Before you can start working toward a master’s in statistics, one of the highest paying master’s degrees, you need to earn your bachelor’s degree. Don’t think of your undergraduate studies as merely a stepping stone to graduate school. What you learn as an undergraduate provides the foundation for advanced studies later and for a successful career in statistics. Courses in calculus, linear algebra, statistical methods, statistics and probability and computer programming are particularly vital to students who plan to go to graduate school for statistics.
A Complete Sequence of Calculus
Although there are differences between the fields of mathematics and statistics, you will need a strong foundation in math to succeed in a graduate statistics program. Calculus is the branch of math that is concerned with change, such as the velocity of a moving object or the rate of bacteria growth in a sample specimen. In statistics, understanding the theoretical aspects of calculus, as well as the equations used in calculus, can help you analyze data to make sound, data-backed business decisions.
In preparation for a master’s degree program in statistics, you should expect to take a series of calculus courses, from the college-level introductory course Calculus I to a class in multivariate calculus.
Coursework in Linear Algebra
Another common math prerequisite for a master’s in statistics class is linear algebra. Linear algebra is important because it equips students with the skills to organize data into linear equations that can be solved in predictable ways. Most students take their linear algebra course relatively early on in their undergraduate career, as a freshman or sophomore. Although you may need to have some degree of academic background in physics and introductory calculus to succeed in a linear algebra course, you will likely have to complete this class before attempting any upper-division coursework in math or statistics.
Students in a college linear algebra course study vectors, matrices and systems of linear equations.
Coursework in Statistics and Probability
At the undergraduate level, statistics and probability is probably the first statistics course you will take. This introductory class covers the foundations of statistics, including probability distributions, random variables, linear regression and confidence intervals. This may all sound a little complicated, but the course typically doesn’t require any prior background knowledge of statistics. However, many students first become familiar with the basic concepts of statistics and probability in high school, where this course is usually offered as an optional math class, sometimes for Advanced Placement (AP) credit.
A Statistical Methods Class
Before you undertake graduate study in statistics, it’s wise to study the methods and applications used for working in statistics. Although specific topics of study in a statistical methods course may vary from one school to another, students may learn about establishing acceptable sample sizes, testing research hypotheses, performing analyses of data. Since application is an important part of the field of statistics, students will ideally learn to apply the methods of statistics to hands-on work with real-world data.
Statistics is about more than performing calculations. It’s also about making meaning from data, which is why statistical methods courses often include coursework in expressing information through the use of descriptive statistics and methods of graphical presentation.
A Programming Class
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In the field of applied statistics, you need to be able to efficiently perform complex statistical analyses of data. Today’s statistics professionals do these calculations using computer programming languages. There are hundreds of computer programming languages, so choosing the programming languages most relevant to statistics is important. For a prospective graduate student in the field of statistics, some of the best programming languages to study are the general programming language C++ and the object-oriented programming language Java.
Statisticians also use computer programming languages like R, Python, and PowerBuilder, according to O*NET.
Your General Education Courses
Although it may sound like math and statistics coursework are the only undergraduate classes that matter for students of a graduate program in statistics, that’s not the case. Some of the most important qualities for statisticians and mathematicians are communication skills, problem-solving skills and analytical skills, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. The general education courses that you take as an undergraduate student, such as classes in English and composition, literature, history and laboratory science, can help you develop these skills.
Presenting statistical and nonstatistical findings is an important part of work in statistics, according to O*NET. Good statistics professionals need to be able to communicate their results to people with or without a math background.