You are on page 1of 18

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States

Page 1 of 18

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States

By Christian Roessler (Univ. Rochester), August 2002

When April 15 comes and decisions are made, bringing a few months of anxiety and a frantic hunt for reliable information to a close, the world has a few hundred more economists and as many newly-minted experts in PhD admissions. This incidental accomplishment yields no incidental return, and the next cohort of applicants is waiting in the wings, about to make the same investment and suffer instant obsoletion on April 15. To salvage something, Ive put my fresh memory of the 2002 round to use to cater to the future applicants appetite for data. Heres my doubtlessly subjective, but for what its worth detailed, guide to economics PhD admissions. Special thanks to Mark Sourdoutovitch (Northwestern), Scott Joslin (Stanford), Jesse Barnes (Harvard), and Alex Whalley (Maryland) for comments, qualifications, and corrections. Thanks also to the 30+ decision thread participants at the Princeton Review website, whose combined experience this essay largely reflects.

Who wants economists and which economists do they want? There are 3,000 universities and colleges in the U.S., many of which hire economics PhDs from time to time. There are scores of international universities that do the same. In addition, some public service institutions as well as commercial research and consulting businesses employ PhD economists. U.S.-educated PhDs tend to be the most sought-after and highly-prized on the market by a long way (the London School of Economics, comparable to a top 25 U.S. program, is the only European school that has made inroads). This isnt true for every subject, but it is for economics because American-style graduate programs, with their intense curricula and immersive research cultures, produce competent and productive academics. Besides, the great majority of leading economists, whether originally American or not, hold professorships in the U.S. today. To meet this demand, American programs award about 300 to 400 economics PhDs in a given year. Their graduates compete primarily for positions as assistant professors, either in a research university, like Harvard, or a teaching-oriented college. Because publications are the road to fame, PhDs generally prefer to join a renowned research university; however, there are no more than a handful of such openings each year. If you guess that theyll go to graduates from the top schools youre right, but there are many more top-school PhDs than good academic jobs.[1] In fact, one quarter of all U.S. PhDs comes from one of eleven schools that might be described as forming the elite cluster.[2] Given the oversupply of prestigious degrees, you need to target these programs if you plan to make a mark on the field. For economists who enter private industry, it is less essential to graduate from a program of high repute. However, the economics PhD is not geared to applied pursuits and doesnt give you much of an edge over MScs or MAs in the job market (not to mention over MBAs, who are often higher paid than PhDs[3]). If you want a business career, you should ask yourself whether the PhD is really something that you need.

How hard is it to get into a good program? The top eleven programs enroll more than 200 new students each year; nonetheless, competition for these places is fierce. Economics is one of the more popular fields of graduate study, for one thing. Judging by evidence such as GRE scores, economics applicants are on average also among the brightest; only physics, math, and computer science applicants beat them by a little margin. Below

file://C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\weinhold\Desktop\Teaching\Guide%20to%20PhDs%20in%20Economi ... 09/12/2002

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States

Page 2 of 18

Ive compiled some data on average GRE scores in each graduate field and the number of applicants scoring in the top 3%. Economics ranks fourth by the first measure and eighth by the second (biology, psychology and literature attract a lot more applicants each year ).

GRE Score Concentrations in 28 Fields of PhD Study

Quality of the Pool


Competitiveness Indicators


514 502 515 528 517 536 506 469 489 458 510 494 546 526 535 489 507 549 573 558 585 550

618 665 712 626 714 719 712 691 720 699 709 714 545 698 564 533 540 549 538 546 597 564

602 612 635 607 646 644 627 584 612 588 621 606 584 633 598 561 566 583 591 591 621 587

1734 1779 1862 1761 1877 1899 1845 1744 1821 1745 1840 1814 1675 1857 1697 1583 1613 1681 1702 1695 1803 1701

14 10 3 11 2 1 5 13 7 12 6 8 20 4 17 24 23 19 15 18 9 16

484 104 237 86 147 189 45 17 117 10 13 53 138 152 250 537 45 107 691 356 201 29

441 276 810 47 480 515 202 112 780 64 73 248 11 328 35 87 10 7 35 19 22 3

741 280 450 109 386 376 109 50 240 30 32 90 75 256 162 539 48 51 284 189 127 17

2 7 3 16 4 5 13 20 9 23 22 15 17 8 11 1 21 19 6 10 12 27

1 9 2 16 6 5 14 18 4 23 22 12 17 8 11 3 21 19 7 10 15 27

491 479 486 467 470 460

606 598 521 515 556 493

555 562 542 532 556 507

1652 1639 1549 1514 1582 1460

21 22 26 27 25 28

18 13 37 66 107 3

25 44 6 16 82 1

11 20 23 69 176 8

26 25 24 18 14 28

26 24 25 20 13 28

Explanations: Mean score by section V = verbal, Q = quantitative, A = analytical, all on an 800 scale.

file://C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\weinhold\Desktop\Teaching\Guide%20to%20PhDs%20in%20Economi ... 09/12/2002

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States

Page 3 of 18

Mean overall Tot = total GRE score, on a 2400 scale; Rnk = rank by total. Peak scores number of scores in the top 3% of each section accruing to the field. Ranks Md = ranking by the median of peak score numbers across sections; Mn ranking by the mean of peak score numbers across sections. Bold-faced ranks reflect above-average quality / competitiveness. Source: data reported in ETS Powerprep 2002 software.

Perhaps the best indication of the actual level of challenge is a mix between the quality and competitiveness indices[4]; the list in the next panel is based on the average of ranks on these two scores. Thus, getting into the best PhD programs appears to be an easier feat in economics than in computer science, physics, and math, but its tougher than just about everywhere else.

