Biostatistics Admissions FAQ
The general School of Public Health FAQ can be found at http://www.ph.ucla.edu/students_apply_faq.html
Q: Who should I contact if I have questions about Biostatistics admissions, policies, or requirements?
Please contact the Chair of Admissions for UCLA Biostatistics. Send an email with the word "Admissions" in the subject line to email@example.com
Q: My GRE scores are XXX and my GPA is YYY. Can you look at a copy of my transcript and a fax of my original GRE report and tell me if I will be accepted into your program?
No. We cannot and do not comment on specific applications without the benefit of a complete application completed through regular channels. Consequently, no, we cannot give you an indication of your odds of acceptance or of getting financial aid.
Q: My GRE (TOEFL) scores are old: will they still be accepted?
TOEFL that is not more than 2 years old and GRE general test not more than 5 years old will be fine.
Q: I took the TOEFL in Jan almost 2 years ago. I think it may be expired now. Could you process my application with photocopies of TOEFL score sheet? By next fall, I will have been studying in US for 1 year and I think English will not be a problem then.
As long as you have not graduated with your degree at X University, we must receive an official copy of your TOEFL score from ETS. You need to contact ETS and order an official copy to be sent to us. Please do this as soon as possible before your TOEFL score expires. Photocopies are never acceptable. Please see the School of Public Health website for the appropriate school codes.
Q: I am an international student about to graduate from X University with my MS (or other degree). At X University, all courses are English. Do I need to submit a TOEFL score?
From http://www.gdnet.ucla.edu/gasaa/admissions/ENGREQ.HTM International applicants who hold a bachelors or higher degree from a university located in the United States or in another country in which English is both the spoken language and the medium of instruction, or who have completed at least two years of full-time study at such an institution, are exempted from both the TOEFL/IELTS requirement and the ESLPE. Please be sure to include such information in your application.
Q: I received my BS in XXX from ZZZ University. Because of the nature of my undergraduate study, I didn't take enough math courses. Do you encourage me to apply?
For the MS and DrPH degree, we seek applicants with two years of calculus and at least one further quarter or semester of linear algebra to enter. We have a policy of not commenting on specific cases without the benefit of a complete application, but we always encourage applications from qualified candidates. Lack of a few courses can be made up, with a strong preference that you do it before arrival. See the next question.
Q: I haven't taken all the required math courses for the MS degree. Can I be admitted to the MS (MPH, DrPH, PHD) program?
For the MS and DrPH degrees, we seek applicants with two years of calculus and at least one quarter or semester of linear algebra to enter. We do admit applicants who have not had that full set of courses, but the applicant will need to make up the deficiency. If you do have deficiencies in your math background, we strongly encourage you to make up as much as possible before next Fall quarter. It is possible to make up maybe one or two courses after admission, but taking math courses while at UCLA will interfere with taking available special-topic courses in Biostatistics. For the PhD degree, we would encourage more mathematics background. For the MPH degree, we seek applicants with at least one year of advanced mathematics. Not having taken all the recommended preparation math courses will not make you ineligible, but it will be an indicator to the admissions committee that you do not have adequate math background to be able to follow the pace of our courses. In general, the more math you have had with high grades, the more favorable your rating will be. However, we judge an applicant's qualifications as a whole, so it will be difficult to say if your application will be successful or not without taking everything into consideration. But the recommendations exist because we know that entering students need to know these topics in order to follow and succeed in our program.
Q: Since I have taken only one semester of Calculus previously, I want to take more calculus courses now to make up the deficiency. However I cannot take the course for credit. Do you think it will help my application if I audit some calculus course and ask the teacher to write a reference letter for me to demonstrate my performance in his/her calculus course?
You do need to enroll in the course for credit, and the course and course grade needs to appear on your transcript.
Q: What percentage of graduate students get TA or RA positions?
We reserve most of our discretionary financial support for doctoral students. We typically are able to provide roughly 5-6 doctoral students a year with a level of support that allows them to focus on their studies. Essentially all of our financial support is awarded to doctoral students, and admission is very competitive in the doctoral program particularly compared to the masters program where as many as or more than 40% of applicants might get admitted. (The number of applications to our doctoral programs could range in a given year from 50 to 100.) It is possible for masters students to get jobs on campus upon arriving here, but as a rule we do not guarantee TA or RA positions in advance to incoming masters students.
Q: Is there funding available for Masters students? What sort of financial aid is there?
