Graduate School

On this page I am providing useful resources both to those who are interested in graduate school in economics and for those already in graduate school in economics.

For Prospective Graduate Students

It is critical that you assess the costs and benefits of graduate school before you apply. 

Key benefits include your career (will it get you a job? how likely? will it be good? how much will it pay?) and personal benefit (e.g., it's your passion).

Key costs are financial (do you have to pay tuition? are you paid a stipend? what is the opportunity cost? what are costs were you will be attending graduate school?), time (what could you have been doing instead?), and health (grad school can damage your mental health).

You should do research to answer the following questions before applying:

1. What graduate schools are you likely to end up at? Ask your professors how competitive your application might be. Ask more than one. Be prepared to get candid but very helpful advice. Note that "Top 20" schools are very competitive (here is one ranked list of schools, but there are others). Even I wasn't competitive for top 20 schools, even with an M.A. from the University of Toronto. I went to UC Irvine, which was amazing, but is ranked #44 (as of 2015).

2. Given the range of schools you'd be competitive to get into, what jobs do graduating students get? Check their website for placement information. Ask them if they don't have it posted. Here is an example of a school with organized placement information. Here is an article discussing the jobs that economics PhDs tend to get and what their characteristics are (e.g., pay). Although it's easier to get tenure-track professor jobs in economics, relative to in science or in the liberal arts, less than half of graduating students get them. Note where people are getting jobs. Are they the kind of job you'd like in terms of pay, location, and job duties? This is assuming that you'd graduate, as about half of PhD students drop out. Sometimes that's ok since they can leave with an M.A. and get a good job. The point is that the job you want may not be guaranteed.

3. Inquire about the funding situation at schools you want to apply to. Do they typically cover tuition? Do they pay a stipend? Having to pay for graduate school (on top of opportunity costs) makes grad school FAR less attractive.

Applying for Graduate School

If you think the benefits exceed the cost, then get ready to apply! It's been too long since i've applied to graduate school so I don't have a ton of advice on crafting your application. But I will say a few things. 

Note that you need to start the application process WELL in advance. Leave yourself lots of extra time to prepare and revise your application materials. Leave over a month to get letters of recommendation. Anticipate having to take the GRE more than once (or maybe more than twice). If you have to mail anything leave yourself at least a week. Use a delivery service with tracking. If you have to rush your application in any way, you will make mistakes and it could bomb your chances of getting into a good graduate school.

Make sure you discuss where to apply with your professors. They will give you a sense of where you'd be competitive for. Apply for a few "lottery" schools. By that I mean it's unlikely you'll get in but if you do, you've won the lottery! There is some randomness in admissions so you never know. Apply for a few "safety" schools. These are places that you would be ok going to if you didn't get in anywhere else, and are very likely to get into. And of course, you want to focus most of your applications on schools that you have a decent shot of getting into that are a good fit for you. Focus on schools that have faculty researching in areas you are broadly interested in (but note that you research interests will likely change). If you don't have research fields picked out then the school's general reputation, and other characteristics, are more important.


For Current Graduate Students

This post on Greg Mankiw's blog links to over a dozen resources with advice for economics graduate students, ranging from starting research, writing a paper, and the academic job market.

Creating a Five Year Plan: UCI Career Center, The Professor Is In

Graduate student mental health: InsideHigherEd, The Professor Is In

The Professor Is In provides tons of advice about graduate school, including much needed advice on the job market. This includes everything from writing job documents (CV, Cover Letter, Research Statement, Teaching Statement), advice for interviews, and tips on the flyout. Not economics-focused but this individual knows the market very well and isn't afraid to be blunt. Her new book covers all of this material too.