Biostatistics Degrees and Master’s in Biostatistics Programs

Biostatistics is an integral part of public health and medicine. Those who work in the field help design and execute research studies in public health, medicine and biology. They use data to answer questions that affect our health, ultimately helping stakeholders make important decisions about public health strategy and implementation. 

Because biostatistics involves data analysis and interpretation, it is an ideal career path for those who enjoy math and science. Most people working as biostatisticians will have a master’s or doctorate degree, but some may hold a bachelor’s in biostatistics, mathematics or statistics. Learn more about education requirements and career opportunities in biostatistics in public health. 

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What is Biostatistics?

What is biostatistics exactly? Biostatistics uses statistical processes and methods to analyze and interpret quantifiable data relating to living things. It combines math, statistics and biology. When a medical study cites data or statistics, a biostatistician was likely on the research team. Biostatistics is important because it helps to make sense of data to improve public health.

What is Biostatistics in Public Health?

Biostatistics in public health is often used to assess biological and environmental risk factors for disease or determine the efficacy of an intervention. It often helps to distinguish between correlation and causation in studies. For example, Did this environmental factor actually cause this health event? In medicine and public health, differentiating between correlation and causation is critical.

Biostatisticians can help interpret data, explaining if an intervention worked or how it affected study participants. They can also help design a study by determining data needs.

Biostatistics vs Statistics Degrees

Biostatistics and statistics both involve data collection and interpretation. Statistics is a broad approach to data analysis and collection. The key distinction is that biostatistics uses statistical methods to answer questions pertaining to topics in biology.

Coursework for these degrees may overlap, but typically, statistics is more theoretical. Biostatistics classes will use statistical methods for real-world applications, particularly in medicine. For those who want to do research, a degree in biostatistics will be beneficial. However, statisticians can also be hired to conduct research.

Bachelor’s Degree in Biostatistics

A solid foundation in mathematics is highly recommended for those seeking a Bachelor of Science (BS) in biostatistics. Prerequisite classes may include courses in math and biology and possibly ecology, epidemiology, chemistry or other science courses. Classes that focus on statistical packages, such as SPSS or EpiInfo, could be considered helpful as well.

Courses that improve communication skills are also recommended. This is because biostatisticians have to interpret data and communicate research findings to other public health professionals and stakeholders. 

Many schools may not offer a bachelor’s degree in biostatistics. A BS in statistics or mathematics are relevant degrees for those interested in biostatistics. They will still provide the foundational skills needed to apply to master’s programs. Electives may help students gain a better understanding of biostatistics and its integral relationship to public health.

Curriculum for a Bachelor’s Degree in Biostatistics

Schools that do offer bachelor’s degrees in biostatistics will have required courses that focus on learning statistical methods. While most coursework will be in statistics, students will also need to take biology courses. Internships may be required, depending on the college or university. Students pursuing this degree can benefit from research-focused internships.

Examples of undergraduate courses in biostatistics include:

Intermediate Statistics: Design and Analysis
This course will build on information from introductory statistics courses. This covers two-sample t-tests, analysis of variance, contingency tables analysis, and Screening and Simpson’s paradox (Yule-Simpson effect). Students will learn issues in experimental and nonexperimental design and sampling plans. This course will use a statistical computer package. 

Basic Elements of Probability and Statistical Inference

Calculus classes are required to prepare for this course. Students will learn the fundamentals of probability, discrete and continuous distributions, and functions of random variables. In addition, the course provides an overview of descriptive statistics and the fundamentals of statistical inference, including estimation and hypothesis testing.

Principles of Microbiology

This introductory course provides a foundation for understanding how microbial pathogens and viral agents cause human disease. Students will learn the principles of cell structure and compare prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells; viral agents; bacterial genetics and antibiotic resistance. Students will learn about infectious disease, pathogenesis and immune response. This course will also cover the importance of vaccination as a key public health measure.

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Master’s Degree in Biostatistics

Those who want to continue their education and advance their career can earn a Master of Science in biostatistics or Master of Public Health (MPH) with biostatistics as a concentration. Master’s programs educate students in statistical theory, bioinformatics and biostatistical methods, planning studies, conducting analysis, interpretation of analysis and writing reports.

