What type of student is biostatistics looking for?
The Department of Biostatistics aims to train the next generation of public health leaders in biostatistics. The department's students have strong quantitative skills, excellent communication skills, exhibit leadership, and are interested in pursuing a career in biostatistics and public health.
- Who can I contact about admissions, policies, or requirements?
How do I apply?
You can find out more detail about our application process by visiting the application guide. The Department of Biostatistics at UCLA Fielding offers two masters and two doctoral degree programs, with the MS and PhD oriented toward students with strong training in mathematics. The MPH degree program has a substantial public health component in addition to training in biostatistics.Application Guide
What are the prerequisites for the biostatistics degree programs?
The minimal prerequisites for the Department of Biostatistics MS program are two years of college mathematics, which includes differential and integral calculus, multivariable calculus, infinite sequences, differential equations, and especially linear algebra. The MPH requires one year of college math, integral and differential calculus, and one quarter of multivariable calculus. These are the minimum requirements, however more math is (always) better, particularly for the PhD program, where real analysis (UCLA Math 131A, 131B), and linear algebra (UCLA Math 115A, 115B) are desirable. In addition to the mathematics training, the department likes to see:
- written and oral verbal skills,
- programming experience,
- exposure to science of some kind,
- some indication that the applicant knows what statistics is, and
- leadership experience.
Verbal skills — both written and oral — are highly valued and essential for a successful career as a statistician.
How much math is required for admission?
More than the minimum amount of mathematics will be helpful for all matriculants. Minimal mathematics requirements for the degree programs are:
- MPH — 1 year of college-level mathematics: integral and differential calculus. At UCLA, this is satisfied by Math 31A, 31B and 32A.
- MS — 2 years of college level mathematics: integral and differential calculus, multivariable calculus, differential equations and linear algebra. At UCLA, this is satisfied by Math 31A, 31B, 32A, 32B, 33A and 33B.
- PhD — More math than for the MS. A semester or full year of real analysis and enough additional junior/senior-level mathematics to demonstrate one's ability to thrive in the program is highly recommended. Recommended: UCLA Math 131A, 131B, 115A, 115B
I haven't taken all required math courses for the MS. Can I still apply?
It is strongly recommended that applicants complete all prerequisite math courses prior to applying to the program.
Is the math preparation for the MPH and MS degrees a prerequisite?
The math preparation for the MPH and MS degree programs is a prerequisite and the admissions committee will be looking for those courses and the performance within them when reviewing admissions applications. Having the adequate math preparation makes a prospective student a competitive applicant and determines if they are a suitable candidate for the degree. The math preparation and an applicant's grasp of the material will inform the admissions committee as to whether it is sufficient for an applicant to succeed in the program.
What are the differences between the MPH degree and the MS degree?
The MPH in Biostatistics is a broad public health degree with emphasis in biostatistics. The MS is a scientific degree that delves deeper into statistics and provides less public health knowledge. The MS is preparatory for the PhD degree. One difference between the degrees is on the intake side — the MPH requires one year of calculus, while the MS requires two years of math. At UCLA, this includes math 31A B, 32 AB, and 33Ab (6 quarter courses). These courses cover differential and integral calculus, infinite sequences, multivariable calculus, differential equations and linear algebra. After graduating, both degrees provide similar success in getting jobs.
Can I waive BIOSTAT 100A (Introductory Statistics)?
Students who wish to waive school requirements for Biostatistics 100A must have taken a college-level course equivalent to Biostatistics 100A, AND pass the waiver examination.
The Biostatistics 100A waiver examination is administered every year before the start of the fall term.
Please check with the SAO for the date and time.
Students who plan to take this exam should email the SAO, Roxy Naranjo, to sign up.
- When signing up, students must submit a copy of their transcripts showing they have taken a college-level course equivalent to Biostatistics 100A (including the use of an appropriate statistical software package). In addition please send a copy of the course syllabus.
- Sign-ups are only official after the Chair of the Department of Biostatistics approves a student's request to take the waiver examination.
- No written material may be brought to the exam. This examination is closed book. Calculators are allowed. A page of formulas will be provided.
- Most of the subject matter for Biostatistics 100A is covered in Basic Statistics: A Primer for the Biomedical Sciences, 3rd edition, O.J. Dunn and V.A. Clark (D & C) or Introduction to the Practices of Statistics, 3rd edition, David Moore & George McCabe (M & M). Relevant material can be found in the following chapters:
- Topics : D & C (chapters) : M & M (chapters)
- Graphical Methods : 3 : 1.1
- Descriptive Statistics; Summaries : 3, 4 : 1.2
- Design, Sampling : 2 : 3
- Probability, Random variables, Distribution : 5 : 1.3, 4, 5
- Sampling Distributions, Principles of Inference : 6 : 6
- Confidence Intervals, Tests for Means : 6, 7 : 7.1, 7.2
- Inference for Proportions : 8, 9 : 8, 9
- Methods for paired enumeration data are not fully covered in these texts, so a supplement is available here.
What does the admissions committee pay most attention to?
