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Graduate Programs

Frequently Asked Questions

Doctorate in Statistics (Ph.D.) and Master of Science in Statistics (M.S.)

Information and frequently asked questions for Ph.D. and M.S. admissions.


Selection criteria

What criteria are used for selecting new graduate students?

Graduate admissions are determined by the Graduate Admissions Committee. The committee considers grades, particularly in quantitative courses, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, research and work experience, and a statement of purpose.

There are no minimum scores required for GREs or GPA, but admission is quite competitive. Applicants are judged holistically based on all available information. Admissions cannot be assessed based on your GREs and grades alone.

Successful applicants almost always have the following:

  1. A strong background in mathematics. Evidence of this can come from grades in courses in mathematics and computing. Successful applicants have almost always have taken courses in probability, matrix or linear algebra, and vector calculus. Real analysis is preferred but not required.
  2. Research experience and aptitude. This is judged based on letters of recommendation from research advisers and a candidate's personal statement. Past work experience that relates to Statistics is often relevant.
  3. Understanding of Statistics. Successful applicants to the Ph.D. program come from many different fields, including Statistics, Mathematics, Computer Science, Biology, and others. A successful applicant should either have had courses on Statistical topics or a clearly articulated desire to learn Statistics at the highest level.
  4. GPAs above 3.5 (US), though we recognize different countries have different GPA standards.
  5. GRE scores are typically above 60%/80%/50% for the V/Q/A scores respectively.

If you have further questions you may contact us at


Language, TOEFL, and GREs

What tests of English are required for students who come from non-English speaking countries?  

We require only the TOEFL test. However, to be a teaching assistant at Penn State you must (upon arrival) take a short course on teaching and pass a language test. The minimum acceptable score for the TOEFL is a total score of 80 with a 19 on the speaking section for the Internet-based test (iBT). Applicants with iBT speaking scores between 17 and 19 may be considered for provisional admission, which requires an institutional test of English proficiency upon first enrollment and, if necessary, remedial course work.  We will consider your grades and the verbal part of the GRE as evidence of your language abilities.  Between 15 and 17 it is unlikely that your application will be competitive because of the limited space and the high number of qualified applicants.

The language of instruction in my undergraduate program was English.  Do I still need to take the TOEFL?

International applicants are exempt from the TOEFL/IELTS requirement if you have received a baccalaureate or a masters degree from a college/university/institution in any of the following: Australia, Belize, British Caribbean and British West Indies, Canada (except Quebec), England, Guyana, Republic of Ireland, Liberia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the United States and Wales. 

You must complete the degree by August 15 of the year in which you want to start our program. For example, if you are currently in a US program and will complete your degree in the spring or summer, you are exempt from the TOEFL requirement. It would be useful if one of your recommendations discusses your ability to communicate with undergraduates as a TA.

Applicants from other countries need a TOEFL score, even if the language of instruction was English. If you have a dual degree from a U.S. and international program, please check to see who will issue the degree(s) and then contact the graduate school.
I have not yet taken my GRE or TOEFL test.  Can I apply?

You can apply without your scores, but you should have the testing service send the scores directly to us. We will not process your application until we have the GRE scores.
My TOEFL and/or GRE score has already expired or will expire before August of the next year. Should I retake the test?

We require official TOEFL and GRE scores sent to us by ETS.  As long as we have official scores on record, you do not need to take the test.  So, if you previously sent scores to Penn State, or if you can arrange to send the scores before they expire, you do not need to retake the test.
I have taken the TOEFL or GRE twice.  Which score will you take?

We consider the most recent score.
Should I take the Math Subject GRE test?

We do not require subject tests. 

Admissions and applications

Do I need to send official transcripts?

Copies of transcripts should be electronically uploaded to our graduate application system; official transcripts are only required after the admissions process to finalize accepting a formal offer to matriculate at Penn State. Photocopies of GRE and TOEFL scores can also be uploaded in place of originals. However, admission offers are not finalized until we receive originals of the GRE and TOEFL scores.

How many students are admitted each year?

The MS and PhD programs admit 5 to 18 students each fall, depending on our available space.  We usually do not know the final number until February.
If I apply for the Ph.D. program and am not admitted, can I apply to the MS program?

No. We do a joint admission without considering whether you applied for an MS or Ph.D.  So, if you are rejected from either program, you are rejected from both.
Do you admit students in the Spring semester?


