL and SAS packages (e.g., SAS/BASICS, SAS/STAT or SAS/GRAPH).

Statistical Time Analysis and Forecasting

In this course, students study time-focused concepts, such as seasonal patterns, dynamic linear models (DLMs), time domain and spectral analysis. In turn, students investigate the correlation between this analysis and applications in interdisciplinary fields, such as engineering or economics.

Decision Making Statistical Methods

Students focus on statistical methods related to the decision-making environment. Topics of study include statistical modeling, testing of hypotheses and estimation.

Statistical Design of Experiments

Students receive instruction about standard experimental design models and how to design, analyze and interpret the results. Subjects of study may include types of design, such as factorial models, randomized design, screening designs and Latin squares.

Statistics of Surveys

This course covers the design and analysis of surveys, statistical analysis methods, design-based inference, sampling (both random and multi-stage) and stratification.

Modern Statistical Data Analysis

This course examines the principles behind modern statistical analysis and data analysis, including Bayesian inference, prior distributions and model checking.

Linear Models

In this class, students learn about multiple linear regression and parameter estimation, as well as techniques used for exploratory data analysis. The course may also examine Bayes factors and Bayesian hierarchical models.

Spatial Statistics

This is an advanced study of spatial structure data modeling, with an emphasis on lattice and geo-statistical data. Students may study Markov random fields and Gaussian generalizations.

Setting Expectations for the Online Master’s in Statistics

A helpful first step in the selection process is creating a degree timeline that establishes the overall expectations of an online master’s in statistics degree program. Depending on the university and the subject concentration, a master’s in statistics can usually be completed between two to five years of full-time study. Prospective students should begin researching potential online programs as early as possible to ensure that they have time to complete the required undergraduate prerequisites, pass standardized tests (e.g., GRE), and gather application documents.

step 1
Program Research

Below is a list of items students should review when evaluating individual graduate programs:

  • Type and number of statistics concentrations available
  • Faculty’s professional and educational background
  • Total cost of attendance (tuition, fees, technology fees, books, etc.)
  • Number of credits required to graduate
  • Thesis or project requirements
  • Online learning formats
  • Residency or internship requirements
  • Minimum GPA and GRE score requirements
  • Application fees
step 2
Application

Applications vary by institution, but below is a list of common items that universities typically request from graduate candidates. Students should review both the school’s and department’s application requirements, as they can differ.

  • Application fee
  • Undergraduate transcripts
  • Standardized test scores (GRE or GRE with Mathematics Subject Test)
  • Statement of purpose
  • References
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Resume/CV
step 3
Sample Degree Timeline

This hypothetical time frame is based on a two-year degree plan for full-time students in a master’s of statistics degree program. Students typically complete their core course requirements during the first of study, and then transition to electives or concentration-based studies during the second year. Depending on the university and program of study, the master’s in statistics may be offered with a thesis or non-thesis option. Thesis programs typically require fewer credits to graduate, while a non-thesis program generally requires additional credits and the completion of a capstone project. Both the thesis and project are included in the timeline below.

Semester 1

  • Start coursework
  • Meet with faculty advisor
  • Begin selection process for thesis or research project committee

Semester 2

  • Develop program of study timeline
  • Select graduate committee
  • Prepare thesis/project proposal
  • File program of study with department and graduate school

Semester 3

  • Receive approval on thesis/project proposal
  • Begin research on thesis/project
  • Start concentration and elective coursework

Semester 4

  • Finish elective coursework
  • Complete research for thesis/project
  • Write final thesis/complete project
  • Take comprehensive examinations
  • Defend/present thesis/project

An Inside Scoop on Statistics

Catherine Hart first knew she wanted to become a statistician when she was in high school in Islip, New York. Catherine’s aunt, a research statistician at a biochemical company, encouraged her to major in statistics as an undergraduate. After graduation, Catherine worked as an assistant to a statistician in a pharmaceutical company in Boston. When she announced that she was interested in progressing further in the company, a mentor suggested that she attend graduate school online while she continued working.

Catherine attended Texas A&M University’s online statistics graduate degree program and graduated in 2013. The non-thesis program was perfect for working around her professional schedule, and she was also able to apply work experience for academic credit. Today, Catherine is employed as a statistician at a different pharmaceutical company where she earns a higher salary.

She shares some advice for others who are in the situation she was in before deciding to attend graduate school:“In some ways, I wish I had gone on to graduate school right after getting my bachelor’s in statistics, because then I would have still been in the class/study mode. But I was really anxious to get a job and start using my undergraduate education.”

Catherine also wishes she had earned her undergraduate degree at an institution that required an internship.“I didn’t have to do an internship, and I wish I had. It would have made me more attractive to graduate schools. Fortunately, I had work experience, which gave me the confidence to apply.”