PhD Fields in Order of Difficulty of Entry

Computer Science, Physics, Mathematics Economics Electrical Engineering, Biology, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering English, Philosophy Mechanical Engineering Psychology Earth Sciences, Material Science, Political Science, History Civil Engineering Industrial Engineering Anthropology / Archaeology, Art History Theology, Sociology Communications

Based on average quality and competitiveness ranks. List excludes some professionally oriented fields (architecture, business, education, medicine, public administration) that may have distinctive tests and requirements.

file://C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\weinhold\Desktop\Teaching\Guide%20to%20PhDs%20in%20Economi ... 09/12/2002

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States

Page 4 of 18

As readers with cross-disciplinary experience have pointed out, my method probably overestimates competitiveness in the hard sciences relative to economics. U.S. programs arent nearly so dominant in these areas: this circumstance, combined with more scattered pockets of specialized competence, creates a larger pool of respectable institutions to which the global pool of applicants is matched. Let me also mention that fairly diverse fields, in content and selectivity, appear under the heading business in the first table. Out of these, finance gets much stronger applicants than others. On the whole, the considerably smaller size of business PhD programs, compared to economics, can make them very difficult targets, too. Dont fool yourself: admission to good PhD programs in economics is very, very competitive equally or more so than the race for the most prestigious jobs out in the real world. Even some less-than top-ranked schools accept fewer than one in ten applicants,[5] and this from a group of overachievers who have excellent grades and scores. If economics and abstract, mathematicallystyled research are not your passions, it is a bad idea to take these people on. A more suitable alternative may be business PhD programs, which are still a bit easier to get into (and through!), and provide more generous stipend packages as well as a less saturated job market with higher pay.

What does it take to get in? Official admission literature from the schools will always say that many factors are given consideration, and this is really true. In the end, the whole picture either looks like a fit with the particular department, or it doesnt. On the other hand, certain weak spots are at once disqualifying. A popular program sees and expects very high undergraduate GPAs (still better graduate GPAs if applicable) at well-known institutions (ideally 3.7 / 4.0 or better, unless you come from a non-U.S. school or system that is understood to have tougher standards). It also expects a quantitative GRE score above 760 (800s are not out of the ordinary) and a decent analytical score above 700. The verbal section is much less important, but a score below 500 looks off-putting, especially on an international application. Anything short of these benchmarks lands your application on the reject pile, unless you have some very intriguing other credentials (and usually despite it). Having done graduate study is not really an advantage unless youve spent the time on rigorous coursework and writing papers. Admission committees want to see that youve used your opportunities: thus, having had opportunities raises the bar! In the same vein, it doesnt hurt a Vietnamese applicant that she hasnt done her BA at a good U.S. school but a Big Sky State degree would hurt someone with an American middle-class background. In any case, the brand of your education matters: alumni of the famous U.S. universities are popular with top graduate programs (a one of us mentality?); among international applicants, the committee typically chooses those from the best institutions of their home countries. You will need a number of math-related credits from your undergraduate studies. Two or three terms of calculus, and often linear algebra, are deemed minimum preparation; real analysis is an excellent complement, as is mathematical statistics.[6] Graduate study in economics follows a theorem-proof approach and uses rigorous notation, so the adcoms pay a lot of attention to how comfortable you look to be with pure mathematics. Background in intermediate microeconomics and macroeconomics is also preferred, but perhaps not as essential. In all these, you should have earned good grades. Having taken too few math courses (less than three) in college, or having performed poorly in them, rules you out of a top school. Apart from such coursework requirements, a formal major in economics is not necessary. In fact, the committee will view a math or physics major favorably, but anything English, social work, Islamic studies is fine as long as you demonstrate a strong aptitude for math. Letters of recommendation carry a lot of weight. Contrary to popular belief, they do not need to come from famous professors.[7] Of course, a distinguished referee cant hurt, but getting an

file://C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\weinhold\Desktop\Teaching\Guide%20to%20PhDs%20in%20Economi ... 09/12/2002

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States

Page 5 of 18

enthusiastic, specific letter from someone who knows you well is more important. Because lukewarm letters are very damaging, be sure to ask referees in advance whether they can support you whole-heartedly; a good way to breach the topic is to ask their advice on the type of programs you should apply for. Its also proper to provide a background sheet with your grades, scores, and other credentials to these professors and to refresh their memory about things youve done in class. Phone calls from professors on your behalf will not necessarily help (and neither would personal emails to people on the committee, showing off your insightful opinions on their work); in fact, they can invite a negative reaction. Economists tend to find helpful outsiders disturbing and lecturing students presumptuous; they often get contacted and wont let it influence the decision. Of course, if your backer is or has been at the department you are targeting, thats a different thing Keep in mind how many students are applying and that professors cannot give individual attention at the outset. If anything, resentment at being busied with networking attempts may work against you. The situation is different at less established, more narrowly focused departments. Writing to professors makes good sense here, since youd want to ascertain that they have resources in your area of interest and perhaps identify a potential supervisor. Much is made of the Statement of Purpose, but apparently it has a smaller impact in economics than in other subjects. Little thats definite is known, but in my opinion, overly enthusiastic homages to economics or the department should be avoided as they sound artificial and waste space. Dont forget that the professors who will read it are very intelligent people and would not fall for something in the style of your college admission essay. Nor do they care much about your love for economics, your presidency of the toastmasters club, or the good things youve done in your community, as long as you can read and construct proofs. They also know youre applying to other top schools and would gleefully go to any of them if you had the chance. The best approach is a conservative one, stating your credentials and objectives in a clear and focused way, outlining a specific research idea (without sounding rigidly attached to it a delicate balance needs to be struck here), and mentioning how the schools particular strengths fit into your plans. Look up the facultys research interests and histories to determine this. Another myth is that the admission committee rolls out the red carpet for applicants who have published a paper. I suspect that the opposite can be true. Top-school professors think nothing of low-quality journals; they know that students can publish in them with a little effort and that those publications are rarely up to the mark of respectable graduate research. Moreover, a poor-quality publication becomes part of your permanent record as a writer. Your advisors intend to work hard to make you an attractive candidate for the academic placement market and might prefer to start out on a blank page Of course, if you have a paper in a good journal, your fortune is almost made. But good journals are virtually inaccessible to students, so I ignore the possibility. That said, theres nothing wrong at all with sending a well-crafted technical paper as evidence that you can do serious research. If you submit anything, it ought to be a short and rigorous theory piece; qualitative (or even empirical) work will not impress the committee.

