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Biostatistics MS


Biostatistics MS degrees are traditionally geared for those who want a career in research and academics. The MS-Plan B program takes two academic years for full-time students, but we also accept part-time students and will help plan a schedule for completing the MS.

This program will prepare you to:

  • Collaborate in the design of research studies
  • Address research questions through analysis or simulation
  • Draw inferences from data and communicate them
  • Write programs in two or more statistical packages

Kristen Cunanan, MS, who is now a PhD candidate in biostatistics, talks about why she chose the program, the field and Minnesota.

The first year of the MS program consists of three courses in applied biostatistics methods with extensive computing in SAS, two semesters of statistical theory, and a health science elective course. At the end of the first year, there is a written exam covering the two theory and three methods courses.
During the summer, many students gain experience at an internship in industry or research.
In the second year, students take courses in clinical trials, analysis of survival data, plus three biostatistics electives. The MS is completed with a project during the final semester.
The program requires seven core courses and four electives, plus a project. The first year consists of three courses in Biostatistics methods and two semesters of statistical theory, plus a health science elective course. After the first year, there is a written exam covering the two theory and three methods courses.
The second year consists of courses in clinical trials and analysis of survival data, plus three biostatistics electives. Students complete a project during the final semester.
The “Plan B” project involves a combined total of approximately 120 hours of work. There are three requirements for the Plan B project: a written report, a 25-minute oral presentation of the project, followed by a final oral examination, and registration for three credits of PubH 7494.

Master’s Project

MS students must complete a master’s project, demonstrating familiarity with the tools of research or scholarship in the major, the capacity to work independently, and the ability to present the results of the investigation effectively.
Common topics for Plan B projects include application and assessment of new methodology, a novel analysis of an interesting dataset, or a simulation study to compare statistical methods. The master’s project should involve a combined total of approximately 120 hours (the equivalent of three full-time weeks) of work.

Sample Final Projects

  • “Multi-Class Cancer Outlier Differential Gene Expression Detection”
  • “Piecewise Exponential Models With Smooth Transitions and Covariates for Kidney Transplant Survival Data”
  • “Predicting Disease Status Using Correlated Data”

Prospective applicants should have taken at least:

  • Three semesters of calculus (including multivariable calculus)
  • One semester of linear algebra

A year (two semesters) of coursework in undergraduate-level probability and mathematical statistics is recommended. Experience with a programming language (eg. R, Java, C, Python) and exposure to applied statistics is helpful, but not required.

Admissions Review
The admissions committee reviews applicants according to their record of academic achievement, demonstrated academic potential, letters of recommendation, background and experience, and other factors. Test scores and GPAs provide competitive points of reference for admission but are not alone decisive in the admissions review.

When to apply to our PhD program
Students may also choose to pursue PhD studies in biostatistics after completing an MS; however, if you are relatively certain that you want to obtain a PhD, we encourage you to apply directory to the PhD program, even if you don’t already hold a master’s degree.
Applicants should submit materials by December 1, for admission in September of the following year, to allow sufficient time for processing. All applications that arrive before December 1 compete for the first-round offers of admission and financial aid. Students are admitted to start in the fall semester only.

Median GPA and GRE scores for admitted students

Admitted to Masters Admitted to PhD
GPA 3.6 3.7
GRE (Quantitative) 163 166
GRE (Verbal) 156 159
GRE (Analytical Writing) 4.0 4.0
One of our goals is to train students in the kind of work that we do. Our program combines rigorous training in statistical theory and methodology with applied research experience, producing students who are prepared for careers in academia, government, or private industry.
Recent graduates have been hired at publicly funded research institutions (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, St. Jude Medical, University of Texas, Stanford University, Food and Drug Administration) and at private companies (Eli Lilly, Boston Scientific, Medtronic, Merck, 3M, Affymetrix).

See program career spotlights.

There is no specific application form for divisional financial aid awards, as all admitted students are automatically considered. First consideration for aid is given to students who submit application materials by Dec. 1. Applications submitted after Dec. 1 may be placed on a waiting list for financial aid.

