Statistics, the branch of mathematical science that focuses on analyzing quantitative data, is an excellent college major to consider if you enjoy working with numbers. For high school students who are thinking about studying statistics, it is never too early to begin preparing for your college education and your eventual career. There are plenty of ways to give yourself an advantage in this field of study, including taking any statistics courses offered at your high school, completing plenty of math classes and rounding out your high school class schedule with classes in computers and the social and natural sciences.
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High School Statistics and Probability Courses
If you think you want to work as a statistician, why wait until college to get your first experience studying statistics? Most high schools offer introductory courses in statistics, but relatively few students take advantage of these classes. About 75 percent of high school seniors have the option to take a probability and statistics class, yet only about 25 percent actually did so in 2016, according to Education Week.
High school statistics courses are introductory in nature, though they may require students to have completed at least two years of algebra prior to enrolling. They cover basic statistics material, such as the foundations of statistical theory, patterns of data distribution, deviations from those patterns, probability and the phenomena of randomness.
There is also an Advanced Placement (AP) course in statistics, but just eight percent of high school seniors have taken this course.
The Best Math Courses for Prospective Statistics Majors
While there are some significant differences between pure mathematics and statistics, there are also a lot of similarities. Statistics is sometimes seen as a subfield of mathematics but is more accurately described as a mathematical science in its own right. Students of statistics need to know the mathematical theorems underlying statistical methods and analyses.
High school students would benefit from taking “as many math courses as possible” if they want to be a statistician, just as they would if aspiring to be a mathematician, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Calculus and algebra, especially linear algebra, are particularly useful high school courses for aspiring statisticians.
Statistics is an applied mathematical science, rather than a theoretical mathematical science.
Computer Classes in High School
In modern statistics, computers play an integral part in how statisticians analyze and interpret data. Graphing calculators and statistical software packages have made it easier and more efficient for statisticians to analyze numerical data, develop simulations of data and present statistical findings, the International Association for Statistical Education (IASE) reported. Given how essential computers are for working as a statistician, it stands to reason that students majoring in statistics should learn how to use computers for statistical calculations, as well. The BLS recommends computer programming courses, in particular, because they will help statisticians and mathematicians work with data analysis software later in their careers.
Some statisticians even enter the career field with a degree in computer science, the BLS reported.
Social, Behavioral and Natural Sciences
If you want to become a statistician, you will need more than a knowledge of statistical methods. You must also understand the foundations of the field to which you are applying these concepts. Statisticians often work in the social, behavioral and physical or life sciences. Conducting research is essential in these fields, which makes it important for aspiring statisticians to learn about the principles and practices of survey methodology and how to design experiments.
Statisticians often analyze data for scientific purposes. There is even a field called biostatistics, which involves applying statistical methods to medicine, environmental science work, forestry and agriculture. To develop the knowledge to work in scientific fields, it can help to study sciences such as biology, physics and chemistry at the high school level. Psychology, the study of behavior, is often beneficial for statisticians in that understanding why people act the way they do can assist with interpreting the data you analyze.
Statistics often finds a role in the social sciences, as well, often for purposes such as reaching public policy decisions and understanding social and behavioral changes. If you intend to work for the government or to work in the field of social sciences, you might benefit from taking high school courses in government, civics and politics.
About 13 percent of statisticians, or 4,836 Americans, work for the federal government, according to the BLS.