How many applications do you receive?

Like all equivalent US programs, we receive over 450.

Funding information

Do you accept self-funded students?

Very rarely.  We may accept a self-funded MS student if we feel there may be a chance for funding later and the student is capable of completing a PhD.

How much will it cost me if I pay my own way?

The Graduate School has financial estimates for international students. This is the amount that you must guarantee in order to obtain a visa.  Our students report that the amount is higher than actually required to live here, but the money must be on deposit.  Domestic students can expect to pay the same tuition as undergraduates.  Tuition waivers are available only for students who receive financial aid.

I have a fellowship for graduate studies.  How does that affect my application?

Congratulations.  We consider your fellowship as another piece of evidence of your qualifications similar to a letter of recommendation.  Otherwise, it does not affect your application in any way.  If you are admitted, you will not be eligible for other financial aid as long as your fellowship continues to pay for your education.  You are subject to any reporting and visa requirements of the fellowship.  Usually, fellowships relieve you of TA duties so you have more time to devote to studies and research.

I am an international student. I have a fellowship for graduate studies which allows me to study English in the US before starting a graduate program, provided that I obtain provisional admission to a program.  Will you sponsor me?

You can contact us at for advice.

How are (international) graduate students funded?

Most students are funded by fellowships, teaching assistantships, and research assistantships.  These are all considered financial aid.  We also have a number of training grants, which are directed primarily at US students but may also have spaces for international students.
How can I apply for financial aid or a scholarship?

Please check the box on the online application.  You will then be eligible for a teaching or research assistantship (TA or RA).   All applicants are available for any Penn State scholarships.  U.S. applicants should consider applying for an NSF fellowship – applications are due in November of the year before admission (i.e., at the same time you are applying for graduate school.)   Other U.S. programs may also provide graduate fellowships – check with the sponsored programs department in your current university.  International applicants should consider whether their home country provides fellowships, or whether the Fulbright Foundation has a program in their country. 
If I have my own funds or a fellowship, will this improve my chances for admission?

The Graduate Admissions Committee will rank all applicants to our program without regard for need of financial assistance and will admit according to this ranking.  Fellowships from recognized organizations are considered as a positive outside assessment of your ability and should definitely be noted in your application materials and will be considered with other evidence such as letters of recommendation.

Enrolling from another educational institution

I am currently enrolled in a graduate program at another university.  How do I switch to Penn State?

Students currently enrolled in other graduate programs are expected to complete a degree in that program before starting a program at Penn State. Your application will be considered along with all other applicants.  Penn State does not allow financial aid for a second Ph.D. 
We do not “transfer credit”.  If you want a waiver of a required MS level course which you have already taken, you can take a placement test when you arrive and petition for a waiver.  Waivers for other required courses are determined on a case-by-case basis.
I am currently enrolled in a graduate program at another university.  We have a program that will fund a semester (or a year) abroad.  Can I come to Penn State?

We do sometimes host visiting international students.  We will provide office space, computing facilities and access to seminars and other activities at Penn State.  We will not provide any financial assistance or mentoring.  We require a letter from the sponsor, stating the terms of the visiting program, and a letter from your department, stating what type of activities they expect you to pursue, and what type of documentation we need to provide that you fulfilled these requirements.  If you wish to take courses for credit, you will need to enroll as a non-degree student in the Graduate School, which requires a TOEFL score and tuition payment. Please make your request at least 5 months before you hope to arrive, as making arrangements can take a long time.  The TOEFL requirement for graduate applicants (above) applies. 
Please contact us at to inquire about visiting.

Enrolling within Penn State

I am currently enrolled in a graduate program at Penn State.  How can I switch to Statistics?

Your application will be considered along with all other applicants, and the rules are the same as applicants from other universities.  You can improve your chances of admission by taking some courses in the MS program in Statistics at Penn State before applying to our program.  Alternatively, if your department agrees, you can apply for the concurrent degree program, and earn degrees in both departments at the same time. Please contact us at for advice.

I am in a graduate program at Penn State and I would like to earn a concurrent MS in Statistics.  How do I apply?

Please contact us at for advice on suitable programs and how to apply.


Enrolling with advanced degrees

I already have an advanced degree.  How do I apply to your program?

Students with a master's degree can apply for any of our programs.
Penn State discourages a second Ph.D.  Students with a Ph.D. in another field can apply to our MS program but will not receive funding.
I have an MS in Statistics. Can I transfer credits for my courses to Penn State?