Catherine stresses that she would not have been offered the position at her current company without her graduate degree.“I had the chance to see what was out there with just my bachelor’s. I had many more options when I finished grad school. It was like night and day.”

A Diverse Array of Career Specializations

Statisticians have a pliable skill set that can be leveraged in multiple industries and professions. The American Statistical Association groups statistics careers into three major categories: Health & Medicine, Business & Industry and Government. Below is a list of professional areas where statisticians may be employed.

Health & Medicine

Biostatistics.

The field of biostatistics applies statistical techniques to research in the health industry, such as public health, biology, epidemiology and medicine. Developing new statistical methods for scientific research, biostatistics has played an integral role in the treatment of illnesses and disease, including the development of new drugs, evaluation of cancer treatments, study of the efficacy of organ transplants, and quality assessment of dental procedures.

Pharmacology.

The Food and Drug Administration is tasked with reviewing the safety and effectiveness of drugs before they can be prescribed by physicians. The testing and approval process is extensive, requiring scientific testing and subsequent validation of that testing. Statisticians are vital to the drug development process, as they apply statistical techniques and methods at each stage of the process: drug development and clinical trials, drug research and approval and drug marketing.

Public Health.

Statisticians and epidemiologists are charged with gathering, assessing and analyzing health data in communities, cities, states and on a national level. Translating this data into actionable reports, public health statisticians report on specific health issues, such as mortality, teen pregnancy, obesity and health disparities. Those health reports can then be used to establish public health policies, create wellness programs and allocate community health resources.

Business & Industry

Computer Science.

Statistics and computer science are closely aligned in research, analysis, design and development in multiple areas, including the following:

  • Data Mining: This involves the collection and analysis of massive data sets.
  • Speech Recognition: This discipline uses coded dictionaries to identify machine-spoken words.
  • Image Analytics: Statistics are used to solve practical problems in areas related to image processing.
  • Artificial Intelligence: This applies statistical techniques and methods to model human thought in computers.
  • Machine Learning: Statistics are used to improve the performance of a machine or system based on a continual review of previous results.
  • Software Engineering: Statistical theories and methods are used in the creation and development of computer programs.

Finance.

Statisticians are at the heart of financial data, utilizing a range of statistical and computational methods to identify and analyze trends in financial markets, such as the credit market and stock market. That analysis is used in wide-ranging applications, such developing financial applications, making decisions about risk management, or creating complex pricing systems for derivative pricing products.

Manufacturing.

Individuals working in industrial and manufacturing statistics are heavily involved in the design, manufacturing and marketing of products. Statisticians in this fields may use algorithms to predict consumer behavior, create a product marketing roadmap based on consumer locations and preferences, develop statistical analyses for product maintenance and create statistical quality assurance models.

Government

Ecology.

The study of natural resources requires the work of ecological and environmental statisticians. At both the state and national level in the National Forest Service or Environmental Protection Agency, statisticians may be tasked with creating statistical experiments and models that answer questions and solve problems in areas such as fish conservation, farming and wildlife tracking.

National Defense.

Statisticians work in various areas of national policy, such as the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy, research organizations (e.g., Center for Naval Analyses), the Pentagon, or the Naval Surface Warfare Center. Statisticians can impact national security through the design of experiments, development of computer simulation models, and research of budget allocation in various application areas, including physics, manufacturing and public policy.

Census.

The U.S. Census Bureau conducts large-scale data surveys in areas including Housing, Agriculture, Business, Transportation, Government and Manufacturing. Census statisticians handle a range of responsibilities, from designing survey samples to developing survey methodologies, analyzing measurement errors, and assessing survey quality.

Career and Salary Potential in Statistics

Statistics is a complex professional field, layered between both applied and theoretical disciplines and approaches. Prospective graduate students should understand how completing an online master’s in statistics will advance their professional goals. A graduate education requires a significant investment of time and financial resources. Based on their projected occupation, students should examine the overall return on that investment.

According to the 2013 Salary Survey of Business, Industry, and Government Statisticians from the American Statistical Association, statisticians with a master’s degree earned 42 percent more than those with only a bachelor’s degree.

According to ASA data bachelor’s degree holders in statistics earned $84,500 per year, while master’s degree holders earned $120,000.

The below table includes a salary range for statisticians with a master’s degree in 2013, provided by the American Statistical Association:

Salary Percentile 10% 25% 50% 75% 90%
Salary $70,000 $92,000 $120,000 $153,500 $203,000

Source: American Statistical Association, 2013 Salary Survey of Business, Industry, and Government Statisticians

The salary survey also grouped statistician earnings into five major employment areas: Federal Government, State Government, For-Profit Businesses, Nonprofit Organizations and Private Consultants. The table below includes 2013 salary data for each major occupational area and shows the salary range provided by the AMA (bottom 10 percent of earners to top 10 percent).

