Frequently Asked Questions

Is there an orientation for incoming students before the Fall semester starts? If so, when is it?

There are three orientations that occur for incoming students. The first is held by the international house, the second is held by the graduate school, and the third is held by the department of statistics. The international house orientation is typically two weeks before the first week of the semester. Both the graduate school and the department orientation are held the week prior to the first week of school. All students (especially international students) are encouraged to attend all orientation events and should plan their arrival in Durham accordingly. Information regarding the graduate school and international house orientation will be mailed to you or can be found on the graduate school orientation website. The departmental orientation is typically held the week before the Fall semester starts (later in the same week as the graduate school orientation).

How and when do I register for classes?

During the summer before your first semester, Duke will send you your NetID in the mail. Although you can register as soon as you have your NetID, you do not need to register until after you come to campus and speak with your first-year advisor, as well as other students. Many students still add or drop classes during the first week of class. To register, once you have your NetID and password, you can visit the Registrar's website and click on the DukeHub link. Sign in using your NetID and password. You can use these Help Guides provided by the Registrar's Office. The first time you register you may be required to enter personal information such as official name, address, etc. You may be required to verify this information the first time you register for a new semester. You will also be required to enroll for continuation (CTN) each Fall and Spring semester; this may be done automatically. If you are a research assistant during the summer, you will also be required to manually register for CTN in the summer. The best way to register is to go to your "Shopping Cart" in DukeHub. From here click "search", select the appropriate semester, click on the first letter of the department you are searching for (for example, click "S" for Stat classes), and click the green arrow next to the department name. This will list all the classes offered by that department in a given semester. To add a class to your shopping cart, click the green arrow next to the class and select "add to the shopping cart." At this point, you still have not registered for the class. You can officially register for all the classes in your shopping cart simultaneously or one at a time by clicking the appropriate link. Some classes may require permission numbers. If this is the case you will need to obtain the permission numbers from Karen Whitesell or from the instructor (usually this can be accomplished over email). Once the class has been moved to the "class schedule" section, you are officially registered for the class.

Can I take classes from UNC or N.C. State if they turn out to be useful to my research? If so, how can I do that?

While it is possible for students at Duke to take classes at UNC or N.C. State, most students find the selection of courses within Duke to be sufficient for their research interests. If you are interested in taking a class at UNC or N.C. State, then you will need to get approval from your advisor and the director of graduate studies. Full details can be found on the Duke registrar's website.

When during the summer should I plan on moving to Durham?

The short answer is: whenever is most convenient for you. Many students choose to move to Durham in July or early August in order to get situated before a new semester begins. However, you can move to Durham right up until the day before the first day of school. It is up to you. You are, however, encouraged to attend the various orientations and should probably plan on arriving in Durham prior to the orientation events.

Where can I find information on housing? was established to help graduate students find housing in the Durham area. Some students find housing on DukeList, which allows anyone with a Duke NetId to post articles for sale, employment opportunities, and more. Another useful link is sponsored by the International House. You also can search for housing using traditional search engines like Google, as well as Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace. If you have sufficient finances to make a trip to Durham to search for housing, it is useful to visit the apartments you are considering before actually moving here. If this is not an option, ask your student mentor about locations that you are considering.

Do I need to get a Duke Parking Pass?

Yes, but only if you have a car and plan on driving to campus every day. However, Duke Parking passes are very expensive and parking lots can be a long walk from the department building. Some students find that living closer to campus and riding a bicycle, taking the bus, or walking is more convenient than driving to campus every day. An alternative to a car is to drive a motorcycle or moped. Motorcycle parking passes are cheap and you can park almost anywhere on campus (including right next to the statistics building). To avoid purchasing a parking permit, some students find it convenient to park their cars along the Duke Commuter bus routes and take a (free) bus to campus. Additionally, if you live with/near other students, you may consider a carpool permit. The carpool permits tend to be much cheaper than individual passes and can often be attained for parking lots that would otherwise be considered full. Access the Duke Parking and Transportation site for more information.

Should I plan on attending the orientation for international students?

Yes. They cover everything that international students need to know to thrive in graduate school and will provide a much better orientation than this question and answer document. During the orientation, the International House will also cover any legal issues that may arise from being an international student (e.g. visas).

What should international students do about social security numbers?

Issues regarding social security numbers (SSNs) will be handled during orientation. Students can also visit the International House to go to the social security office to obtain social security cards if needed. More information about SSNs and other topics can be accessed in the informational handouts provided by the International House.

What should I do when I arrive at the RDU airport?

It is best to arrange with someone beforehand to pick you up from the airport. You can either talk with your student mentor or the GCC to arrange for someone to pick you up. If you find yourself at the airport without a ride to your house, you can take a taxi for about $35-$40.

What is the difference between the MSS and the Duke MIDS degrees?

In addition to the master's in statistical science, the Social Science Research Institute and the Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke jointly run the Master's in Interdisciplinary Data Science (MIDS) program.   Although the MIDS and MSS programs collaborate -- for example, some MIDS students take between 1 and 3 courses in our department-- the programs have different emphases and cater to different students.

The MSS program focuses on an in-depth study of methods for the analysis of data. MSS students learn how to apply the latest methods in statistics and data science, and also learn the mathematical theory and computational techniques underpinning those methods. Because of their deep technical knowledge, MSS graduates are ready to take positions in data science in high profile industries, government, and research organizations, as well as to go on to top Ph.D. programs in statistics, data science, information science, and more.