We do not "transfer" credits.  If you have taken real analysis or any of the courses required for the first qualifying exam, you can take a placement test upon entry.  A waiver might be granted based on a petition and the placement test results.  If you want to waive any other required courses based on previous courses, you must file a petition.

Recommendations and references

Can I improve my chances of admission by contacting a faculty member?

Faculty members receive many such inquiries and generally forward them to the Graduate Admissions Committee. A student who is already collaborating or studying with a member of our faculty should definitely request a letter of recommendation from that person. E-mail sent to multiple faculty members (or graduate students) in the department is considered a nuisance and is frowned upon by the Admissions Committee.  If you want advice from a particular faculty member, please send the information to and we will forward your email to the faculty member. 

Can my reference send letters by ordinary mail?

Because of the number of applications we receive, keeping track of the application materials leads to delays.  We prefer if your references use the on-line reference system.  When you enter their names and email addresses, the on-line application system will automatically send your references the web link to the reference system.  If your recommenders are having difficulties with the system (which may happen for international applicants from some countries) please send email to and we will try to assist the recommender.
Where is the recommendation form?

It is part of the online recommendation system.  We do not have a copy that can be sent by email.  However, if your recommender cannot use the online system, please have him or her contact us at
Can my references be sent by e-mail?


Admission and application information

What is the admission deadline?

January 7
Do you accept late applications?

We continue to review applications until our space is filled.  If you are applying after the end of January, please contact us at to make sure that spaces are available before you pay the application fee, as refunds are not available.

When will you acknowledge receipt of my application materials?

No matter how early you apply, we will not acknowledge receipt of your materials until we start screening in mid-January. If you have filled out everything requested on-line, you are done. 
Please keep track of your Friends of Penn State account (such as abc123) and your ID number (such as 191612345).  You will need these to check your application.  However, please be aware that we do not update your status until the admissions process is complete.  We do NOT use the system to inform people of their admission status.
Why does it take so long for you to acknowledge receipt of my materials?

Please be patient.  Our admissions staff are available for only a few hours weekly until admissions begin in January.  We try to acknowledge receipt of transcripts and check the applications within a few weeks of arrival at other times.
My friend got a letter from you.  Why didn't I?

We try to send out our letters all together to avoid this question.  But we find that some of the large email groups such as Hotmail, Gmail, and Yahoo sometimes mark our letters as spam.  Please set your spam filter to accept email from, or manually check your junk mail folder before discarding letters.
Can I visit Penn State?

We are always happy to have visits from interested applicants in the summer and fall.  We definitely encourage applicants who have offers of admission or who are on the waiting list to visit us in the spring semester and can sometimes provide partial funding for the trip – information about visits will be included in our letter to you. We have less time to meet with other applicants during the spring semester.
When will I know if I am admitted?

Because of the large number of applicants, letters of admission or rejection tend to go out in batches. We usually have completed most of the process by mid-March, but funding decisions may take longer. If you have not heard from us by April 1 please contact us at
Can I appeal a rejection?

No.  The only exception would be in cases when there is a major change in your application – e.g., you just earned an A in a course in which you previously had a failing grade or have published research paper relevant to our program.
I applied last year and did not get in.  How can I reapply?

You need to send an email to so that we can retrieve any previously submitted materials and move your on-line application to the current year.  The on-line application DOES NOT notify us about the re-activation.  The system should give you a chance to update your information and add new references.  You do not need to update your TOEFL and GRE scores unless you have retaken the tests. You will need to upload your transcripts.  If you have any problems, please let us know at the email address above. 
We never remove information from the application, but we will add new grades, test scores, and letters.  Changes in our decision are unlikely unless there is a major change in your application, except for those who were previously on the waiting list.  If you were notified that you were on the waiting list, and you wish to reapply, please remind us by email of your previous status.
It is now after April 15 and I still have not heard from you.  What is my status?

We notify all applicants of their status by April 1 by email.  Do not wait until April 15 to check with us, as we can seldom correct any errors after April 15. 
The most usual reason you have not received a decision is that your email program flagged our letter as “junk mail”.  Please make sure your email program is set up so that our email is not sent to your junk mail folder.

Since we contact all applicants with admissions offers to set up interviews, if you have not been contacted you were likely rejected.