How to Become a Statistician: Looking Behind the Data

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Every day, we base decisions large and small on what we perceive to be factual information. Yet how do we know that what is presented to us as fact is actually trustworthy? In many cases, the evidence confirming a fact is based on statistics.

The information derived from statistical data is the foundation for the development of theories, confirmation of assertions, and discovery of correlations between various datasets. Many different types of data-driven analysis, including economic predictions and scientific research, rely on statistical principles.

Students interested in learning how to become a statistician should know what a statistician does, the education and skills the position requires, and its salary and career outlook. Programs such as Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Data Science degree program offer a personalized learning experience that provides students with the skills and experience required for careers in statistics.

A statistician analyzes data on a desktop computer.

What Does a Statistician Do?

Statisticians work in a range of industries and research areas, including education, marketing, psychology, and sports. As Career Girls explains, statisticians are key to any industry that collects and analyzes data, which today encompasses nearly every commercial and governmental field.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists the typical duties of statisticians:

  • Determine the data needed to solve a specific problem or answer a research question.
  • Develop and apply mathematical models that are used to find solutions to business, engineering, and scientific problems.
  • Create statistical models, apply them to datasets, and interpret the results.

Statistical Methodologies

Statisticians use various approaches to collect the data that serves as the raw material for statistical analyses. Psych Central describes the three common statistical methodologies:

  • Surveys: Participants respond to questions via interviews or questionnaires; the questions may be open-ended or have a limited number of possible responses.
  • Case studies: Individuals or groups are examined in detail to establish testable hypotheses. Case studies aren’t well suited for determining cause-and-effect or for making predictions.
  • Observational studies: Experiments are performed in controlled environments that are intended to record a specific variable as it occurs naturally, with no interference from researchers.

Statistical Survey Types

The goal of a statistical survey is to estimate the value of an attribute in the population, as Stat Trek explains, such as the percentage of people who hold a particular political viewpoint. A population parameter represents the actual value of the attribute, while a sample statistic estimates the prevalence of a population attribute based on the sample data.

Samples are either probability or nonprobability:

  • In probability samples, each population attribute has a known (nonzero) chance of being included in the sample.
  • In nonprobability samples, the probability of an attribute being selected is unknown, or it isn’t certain whether the attribute has a nonzero chance of being included.

SkillsYouNeed describes the most common statistical survey techniques:

  • Mean is determined by adding the values and dividing the total value by the number of values; it’s used most frequently to represent the central tendency, as opposed to mode (the number that occurs most often in the dataset) or median (the middle value when the dataset is ordered from highest value to lowest value).
  • Variance and standard deviation determine the difference between an individual response and the mean of all responses. Variance is the average of the squared differences from the mean, while standard deviation is calculated by finding the square root of the variance.

Industries That Employ Statisticians

The BLS lists the industries that employ the highest percentage of statisticians:

  • Research organizations in engineering, physical, and life sciences: 14%
  • Federal government agencies: 11%
  • Health and social assistance organizations: 10%
  • Universities, colleges, and professional schools: 7%
  • Insurance firms and related industries: 7%

How to Become a Statistician

For statisticians, problem-solving and communication skills are as important as prowess in mathematics and data analytics. Acquiring the skills and experience required for a career as a statistician may begin in high school by taking classes in mathematics and science, but also by studying English and computer courses, as the American Statistical Association’s This Is Statistics site explains.

Students build on these skills in college by enrolling in programs such as Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Data Science program, which features a curriculum that prepares students for careers as statisticians or statistical data analysts, as well as for a range of other fields in business, finance, and technology.

Education and Experience

According to the BLS, most employers require that statisticians have at least a master’s degree in mathematics, statistics, or a related subject. Courses in these master’s programs typically include calculus, differential equations, and algebra, as well as computer science, engineering, physics, and computer programming.

PayScale reports that most statisticians pair their degree with a specialty area in which they’ve gained expertise, such as business management, financial analysis, public health, social science, or education.


PayScale lists the most common competencies of statisticians:

  • Statistical analysis
  • Data analysis
  • SAS statistical software
  • R programming language
  • Data modeling

These are the most important skills for statisticians to possess, according to the BLS:

  • Data analytics: Applies mathematical and statistical models and methods to large datasets using the most appropriate software to ensure the precision and accuracy of the analysis
  • Mathematics: Entails a thorough understanding of calculus, linear and abstract algebra, and statistics to create and apply the models used during analysis
  • Problem-solving: Allows statisticians to come up with innovative approaches and solutions to the challenges faced by scientists, engineers, financial analysts, and business managers
  • Communication: Essential for explaining the results of statistical analysis to stakeholders who don’t have a background in mathematics, and in other interactions with co-workers, clients, and colleagues

Statistician Salary and Employment Outlook

The median annual salary for statisticians as of May 2019 was $91,160, according to the BLS. PayScale explains that education level, years of experience, and job location can affect statistician salaries. For example, statisticians working in the Washington, D.C., area earn about 13% more than the average for all locations, while those employed in Boston receive about 6% less than the average for all statisticians in the U.S.

Salaries for statisticians also vary greatly based on level of experience, according to PayScale:

  • Late-career salaries were 48% higher than the average for all statisticians as of October 2020.
  • Experienced statisticians earned 31% more salary than the average.
  • Midcareer statisticians earned 14% more than the average salary.
  • Early-career and entry-level statistician positions paid 4% and 12% less salary than the average, respectively.

The BLS forecasts that the number of jobs for statisticians will increase by 35% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than the projected average growth for all occupations. Areas where demand for statisticians is expected to be greatest include research and development, consulting, and computer systems design.

Laying the Foundation for a Career as a Statistician

Economic growth depends on the ability of businesses and industries to take advantage of advances in technology and data analytics. Statisticians play a pivotal role in converting the raw data that is now a business’s most valuable asset into revenue and profit by helping business managers, engineers, scientists, and others make the most rewarding decisions possible. Programs such as Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Data Science program help students interested in statistics pursue their professional goals.

Discover how Maryville’s online Master of Science in Data Science degree prepares students to bravely pursue careers in statistics and advanced data analytics.

Recommended Reading

Statistician vs. Mathematician: Comparing Data-Driven Professions

Math in Action: Explore a Master’s in Statistics vs. Data Science

Research Analyst vs. Data Scientist: Comparing Two Analytical Careers


American Statistical Association, How to Become a Statistician

The Balance Careers, “How to Become a Biostatistician”

Career Girls, Statistician: What You Need to Know

PayScale, Average Statistician Salary

Psych Central, “The 3 Basic Types of Descriptive Research Methods”

SkillsYouNeed, Simple Statistical Analysis

Stat Trek, Survey Sampling Methods

Towards Data Science, “Methods of Study Designs — Observational Studies & Surveys”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mathematicians and Statisticians

World of Statistics, Statisticians at Work