Shortlisting and scheduling Which schools should you apply to, and when? Almost everybody tries one or two really prestigious programs (Chicago, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, and Stanford are known as the Big Five), more if very confident. Even if you think that admission there is unrealistic, youll feel better afterwards for having probed the limit. The rest depends on how competitive you expect your application to be, and how safe you want to play. Normally, the final list will comprise five to eight departments and include one or two back-up choices where admission seems very likely. But if you wouldnt want the economics PhD unless from a top school because you have other options or you can afford to wait and reapply if necessary it is perfectly reasonable to have no safeties at all. There is a tradeoff between number and quality of applications; they do take time (particularly if you wish to understand and address what is special about the programs you picked), and your recommenders will be better motivated writing to a small number of appropriate choices than lots of inferior or unreachable ones. How do the schools stack up? In the early stages of the process, this question burns in most peoples

file://C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\weinhold\Desktop\Teaching\Guide%20to%20PhDs%20in%20Economi ... 09/12/2002

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States

Page 6 of 18

minds! Well, the top five are obviously the Big Five nobody would seriously deny that theyre in a class of their own. What it means is that Chicago, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, and Stanford are great in every major subfield of economics. Other renowned programs are on par with the Big Five in some areas, but not in all. Youll need to spend some time looking up the facultys research and identifying departments that have at least two or three well-published Associate Professors or Professors working on the topics youve earmarked for specialization. In graduate study, what youre doing is as important as where youre doing it; the job market regards PhDs from a certain program as top shelf in one area and as much less interesting in another. Nonetheless, were all consulting, and subjecting a good part of our judgement to, the rankings. Not to do it would be foolish, since rankings contain fairly objective information, which is hard to come by through our personal contacts. But which ranking to use? There are two major types: reputation rankings and publication / citation counts. Economists know their colleagues and the work done at the leading departments; in reputational rankings they take all factors into account and provide a more or less balanced assessment. Aggregated over a large and representative sample, these ratings mean a lot. US News & World Report publishes the best-known reputational rankings of graduate programs each year but even better are the NRC (National Research Council) studies, conducted every ten years.[8] The two key indices reported by the NRC are the program effectiveness and the faculty quality rating, each ranging from 0 to 5, where fives indicate universal agreement that the program is extremely effective and the faculty distinguished.[9] The ranks of 107 American PhD programs based on the sum of the two indices are reported at the end of this guide. The best-known publication ranking is that by Dusansky and Vernon but a purely quantitative measure offers limited information, and I advise against relying on it as an overall evaluation of programs.[10] However, one reader made the case (and so do Dusansky and Vernon themselves) that publication rankings can be a leading indicator of future recognition. I find this convincing by circumstantial evidence, but one can find logical reasons, too (key faculty additions, spillover from success in a subfield, emergence of fringe and frontier research as mainstream topics). The Dusansky-Vernon ranking is displayed in the next panel; note that departments like NYU, Boston U, Texas, Maryland, JHU, and U Pitt, widely perceived as up-and-coming, do much better here than on the NRC list.

Dusansky-Vernon Rankings: Impact-Adjusted Published Pages, 1990-1994

1. 2. 3.

Princeton (1) Harvard (4) MIT (2) U Penn (3)

482.8 518.3 396.4 397.1 352.5 294.0 318.4 369.5 255.6

26. 27. 28.

UC Irvine (20) Brown (28) Penn State (30) UC Davis (25)

100.3 122.0 127.0 108.9 114.3 70.7 101.3 108.5 96.6

5. 6. 7.

Northwestern (5) NYU (6) Boston U (8) Yale (10)

30. 31.

Iowa (33) Cal Tech (22) Florida


Texas A&M (35) UC Santa Barbara (32)


Stanford (14)

file://C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\weinhold\Desktop\Teaching\Guide%20to%20PhDs%20in%20Economi ... 09/12/2002

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States

UCSD (11) 11. 12. Texas (13) Rochester (9) Cal Berkeley (19) 14. 15. Maryland (18) Johns Hopkins (7) U Pitt (17) 17. 18. Chicago (12) Minnesota (15) Wisconsin (21) 20. 21. 22. Virginia (16) UCLA (24) Columbia (26) Michigan (29) 24. 25. Ohio State (27) Duke (23) 214.8 218.7 172.2 262.8 254.4 118.9 183.7 165.0 171.8 187.5 161.8 182.3 175.8 186.0 171.1 112.1 50. 45. 46. 47. 48. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. Boston College (34) U Washington (37) Carnegie Mellon (36) UNC (40) Illinois (43) Vanderbilt (39) Virginia Tech (38) Cornell (41) Colorado (42) Michigan State (48) Houston (46) Rutgers (50) NC State (47) Rice (45) SUNY Albany (44) Georgetown (51)

Page 7 of 18
83.7 81.6 76.7 77.0 81.5 68.2 54.3 65.2 52.3 71.0 47.3 53.9 41.8 31.6 29.9 42.8

Explanation: Number of pages published by a departments 1995 faculty, between 1990 and 1994, in eight top theory and empirical journals: American Economic Review (impact factor 1.00), Econometrica (0.51), International Economic Review (0.09), Journal of Economic Theory (0.23) , Journal of Political Economy (0.36), Quarterly Journal of Economics (0.28), Review of Economic Studies (0.38), Review of Economics and Statistics (0.24). Co-authors get partial credit; e.g. if there are two authors, half the full score of the article is attributed to each. Ranks on aggregate and per-faculty member basis are averaged, giving the final order. (Ranking on per-faculty member basis in parentheses.) Source: Dusansky, Richard; Vernon, Clayton J. Rankings of U.S. Economics Departments, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Winter 1998.

