UCLA Biostatistics FAQ Page

What type of student is Biostatistics looking for?

We are looking to train the next generation of public health leaders in Biostatistics. Our students have strong mathematical backgrounds, excellent communication skills, exhibit leadership and are interested in biostatistics and public health as a career.

Who should I contact if I have questions about Biostatistics admissions, policies, or requirements?

Professor Christina Ramirez (cr@ucla.edu) is chair of admissions for UCLA Biostatistics (2019-2020).

How do I apply?

You can find out more detail about our application process by going to the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health Application page. We offer two masters and two doctoral degree programs, with the MS and PhD oriented toward students with strong training in mathematics and the MPH degree program which has a substantial public health component in addition to training in biostatistics.

What are the prerequisites for the Biostatistics program?

The minimal prerequisites for our MS program are two years of college mathematics which includes differential and integral calculus, multivariable calculus, infinite sequences, differential equations and especially linear algebra. The MPH requires one year of college math, integral and differential calculus and a quarter of multivariable calculus. These are minimum requirements, more math is (always) better, particularly for the PhD program where real analysis (UCLA Math 131a, 131b) and linear algebra (UCLA Math 115a, 115b) are desirable. In addition to the mathematics training, We like to see:

  • Written and oral verbal skills,
  • Programming experience,
  • Exposure to science of some kind,
  • Some indication that you know what statistics is,
  • Leadership experience.

Verbal skill, both written and oral is highly valued and essential for a successful career as a statistician.

How much math is required for admission?

You can never know enough mathematics. More than the minimum will be helpful for all matriculants. That said, minimal mathematics requirements for our program are: MPH -- 1 year of college level mathematics: integral and differential calculus. At UCLA, this is satisfied by Math 31A, 31B and 32A. MS -- 2 years of college level mathematics: integral and differential calculus, multivariable calculus, differential equations and linear algebra. At UCLA, this is satisfied by Math 31A, 31B, 32A, 32B, 33A and 33B. DrPH -- Same as MS. PhD -- More math than for the MS. Highly recommended is a semester or full year of real analysis and enough additional junior/senior level mathematics to demonstrate one's ability to thrive in our program. We often recommend UCLA Math 131A, 131B, 115A and 115B to undergraduates.

What are the differences between the MPH degree and the MS degree?

The Biostat MPH is a broad public health degree with emphasis in Biostatistics. The MS is a scientific degree that delves deeper into statistics and provides less (but not no) public health knowledge. The MS is preparatory for our doctoral degrees (PhD and DrPH). One difference between the degrees is on the intake side -- the MPH requires one year of calculus, while the MS requires two years of math. At UCLA these are math 31ab 32ab and 33ab (6 quarter courses). These courses cover differential and integral calculus, infinite sequences, multivariable calculus, differential equations and linear algebra. After graduating,both degrees provide similar success in getting jobs.

What does the admissions committee pay most attention to?

The admissions committee pays attention to the entire application package. For the PhD program, we are particularly interested in leadership abilities, as PhD graduates need to provide statistical leadership in academia and in business. We give more weight to recent coursework compared to coursework taken long ago. We look at your overall GPA and the quality of the schools you attend. We give more weight to mathematics courses than to other courses, and we pay attention to computer science, physics, other mathematical sciences (like statistics), econometrics and other sciences. We pay close attention to your speaking and writing abilities, to your self-statement, letters and to your GRE scores. Research exposure of some sort is strongly encouraged as is programming experience. We do not expect our incoming students to have published, though it is a plus if you have.

Can I enter the PhD program directly from a BS degree or do I need to apply for the MS first?

We take very strong applicants from a bachelor's degree directly into our PhD program. 

I haven't taken all the required math courses for the MS degree. Can I still be admitted?

We strongly recommend you complete all prerequisite math courses prior to applying to our program.

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. 

What percentage of graduate students get TA or RA positions?

We typically are able to guarantee support to 5-6 doctoral students per year prior to the time of arrival at UCLA. After arriving at UCLA, MS students are able to find paid teaching assistant or research assistant jobs. 

Details: 

  • We're able to guarantee funding only for doctoral students, but that doesn't mean that MS students don't find funding or that research opportunities are restricted from MS students!
  • There are something like 5000 MDs and PhD's (and Dentists and Nurses and Public Health Professionals and Psychiatrists) in the Center for the Health Sciences. There are thousands of researchers doing research, collecting data, needing to analyze it. 
  • There only about 25 Biostat faculty members and between us we don't yet know all the researchers here who need help witih statistics. That's why we mention the 'fishing license' idea: there are lots of research opportunities, and some of our students do find those opportunities without faculty intervention. (In fact, some of our students not only find those jobs, they are still in them: several of our doctoral students are still working here at UCLA and several of them had jobs/funding in grad school and where they were still employed for many years after graduation.)
  • One of the strengths of our program is that most of our MS and MPH students graduate with UCLA work experience. (I'll discuss the most later.)
  • The faculty are in need of good students to help with various research projects. We're always looking (because students keep graduating! :-). 
  • Most of our students are employed by their second year in the program. (I'll discuss the most later.)
  • What generally determines how soon you get funding is a combination of your skills coming in to the program and entrepreneurial spirit. Key skills are English/verbal/communication skills, computer package skills (R/SAS/Stata), statistical skills. Prior experience is a major plus. 

