University of Mississippi

What about graduate school in economics?

This is a brief guide to preparing for graduate study in economics. This guide focuses on preparing for a Ph.D. in economics (and yes, you can be admitted to a Ph.D. program without first earning a master’s). The same rules apply for a Ph.D. in business; many business schools offer a PhD in economics, and you don’t need to major in the Business School to qualify for their programs.

What you need to succeed

A graduate admissions committee will review your application to evaluate your potential as a researcher and teacher. In doing so, they will look for the following:

  • GRE scores: math, verbal, analytical, and possibly the GRE subject test in economics.
  • Overall GPA
  • Grades in economics, mathematics, and statistics courses
  • Faculty recommendations that go into further detail about your abilities, achievements, and interests
  • Level of difficulty in your coursework.

The standards are quite tough. However, the payoff is huge; most Ph.D. programs will offer extensive financial aid to their top applicants. Full tuition AND a living stipend are common. If you don’t quite meet these standards, all is not lost. If you like mathematics, consider applying to a good master’s program in economics, mathematics, or statistics as a first step towards a Ph.D. in economics.

Recommended courses

  • The general principles are easy: the tougher your courses, and the better your grades, the better you look to an admissions committee. Admission to the top thirty or so Ph.D. programs is highly competitive, and the competition for financial aid is even tougher.
  • In economics, think carefully about your choice of electives. It’s a good idea to take electives that are writing intensive. Choose electives carefully. Extra electives are a fine idea, but more math courses might be a better choice. Explore the possibility of taking some 500 level graduate courses in economics as an undergraduate.
  • Math classes are crucial. It is hard to overestimate how important a solid math background is for admission into a good Ph.D. program. You will need to display a master of calculus through multivariate calculus. THE MATH REQUIREMENT FOR THE MAJOR IS NOT ENOUGH TO PREPARE YOU FOR GRADUATE STUDY. What’s more, the more math you master now, the easier your first year of Ph.D. study will be. If you started out your math career with MATH 267 and 268 then you need to see an economics department advisor ASAP. These courses are not rigorous enough to help you with the calculus a Ph.D. program demands! We will help you design a math program that will get you into shape.

What about grades?

  • Most programs will look at your overall GPA, your GPA in economics, mathematics, and statistics, and your GPA over your last two years of study.
  • It’s ok to have struggled as a freshman. However, a solid Ph.D. program is looking for people who can easily meet the demands of undergraduate study.
  • Therefore, your goal is to earn A’s or A-‘s in the core econ courses to maintain a high average in your econ electives, and to be earning mainly A’s and some B’s in your math classes.
  • A B- in an introductory calculus course isn’t an issue if you’ve earned A’s in later courses. But if your overall GPA in mathematics classes is in the B- range, you won’t rank at the top of the applicant pool.
  • You also want to be maintaining about a 3.5 or 3.7 average as a junior and senior, overall.
  • If you’re concerned about a particular grade in a particular course, consider what else you can add to the record to explain it. Perhaps the professor would be willing to write a recommendation explaining how tough his grading standards are (and how well you really did), or explaining any extenuating circumstances. You could use your application essay to do this as well. You might want to take a more advanced class in the same area: a B in Intermediate Microeconomics is much less important if you’ve earned A’s in advanced microeconomic theory electives.

What about the GRE?

  • You definitely need to take it: all three parts (Verbal, Mathematical, and Analytical) plus the economics subject test.
  • The most important part is probably the Mathematical. You need to score quite high; you are shooting for a score above 700 (out of 800). A GRE math score in the high 600’s is ok if you’ve taken tough math classes and done well.
  • Analytical and Verbal count too, although they are less important. Any score below 600 is a real concern to an admissions committee. Again, high grades in related courses make the GRE less important.
  • Some schools will ask you to take the subject test in Economics; this is less important than the basic GRE battery.

Click here to get information about the GRE including exam dates, registration deadlines, practice exams and more.

How Do I Get Good Faculty Recommendations?

  • The best way is to get to know your favorite professors. Take a second class with them. Sit in the front of the room. Ask questions. Stop by their office hours to review material or to ask about something that you read in the newspaper. Join the Econ Club. Do an independent study. Ask them for advice about how to get ready for graduate school!
  • You can ask Liberal Arts and Math faculty for recommendations as well.
  • Give the faculty lots of time to prepare your recommendations. Most schools have January or February application deadlines. Approach your professors in October and November; don’t wait until the end of fall semester.
  • Your favorite professor may have left Ole Miss for another university. You can still ask him or her to write. You can find out how to contact them from the department staff in Holman 320.

Who else can I ask for advice? Where can I get more information?

  • Your professors.
  • Your undergraduate advisor
  • Current Ole Miss graduate students in economics (they can tell you what they wish they’d studied as undergraduates!)
  • Check the department’s faculty profiles to see where the faculty studied for their PhD’s. Ask them about their alma mater!
  • We post brochures from graduate programs on the department’s main bulletin board. Most schools now have lots of information on the WWW as well.
  • Talk to your favorite faculty.

One last bit of advice – it will take a number of semesters to complete all of the course work you want done before you send off your applications. The EARLIER you can decide you MIGHT want a Ph.D. the more you can do to improve your chances of getting admitted. I would love to see freshmen coming by before they ever take their first course at Ole Miss because then we could work out a program to best prepare for grad school.