Most of the available financial support for masters students is provided through jobs on the UCLA campus. (As a department, we reserve essentially all of our discretionary funding for doctoral students.) It is common for our masters students to find employment on campus, although not always in their first academic quarter on campus. A job title of Graduate Student Researcher typically provides a few thousand dollars of support during a given academic quarter. If the effort in the job title of Graduate Student Researcher is 25% or greater (i.e., 10 hours a week of work, or more), then the student also qualifies for remissions from most of the fees required of all students enrolled at UCLA. If the effort in the job title of Graduate Student Researcher is 45% or greater (i.e., 18 hours a week of work, or more), then the student additionally qualifies for remission of non-resident tuition, but this form of financial support is not commonly provided, and there is a rule on campus requiring that students not work more than 20 hours per week. We do have a sizable number of students from overseas who attend our masters program, many of whom find work on campus to help cover educational and living expenses.
Q: Although I have a Graduate Fellowship from X University, I still find it hard to make ends meet due to (various reasons). I would greatly appreciate it if you could allow me to waive the application fee.
Unfortunately we have no control over application fees. They are a UCLA-wide requirement and cannot be waived for anyone. If you are an F1 visa student, and you are accepted to UCLA, you will also need to show us that you have the means to pay for your education and living expenses before you will be allowed to study here, so again you do not have a good reason to request the fee waiver.
Q: How easy is it to find a job once I arrive there?
Generally, finding a job involves four things: Statistical knowledge, Computer knowledge, Communication skills (English language reading, writing, and particularly oral communication), and Entrepreneurial spirit The entrepreneurial spirit is the wherewithal to go out and actually find a job. When researchers contact faculty looking for statistical help, we connect them with our students. Job advertisements are often posted on signs throughout the hallways. Second year MS students usually can find a RA job. First year MS students without prior experience can find it more of a challenge. Even first year MS students can be teaching assistants. Doctoral students are usually in great demand and rarely go long without employment except by choice.
Q: I would like to transfer my XXX courses to the UCLA Biostatistics masters program. There are YYY units, which would save me a lot time if transferred. I was told that "XXX" was not in the SPH accredited list, so they couldn't transfer them.
This question raises multiple issues, including one having to do with transfer credit, another having to do with the time it takes to finish the program. At times, we have students whose backgrounds are sufficient to place out of the first year of our MS program and go straight into the second-year courses. In recent years, we have had some students who tried to place into the second year courses based on an exam that featured problems similar to final-exam problems from the first-year core courses, but none met the minimum threshold.
If one does not place out of the entire first year, our course offerings are usually constrained in such a way (e.g., key courses offered at the same time, certain required courses only offered in the Fall or Spring) that it is impossible to save much time to completing the degree. Because of the size and structure of our program, the possible amounts of time saved are apt to be either exactly 0 or 1 year.
Coming back to the issue of credits for XXX University courses, we do not give transfer credit for courses taken elsewhere. Rather, you may petition (a blue petition) to waive required courses based on having taken similar courses previously. This would be something that could be worked out in consultation with your academic advisor upon your arrival in the fall. If you did not take the courses at UCLA, then we require a waiver exam, offered in the Fall prior to the start of classes. Even if the petition were successful, it would not have much of an effect on your time to degree unless your background prepared you to place out of the entire first year. Even with the petition, there are a minimum number of credits required to graduate. This minimum must be met using courses taken at UCLA. Students following our usual curriculum meet this requirement with ease.
Q: Dear Professor XY: I would like you to be my thesis advisor for my PhD. Would you accept me as your student?
At UCLA Biostatistics, Professors do not accept students; rather you apply to the doctoral program, DrPH or PhD in our department. (You also must send an application to the graduate school as well.) The department recommends admission (or not), and the graduate division actually formally admits you. After you are admitted, we assign you an academic advisor to advise you on course choices. You take the course work and pass the comprehensive exams; then you are ready to work on your dissertation. Shortly after passing the comprehensive exams is the time that most people formally choose their thesis advisor, though some choose as early as their last year in the MS program and most know before the exams who they wish to choose as an advisor and they will have already had initial contacts with that person. Actual selection of a thesis advisor is an agreement between the advisor and the student; both must agree to the arrangement.
Q: How long does it take to complete your program?