Admissions departments will often look for relevant undergraduate coursework in probability, statistics, numerical analysis, biology, genetics and bioinformatics. Working knowledge of a programming language, calculus and statistical computing software could also be required for admission.

At the end of an MPH in biostatistics program, a capstone course and practicum are required. The capstone consists of a paper and presentation that demonstrates a student’s skills and competencies related to a current public health problem. The practicum is a valuable firsthand experience that may help students apply to jobs and advance their careers. The practicum is an opportunity to conduct research in a real-world setting.

Research is a key component of biostatistics and many departments encourage their students to work or volunteer for a research project.

Coursework Example of MPH in Biostatistics

MPH Biostatistics courses usually require about 42 credits and take 18 to 24 months to complete. The courses are made up of a combination of required core subjects (approximately 16 credits), concentration requirements (approx. 12-21 credits), electives (approx. 6-9 credits), an Applied Learning Experience (ALE) and a capstone project (approx. 6-9 credits), sometimes a combination depending on the school. While some fundamental courses are required to take prior to some concentration courses, students are usually given some freedom to decide the sequence of certain courses to take. MS in Biostatistics programs may require slightly fewer credits (32-36 credits in total).

Some required core subjects may include courses: foundations of public health, budgeting and management, health systems, regulations and policies, public health assessment, principles of biostatistics and more. Some of them may be very similar to the core requirements of other specializations of online MPH programs.

Concentration requirements for the MPH in Biostatistics may include: intermediate biostatistics: regression models, survey research methods and data management, public health practice epidemiology, analytical workflow management

In addition to the biostatistics core subjects, there are elective credits that are selected in consultation with a student’s academic adviser. Some elective courses may include qualitative methods and analysis, environmental epidemiology, analysis of multilevel and longitudinal data and GIS/spatial epidemiology.

Below is a mockup of 42-credit coursework of an MPH in Biostatistics program that shows the timeline and courses to be taken.

Semester 1Semester 2
Foundations of Public Health Biostatistics I 
Analytic Methods in Public Health Intermediate Biostatistics 
Health Systems, Regulations and Policies Introduction to SAS Programming 
Leadership and Advocacy Clinical Research: Design and Analysis 
Semester 3Semester 4
Design of Medical Studies Capstone
Biostatistical Methods IIElective or Field Placement 
Categorical Data AnalysisN/A
Elective or Field Placement N/A

Online Masters in Biostatistics Programs

There are a limited number of MPH or MS in Biostatistics offerings online that are accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). The full list of CEPH-accredited online master’s in biostatistics programs in alphabetical order:

SchoolDegree and ConcentrationCredit RequiredLocation
1. East Tennessee State UniversityMPH in Biostatistics43Johnson City, TN
2. Tufts School of MedicineMPH in Epidemiology and Biostatistics42Boston, MA
3. University of FloridaMS in Biostatistics36Gainesville, FL
4. University of LouisvilleMS in Biostatistics32Louisville, KY
5. University of Nebraska Medical CenterMPH in Biostatistics42Omaha, NE
6. University of North DakotaMPH in Population Health Research and Analytics42Grand Forks, ND
7. University of Southern CaliforniaMPH in Biostatistics and Epidemiology40Los Angeles, CA

List last updated October 2020

East Tennessee State University

Program Name: MPH in Biostatistics

In this MPH Biostatistics at College of Public Health of ETSU, students will study data collection and analysis and become proficient in statistical software programs under the leadership of “the most interesting dean in the world,” according to ETSU’s website. The biostatistics curriculum includes SAS Programming with Research Applications in Public Health and Applied Longitudinal Data Analysis.

Credit Hours: 43 Credits

Program Options: Online, Traditional

GRE: Not required 

Location: Johnson City, TN

University of Florida

Program Name: Master of Science (MS) in Biostatistics

This MS in Biostatistics is offered by the UFL College of Public Health and Health Professions & College of Medicine. It is designed to facilitate students’ development of a strong theoretical foundation in biostatistics, and a broad-based understanding of biostatistical methods and advanced skills in big data analysis. It prepares highly qualified individuals for Ph.D. training and for careers in biostatistics practice. 

