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Applying to MS Stats programs with a light math background

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Hi everyone, 

I'm hoping to get some advice on applying for MS Stats programs. I've been working in consulting for 2 years and recently have been thinking of applying to Master's programs in statistics to transition into data science. My main concern is that my math background is light, and I haven't taken probability and math stats, so I'm not sure if I'm competitive for stats programs. I don't know where to turn to for advice on grad school because I didn't have any contact with stats professors in college, so I'm hoping I can gain more information here.

Undergrad Institution: Top 15-20 liberal arts college
Major(s): Economics
GPA: ~ 3.9
GRE: Haven't taken it yet
Linear Algebra (A), Calc III (A), Intro Discrete Math (A), Intro to Statistics for Economics (A), Intro to Real Analysis (A-), Econometrics (A) (taken where I studied abroad, this was a year long course covering multivariable regression, instrumental variables, and time series analysis)
I'm also concerned about my lack of strong LORs because I didn't take enough math/stats classes, wasn't thinking about going to graduate school and didn't build up relationships with professors. Also, none of my potential recommenders will be stats professors. 
My options are:
Final economics research paper done with an econ professor where I used regression analysis, likely to be strong but not sure how relevant.
All other recs likely to be lukewarm-
Real Analysis professor: I thought I was an average- average-plus student in the class, but this was the latest math class I took in college and I didn't get a horrible grade. 
Calc professor: I did pretty well in the class and the prof wrote a letter of recommendation for a study abroad program I applied to, but this was a long time ago (sophomore year) and I haven't been in touch since. Professor also known for being forgetful...
Work manager: Has a PhD in econ and taught for a couple years before transferring to industry. However, I don't work directly with him too often (more like my supervisor's supervisor) and the stuff we do at work is more menial tasks like cleaning data rather than analysis.
1. How much does my limited math/stats background hurt when applying to MS programs? Is it worth it to take an online class in Probability? This is one of the prerequisites for a number of schools apart from mathematical statistics that I'm missing. Due to my work schedule and location, it's hard to find in person classes I can attend. 
2. Which of my options look better for LORs? (I know it's not ideal)
3. How competitive am I as an applicant? Do I even have a shot at the top 10 schools? Top 20 schools?

I'd really appreciate any and all advice. Thank you!


Edited by underworked
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I was in a similar situation last year when I applied: Econ major with high GPA and insufficient math background. But I did have mathematical probability and two more advanced econometrics courses.

And I got into Berkeley and Duke, certainly not as great as other applicants with stellar profiles, but acceptable. 

My suggestion would be: if you work a lot with data in your consulting job, maybe it is better to ask your supervisor to write a letter for you (instead of Calc professor)? If possible, take one or two summer courses, multivariable calculus and mathematical probability are all good choices. The admission committee is searching for your grades of these courses on your transcript.

Also, maybe you can take GRE Math Subject to make up the light background?

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I'm an older student who's returning from working to start a PhD in a well regarded program this fall. Obviously I'm not a prof on an adcom, so take my opinions with the requisite grain of salt. For context, I've worked several years longer than you, but I have less math. I work with a lot of PhDs in my industry, some of whom were former profs.

(1) My impression is you have a solid math background for a master's program. The exception as you identified is no probability class, which is a nearly universal prerequisite. I had similar issues: even evening classes weren't a choice for me with my job. The plan B I fell back on is taking the probability class offered by UIUC's NetMath program (https://netmath.illinois.edu/math461?stu=col). It's... okay. If you have no other way of meeting that prereq, it'll suffice. The syllabus is accurate in terms of course content.

(2) Again my impression is that for a master's program you're in good shape. I had three (econ, coincidentally) PhDs from my current and former jobs write my rec letters. Your work manager with a PhD in econ and your former econ prof you mentioned seem like a good first two. If you can take a summer or fall class, great, there's your third. If not, you'd probably be in good shape if you have any senior colleagues with MSs / MBAs / etc.

(3) Competitive / probably? / yes. Maybe you'd have a harder time at more theoretical programs like Chicago's? I'm speculating, though.


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Thank you lynntoujours and now_and_then and congrats on your acceptances! This gives me some hope. I did some research and found a probability class that I might be able to attend in the summer. It is quite a bit of a commute from where I am now, and is taught by a grad student rather than an actual professor :(. Is there any benefit to taking this as opposed to an online course?

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  • 2 months later...

I ended up taking the probability class offered at the local college, so now I'm just short of mathematical statistics. Any advice on choosing programs to apply to? I'm having a hard time determining what would be a good fit, and what tier programs I should apply to. I gather some schools and programs like CMU are more stringent on having the mathematical stats prerequisite than others.

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