The MS and MPH degrees are two-year programs. Occasionally someone with substantial previous preparation equivalent to the entire first year of our program can potentially waive out of the first year of the MS program. Most people take two years. The DrPH and PhD degrees are designed to take roughly 4 years beyond the MS, but may take less or more depending on individual circumstances. Students with a good MS background (or more) in biostatistics from another university can be admitted directly into the DrPH or PhD program.
Q: What sort of test scores do you require for admission? What are the average scores of admitted students?
Regarding test scores, the averages vary somewhat from year to year. GRE scores of our doctoral students are almost always at least in the mid-700 range on the quantitative exam. Verbal scores are often not quite so high, but we place substantial value on them. We have less experience with the analytical writing scores, but scores of 4.0 or above are typical for those we admit.
Q: Can I substitute the MCAT for the GRE?
We do not accept the MCAT in lieu of the GRE.
Q: How do I apply?
You can find out more detail about our application process at www.biostat.ucla.edu and clicking on the link for "Prospective Students". We offer both masters and doctoral degree programs, with the MS and PhD oriented toward students with strong training in mathematics and MPH and DrPH degree programs which have a substantial public health component in addition to training in biostatistics.
Q: How strict is the department about the December 1 due date?
It is very helpful to us to receive applications by December 1. However, we do not want to discourage qualified applicants from applying, and a modest delay beyond December 1 will have no adverse effect. At some point, it becomes difficult to consider applicants for scholarships. We generally accept students until we approximately fill our targeted admissions numbers or until it becomes impractical to admit. Check with the Biostatistics Chair of Admissions for further information.
Q: Could you please mention any other professor who would need the assistance of a research assistant.
It is too soon to ask about professors needing a Graduate Student Researcher (GSR). Rather, if you are admitted, and if you ask, we will try to make you aware of appropriate job opportunities, and/or to tell other researchers about you. Not everyone gets a job this way before arriving, but in some years some incoming students have been able to find jobs in this way.
Q: I have applied for the XXX program in Biostatistics online. I've sent all the other application materials (transcripts, personal statement, recommendations and GRE report) two weeks ago. My online status has not been updated yet. May I know whether you have received them or not?
All correspondence about the receipt of application materials is coordinated through the School of Public Health Student Affairs Office. More information is available at http://www.ph.ucla.edu/students_sao.html . The Student Affairs Office does not update your status online.
Q: Can you process my application if I supply a photocopy of my transcripts (or GRE scores or TOEFL scores etc.).
No, we cannot. This is a requirement of the UCLA Graduate Division and cannot be waived by an individual department. In a few cases (for example, a university that no longer exists), we may be able to process an application with a notarized copy of the transcript or a copy sent to us by your current university, but even so, you would need to send an original transcript prior to actually enrolling in the program.
Q: Do I need a biology class to be admitted?
Q: Is a medical or biological background required?
No, but exposure to scientific inquiry of some type is very helpful.
Q: Can I apply to the PhD program with a bachelor's degree in biology?
Yes, absolutely. Our masters and doctoral level students come from a wide variety of backgrounds. We have students with bachelor's degrees in mathematics, statistics, biochemistry, computer science, biological engineering, biophysics, economics and many other disciplines. For many applicants, it may be useful to first acquire a master's degree before proceeding on to the PhD. In these cases, we may steer your application to the MS or MPH program even though you have applied for the PhD or DrPH program.
Q: What does the admissions committee pay more attention to: graduate versus undergraduate, written versus published papers, research or teaching experience?
The admissions committee pays attention to your entire package. We generally give more weight to more recent coursework than coursework taken long ago. In terms of subjects, we give more weight to mathematics courses than to other courses, but we also pay attention to computer science, physics, courses from mathematical sciences, biochemistry, econometrics and other science courses. We also look at your overall GPA. We pay attention to your speaking and writing abilities, to your self-statement, and to your GRE and TOEFL test scores. Research experience of some sort is strongly encouraged but not required. We do not expect our incoming students to have published previously.
Q: Is it possible to get in with a 2.66 GPA?
Admission with a GPA below 3.00 either across your entire undergraduate career or during your junior and senior years requires a "Dean's Special Action", which is an added layer of review. In such situations, we need to make a special case that you would do well in our program, so your application should summarize your reasons for believing that you would do well in our program despite your undergraduate performance being well below the norm for UCLA graduate students. That said, we have had successful students in the past with low undergraduate GPAs; again, we encourage all qualified applicants to apply.