Credit Hours: 36 Credits

Program Options: Online, Traditional

GRE: Waived through Fall 2021

Location: Gainesville, FL

University of Nebraska Medical Center

Program Name: MPH in Biostatistics

The MPH in Biostatistics at UNMC College of Public Health is designed for students who are already working in the public health field, looking to expand their statistical understanding and adopt data skills. The subjects required for the concentration in biostatistics are Design of Medical Studies, Introduction to SAS Programming, Biostatistical Methods II, Categorical Data Analysis, Survival Data Analysis and Correlated Data Analysis.

Credit Hours: 40 Credits

Program Options: Online, Traditional

GRE: Not required 

Location: Omaha, NE

University of Southern California

Program Name: MPH in Biostatistics and Epidemiology

In this MPH in Biostatistics & Epidemiology program offered by USC Keck School of Medicine, students will learn both SAS and STATA data analysis and several epidemiology-focused subjects such as Epidemiology of Infectious Disease and Chronic Disease Epidemiology. The elective class options are Environmental Health: An Epidemiological Approach and Program Evaluation & Research.

Credit Hours: 40 Credits

Program Options: Online, Traditional

GRE: Required 

Location: Los Angeles, CA


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Tufts University Master of Public Health

Tufts University School of Medicine, top-ranked for graduate study in public health by U.S. News & World Report in 2019, offers an online Master of Public Health (MPH) program with a built-in concentration in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. The program is CEPH-accredited and features collaborative online classes and a real-world Applied Learning Experience.

GRE: Scores not required

Minimum GPA to Apply: Not specified

Credit Hours: 42

Specializations Offered: Biostatistics and Epidemiology

Program Options: Online

University of Louisville

Program Name: Master of Science (MS) in Biostatistics

Offered by the School of Public Health & Information Science of UofL, this MS in Biostatistics degree is designed for those who aspire to start or advance their career in biostatistics, statistics or data science. The curriculum emphasizes medical, dental, nursing and healthcare applications of statistical analysis, with applicability across countless other industries. 

Credit Hours: 32 Credits

Program Options: Online, Traditional

GRE: Currently waived for online programs

Location: Louisville, KY

University of North Dakota

Program Name: MPH in Population Health Research & Analytics

In this MPH in Population Health Research & Analytics offered by UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences, students take Introduction to Data Management in SAS, Biostatistics 2 and Advanced Biostatistics. The MPH program allows for the option to choose an elective in Indigenous health.

Credit Hours: 42 Credits

Program Options: Online, Traditional

GRE: Not required 

Location: Grand Forks, ND


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Doctoral Degrees in Biostatistics

Doctoral programs that offer a Ph.D. in biostatistics are for people focused on scholarly research. Students in these programs may develop new biostatistical methodologies, publish original research and analyze complex medical and public health data including non-standard problems. They may also collaborate with research scientists in other related disciplines. Some Ph.D. programs in biostatistics may require individuals to teach, conduct independent research or both. 

The prerequisites for a Ph.D. program are often met by having a master’s degree with a concentration in biostatistics. However, some programs do admit students with a bachelor’s degree. Many programs will require prerequisite coursework in statistics, mathematics or related topics. Previous research experience and knowledge of statistical software can also help prepare students for a doctoral program.

In addition to coursework, most programs require Ph.D. candidates to complete a dissertation in their research field. 

Curriculum for a Ph.D. in Biostatistics

These are some examples of courses a Ph.D. candidate may take:

Causal Inference
Topics covered include statistical issues in causality and methods for estimating causal effects. In addition, students will learn about randomized designs and alternative designs and methods for when randomization is not feasible: propensity scores, longitudinal treatments, matching methods, regression discontinuity, instrumental variables, and principal stratification. Methods are motivated by examples from social sciences, policy and health sciences. 

Statistical Methods in Epidemiology
This course covers study design and intermediate-level data analysis techniques for handling confounding in epidemiology. Course topics include stratification and multivariable techniques for controlling confounding in both matched and independent sample study designs, including analysis of covariance, logistic regression, and proportional hazards models. Model fit and prediction are also covered.