Plan to mail your applications by early December.[11] You should have your final GRE score by end of October or early November: this means, start practicing for the GRE no later than early September.[12] You might get the best results from taking two sample tests in a row, about once a week.[13] This builds up stress resilience and wont make you as hostile to the GRE as looking at it every day, over a two-week period, would. Review math, but dont memorize word lists increasing the verbal score doesnt help your application. Sit for the GRE by October, so that you have a chance

file://C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\weinhold\Desktop\Teaching\Guide%20to%20PhDs%20in%20Economi ... 09/12/2002

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States

Page 8 of 18

to retake in November (you are allowed to test once per calendar month). Dont try to improve a result thats already good enough (quantitative part is 780 or better) ETS will report all scores to the departments, and if you do worse the second time around, it discredits your initial, satisfactory performance. Draft your statement of purpose by early November and revise it several times, in intervals, until December until it sounds genuine. If a sentence looks dry, tortuous, or pompous to you, it will also look that way to the reader. One thing thats frequently not appreciated is that all your communication with the department becomes part of your file and assessment, once you have submitted an application! This includes emails, so dont write colloquially to anyone, including the secretary. You can turn this to a small advantage by submitting a neat and inventoried package that makes the secretarys life easy and displays your professionalism (show not only whats enclosed, but which letters and transcripts are to be expected when and from whom). The secretary is among the most influential people in a department; engage her in your most polite, assiduous, and organized manner at all times.

When will schools notify me of their decision? Some begin sending out acceptances in early February, but most of the action takes place in the last February week and the first week of March. Almost all schools notify admits by March 15; only waitlisted and rejected applicants will not hear until later. Generally, schools take care of their admits first many immediately e-mail these applicants when a decision has been reached, though quite a number of schools still send acceptances by post. Rejections almost always come by letter, and weeks later, but if you politely enquire about your status by e-mail, the graduate secretary will usually reply after decisions have been reached. The best way to find out whether decisions are out is to check the Princeton Review graduate message board; information exchange tends to be particularly lively in the economics community. Ive sifted through the 2002 threads and summarized the information in the two panels at the end of this section; they give you a rough idea of who got admitted where, when, and how. You could be waitlisted for admission or for financial aid. Its hard to predict whether this will eventually result in an offer; sometimes it does and sometimes not. The schools initially take in a number of people of whom they expect a number, not exceeding the enrollment target, to come. Programs that offer most or all applicants funding (such as Stanford) make a conservative round of initial offers, and extend more offers once they get a picture of whos accepting. Other programs (Chicago, for instance) manage enrollment by giving just a few of the admits money and passing any unclaimed financial aid on to the next best. Harvard makes awards conditional on the applicants securing outside funding (ideally, things like NSF grants) to shoulder part of the cost. Thus, some schools have waitlists and others havent, and Harvard has something they call a waitlist, which is more like an ultimatum. Waitlists are frustrating. Some claim that you can tip the scales by writing to professors and reiterating your interest in the place, but in reality theres little you can do except wait.[14] Getting waitlisted does not reflect uncertainty about your eligibility (in that case, theyd just reject you), it is a question of enrollment targets. All depends on which way the initial admits decide, and when.

2002 Decision Data by Program

Boston C Boston U

adm and fund offer in midFeb by letter (2/12) adm and fund offer early Mar by e-mail (3/1) / letter (posted 3/5); adm offers (no




Adm: 1, 5, 10, 13

file://C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\weinhold\Desktop\Teaching\Guide%20to%20PhDs%20in%20Economi ... 09/12/2002

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States

fund) mid-Mar by e-mail (3/22) adm offers (some with fund) mid-Feb by e-mail (2/21) / letter; more adm offers (no fund) early Mar by e-mail (3/1); fund offer early Mar by letter after email offered adm only adm offers (some with fund) early Mar by letter (posted 3/5) adm and fund offer early Feb adm offer and fund offer mid-Mar by UPS (3/14) adm offers (some with fund) late Feb by mail (dated 2/21, 2/22, posted 2/21, 2/23) adm offers early and midMar by letter adm offer (no fund) early and mid-Mar by letter (dated 2/14, posted 3/1); other adm and fund offers mid-Mar by e-mail (3/11, 3/17, 3/18) adm offers early Feb by letter (dated 2/1), fund offer by letter (10 days later) adm offer mid-Mar by letter (dated 3/7, posted 3/8), some waitlisted pending proof of outside resources adm and fund offer Mar adm and fund offers midMar by e-mail (3/12) adm offers early Feb by email; other (with fund) early Mar by e-mail (3/8); (no fund) mid-Mar by email (3/19) adm and fund offers early Mar by e-mail (3/8) adm offers (some with fund, some waitlisted) late Feb by e-mail (2/28); other adm offer (no fund) early Mar by e-mail (3/3) adm offer (no aid) Mar adm and fund offer early Mar by e-mail (3/8) adm and fund offer mid Mar by phone (3/15) adm offers (some with

