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Masters program for statistics PhD

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Hi all,

As an international student with mathematics and statistics major at top 5 public university in the US, I applied for roughly 20 statistics and biostatistics Ph.D. programs this year.

Here is my rough profile:

GPA: 3.96/4.00 (Summa cum laude)

GRE: 87%/99%/60%, Math Subject: 87%


Undergraduate level: Intro to Analysis(A+), Abstract Linear Algebra(A), Analysis on manifolds(A), theoretical stat(A), Econometrics(A+), Applied Statistics(A), Statistical Learning(A)

MS level: probability theory(A), stochastic process(A-), statistical inference(A-), complex analysis(A-), statistical computing(A)


1) My undergraduate thesis won both departmental and national awards and got published in an undergraduate journal. I developed a methodology in clinical trials.

2) I also did independent study in penalty estimators and high-dimensional graph estimation, which again led to a paper in statistics conference proceedings. 

3) In addition, I also participated in a research on large deviations and gave an oral presentation.

Rec Letter:

I submitted 4 letters. All Rec letters were from research supervisors. One senior(Stat), One full professor(Stat), One associate professor(Stat). One assistant professor(Math). They all told me that they wrote a very strong letter.


And the result:

I got rejected from 19 Ph.D. programs which I applied for and currently am waiting for 1 program, but honestly, I do not think I would get in. All of my supervisors and their graduate students told me that they would be surprised if I do not get in any program in top 20. What I do not understand is that I got initially waitlisted by 4-5 programs in so-called top 10, but got the flat-out rejections from Cornell, Wisconsin, UNC, UCLA. So this really puzzles me. I kinda regret not applying for NCSU and IOWA. I just thought their size is too big and to be honest, I was pretty confident that I would get in somewhere before getting the result. And I must say that though the ranking of Ivy league programs is low, but much more difficult to get in. 

Next Step:

Luckily I have couple admissions from Canadian masters(Waterloo, UBC) and ETH Zurich. The former provides funding while the latter doesn't, but I think the overall ranking and reputation of faculties in the latter school are significantly higher. I am also waiting for Mcgill and Toronto, and I will end up likely choosing masters program this year and reapply for Ph.D. next time. Which program should I pick and based on what criteria? At this moment, I am leaning towards to Canadian programs since it is funded and the coursework is more rigorous. The only concern regarding Canadian program is that if there is any professor willing to supervise if I say I want to leave after finishing MS degree.


Do you have any suggestions for strengthening my profile? Or did I just aim too high? Or is it that I am just out of luck? If you have any information regarding Canadian MS programs please share it with me! 

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Your profile looks really brilliant. It's weird you are rejected by those phd programs... Also, do you know if UBC offers funding to master student? I am a junior in computer science and statistics at Waterloo. Feel free to ask me any question about Waterloo.

Edited by stattats
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That is quite surprising to me that you didn't get in *anywhere.* I agree that lower ranked doesn't imply easier to get into... and I am not sure I agree with some of the "lower" rankings either (e.g. I think very highly of Yale and Rutgers Statistics depts personally, but that doesn't seem to be reflected in the rankings?).

Then again, it seems to be very, very competitive for non-domestic students right now (it's still competitive for domestic but much less so -- it seems as though the strongest math students in the USA tend to want to continue studying mathematics rather than statistics). You probably need to cast a wider net next cycle, given how much competition there is for international students. For example, the program that I attend is ranked in 21-30 range for Statistics, and one of the incoming first year international students this year had an MPhil AND a publication from his Masters work. So maybe it is just that the competition that has gotten much more fierce in recent years?  

I think maybe the Waterloo program sounds the best, based on the comment by statfan. If you perform well in graduate-level mathematics/stat courses and write a great thesis -- and your thesis advisor can attest to the quality of your thesis and how it speaks to your potential as a PhD-level researcher, then it can definitely help boost your profile.

Edited by Applied Math to Stat
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If you're debating between UBC and Waterloo, make sure you look closely at your financial support since these cities (Vancouver and Kitchener-Waterloo) have drastically different costs of living. Waterloo is very affordable, while Vancouver is one of the most expensive cities in Canada. That said, Vancouver is beautiful and it's an amazing place to be if you can afford it.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I'll go ahead and echo the others and say I think Waterloo (or even UBC) is the best option for you. As far as I know, both schools in Canada are highly regarded in the academic world. 

With the current political climate in the US, you are honestly probably better of being in an international program anyway if your plans are to try to permanently stay in the country in which you are learning. As I understand, visas are becoming harder to come by.

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