Potential Fit and Application Tips


Mark Lai


June 19, 2020


September 29, 2023


This post was first written in 2020, with an update on rubric in 2022.

I’m especially interested in applicants who

The standard package in our program provides five years of support. Potential applicants are also encouraged to check out the Awards and Fellowships Database at USC, which includes internal and external opportunities for students of different demographics.

Tips on Preparing Your Statement

The following only represents what I personally would pay attention to when reviewing applications. You’re encouraged to check out other resources, such as this excellent post, for more general advice.

First, be sure to highlight why you are interested in quantitative/statistical methods. Tell me a little bit more how you get interested in them, and it would be great if you can share some concrete examples showing your passion. Things like class projects, thesis, courses you’ve taken, books you’ve eading, or anything that motivates you to get into quant.

Second, tell me any relevant experience you’ve had. For example, what statistical software/programming language do you use? What statistical methods are you interested in or have you learned? What relevant courses you’ve taken that you found interesting? You’re going to learn different methods in the graduate program, but having some previous experience would help the transition.

Third, talk a little bit about your goals and how getting in grad school can help you with your goals. It is understandable that you may not have a clear picture now, and it is not uncommon for people to change their plans during grad school (I did too), but at least putting a plan into writing shows that you have given some thoughts on your future.


To keep things more transparent (which sadly isn’t generally the case in graduate admission), here’s the criteria in my rubric that I use to assess applicants in a previous year. Again, please note that these only represent what I focus when reviewing applications, and do not apply to the criteria by my colleagues or our school and our field in general. Also, admission decisions are also based on fit to the department and discussions with other faculty.

Review criteria from a previous year:

  • Demonstrated interest in quantitative and statistical methods (from personal statement, letters, etc)
  • Research experience related to quantitative methods
  • Evidence of writing skills
  • Background in statistics and programming (coursework, computer skills, etc)
  • Fit to the lab