Page 9 of 18


award incl TA

Adm: 13

Cal Berkeley

no fund for first year, with promise of 14K TA/RA for later years 21K 13.5K stipend for first year / two years; tuition waiver only, with TA/RA promised for later years

Adm: 5, 16, 17, 18 Rej: 10, 23 Adm: 24 Adm: 3 Adm: 3, 7, 13, 15, 17, 18, 24 Rej: 4, 6, 23 Adm: 17, 23 Rej: 1, 10, 20, 22

Cal Tech Carnegie Mellon (GSIA) Chicago


16K (5 yrs)
Stipend for 5 yrs


Adm: 8 Rej: 10, 21


stipend for first year only

Adm: 3


Adm: 3, 4, 17, 19 Rej: 1, 2, 7, 23 TA 11.5K incl TA; some tuition waiver only Adm: 13 Adm: 1, 13 Adm: 15

Illinois JHU Maryland


Adm: 3, 15, 17 Rej: 1, 2, 4, 9, 23 Adm: 4, 5, 8, 12 Rej: 2


16K + health insurance

Michigan State Minnesota NYU

11.5K (plus outside award) Adm: 5 Rej: 10, 13 Adm: 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 13,


13K (first yr) and 17K (incl

file://C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\weinhold\Desktop\Teaching\Guide%20to%20PhDs%20in%20Economi ... 09/12/2002

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States

fund) late Feb by letter (dated 2/20, posted 2/21); fund offers and waitlisted by e-mail (2/26, 2/27) adm offers (some with fund, some waitlisted) early Mar by e-mail (3/7, 3/8) adm offers (fund TBA) early Feb online / by email; more late Feb online adm offer and fund nomination by e-mail (2/26) / letter (dated 2/26); other adm offer by e-mail (3/29) adm and fund offer in early Mar by e-mail (3/1) adm offers (some with fund) early Mar by e-mail (3/5) adm offer (some with fund, some waitlisted) early Mar by e-mail (3/8) adm and fund offer mid Apr by e-mail (4/15) adm offer in early Apr by email (4/2) adm offers late Feb by letter (dated 2/13, posted 2/21); fund offers mid-Mar (3/19), some initially unspecified adm offer mid-Mar (3/11) fund offers late Feb by e-mail (2/28) adm offer mid-Feb by solicited e-mail (2/22) decision by e-mail (3/27) adm offers early Feb by letter (dated 2/12); fund offer early Apr by e-mail adm offer mid-Feb by letter adm offers (no fund) midMar by e-mail (3/14) adm and fund offers late Feb by letter summer work) 17

Page 10 of 18

U Penn

Adm: 1, 15, 17, 19 Rej: 4, 23 Adm: 8

Penn State


Adm: 11


24K (first 2 yrs, TA later)

Adm: 15, 19 Rej: 2, 4, 6, 23 Adm: 6, 7, 14 Rej: 13


8K (4 yrs)


Adm: 4, 9, 17, 19 Rej: 2, 6, 7, 23

SUNY Stony Brook Texas UCLA

Adm: 5, 11


USC U Washington Virginia

16K (4 yrs, incl TA)

Adm: 6

Washington U (St. Louis) Wisconsin Yale

Adm: 3 Adm: 4, 13 20K (4 yrs) Adm: 3, 15, 17 Rej: 6, 8, 13

Numbers in Decisions column refer to 2002 Applicant Profiles.

Cross-reference with

file://C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\weinhold\Desktop\Teaching\Guide%20to%20PhDs%20in%20Economi ... 09/12/2002

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States

Page 11 of 18

2002 Applicant Profiles


Adm: Boston U (no fund), JHU (11.5K TA/RA), Northwestern (13K), U Penn (fund) Rej: Columbia, Harvard, MIT Adm: Northwestern (13K) Rej: Harvard, MIT, Michigan, Princeton, Stanford Adm: Carnegie-Mellon (11.5K), Chicago (fund), Duke (fund), Harvard (waitlisted), MIT (fund), Northwestern (17K), Washington U, Yale (20K) Adm: Michigan (no fund), Northwestern (fund), Stanford (no fund), Wisconsin (no fund) Rej: Chicago, Harvard, MIT, Penn, Princeton Adm:BU (TA), Cal Berkeley (no fund), Michigan (16K), NYU (fund), UCLA

GRE 650/800/800, GPA 3.93, econ major / math minor from US liberal arts college, international student. GRE 650/800/800, GPA 3.9, international student. GRE ?/790/800, GPA 3.95, math & econ dbl major from MIT, major GPAs 4.0, 2+ yrs as RA, 1+ yr teaching, female. GRE V?/800/790, GPA: 4.0, econ major from top US undergrad school. GRE 800/800/790, GPA 3.96, econ major from less prestigious US undergrad school, math background: multivariate calc, linear algebra, diff eq, math econ, graduate math stats, 2 yrs at a regional Fed, American. GRE 740/790/760, GPA 3.8 (u) / 4.0 (p), econ major from US liberal arts college, 1+ yr teaching, international student. GRE 460/800/730, TOEFL 257, I international student from Japan. GRE 780/790/750, top 12% in class, all A/A+ in econ at leading b-school in India, unpublished paper, 3+ yrs work experience, good LORs. GRE not very impressive, summa cum laude (valedictorian) at top school, best thesis prize, publication forthcoming, math background: grad courses in dynamic optimization and stats, strong LORs. GRE 500/800/800, As in grad core courses, weak math background, international student. GRE V?/800/710, TOEFL 257, not so high GPA (u) / 3.74 (p), engineering major, international student. GRE V?/800/780, GPA 3.8+, TOEFL250+, international student. GRE 470/790/760, TOEFL 260, international applicant from South America.

