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Help please!! Choosing between Biostatistics MS programs

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Sorry, I've posted this in other sections but have only received one reply (which was helpful!), but I'd really appreciate feedback from anyone else who'd like to chime in.  


I am interested in pursuing a masters in biostatistics, and thankfully I have been admitted to most of the programs I have applied for. I am currently deciding between some highly ranked schools, and while money is not the be all and end all, I do need to take into consideration the debt I may incur from this degree and whether my income upon graduation would be commensurate with it. I am a married student (no kids yet) and therefore have to think about my family in the long run as well.


One of the programs I am considering is currently ranked in the top 4-5 for Biostats, and has offered me a full scholarship for the first year of my program, virtually cutting my potential debt in half, such that my debt would not be more than 30k by the time I graduate. On the other hand, I have been accepted into a top 2 school, but thus far I have not received any financial support and the tuition is quite expensive, such that my debt upon graduating would be closer to probably 90k. I am also considering another program ranked in the top 10-15, due to it's proximity to my husband's school (where he will be pursuing a PhD), and while I did not receive any financial support from them either, it is still more affordable than the top 2 school. 


I understand that within biostatistics the starting pay is higher if you graduate with a PhD vs. a masters degree. I may be interested in pursuing a PhD in the future, however I am currently content with attaining a masters and working in pharma post-graduation. 


So, just to recap:

School #1

- top 2 school
- ~90k debt upon graduation
- Visit family every other weekend


School #2

- top 5 school
- ~30k debt MAX upon graduation (may qualify for scholarship for 2nd year that would eliminate ALL debt)
- Visit family once every 3-4 weekends


School #3
-top 10-15 school
- ~60k debt upon graduation
- Live with family


There are two questions I would like to ask current students and biostatisticians in the industry:


·         Based on your experience and people you have talked to, what starting salary (or range of salary) can an MS level biostatistician looking to go into pharma expect? I have gone to all of the websites (glassdoor, payscale, indeed, salary.com, amstat etc...) to find averages and what-not, however these averages/ranges often include both PhD and masters level employees. 

·          Does school reputation/rank make a significant difference in what that salary would look like, or is it more a matter of opening doors, or does school reputation not matter at all at the masters level?


There are several other factors I am taking into consideration for my decision, including family and personal reasons, however finances are indeed a factor, and I would appreciate any and all advice/information you can provide.

Edited by biostat.2897
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For just MS-level jobs, I don't think reputation/rank is nearly as critical or would give you a significant boost in starting salary. This is only anecdotal evidence, but I know several people in the Boston area who have great jobs in biotech with stats MS degrees from my Master's department (which is ranked 60-70 in math in USNWR and unranked in stats).


You may want to find out about job placement from those schools you mentioned, although I suspect the placements for the first two schools you mentioned (possibly all three) would be pretty comparable.

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A quick peak through LinkedIn (big pharma/CROs) seems to suggest that elite credentials aren't necessary for employment...it seems that job prospects are good enough that school prestige is as essential a factor as it would be in other fields.  

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Thanks for the advice! Two of the schools have online chat sessions coming up, so that should allow for an opportunity to  ask about job placement. Trying not to let the pressure of time make me nervous. 

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If you want to PM me the names of the schools, I can try to give you more detailed advice. I'm guessing that school #2 is UNC, because they are notorious for making one-year funding offers, and I've never heard of Michigan funding terminal MS students. But I would absolutely take less debt at UNC than $90k in debt at Harvard/Washington. Honestly, I'm not convinced that there is really much of a gap between the quality of the faculty at these three schools. (This is hardly a perfect metric, but at this year's ENAR student paper competition UNC absolutely killed Harvard and every other department on the East Coast.) I very highly doubt that there is any significant difference in MS job placement at those three schools. Unless visiting your husband more frequently is worth an extra $60k in debt, I would say this is a no brainer.


For what it's worth, my students don't always tell me their starting salaries, but the ones who did have earned between $65k-$80k starting (and often increasing quite rapidly with a few years of experience). And none of them had any trouble finding jobs, and they usually found them in whatever market they wanted. Take it for what it's worth.

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