I say most find jobs: things that keep people from being employed are extreme introversion, a lack of skills and lack of interest.

We keep a list of our grad students looking for positions. 

How long does it take to complete the program?

The MS and MPH degrees are two-year programs. Someone with substantial previous preparation equivalent to the entire first year of our program can waive out of the first year of the MS program upon passing a waiver exam. The nature of the program is such that it takes two years or one year, saving fractional years is not possible. Just about everyone takes two years. The PhD and DrPH degrees are designed to take roughly 3 or 4 years beyond the MS, but may take less or more depending on individual circumstances. 

Do I need a biology class to be admitted? Is a medical or biological background required?

No. But exposure to some kind of scientific inquiry is very valuable. UCLA biostatistics is a department in the Fielding School of Public Health, and much of our effort is dedicated to developing statistical methods that are applicable to public health. We work with public health professionals, and doctors to help improve public health. 

I was admitted to the MS program. What are my chances of later getting into the PhD program?

Once you are enrolled here at UCLA in our MS program, transferring to the PhD program is by blue petition.  The petition is filed (by you) typically in the late Fall of the 2nd year in our MS program. The change does not require a fee nor do you need to fill out a new application at SOPHAS. Your personal odds of acceptance into the PhD depend mainly on how strong a student you are. To evaluate people for the PhD coming from our MS program, we rely heavily on your coursework accomplishments, GPA and evaluations of the faculty who have had you in class. We carefully evaluate everyone who applies for the PhD. The overall percentages of acceptances in a given year among people who apply for the PhD from our own MS program depends heavily on the number and quality of the applicants (both of which can vary widely from year to year).

If you graduate from our MS program and after a year then wish to apply for the PhD program, a full application through Sophas will be required.

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. You still need the requisite mathematics background of course. Our students have bachelor's degrees in mathematics, biology, statistics, biochemistry, mathematics, biomedical engineering, computer science, biological engineering, biophysics, economics, public health, mathematics and many other disciplines.

How strict is the department about the December 1 due date?

It is very helpful to us to receive applications by December 1. We are striving to respond promptly to on-time (by Dec 1) applications. After that we move to rolling admissions. However, we do not want to discourage qualified applicants from applying, and a modest delay beyond December 1 will have little adverse effect. At some point, it becomes difficult to consider applicants for scholarships. We can accept MS/MPH students until we fill our target numbers or until it becomes impractical to admit. 

Can I substitute the MCAT for the GRE?

We do not accept the MCAT in lieu of the GRE.

What sort of test scores do you require for admission?

We don't report average scores of our applicants or admitted students. Admissions is based on a holistic assessment of your application package: GPA, coursework and grades, statement of purpose, GREs, letters of recommendation. We are very interested in your math skills, leadership and ability to communicate. 

Is it possible to get in with a 2.96 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; we encourage all qualified applicants to apply.

My GRE score is old: will it still be accepted?

GRE scores are required for all applicants. GRE scores not more than 5 years old will be fine. Newer GRE scores are preferred.

I applied to the PhD program and was admitted to the MS program. Why?

Many students apply for the PhD program but are not admitted. The admissions committee evaluates these applicants to see if (a) they are qualified for the MS program and (b) they would benefit from an MS degree. Those students may be admitted to the MS program.

I haven't taken many math courses. What would be the most effective way of demonstrating quantitative ability?

We require 2 years of calculus including a quarter of linear algebra as a prerequisite for the MS program. If you haven't already taken those courses, then the best approach would be to take those courses and do well in them. If your previous GPA was low and/or your previous math grades were low, then you would need to get essentially straight A's in these courses. Mostly Bs, or any C, would be a red flag that you weren't ready for our MS program. If you have already taken the 2 years of calculus, then taking linear algebra, and continuing on with some other coursework, such as a second quarter of linear algebra, advanced calculus, numerical analysis, probability theory, or real analysis would be a way to demonstrate your quantitative skills.
UCLA requires a 3.0 undergraduate GPA for admission to graduate school. Any showing below that, we are required to write a letter of justification. The farther below that mark, the more courses you'd need to take and the better you'd have to do to show your readiness for graduate school.

Can you look at my transcript and GRE and tell me if I will be accepted?

We cannot and do not comment on specific applications without the benefit of a complete application completed through regular channels. We encourage all strong applicants to apply.

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 through SOPHAS. (You also must send an application to the UCLA 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. Actual selection of a thesis advisor is an agreement between the advisor and the student; both must agree to the arrangement. Some students wait until late in their career to pick an adviser, some settle on an adviser early in the program. 

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. 

Who is required to take the TOEFL exam?

Rules on taking the TOEFL exam are set by the University, the department is unable to waive the exam for particular applicants. See UCLA TOEFL Rules for more information. The following information is taken directly from that web site (on 19 Mar 2014): "Applicants who hold a bachelor’s or higher degree from a university located in the United States or in another country in which English is both the primary spoken language of daily life (e.g., Australia, Barbados, Canada, Ireland, Jamaica, New Zealand, United Kingdom) 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 English as a Second Language Placement Examination (ESLPE). Please be sure to include such information in your application."

Will it help my application if I audit a math course and ask for a letter of recommendation?

To be seriously considered by the admissions committee, you need to enroll in all courses for credit, with the course and course grade appearing on your transcript.