The following tips are meant to help prospective students prepare strong applications to the UBC MDS program.
1. Understand the program
Read about the program thoroughly, to fully understand what kind of students the program is looking for. MDS is a professional Master’s program, not a research program. We expect most of our graduates to enter the workforce after the program. While we also anticipate a few students may pursue further graduate studies in a domain area of interest, our program is not geared towards preparing students for further graduate studies in statistics or computer science. If your ultimate goal is to pursue a PhD in statistics or computer science, MDS is likely not the best fit for you.
2. Personal Statement
A strong personal statement should be…
- specific to you. The personal statement should be as specific to you as possible, and should explain how the MDS program fits into you career trajectory. Try to avoid sentences that could work for any MDS applicant. For example, avoid talking about how data science is changing the world, or about how UBC is a fantastic institution - both are true, but they don’t tell us about you.
- specific to UBC MDS. The personal statement should be specific to the UBC MDS program, and should demonstrate that you understand what data science is and what the MDS program is. Reusing a letter you wrote to apply for Master’s programs in Statistics or Computer Science, for example, is unlikely to yield good results.
- polished. The personal statement should be well-written, not contain typos or grammatical errors, use reasonable margins and font sizes, and adhere to the maximum length guidelines.
Other advice for your personal statement:
- While it is useful to explain why MDS is a good fit for you, praising UBC in general is not particularly helpful. Including the names of various MDS faculty members, unless you have something specific to say, is also generally not helpful.
- If you have been out of school for a long time, and/or studied something very different from data science, the personal statement is a good opportunity to discuss your technical readiness for MDS. Often from your resume and reference letters we cannot tell what aspects of your work experience were technical in nature. Since your work experience is generally an important part of your application, we suggest taking a few sentences to describe in detail what your job(s) entailed. For example, were you mainly in management? Were you programming on a daily/weekly/monthly basis? Etc.
- It is generally not helpful to enumerate long lists of statistical and/or machine learning methods you have used, e.g. random forests, support vectors machines, convolutional neural networks, multiple linear regression, etc. Instead, focus on the big picture.
- Part of the personal statement can also be used to explain any exceptional or unusual circumstances that pertain to your application; see below for more information.
Letters of reference should help the admissions committee to get a complete understanding of a candidate. Try to find referees that really know you well: no matter how famous they are, if your referee doesn’t know you then the letter doesn’t help your cause. This issue arises particularly often with past course instructors. If a letter from a past instructor simply states your grade in the course (even if it is a great grade!), it does not add any new information not already contained within your transcripts. References from supervisors/managers/professors are typically much stronger than references from friends/colleagues/classmates. Finally, a mix of academic and professional references is preferred, if possible/applicable (we understand there are exceptions, e.g. an academic reference may not make sense if you have been out of school for 10+ years).
Before asking for a reference letter, speak with the potential referee: do they have something particular and special to say about you? Do they have the time and willingness to write the letter in a timely manner? Do they seem enthusiastic to provide a reference letter for you?
4. If something might be unclear to us, explain it
Your application is your opportunity to communicate all relevant information to the admissions committee. Thus, it’s in your best interest to provide the committee with sufficient information to make a decision. Examples of unusual situations that may warrant an explanation:
- A gap year or two in your resume
- You are currently enrolled in a degree program with an end date after the MDS start date
- You already have a degree that is similar to MDS (e.g. data science, applied statistics)
- You have attended a large number of academic institutions
- One of your previous degrees spans a much shorter or longer amount of time than typical
- Your grades are generally strong but are very poor for one or two semesters
- You did not get a reference letter from your prominent professional/academic experience(s), e.g. main employer on your resume, Master’s/PhD advisor
To elaborate on the final example above, if you have some particularly poor grades but there is a noteworthy reason for your performance, you should explain it. For example, perhaps you were working full time, caring for an ill family member, or simply unmotivated because you were not excited about what you were studying. The explanation doesn’t erase the grade but it creates a clearer picture of you as an applicant than an unexplained low grade.
Another situation worth explaining is if you have unsuccessfully applied to the MDS program in the past. If this is the case, what has changed since you last applied?
Please note that following these suggestions does not guarantee admission into the MDS program. We receive a large number of applications and our admissions process is highly competitive. Also, because of the high volume of applications we are unable to provide specific feedback to unsuccessful applicants.