Applying to Graduate School

The decision to attend graduate school in economics can be a tough one. While pursuing a graduate degree in economics can be rewarding and exciting, it can also be frustrating and stressful. Please contact any of the faculty early to decide whether Law School, a Master's or Ph.D. in Economics, or M.B.A. is the right path for you.

SoquesAsk a faculty member for a letter of recommendation.

Graduate Degree in Economics

It takes an average of five years to earn a Ph.D. in economics. Taking the right combination of courses is critical (see below) to prepare you for the first two years of coursework and comprehensive examinations. Completing your dissertation is requires self-discipline, creativity, motivation, and persistence. In this stage, you may not have a professor telling you exactly what to do and when to do it. Being a self-starter is a tremendous asset at this stage.

After you defend your dissertation, it is time to go on the job market. At this point, you would typically enter academics, the private sector, or work for the government. A job in academia entails teaching and conducting research at a university or college. The job offers a flexible schedule and freedom to pursue your own research agenda. A private sector job will generally pay more than a job in academia. Many Ph.D. economists become investment bankers or consultants after graduate school. Finally, the government offers a broad number of opportunities for economists, including jobs at the Federal Reserve banks, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau and many more.

One question many students ask is whether they should pursue a Master's degree or a Ph.D. in economics. If your goal is to be a college professor, you should consider the Ph.D. But a Master's degree is good preparation if you want to work in either the private sector or for the government. Some students also use the Master's degree to improve their chances of getting in a Ph.D. program at another school.

Outstanding students can earn fellowships and assistantships to pay for the majority of their graduate school tuition and basic living expenses. Other students may receive partial financial support from the university. Even if you don't receive funding initially, you can earn it your second year with a strong performance in your first year. Be sure to ask the graduate school director about fellowship and assistantship opportunities.

Important components of an application to an Economics Ph.D. program:

GPA: Many students that are admitted to the top schools will have a GPA of at least a 3.8 and have taken at least seven math classes. You will not be admitted to many schools if you only take economics classes and one or two calculus courses.

GRE: Many students earn an 800 on the Quantitative section of the GRE. To get into a top 20 school with funding, it is optimal to earn at least 780 on this section. For lower ranked schools, you may still be admitted with a 730, but it is highly unlikely you will get funding. The Verbal section is less important, but earning at least a 650 will prove you have adequate verbal skills (more and more students are earning an 800 on this section as well).

Given that so many students earn an 800 on the Quantitative section, it is absolutely necessary that you prepare for this section in particular. Take this test the first time in the summer before your senior year. This gives you time to prepare and take it again if your score is lower that you would like. Kaplan offers a course and most colleges provide a GRE class.

If you take the GRE the first time and get below a 780 on the Quantitative section, you may want to consider taking it again if your goal is to get into a top 15 school. A 760-770 can get you funding at top 25-50 schools as long as your GPA is high and you have taken the bare minimum in terms of math courses. If you are not attending a Ph.D.-granting institution for your undergraduate degree, it also helps if you are applying to local universities that are familiar with your school. In some cases, you may have a better of chance of being accepted and funded at Ph.D. programs in your area.

Math Courses: Arguably the most important component. At a bare minimum you must have taken these classes:

  • Calculus I-III
  • Linear Algebra
  • Differential Equations
  • Real Analysis

To compete with the top students, consider taking some combination of these courses:

Probability Theory, Mathematical Statistics, Vector Analysis, Introduction to Proofs, Measure Theory, Functional Analysis, Number Theory, Abstract Algebra, Stochastic Processes, Topology, Complex Variables.

Research Experience: If you want to get a Ph.D. in Economics, it would be beneficial for you to participate in research with your professors. If your work is good, you may be a co-author on a paper. This can make up for other things you may lack in your application. Ask your professors about research opportunities within your department.

Statement of Purpose: Commonly overlooked by students, but one of the more important pieces of your application. Be sure to spend adequate time fine tuning your statement of purpose. An effective SOP can be the difference between funding and no funding.


  • A low GRE can keep you out of your dream school. Since there are many other students with the exact same grades, you can't afford to be at a disadvantage in anything, especially the GRE Quantitative section. Remember, you are probably competing against students that earned an 800 on this section.
  • You can never take too many math classes. Start now and don't stop!
  • Make sure you apply to safety schools, target schools, and schools that may be considered a reach.
  • Connect with your professors at your current school. Look for opportunities to conduct research or be a teaching assistant.
  • Finally, applying for a Ph.D. in Economics is extremely competitive. The only way to increase your chances is to apply to more schools. It is worth paying more in application fees up front if it increases your chances of getting fully funded for the entire program! That $150 application fee could be worth over $100,000 over your graduate school career.

The following website is a tremendous source of information for a student applying to an Economics graduate program.

Law School

Here are links to three sources for information relating to law school admissions. - This website has a vast number of articles on both admissions and different law schools. It also has a message board/forum that answers virtually any question someone would have about law school admissions. There are also a great number of people on this site that will review personal statements and provide candid feedback on both content and literary issues. - This e-book (the 2010 Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions) is fairly inexpensive ($15) and provides a good starting place to begin learning about LS admissions. The author, Anna Ivey, was Dean of Admissions for University of Chicago Law School and provides an honest and concise view of the entire law school admissions process.

Advice from students:

"It is important to develop a plan to attend law school as soon as possible. Ideally a student would maintain a GPA of more than 3.5 constantly (and higher than this after freshman year) and would be especially diligent in at least 2 of their courses during their first semester junior year so that they can build a relationship with the professors in the pursuit of requesting letters of recommendation during the beginning of their spring semester junior year (as these can take a long time to get done). Also when students go to request these letters they should provide the lsac form, a pre-stamped and addressed envelope, a copy of both their resume and transcripts, copies of any significant graded coursework from the class that the professor should touch on (if possible) in their letter.

Finally the student should go to and sign up for both the website (being sure to fill in all important info accurately) and also their CAS - Credential Assembly Service ($124) so that they can access the forms required to submit letters of recommendation etc. and the LSAT ($136) for either June or October. My recommendation is to try to start studying at the beginning of winter break during junior year for the June LSAT and if the student does not feel ready to take it in May, then they should delay until October. Students should NEVER wait any later than this to take it, as admissions are done on a rolling basis almost everywhere and so it is much easier to get in to a "reach" school if the application is sent in before Thanksgiving."