Adm: Rochester (8K), Virginia (16K TA) Rej: Chicago, Princeton, Stanford, Yale

Adm: Chicago, Rochester Rej: Harvard, Stanford Adm: Cornell (no fund), Michigan (no fund), Penn State Rej: Yale

Adm: Northwestern (no fund), Stanford (fund) Rej: MIT


Adm: Boston U (no fund) Rej: Cal Berkeley, Columbia, Cornell, NYU Adm: Pitt, UCLA (no fund)


12 13

Adm: Michigan (waitlisted for fund) Adm: Boston U (TA), Brown (TA), Chicago (no fund), Illinois (fund TA), JHU (tuition waiver), Northwestern (fund), Wisconsin (no fund) Rej: NYU, Rochester, Yale Adm: Rochester (no fund) Adm: Chicago (no fund), Maryland (fund), MIT, Penn, Princeton

14 15

GRE 410/790/700, GPA 3.91 (p). GRE not very impressive, math

file://C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\weinhold\Desktop\Teaching\Guide%20to%20PhDs%20in%20Economi ... 09/12/2002

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States

(fund), Yale (fund) 16 17 Adm: Cal Berkeley Adm: Cal Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, MIT (fund), Northwestern, U Penn, Stanford (fund), Yale

Page 12 of 18

18 19 20 21

Adm: Cal Berkeley (no fund), Chicago (fund) Adm: Harvard (waitlisted), U Penn (waitlisted for fund), Princeton (waitlisted), Stanford (waitlisted for fellowship) Rej: Columbia Rej: Cornell


Rej: Columbia


Adm: Columbia (fund) Rej: Cal Berkeley, Chicago, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford


Adm: Cal Tech (fund), Chicago

background: real analysis, linear algebra, linear programming. GRE 420/800/800, GPA 3.92, international student. GRE 650/790/770, econ / art history dbl major, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, NSF, math multivariable calculus, linear algebra, diff eqs, stats, math for economics, real analysis, topics in math. good LORs / proposal / math-intensive thesis. GRE 600/790/760, GPA 3.95, econ / math dbl major from Berkeley. GRE V?/800/800, GPA 3.97, econ / math dbl major, American. GRE V?/780/770, GPA 3.0. GRE 710/800/740, GPA 3.84, masters (distinction) from top UK university, 1 yr TA/RA experience, international student. GPA A-, math background: linear algebra, multivariate calc, diff eqs, stats. GRE 550/800/800, BA economics & management (1 st class honors) at Oxford, no research experience, international student from EU. Econ major with intro micro / macro grad sequence and graduate econometrics, math background: real analysis, topology, measure theory, modern algebra, stochastic processes, advanced geometry, algebraic geometry, applied algebra, working paper with A. Shleifer.

Explanations: TA = teaching assistantship, RA = reaearch assistantship. GRE scores are in order V/Q/A. GPA (u) = undergraduate, (p) = postgraduate.

How much money can I hope to get? Economics departments give considerably lower fellowships than business schools or science departments. Worse yet, some people will be admitted without fellowships and a few end up paying tuition. Generally, the best and most competitive programs offer the most generous funding MIT, Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale admits can expect to get a decent package of, perhaps, between $ 16,000 and $ 20,000 per year (with tuition waiver). Most other schools offer lower awards or awards tied to teaching duties, and the less prestigious the program, the less money tends to be available, and the more teaching is allocated. Some schools offer good first-year fellowships that will not be renewed subsequently (but can be replaced with a teaching or research assistantship). The reason top schools dont normally tie their aid to teaching is that the first -year coursework will be too intense to be compatible with chores. A teaching assistantship in the first year is a suspicious affair: either the schools program is not that challenging, or they deliberately expose students to tremendous stress, compromised performance, and threat of failure in order to keep staffing costs down. If financially manageable, it would be advisable to turn down a lucrative teaching assistantship in favor of an lower fellowship.

file://C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\weinhold\Desktop\Teaching\Guide%20to%20PhDs%20in%20Economi ... 09/12/2002

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States

Page 13 of 18

To a minor extent, and for the right reasons, it is possible to bargain for a higher award if you have only received a tuition waiver or a small fellowship (say, below $ 10,000). This needs to be done with tact and with stress on the insufficiency of the funding to meet your basic needs, rather than by pointing out your other options. Money is always a sensitive issue, and departments dont want to bid for students. Asking a program to match or beat another offer suggests that the departments academic qualities arent enough to attract you. In this case, theyll gladly let you go. Exceptions may apply but weigh carefully whether the slim prospect of a significantly better deal justifies the risk of alienating some people you may soon be working with. Communicate your respect for the department before everything else. And if the financial side permits, you should finally base your choice on quality and quality only.

Which offer to take? If you are in the comfortable position to have to choose from several good offers, you need more information. Fortunately, departments will be much more responsive to your enquiries when youve been admitted, and its easy to get in touch with current students. Youll be committing something between five and seven years to the program, so the personal chemistry in such correspondence is a factor not to be discounted. Youll also want to check how many students fail to complete the degree and why (because they are asked to leave? fail the exams? enter better programs? take industry jobs?). Some schools are notorious for taking in a lot more students than they plan to graduate, in order to have a large pool of budget-friendly TAs on hand. The implication is that many wont pass the qualifying exams or, most commonly, will not continue to get funded at some point.[15] Another key aspect to consider is the track record of the program. This involves a review of recent PhD placements most departments make this information available on their website or in brochures. A historical perspective of the eventual success of PhD training is offered in a 1992 article in the Journal of Economic Education. It ranks departments by current faculty positions occupied by their PhD graduates. The sample includes virtually every academic economist at a PhDgranting school in the U.S. in 1992, making this a particularly objective effort that looks at labor market outcomes which necessarily reflect careful evaluation, since hiring institutions put the money where the mouth is. On the negative side, the list is biased towards long-standing and large programs, and recent developments have little influence.