Statistical Methods in Epidemiology
The course focuses on all types of regression methods. Students will learn to fit and interpret linear regression models with multiple continuous and/or categorical predictors, as well as generalized linear models (GLMs) with emphasis on logistic and Poisson regression. Students will learn to justify and apply standard modelling procedures using data, analyze data sets taken from medicine and public health and interpret results through oral and written communication. 

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Biostatistics Career Options and Industry Outlook

A path to become a biostatistician may be a common career option. Biostatisticians are often employed by pharmaceutical companies, universities, hospitals, independent research groups, technology firms, medical device manufacturers, public health organizations and the government. 

The career outlook for statisticians is promising, with a projected job growth rate of 33% from 2019 to 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While the growth rate will vary depending on the industry, it’s expected that more jobs will require strong math and statistical knowledge. The median salary for a biostatistician was $91,160 in 2019, making it one of the highest paying jobs in public health.


An MPH in biostatistics provides opportunities to work in public health research. Most people work for pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and public or private health organizations. In clinical settings, biostatisticians may work on research trials to test new drugs.

Many also work for government organizations like the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These organizations are concerned with reducing disease risk and improving the health and wellness of certain populations.

Academia is another common career path. Many people with a master’s in biostatistics choose to teach and lead research teams. 

Common careers with a biostatistics degree include:

  • Research Biostatistician
  • Data Scientist
  • Principal Scientist
  • Statistician (Health)
  • Survey Statistician
  • Biostatistics Professor

Biostatistics Associations to Know

Professional biostatistics organizations provide opportunities to network, advance your career, and stay updated on industry changes. 

The American Statistical Association (ASA) is the world’s largest community of statisticians, with members in over 90 countries. The ASA provides development, application and circulation of statistical science best practices. Key activities of the ASA are meetings, publications and education. Membership includes a statistical magazine subscription, networking and career opportunities, online learning courses and access to ASA journals.

The mission of the International Statistical Institute (ISI) is to promote the understanding, development and good practice of statistics worldwide. Rooted in history, ISI was founded in 1885 and has been working to promote leadership and meet the needs of the statistical community. Membership can be through an organization or on an individual basis.

Is a Biostatistics Degree Worth it?

Earning a biostatistics degree can take time if you attend graduate school, so some students may debate whether a degree in biostatistics is worth it. Here are some important considerations if you’re thinking about this degree:

  • It is a demanding field with high-paying positions in public health. 
  • A degree in biostatistics is beneficial for those who want to be an integral part in medicine and make a difference without necessarily practicing medicine. 
  • Biostatisticians play an essential role in the design of research studies that influence public health policy. This degree provides opportunities to research topics such as clinical best practices, cancer research, infectious disease and genetics.
  • This degree can provide the skills and experience to pursue a career outside the biology field. 

It takes time and hard work to earn a biostatistics degree. However, people may find a biostatistics career rewarding because of the job variety, competitive compensation and the ability to make a difference.

Biostatistics vs. Statistics Degrees

Biostatistics and statistics both involve data collection and interpretation. Statistics is a broad approach to data analysis and collection. The key distinction is that biostatistics uses statistical methods to answer questions pertaining to topics in biology.

Coursework for these degrees may overlap, but typically, statistics is more theoretical. Biostatistics classes will use statistical methods for real-world applications, particularly in medicine. For those who want to do research, a degree in biostatistics will be beneficial. However, statisticians can also be hired to conduct research.

Who should consider a master’s in biostatistics degree?

You should consider a degree in biostatistics if you enjoy numbers and data, as the field is all about making data-informed decisions. Strong math and statistical analysis skills are important for those who want to succeed as biostatisticians. You should be detail-oriented and analytical. It’s also important to have strong interpersonal skills, as biostatisticians frequently collaborate and work on research teams.

MPH in biostatistics vs. MS in biostatistics

The key difference between an MPH and MS in Biostatistics is that an MPH is a professional degree and will include courses on a range of public health topics, like epidemiology and global health. MS degrees may require more background in mathematics and focus on research and applying biostatistical methods to your chosen field, which may not be public health.

What can you do with a master’s in biostatistics?

Graduates with a master’s in biostatistics may consider becoming a biostatistician, data scientist, principal scientist, statistician and more. Common work settings include pharmaceutical companies, government organizations like the CDC, independent research groups and medical device manufacturers.

Information last updated October 2020

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