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Choosing a Graduate School in Economics

What to Consider When Applying for Grad School Economics

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[Q:] I am an MSc student in economics and I want to pursue a Ph.D. in economics in the United States. I want to follow a career in macroeconomics and econometrics. Can you recommend good pre-Ph.D. books and a good graduate college? I am thinking of making an application to Yale University. What is your opinion about Yale graduate school?

[A:] Thanks for your e-mail! Let's take a look at your questions.

1. Can you recommend good pre-Ph.D. books?

This I can certainly do. Please see my articles "Books to Study Before Going to Graduate School in Economics" and "More Economics Books To Study". These should give you a good idea of what you need to know to do well in graduate school in economics.

2. Can you recommend a good graduate college?

No, but I can help you find a few schools which best suit your needs.

First there's a couple of articles you should read:

  1. An article written by a professor at Stanford, titled "Advice for Applying to Grad School in Economics". There's plenty of great tips in here.

  2. An article at Georgetown with the title "Applying to Grad School in Economics". I don't think there's a single point in that article I would disagree with.
From my own experience and the experience of my friends who also study economics in the United States, I can give the following advice:
  • Ask the professors who are writing you recommendation letters where they'd apply if they were in your position. They usually have a good idea of what schools you'll do well at and which ones you won't. You'll also have a better chance of getting into a school if the selection committee at that school knows and respects the person writing the letter. It helps immensely if your reference writer has friends on the selection committee at that school.

  • Don't apply to just the highest ranked schools. This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. If you're interested in studying time-series econometrics, apply to schools which have active researchers in that area. What's the point of going to a great theory school if you're not a theorist?

  • Apply to as many schools as possible. I'd recommend applying to about 10. I've seen a lot of terrific students only apply to Chicago, Harvard, and Stanford then not get into any of them. Make sure you have some back up plans, or else you might lose a year of study.

  • Talk to the graduate students at the school you're thinking about attending. They'll usually tell you how things really work in a department. Talking to professors isn't as useful, because they usually have a vested interest in you coming to their school, so they've been known to bend the truth a little on occasion. Whatever you do, don't contact any of the faculty unsolicited. They'll think you're annoying and they'll blacklist you immediately.

  • If at all possible, I'd recommend going to a larger school. Smaller schools are good, but if one or two key professors leave they can be decimated. It helps if the school you are applying to has 3 or more active researchers in the area you are interested in, that way if one or two leave, you'll still have an advisor you can work with.

3. What is your opinion about Yale graduate school?

It's a great school with a great reputation. To get more useful information on Yale, I'd recommend going to their website, looking up the research interests of their graduate students, and I'd e-mail a few of them questions about the department.

I'm sure there's quite a few good tips for applying to graduate schools that I'm missing. If you would like to add some, you can either e-mail me using the feedback form or leave a public message on our discussion forums.

I hope this helps. Good luck on your search for a school!

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