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Applying to Grad School in Economics

  1. Is grad school right for you?
  2. Deciding where to apply.
  3. Choosing classes.
  4. Recommendation letters.
  5. Essays.
  6. Fellowship.
  7. Financial aid.
  8. GRE and Toefl.
  9. After you got in.

Disclaimer: these are just opinions and people can disagree with the claims here.

Is graduate school right for you?

Graduate school is doing research. You will read a lot of journal articles and books, write proofs, collect data or conduct experiments, and work a lot. Many students also work as research or teaching assistants to earn a stipend. Graduate school is not for everyone, but there are some ways to help you identify whether it is the right path for you to follow.

The best way to know whether you enjoy doing research and working in an academic environment is to try it! The first step you should take is to get involved in research as an undergraduate. Talk to your professors and teaching assistants and ask if you can work for them as a (paid or volunteer) research assistant. Commit to a minimum of one year with them. The more experience you get, the better you will be able to identify what you enjoy doing, the more exposure you'll get to the different aspects of conducting research, the more advanced research tasks you'll learn, etc.

In addition, ask other graduate students about what it's like to be in their doctoral program - both good and bad experiences. Ask them specific questions about their program and it's requirements and what the lifestyle of a typical graduate student is like. You should also talk to professors who know you well and ask them whether they think you have the potential to succeed as a graduate student. For information about other universities, look at departmental webpages and find out what the degree requirements, faculty research interests, etc. are for their program.


Your answers to the following may supply some hints about your motivations for entering graduate school:

1) Does living on a small stipend for 4-5 years while studying most of the time repulse you?
2) Do you enjoy writing term papers?
3) Does the idea of giving verbal presentations of academic material in front of large and small groups of very bright people bother you?
4) Do you enjoy reading academic books even if they are not assigned reading?
5) Do you put off studying for a test as long as possible?
6) Have you on many occasions given up desirable social opportunities in order to study?
7) Do you get very interested in answering some questions?
8) Do you like to study, and can you do so without direction or assignments from anyone else?
9) Do you read over recent issues of professional journals?
10) Do you dislike library research?
11) Are there other careers besides being a researcher that you'd like to pursue?
12) Are you sick of school right now?
13) Are your grades mostly A's?
14) Are you self-motivated?
15) Did you do well in statistics?
16) Did you enjoy it?
17) Do you feel a Ph.D. is desirable primarily because of the social status it gives to those holding it?
18) Do you like the idea of doing research?
19) Do you dislike working for a long time on one topic?
20) What would you do if you didn't go to graduate school?
21) Do you realize that, given the opportunity cost a Ph.D., a MBA or MPA would be a much better financial investment?
22) Do you have the interest and motivation to succeed in a doctoral program? Are you sincerely excited about your field?
How do I research graduate schools and decide where to apply?

1) It is advantageous to go to graduate school where there are at least two people whose research interests you.  Now, beyond just checking that the fields in which you might be interested iare offered, you should not worry too much about it as [a] you will learn the tools that you will need to define a precise topic only in your first year and be exposed to the existing literature in the field in your second year (it is only at the end of your second year that you should be deciding on a topic), [b] by then most people decide on topics that have hardly anything to do with what they thought that they would study when they applied, [c] before getting there, there are two important hurdles that will require all your attention: first admission and then passing the comprehensive exams to be allowed to stay in the program.

2) Ask your librarian for books that give rankings of each school/program and list the average GRE test scores, etc. for students who are accepted each year.

Because it takes several years to finish a doctoral program (5 to 6 years normally), you want to be confident that wherever you end up attending graduate school, that you enjoy your research and like your colleagues. Of course, there are many other factors involved in choosing a program, but these are the very basics. So it is very important to research the different programs out there!

Choosing classes (as undergraduate) Recommendation letters

Who are the professors who will be writing your letters?  You typically need at least three.  Have you seen all of them recently?  Do they know about your plans for grad school?  Some professors will feel more involved if you ask them for advice.  It is important that they know you are serious about grad school, that you understand what it is all about, and that you are qualified.  Make sure this comes across when you meet with them.  Check with them as early as possible about writing letters, this gives you plenty of time to seek out someone else if they seem hesitant (if someone says, "I'm not sure I know you very well" that is a bad sign).

Application Essays Fellowships Application Timing GRE and TOEFL

Congratulations! You got in a few school. How to choose?

Wonderful! You have been accepted by a few place. Which one should you choose? Essentially the one with the strongest graduate program (which is not necessarily the same thing as the strongest department). Whether you are visiting the schools or having the make a decision from afar, here are a few things that you may want to keep in mind:

  1. grad students have a much clearer idea of what it feels like being a student there than faculty... so you may learn much more from them than from faculty members;
  2. assessing the overall quality of the grad students in the program may give you an idea of the strength of the graduate program (which is not perfectly correlated with the quality of the department, the latter being easier to assess from the faculty members' vitae);
  3. you may want to ask about retention rates and qualifier exams,.. (voluntary and involuntary departures)....;
  4. something that is really important and would help you to assess 2. is the placement record... where did students who graduated in the last two years from this department get jobs, especially students OTHER THAN the top 2-3 students in that year... I don't want to make you doubt your abilities but the fact is that the very top student(s) in any department will do great on the job market... and schools will be quick at telling you their best placement while you would like to know the full distribution of placement and form yourself expectations of where you're most likely be.... don't hesitate to ask different faculty members about placement overall and within fields (even the best placement in development or in theory can be very different for the same school). 
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