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Advice on Statistics Master's Program for Future Business PhD Admission


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Brief Introduction

I am a recent graduate from the University of Michigan (Ross School of Business) who will enroll in a Statistics Master's program this upcoming fall. My ultimate career goal is to gain admission into a respectable business PhD program (most likely in the department of Management & Organizations or Technology & Operations), as I believe that academic research and teaching is the best alignment for my personality and the type of meaning I want out of my life.

I am seriously considering two master's programs that I have been accepted to – Purdue University and Penn State University – and am having some difficulty in finalizing my decision (important to note: I have not received guaranteed funding for either program). I would love to hear any perspectives, insight, and/or advice that people may have on the matter, particularly after explaining my current thought process.


Purdue Overview

With Purdue, I have the option of choosing between the [1] M.S. Statistics in Mathematical Statistics/Probability and [2] M.S. Applied Statistics. Between the two, I lean towards the Mathematical Statistics/Probability track since it is possible to satisfy all of the courses required in the Applied Statistics track and the Mathematical Statistics/Probability courses are much more comprehensive and mathematically rigorous.

After communicating with one of the current students in the Purdue program, there seem to be many opportunities for research assistantships across departments (particularly within the business school), as well as opportunity to work in the Statistical Consulting Center – both of which would provide tuition waivers.

Ultimately, the pros would be:

  • Flexibility of multiple degree tracks and elective options
  • Closer proximity to home

  • Relatively low tuition cost out-of-state

  • Ability to spill over into the community of CS/Engineering students at one of the best CS/Engineering schools in the country

While this sounds like a great deal overall, some perceived cons I have considered are:

  • Uncertainty if I would want to pursue the PhD program at Purdue's business school

  • Whether the coursework would be too heavy in theoretical probability, which might be less relevant/would take time away from research assistantship opportunities

Penn State Overview

With Penn State, I only have the option of doing the Master's of Applied Statistics program. While the courses offered are much less comprehensive and rigorous compared to Purdue, the program could be well-aligned with my ultimate career goal of gaining admission to a good PhD program in business (given my personal initiative).

Ultimately, the pros would be:

  • Good business school – would be happy doing a business PhD at Penn State

    • After speaking with a current grad student, it seems more than feasible to be able to connect with professors in the business school and gain insight into how to effectively apply to the business PhD program
  • Good career opportunities post-graduation (in the case that I decide I do not wish to pursue academia for one reason or another)

  • Good brand & culture (a bit superficial in nature but these things do have an impact in the real world whether I like it or not)

    • Having an undergraduate degree from the Ross School of Business + master's in applied statistics from Penn State does appear to be a solid combination and make me competitive for most business PhD programs
  • Location seems like an advantage for future career opportunities (academia or not)

Some perceived cons I have considered are:

  • Less opportunity for assistantships that can waive tuition (tend to be reserved for PhD students)

    • While this is very unfortunate in the short-term, I plan on reaching out to professors within the business department and offer my help (for free if I must) just for the experience and potential letters of recommendation – which seems feasible to attain
  • Much more limited and inflexible statistics course selection (relative to Purdue)

  • Higher expected costs

  • Further proximity from home


Other Key Considerations
  • After speaking with a business school professor who took a similar route as me (did undergrad in business and master's in applied statistics before getting accepted into a business PhD), he repeatedly emphasized to me that for the Master's program – the priority is less about coursework (which can become outdated or irrelevant to future research endeavors), but more about connecting with current business professors and getting involved in research projects (ideally at the business school you would want to be admitted to for a PhD)

    • He even mentioned that if he could do his Master's over again, he would focus 80% of his efforts on connecting/working with business professors and 20% on coursework, as letters of recommendation and research experience are the most important aspects of a PhD application
  • The difference between M.S. Applied Statistics and M.S. Statistics seems negligible to most people

    • But there are substantial differences in the level of coursework and mathematical rigor
  • Ideally, I would prefer to be involved in more quantitative research than qualitative as a professor, but I also acknowledge that I am perhaps not as mathematically adept as PhD candidates with backgrounds in math or computer science. As such, the difference between the two tracks could make a difference in this regard

  • I am well aware that there is a chance that I become disenchanted with academia/professorship, so ideally the program that I would choose would set me up well for either pursuing a PhD or getting a solid job in industry post-graduation

  • Obviously finances are a huge consideration, particularly in the short- and medium-term. However, I also understand that if everything goes well and I am able to attain professorship at a quality university, it may be worth the investment to pay more for the Master's program for a better future outcome. Fortunately, I do not have loans from undergrad.

  • Even if there are no official positions for research assistantships at either university, I do plan on being extremely proactive and taking personal initiative to reach out to business professors and get involved in their research projects. From what I understand, if I offer my services for free and go about this the right way, it does seem feasible to make these connections.

  • From my understanding, neither of these programs are designed for my career goals and will ultimately depend on my personal initiative to create opportunities – this is something that I have been successful at in the past, and I do have confidence in my ability to network and develop positive relationships with others. Therefore, even if there are no "official opportunities" for research assistantships, as long as I am in the right circumstances, I believe that I can make things happen. Also, I have the opinion that I can be successful at either program – I simply want to make sure that I am thinking through my situation the right way.


For those willing to read through this lengthy post and offer their thoughts, I sincerely appreciate your time and consideration in advance as this is an incredibly important decision for my future. My deadline to make a decision is on April 15th, and I would love to hear as many different perspectives as possible – particularly if there are other important considerations that I am missing or if I am incorrect in some of my assumptions. Please feel free to ask any clarifying questions should they come up, cheers and God bless ~

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