The table below includes 2013 salary data for each major occupational area and highlights the salary range provided by the BLS (Bottom 10% of earners to Top 10% of earners), as well as the average salary for each group.

Employer 10% Median 90%
Federal Government $67,000 $115,000 $155,500
State Government $17,500 $70,000 $10,000
For-Profit Business $75,000 $125,000 $220,000
Non-Profit Organization $57,500 $98,000 $211,000
Private Consultant $50,000 $130,000 $226,500

Industry data from the ASA also reveals that the amount of experience directly impacts the earnings of individuals with master’s degrees in statistics. For prospective students in different phases of their careers, the salary breakdown by experience should be factored into the decision of whether or not to complete a degree:

  • 0-5 years: $75,000
  • 6-10 years: $96,000
  • 11-15 years: $109,500
  • 16-25 years: $127,500
  • 25+ years: $137,000

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 2013 national salary range for all statisticians is slightly below the membership-reported salaries of ASA:

Salary Percentile 10% 25% 50% 75% 90%
Salary $44,310 $58,360 $79,290 $103,870 $128,430

A closer examination of BLS data also showed some of the top-paying industries for statisticians in 2013, including the following:

  • Information Services: $130,870
  • Drug Merchant Wholesalers: $113,190
  • Monetary Authorities-Central Bank: $105,220
  • Electronic Component Manufacturing: $100,190

Geographic location may also influence the earning power of online master’s in statistics graduates. Below is a list of the 2013 salary ranges from the ASA based on geographical groupings of states:

Geographic Region 10% Median 90%
South Atlantic $80,000 $133,000 $206,000
Middle Atlantic $87,000 $174,000 $300,000
East North Central $73,000 $130,000 $245,000
Pacific $72,000 $139,000 $275,000
New England $93,000 $160,000 $289,000
West North Central $725,000 $122,000 $200,000

The 10 top-paying states for statisticians in 2013 included the following:

State 2013 Average Salary
New Jersey $112,830
California $103,900
District of Columbia $103,810
North Carolina $95,520
Delaware $94,660
Maryland $94,030
Massachusetts $91,390
Alaska $91,370
Connecticut $88,920
Virginia $86,810

Career Projections and Opportunities in Statistics

In its annual rankings of the best careers, CareerCast ranked statistician as the number three best career in the country in 2014. With a projected national growth rate of 27 percent and career earnings that can surpass six figures, statistics is quickly becoming one of the country’s most in-demand occupations.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the largest opportunities for online master’s in statistics students are in the following industry areas:

  • Computer systems design: 55%
  • Financial securities: 47.1%
  • Software publishers: 44%
  • Information services: 28.3%
  • Wholesale trade: 24%
  • Insurance: 20.1%
  • Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing: 19.7%
  • Data processing: 18.1%
  • Chemical manufacturing: 17.9%

Geographically, the states with the brightest outlook for statisticians include Utah, California and Kansas. Below is a list of the 10 states with the best employment projections for statisticians between 2012 and 2022, according to Projections Central, a site that aggregates labor data from state and federal departments.

Rank
State
% Job Growth
2
California
40.7%
3
Kansas
40.2%
4
North Carolina
40.0%
5
Texas
36.9%
6
Wyoming
36.8%
7
Colorado
35.6%
8
Arizona
35.5%
9
New York
34.8%
10
Massachusetts
33.2%

Overall, graduates of master’s programs in statistics have a bevy of career options. Armed with a master’s degree, statisticians should be well-positioned as competitive candidates in their industry of choice

Calculating New Degree Paths in Statistics

As the core skills of statisticians translate well to nearly every industry, there are abundant opportunities outside of the field itself. Graduates have the opportunity to pursue alternative career paths, as all types of employers seek the critical thinking and analyticalskills of statisticians. Below is a list of several professional pursuits outside the realm of more traditionalstatisticalroles.

  • Assessor

    Requiring analytical and technical proficiency, assessors and appraisers estimate the value of property and real estate, both commercial and residential. They determine the value based on inspections, comparable values and public record descriptions.

  • Market Research Analyst

    Although it’s not purely a statistical job, market research analysts conduct studies of market conditions and consumer behaviors to create sales forecasts and isolate sales trends. They may use a variety of statistical methods – including surveys, polls and statistical software – to collect, analyze and interpret information.

  • Teacher

    From the computer to classroom learning, many statisticians transition smoothly into a teaching role. The practical, analytical and research skills of statisticians translate well into a profession as a mathematics or statistics instructor.