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Books to Study Before Going to Graduate School in Economics

Must Read Books for Pre-Ph.D Economics Students


Q:If I want to achieve a Ph.D. in economics what steps would you advise me to take and what books and courses would I need to study to gain the knowledge that is absolutely needed to be able to do and understand the research that is needed for a Ph.D.

A:Thank you for your question. It's a question that I'm frequently asked, so it's about time that I created a page that I could point people toward.

It's really difficult to give you a general answer, because a lot of it depends on where you'd like to get your Ph.D. from. Ph.D programs in economics vary widely in both quality and scope of what is taught. The approach taken by European schools tends to be different than that of Canadian and American schools. The advice in this article will mainly apply to those who are interested in entering a Ph.D. program in the United States or Canada, but much of the advice should also apply to European programs as well. There are four key subject areas that you'll need to be very familiar with to succeed in a Ph.D. program in economics.

1. Microeconomics / Economic Theory

Even if you plan to study a subject which is closer to Macroeconomics or Econometrics, it is important to have a good grounding in Microeconomic Theory. A lot of work in subjects such as Political Economy and Public Finance are rooted in "micro foundations" so you'll help yourself immensely in these courses if you've already familiar with high level microeconomics. Most schools also require you to take at least two courses in microeconomics, and often these courses are the most difficult you'll encounter as a graduate student.

Microeconomics Material You Must Know as a Bare Minimum

I would recommend reviewing the book Intermediate Microeconomics: A Modern Approach by Hal R. Varian. The newest edition is the sixth one, bu if you can find an older used edition costing less you may want to do that.

Advanced Microeconomics Material that would be Helpful to Know

Hal Varian has a more advanced book called simply Microeconomic Analysis. Most economics students are familiar with both books and refer to this book as simply "Varian" and the Intermediate book as "Baby Varian". A lot of the material in here is stuff you wouldn't be expected to know entering a program as it's often taught for the first time in Masters and Ph.D. programs. The more you can learn before you enter the Ph.D. program, the better you will do.

What Microeconomics Book You'll Use When You Get There

From what I can tell, Microeconomic Theory by Mas-Colell, Whinston, and Green is standard in many Ph.D. programs. It's what I used when I took Ph.D. courses in Microeconomics at both Queen's University at Kingston and the University of Rochester. It's an absolutely massive book, with hundreds and hundreds of practice questions. The book is quite difficult in parts so you'll want to have a good background in microeconomic theory before you tackle this one.

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