Teaching and Research Assistantships

Aid awards are typically in the form of graduate teaching or research assistantships, which carry a salary, full tuition benefit, and the option to participate in a health insurance plan for which the university covers 95 percent of the premium. About 10-15 graduate assistantships are awarded to new students each year.

Research assistants may work on NIH-sponsored projects or in the Biostatistics Design and Analysis Center, a resource for design and analysis of health science studies. NIH-sponsored traineeships are also available on a competitive basis for students who are U.S.citizens or permanent residents. Teaching assistants are assigned to a particular course and provide tutoring, grading, and help in the computer lab.

  • Do I have the right background to be eligible for the program?
    Even if your undergraduate degree is not in mathematics or statistics, if you meet our academic requirements and have had the prerequisite coursework, you are eligible for the program. Several students in both our master’s and doctoral programs hold undergraduate degrees in other disciplines. If your undergraduate degree is not in mathematics or statistics, it is especially important that you have done the required work in mathematics (linear algebra and mathematics through multivariable calculus).
  • What if I haven’t taken the prerequisite courses?
    Occasionally, exceptional students are admitted without the prerequisite coursework. If you are admitted to the program but do not have some of the prerequisite courses, you may be asked to take these courses in your first year of study. To discuss any lack of prerequisites with the chair of the admissions committee, email
  • What courses can I take to best prepare myself for graduate study?
    While not required for admission, undergraduate courses in probability and mathematical statistics are recommended. Additional coursework in biology is not essential; students with a strong interest in statistical genetics and computational biology may wish to take introductory courses in genetics and/or molecular biology.
  • Is financial aid available?
    Financial aid, usually in the form of graduate research and teaching assistantships (which carry an annual salary and cover tuition and health insurance expenses), is awarded to students competitively based on merit.
    Financial aid for master’s students is not generally guaranteed, though we make every effort to “match” admitted students to suitable teaching and research assistant positions after they are admitted and have decided to attend the UMN. In past years, we have been able to provide at least partial financial aid for the majority of first-year master’s students and all second-year students.
  • Do you offer research and teaching assistantships to master’s students?
    Yes. We are typically able to fund (with RA/TAs) about one third to one half of our incoming master’s students during the first year, and usually by the second year, nearly all of the students have funding.
  • What about other awards and scholarships?
    Special awards and scholarships are given throughout the academic year to current biostatistics students who have shown outstanding academic performance and/or strong contributions to the field of biostatistics.
    Non-departmental aid is available through the university’s Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid, in the form of federal student loans, work-study, and grants. For information via telephone, contact 612-624-1111. Other options for support exist, including graduate research assistantships in other units such as the Medical School.
  • What are my options if I am admitted and do not receive financial aid?
    Many of our students whom we cannot support financially have successfully obtained graduate assistantships in other departments at the university. The Medical School, in particular, has many openings for student research assistants to work on current medical research studies.
    These assistantships carry the same salary and tuition benefits as those awarded in our own department. Financial aid is also available through the university’s general financial aid program.
  • How many enrolled and newly admitted students are in the program?
    Currently, there are approximately 75 students (35 PhD, 35 MS, 5 MPH) enrolled. Each year’s incoming class typically includes 6-12 PhD students and 8-20 master’s students.
  • How do I register to take the standardized tests for admission?
    Find test times, dates, and registration forms for the GRE at or by calling Educational Testing Services (ETS) at 609-771-7670. Most applicants take the computerized version, which provides us with an official score from the ETS within 10-15 days after the exam date. Applicants should have their GRE and/or TOEFL test scores sent to the School of Public Health — Institution Code 6874 (University of Minnesota) and Department Code 0616 (Public Health).
  • Must I be a full-time student?
    Not necessarily, although the nature of the program makes part-time study more difficult. Currently, we have part-time MS and PhD students. The Graduate School places limits on the maximum time to degree completion.
  • Do I need to provide a translation of my transcripts through WES?
    All students whose transcripts are not in English must provide a translation. MS/MPH applicants must use WES to provide the translation; PhD applicants may choose another translation service if they wish.

Biostatistics Contacts

Major Coordinator
Sally Olander
Admissions Chair
Director of Graduate Studies
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