The admissions committee takes into consideration the entire application package. For the PhD program, the committee is particularly interested in leadership abilities, as PhD graduates need to provide statistical leadership in academia and in business. More weight is given to recent coursework compared to coursework taken years previously. The overall GPA and quality of the schools attended is also considered. More weight is given to mathematics courses than to other courses, especially for computer science, physics, other mathematical sciences, such as statistics, econometrics, and other sciences. The committee pays close attention to speaking and writing abilities, the self-statement, letters, and GRE scores. Some research exposure is strongly encouraged as is programming experience. Incoming students are note expected to have published, though it is a plus if that is the case.
Are applicants to the PhD program required to apply for the MS first?
The department takes strong applicants from a bachelor's degree directly into the PhD program.
Is funding available and what are the financial aid options?
Most of the available financial support for masters students is provided through jobs on the UCLA campus. The Department of Biostatistics has reserved essentially all of its discretionary funding for doctoral students. It is common for masters students to find employment on campus, although not always in their first academic quarter on campus. A job title of "Graduate Student Researcher" typically provides a few thousand dollars of support during a given academic quarter. If the effort in the job title of Graduate Student Researcher is 25% or greater (i.e., 10 hours a week of work, or more), then the student also qualifies for remissions from most of the fees required of all students enrolled at UCLA. If the effort in the job title of Graduate Student Researcher is 45% or greater (i.e., 18 hours a week of work, or more), then the student additionally qualifies for remission of non-resident tuition, but this form of financial support is not commonly provided, and there is a rule on campus requiring that students not work more than 20 hours per week.
What percentage of graduate students get TA or RA positions?
The department is typically able to guarantee support to 5-6 doctoral students per year prior to the time of arrival at UCLA. After arriving at UCLA, MS students can find paid teaching assistant or research assistant jobs. The department maintains a list of graduate students looking for positions — and most students find jobs.
Some qualities that help students obtain positions include being involved in the FSPH community by attending events and networking, possessing a strong skillset to contribute to ongoing research projects, and a genuine interest in finding a position (e.g., regularly checking emails and responding to job postings).
- Funding can only be guaranteed for doctoral students, but that doesn't preclude MS students from finding funding. Research opportunities are not restricted from MS students.
- There are approximately 5,000 MDs and PhD's (and dentists, nurses, public health professionals, and psychiatrists) within the Center for the Health Sciences and a wealth of projects generating data that require analysis. Principal investigators within FSPH and outside the school of public health post student research positions throughout the year as they become available, and the biostatistics department notifies students about relevant opportunities through the department listserv.
- There are many research opportunities at UCLA, and some students find those opportunities without faculty intervention. In fact, some doctoral students are still employed at UCLA many years after graduation.
- One of the strengths of the biostatistics program is that most of MS and MPH students graduate with UCLA work experience.
- There about 25 biostatistics faculty members, most of whom are in need of good students to help with various research projects.
- Most students are employed by their second year in the program.
- What generally determines how soon a student can get funding is a combination of skills coming into the program and entrepreneurial spirit. Key skills include English/verbal/communication skills, computer package skills (R/SAS/Stata), and statistical skills. Prior experience is a major plus.
How long does it take to complete the program?
The MS and MPH degrees are two-year programs. Someone with substantial previous preparation equivalent to the entire first year of the program can waive out of the first year of the MS program upon passing a waiver exam. The program takes two years or one year, saving fractional years is not possible. Students typically take two years. The PhD degree is designed to take roughly three or four years beyond the MS, but may take less or more depending on individual circumstances.
Is a biology class or a background in medicine or biology required?
No, but exposure to some scientific inquiry is valuable. The Department of Biostatistics resides within the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and much of the department's effort is dedicated to developing statistical methods that are applicable to public health. The department works with public health professionals and doctors to help improve public health.
Can I apply to the PhD program with a bachelor's degree in biology?
Yes. Masters and doctoral level students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and would still need the requisite mathematics background. Students have bachelor's degrees in mathematics, biology, statistics, biochemistry, biomedical engineering, computer science, biological engineering, biophysics, economics, public health, and many other disciplines.
How strict is the department about the December 1 due date?
It is very helpful to us to receive applications by December 1. The department strives to respond promptly to on-time (by Dec 1) applications. After that, the application process is switched to rolling admissions, however, this should not discourage qualified applicants from applying, and a modest delay beyond December 1 will have little adverse effect. At some point, it may become difficult to consider applicants for scholarships. The department can accept MS/MPH students until the target numbers have been reached or until it becomes impractical to admit.
What test scores are required for admission?
The department does not report average scores of applicants or admitted students. Admissions is based on a holistic assessment of the application package: GPA, coursework and grades, statement of purpose, GREs, and letters of recommendation. The department is very interested in an applicant's math skills, leadership, and ability to communicate.
Can I substitute the MCAT for the GRE?
The MCAT can not be accepted in lieu of the GRE.
Is it possible to be accepted with a 2.96 GPA?
Admission with a GPA below 3.00 — either across the applicant's entire undergraduate career or during their junior and senior years — requires a "Dean's Special Action," which is an added layer of review. In such situations, a special case must be made by the department that the applicant would do well in the program. Therefore, the application should summarize the applicant's reasons for believing they would do well in the program despite their undergraduate performance being well below what is accepted for UCLA graduate students. The department has had successful students in the past with low undergraduate GPAs and encourages all qualified applicants to apply.