 The MIDS program emphasizes a broad understanding of the pipeline of and different approaches to data science. By the end of the program, MIDS students will be able to demonstrate technical proficiency in data analysis and modeling, data management, and engineering, as well as in several programming languages and tools. The MIDS program leans heavily on the applications of data science across the industry, government, and research sectors, especially through the 9-month long practicum. MIDS students are more likely to pursue industry jobs than Ph.D. studies.

I hear Duke is a heavily Bayesian department. What does this mean? Will I still learn classical statistical methods?

You will learn both Bayesian and classical viewpoints on statistics such as p-values, most powerful tests, interval estimation, etc. The Master's program includes two core courses heavily on Bayesian: STA 602 (Bayesian statistical modeling) and STA 610 (Multilevel and Hierarchical Models).

Bayesian statistics is probably a bit different from what you learned in Stat 101 as an undergraduate. Bayesians tend to think about problems in different ways, and work on different aspects of these problems, than classical statisticians. Bayesians do more applied science, more computing, and less asymptotic theory than do students at most classical departments. If you are interested in more specific differences between Bayesian and classical statistics you can read more at any of the following places:

Is GRE needed? Can I use GMAT instead? Is there a minimum cut-off?

You must submit a GRE score that is no older than 5 years. GMAT cannot be used for application to the MSS program. The Graduate School does not set a minimum GRE score, and you can view average GPAs and GRE scores from previous years here. Consult the Graduate School admissions web page for more information.

What do I need to submit as a proof of proficiency in English? Is there a minimum cut-off?

Must submit TOEFL/EILTS scores no older than two years. We follow the minimum TOEFL/EILTS score cut-off set by the Duke Graduate School. Details are available under the right-hand admissions requirements menu at the Graduate School admissions web page.

Is TOEFL/EILTS needed for all international students?

To be exempt from the TOEFL exam, applicants must meet the following criteria: They have studied full-time for 2 or more years at a college or university in a country whose primary language is English; AND the primary language of instruction of the college or university is English.

What are the prerequisite courses?

Calculus-based probability theory; Calculus-based mathematical statistics; Regression analysis; Matrix algebra. A course on computer programming is highly desirable. 

May I apply even if my undergraduate major is not statistics?

Of course! Our top students come from diverse backgrounds. Critically, all are very well prepared in operational mathematics (calculus & linear algebra), are computationally-oriented, and are problem solvers. Please note the relevance of the prerequisites detailed above. You can find more details on our Prospective Student page.

Can I apply to both MSS and Ph.D. programs? Do I need separate applications?

You can apply to more than one graduate program at Duke. To guarantee review by each program you want to apply to, you must submit separate application forms to all of them, one for each. It is also possible that you apply only to one program but on the application form, check the box to allow any other Duke graduate program to review your application. If the review committee on your primary program perceives your case to be more suited to a different program, we can recommend that you switch your application, with your consent, that will be affected and the review committee of the other program will be able to access your application materials and consider you as a primary applicant.

What are the RA/TA support options and how should I go about receiving them?

All graduate students are eligible to apply for and be appointed as Teaching and/or Research Assistants. Every MS student will have a number of T.A. opportunities, should they be interested; we naturally encourage this interest as part of the professional development program for the MSS. These TA opportunities are available on a semester-by-semester basis, and MSS students are paid for acting as T.A.s. All MSS students can apply for TA positions through the TA interest surveys that are typically sent out a few weeks before each semester starts.

Many MSS students also take up Research Assistantships for one or more semesters, especially during the summer. R.A.s are agreed upon between mentoring professors and students once students are actively involved in research-connected studies.

Will an undergraduate course count toward M.S. credits?

Courses below the 500-level cannot be applied toward the required credits needed for a M.S. (or Ph.D.) degree. With the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies and the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, graduate students may enroll in lower-level courses, but these courses will not count toward any graduation requirement and will not be included in the student's GPA calculation. 

Are graduate credits given toward summer internships to meet Curricular Practical Training (CPT) requirements?

Yes, students who do internships over the summer and need to meet the requirements for CPT must take a one-credit dedicated internship course, STA 995, which will be counted toward the degree.

Can an international student register for fewer than three courses in the final semester?

Yes, but subject to meeting overall coursework requirement and also subject to approval from the M.S. Program Director. More details are available on the Duke Visa Services website.

Can I take external courses and count them towards my M.S. degree?

Yes, you can count six credits of external courses towards your degree. If you need to take more than six credits external to the department and have it count toward the degree, you need to get approval from the Master's Director before registration. Note that you can also take more external courses and not count towards your degree. Our students often take external courses from the following departments: C.S., ECON, BIOSTAT, MATH, ECE,  MIDS, and Fuqua School of Bussiness.  In addition, we have a number of co-listed courses with some of these departments. These courses directly count toward your degree as STA credits. 

Is an Industry internship is a program requirement?

The internship is not a program requirement; however, we highly recommend it for students planning to apply for industry jobs after graduation. Students get a lot of support from the department in internship placements. This includes various in-house professional development sessions ranging from salary negotiations and networking to interviewing skills,  individual resume editing sessions, and internship information sessions by our industry partners. 

Who do I contact for technical support?

The department maintains a web page with contact information and some answers to frequently asked questions.