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Ph.D. Application FAQs

Where do I start?

For useful background information, some rankings, and requisite skills, see American Economic Association


I really like economics. Should I get a Ph.D. in economics?

A Ph.D. in economics is not for everyone. It takes 5 to 6 years (full-time), requires an extensive math background (to be successful), and you have to enjoy working on original research projects and doing original thinking. If these factors are encouraging to you, then it is worth considering.

Your long-term career goals will substantively impact your choice. If you are interested in industry, then a Ph.D. is less likely the best educational choice. On the other hand, if you are interested in teaching, and research, then a Ph.D. is essentially a requirement.


How do I identify a Ph.D. program in economics that is right for me?

First, you should realistically assess your own abilities and commitment. Ph.D. studies are very demanding; generally, the better the program, the more demanding your studies will be.

The most important determinants of being admitted are:

  • GRE scores (especially the math component)
  • Grades
  • Mathematics background (more is better)
  • The quality of your recommendation letters (Do any faculty members know you and would they write a good letter?)

Other things to consider:

  • Do you know what fields you want to specialize in?
  • Do you know what you want to do with your degree? If you want a faculty position in the future, you are best off going to a top school (or the top school you can get into, so you have the best prospects).
  • Would you rather be a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big pond?

Lastly,

  • Consider visiting the school, and/or
  • Contacting the program director and seeing if you can email or talk to current graduate students

How many programs should I apply to?

Things to consider:

  • Many faculty have a maximum number of letters they are willing to write.
  • Limit your applications to schools of interest
  • Putting all your eggs in one basket is less than advisable: diversify your portfolio and choose form a "range" of programs (all that you'd be willing to attend).

You should seek (and pay attention to) advice from the faculty. Pay particularly close attention to those faculty member(s) that are writing a recommendation letter for you.


Where do I find graduate school rankings?

There are various rankings around: some are free (and available on the web). Be aware that rankings tend to be subjective, so comparing more than one source is likely useful. See, for example American Economic Association/ or US News and World rankings (which are available online for a fee).


How do I finance my Ph.D.?

Many programs offer teaching or research assistantships. These typically cover tuition and provide a stipend (typically from $10,000 to $20,00).


What math courses should I take?

The following math classes are recommended (UMSL course numbers in parenthesis):

Minimally:

  • Calculus I, II, and III (Math 1800, 1900, and 2000):
  • Linear Algebra (Math 2450);
  • Differential Equations (Math 2020)
  • One semester of mathematical statistics (Math 4200)
  • One semester of real analysis (Math 4100; Note that Math 4100 has prerequisites of Math 3000 which has a prerequisite of CS 1250);

Preferably add:

  • Second semester of mathematical statistics (Math 4210)
  • Second semester of real analysis (Math 5100);
  • Second semester of linear algebra (Math 4450)

What steps do I need to take in securing a faculty recommendation?

A faculty member that knows you well is good place to start. It is best to ask faculty who have a high regard for your abilities. You might ask a faculty member, "do you think you could write a good reference letter for me?"

Make it easy as possible on the faculty member:

  • Be sure to provide the faculty member with adequate time to complete the recommendation.
  • Provide a sheet that lists all the schools, the recommendation due date, and information as to whether the envelope should be mailed directly or returned to the student.
  • Provide the faculty member with an information sheet about yourself (along with your resume). Make sure you include things that you think is important for the faculty member to know.

What else should you do?

Plan ahead. Make yourself the best possible candidate. Take the quantitative courses in economics; take the necessary math; get involved in the department (this will help you get better letters), get excellent grades, prepare for the GREs so as to achieve the highest possible scores, and be as "research active" as possible (e.g., participate in Grad Research Fair, Midwest Economics Association Meetings, etc).

Recent articles in the CSWEP newsletter on getting a PhD in Economics


For additional information, contact Don Kridel, Director of Graduate Studies: krideld@umsl.edu