My GRE score is old: will it still be accepted?
GRE scores are required for all applicants. GRE scores not more than five years old will be accepted. Newer GRE scores are preferred.
I applied to the PhD program and was admitted to the MS program. Why?
Many students apply for the PhD program, but are not admitted. The admissions committee evaluates these applicants to see if (a) they are qualified for the MS program and (b) they would benefit from an MS degree. Those students may be admitted to the MS program.
How can I demonstrate quantitative ability if I haven't taken much math?
The department requires two years of calculus, including one quarter of linear algebra as a prerequisite for the MS program. If applicants haven't already taken those courses, then the best approach is to take those courses and do well in them. If an applicant's previous GPA and/or math grades were low, then they would need to get receive very high scores in these courses. Mostly Bs, or any C, would be a red flag that the applicant is not ready for the MS program. If the applicant has already taken the two years of calculus, then taking linear algebra, and continuing on with some other coursework, such as a second quarter of linear algebra, advanced calculus, numerical analysis, probability theory, or real analysis, would be a way to demonstrate quantitative skills.
UCLA requires a 3.0 undergraduate GPA for admission to graduate school. A written letter of justification from the department is required for anything below this. The farther below that mark, the more courses an applicant would need to take and the better they would need to do to show their readiness for graduate school.
Can you look at my transcript and GRE and tell me if I will be accepted?
The department cannot and does not comment on specific applications without the benefit of a complete application submitted through the required channels. All strong applicants are encouraged to apply.
Can faculty be asked to accept a student or serve as a PhD thesis advisor?
At UCLA Fielding's Department of Biostatistics, professors do not accept students; rather students must apply to the PhD program through SOPHAS. (Students must also submit an application to the UCLA graduate school.) The department recommends admission (or not), and the graduate division formally admits students. After a student is admitted, an academic advisor is assigned to advise on course choices. Actual selection of a thesis advisor is an agreement between the advisor and the student; both must agree to the arrangement. Some students wait until late in their career to pick an advisor and some decide early in the program.
Are photocopies of transcripts or test scores, etc. accepted when applying?
No. This is a requirement of the UCLA Graduate Division and cannot be waived by an individual department.
- Who is required to take the TOEFL exam?
Can course auditing and a letter of recommendation help when applying?
To be seriously considered by the admissions committee, applicants need to enroll in all courses for credit, with the course and course grade appearing on their transcript.
How is an MS in Biostatistics and an MS in Statistics different?
Biostatistics is part of statistics and emphasizes statistical models useful for applications to public health, medicine, biology, and public policy.
Is the IELTS accepted? Is there a preference between the TOEFL or the IELT?
The IELTS is accepted. Applicants must send scores to UCLA directly. There is no preference between the TOEFL and the IELTS.
Is the admissions cycle once per year, or two times per year?
The admissions cycle is once per year.
Do I need to submit both the UCLA and SOPHAS application?
Yes, please submit both applications in order to be considered for admissions to the Department of Biostatistics program at UCLA Fielding.
Do international applicants need to send diplomas or official transcripts?
No, international applicants do not need to send diplomas or official transcripts to SOPHAS or UCLA when applying. Applicants will need to send them to UCLA Fielding if offered admission.
Applicants will need to send WES to SOPHAS. Doing so will help ensure that your application is complete and reviewed on time.
I was admitted to the MS. What are my chances of admission to the PhD?
Once students are enrolled at UCLA Fielding at the MS program, transferring to the PhD program is by blue petition. The petition is filed (by students) typically in the late fall of the second year of the MS program. The change does not require a fee or the completion of a new application with SOPHAS. A student's personal odds of acceptance into the PhD depend mainly on how strong a student they are. To evaluate students coming from the MS program into the PhD, coursework accomplishments, GPA and evaluations of the faculty who have had the student in class are heavily relied upon. Everyone who applies for the PhD is carefully evaluated. The overall percentages of acceptances in a given year among people who apply for the PhD from the department's MS program depends heavily on the number and quality of the applicants (both of which can vary widely from year to year).
If a student graduates from the MS program and wishes to apply for the PhD program after a year, a full application through SOPHAS will be required.
If I apply to the MPH, can I switch to the MS degree?
Applicants will need to complete at least one term in the MPH program, before petitioning to switch degree programs.
Please note that without the necessary math preparation for the MS degree:
- Students may not be prepared for the MS courses
- Students will most likely not be permitted to switch to the MS because of the lack of math preparation
- This switch may delay graduation date due to the required sequence course for the MS
The best thing students can do is do their research and apply for the degree that best suits them and that will provide the desired career after graduation.
If I apply to the MS, can I switch to the MPH degree?
It is possible to apply to the MS and decide to switch to the MPH, however, this is difficult to successfully accomplish due to the required course sequence for the MPH.
If I am not found suitable for the PhD, will I be considered for the MS?
Often times, yes. However, it is best that candidates mention their interest in being considered for the MS if they are not admitted into the PhD in their statement of purpose.