Long-Term Impact Rankings: PhD-Equivalents Produced by Faculty of the Same Doctoral Origin

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

Harvard MIT Chicago Cal Berkeley Stanford Yale Princeton Wisconsin

82.6 75.0 52.1 45.2 42.3 39.3 33.4 29.3

21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28.

Virginia Carnegie Mellon Purdue UNC UCSD NYU Michigan State U Washington

9.2 8.6 8.1 7.9 6.7 6.6 6.5 6.4

file://C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\weinhold\Desktop\Teaching\Guide%20to%20PhDs%20in%20Economi ... 09/12/2002

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States

9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. Minnesota Columbia Northwestern Pennsylvania Michigan Rochester Cornell JHU Brown 18. 19. 20. UCLA Duke Illinois 28.0 27.8 24.4 22.1 20.2 16.5 13.6 10.8 10.8 10.6 10.2 10.1 41. 38. 39. 35. 36. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. Washington U (St. Louis) Rutgers Iowa Texas Indiana Maryland Iowa State Texas A&M Ohio State Cal Tech Penn State Vanderbilt SUNY Buffalo

Page 14 of 18
6.3 5.7 5.3 5.0 4.8 4.8 4.5 3.7 3.7 3.5 3.3 3.3 3.2

Explanation: PhD equivalents produced in 1992 by faculty with the same doctoral origin. For instance: the score for Harvard is, summed across all US programs, the number of PhDs granted by the program times the share of Harvard -educated faculty in the program. Source: Pieper, Paul J.; Willis, Rachel A. The Doctoral Origins of Economics Faculty and the Education of New Economics Doctorates, Journal of Economic Education, Winter 1999.

All said, there is a group of departments that has for decades supplied the great majority of leading economists. In few other fields is the hierarchy as well-established as in this, and it is difficult and rare for new programs to break into the ranks of perceived first- or second-tier institutions (however we define the groups precisely, they just dont change much over time). You have to go to the places economists respect. The stakes are high, and the competition is accordingly but rest satisfied that, in giving it your finest effort, youll serve the best interest of our dismal science as if led by an invisible hand, as they say.

NRC Ranking of PhD Programs in Economics by Program Effectiveness and Faculty Quality

file://C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\weinhold\Desktop\Teaching\Guide%20to%20PhDs%20in%20Economi ... 09/12/2002

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States

Page 15 of 18

First quartile by # PhDs granted, split in half Second quartile by # PhDs granted, split in half Third quartile by # PhDs granted, split in half Fourth quartile by # PhDs granted, split in half

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 Massachusetts Inst of Technology University of Chicago Princeton University Stanford University Harvard University Yale University University of California-Berkeley Northwestern University University of Pennsylvania University of Minnesota University of Rochester University of Wisconsin-Madison University of Michigan Univ of California-Los Angeles Univ of California-San Diego Columbia University California Inst of Technology Cornell University New York University Brown University Duke University University of Virginia University of Maryland College Park University of Washington U of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Michigan State University Boston University U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign University of Iowa

Score 96.40 95.80 95.30 95.00 92.80 87.10 86.00 84.30 83.40 83.00 79.70 77.20 76.80 76.70 76.30 75.00 73.50 69.20 68.40 67.20 66.50 64.60 64.50 63.20 63.20 61.80 61.50 60.10 58.90

Educ Eff 4.71 4.63 4.69 4.58 4.33 4.01 4.05 4.04 3.91 4.08 3.96 3.79 3.65 3.55 3.83 3.43 3.81 3.36 3.22 3.38 3.29 3.26 2.99 3.17 3.16 3.09 2.76 2.94 2.92

Fac Qual 4.93 4.95 4.84 4.92 4.95 4.70 4.55 4.39 4.43 4.22 4.01 3.93 4.03 4.12 3.80 4.07 3.54 3.56 3.62 3.34 3.36 3.20 3.46 3.15 3.16 3.09 3.39 3.07 2.97

file://C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\weinhold\Desktop\Teaching\Guide%20to%20PhDs%20in%20Economi ... 09/12/2002

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States

30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 Johns Hopkins University Washington University Iowa State University University of Texas at Austin University of Pittsburgh Ohio State University Texas A&M University State U of New York-Stony Brook University of Southern California University of Florida University of Arizona Indiana University Pennsylvania State University University of California-Davis Purdue University North Carolina State University Boston College U of Massachusetts at Amherst Vanderbilt University University of Colorado Univ of California-Santa Barbara Rice University Rutgers State Univ-New Brunswick George Mason University CUNY - Grad Sch & Univ Center Syracuse University Georgetown University University of Houston State Univ of New York-Buffalo Claremont Graduate School Florida State University Southern Methodist University University of Kentucky State Univ of New York-Binghamton University of Georgia Arizona State University Clemson University George Washington University University of Oregon Georgia State University 58.70 58.20 56.80 55.70 55.40 55.20 55.20 53.20 52.30 52.20 52.20 51.90 50.90 50.90 50.50 50.40 50.00 49.20 48.80 48.40 48.40 46.80 46.50 46.00 45.40 43.40 41.80 41.60 39.50 39.20 38.90 38.50 37.70 37.40 37.20 36.60 36.20 36.10 35.70 34.40 3.00 2.82 2.90 2.66 2.71 2.69 2.69 2.59 2.57 2.57 2.44 2.68 2.60 2.34 2.68 2.43 2.47 2.55 2.48 2.59 2.46 2.21 2.29 2.14 2.28 2.13 1.93 2.02 1.86 1.90 1.92 1.81 1.87 1.86 1.77 1.81 1.95 1.78 1.59 1.67 2.87 3.00 2.78 2.91 2.83 2.83 2.83 2.73 2.66 2.65 2.78 2.51 2.49 2.75 2.37 2.61 2.53 2.37 2.40 2.25 2.38 2.47 2.36 2.46 2.26 2.21 2.25 2.14 2.09 2.02 1.97 2.04 1.90 1.88 1.95 1.85 1.67 1.83 1.98 1.77

Page 16 of 18

file://C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\weinhold\Desktop\Teaching\Guide%20to%20PhDs%20in%20Economi ... 09/12/2002

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States

70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 University of Kansas University of South Carolina Louisiana State U & A&M College American University University of Wyoming University of Illinois at Chicago State Univ of New York-Albany Univ of California-Riverside University of Notre Dame Washington State University Southern Illinois University Auburn University University of Tennessee-Knoxville Tulane University University of Connecticut University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee West Virginia University University of Hawaii at Manoa Oklahoma State University Lehigh University University of Utah Temple University University of Missouri-Columbia University of Missouri-Columbia Fordham University Northern Illinois University University of Alabama University of Cincinnati University of Nebraska-Lincoln Rensselaer Polytechnic Inst University of Texas at Dallas Utah State University Howard University University of New Hampshire Colorado School of Mines Colorado State University Clark University Northeastern University 34.30 33.90 32.70 32.50 31.30 31.00 30.90 30.40 30.00 29.60 29.50 29.50 29.20 28.40 27.00 24.80 24.10 23.70 22.70 22.70 21.50 20.10 20.10 19.50 18.70 17.10 16.80 16.50 16.40 15.30 14.60 14.30 13.90 13.50 13.20 12.60 10.10 6.10 1.72 1.50 1.74 1.53 1.48 1.38 1.44 1.32 1.47 1.54 1.30 1.27 1.30 1.30 1.30 1.31 1.35 0.99 1.04 1.11 1.00 0.90 1.31 0.91 0.94 0.69 0.69 0.75 0.45 0.83 0.57 0.79 0.56 0.61 0.67 0.45 0.42 0.14 1.71 1.89 1.53 1.72 1.65 1.72 1.65 1.72 1.53 1.42 1.65 1.68 1.62 1.54 1.40 1.17 1.06 1.38 1.23 1.16 1.15 1.11 0.70 1.04 0.93 1.02 0.99 0.90 1.19 0.70 0.89 0.64 0.83 0.74 0.65 0.81 0.59 0.47

Page 17 of 18

file://C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\weinhold\Desktop\Teaching\Guide%20to%20PhDs%20in%20Economi ... 09/12/2002

Applying for Admission to Economics PhD Programs in the United States

Page 18 of 18

[1] A recent trend seems to be that a few of the very best PhDs from top-30 (or even top-50) departments manage to get hired by leading schools. As a reader stressed, programs rank their graduates internally, and the position on that list becomes a key factor in anyones placement. Hence, there is something to be said for entering a rising, underrated program with strong training and a pool in which you can comparatively excel. Still, the fact remains that the vast majority of new hires at prestigious universities comes from the top-tier. While no top-30 program is hopeless, going to a second- or third-tier program voluntarily would be a doubtful strategy. [2] Im referring to Cal Berkeley, Chicago, Harvard, MIT, Minnesota, Northwestern, U Penn, Princeton, Rochester, Stanford, and Yale (in alphabetical order). [3] An MBA, from a good school and with solid work experience, will earn more than $ 100,000 p.a. these ays; a wellplaced PhD economist starts out near $ 80,000 p.a. Of course, academics have their perks [4] (To some extent, there will be more places in more popular areas.) [5] And they plan to enroll a far smaller number than they admit which means that only a fraction of those 1 in 10 gets fellowship offers E.g. Rochester offered 7% a place in 2002, and fewer than 1% a place with full funding (fellowship and tuition waiver). This was a more competitive year than usual, though. [6] Something much less standard, but very worthwhile, would be a class in topology. The core program draws heavily from this branch of mathematics and background in it can really establish your suitability. With even more time on your hands, you might add a sequence in differential equations. [7] They must, however, come from academic economists not your boss at work, nor the philosophy instructor you got along with so well If a non -economist can endorse you in a uniquely meaningful way, perhaps submit this recommendation as an extra. [8] They involve by far the most respondents (from a list of key faculty supplied by the schools deans offices) and follow a respectable methodology. The US News ranking, on the other hand, has a response rate of about one-half, which could create an adverse selection problem, as a reader commented. [9] In general, the grades translate into: 5 distinguished, 4 strong, 3 good, 2 average, 1 marginal, 0 indadequate. [10] Some schools excel in research productivity (publication) rankings because they have a handful of individuals who write prolifically in specialized areas, which doesn t mean that they command a proportionate amount of respect in middle-of -the-road economics. [11] You should check actual deadlines earlier than that: several schools discount or even waive the application fee if you submit completely or partially in November or early December. [12] Whatever ETS claims, smart practice can raise your score by hundreds of points. [13] Tests are available from prep books and the software ETS sends you three weeks after registration. [14] One reader, who was waitlisted at three top schools, eventually got rejected for admission and / or funding by the two departments he actively and frequently contacted while on the waitlist, and received full funding from the third [15] Completion rates of about half are normalcy in many major departments. Few publically report their numbers, but as a rule of thumb, programs with higher drop-out rates tend to offer fewer and / or less generous fellowships in the first year, for obvious reaso ns.

file://C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\weinhold\Desktop\Teaching\Guide%20to%20PhDs%20in%20Economi ... 09/12/2002