I appreciate your response.
At this point you would have to become very creative. Try to identify some program somewhere in the world that serves as a feeder school to our programs (think ITAM, bocconni, pompeu fabra, tokyo), would be willing to give you funding to do a masters degree even though you already have one, and would give you strong support to leave after the masters. It could be very hard to find such a place. If you are then the top student in their program, then you are in a position where we can admit you. Then you can come to our program, where you can take core micro and macro again, for the third time.
I appreciate your response.
The race's gate is now opened!
Thank you for your insight into the admissions process. I am from a top-50 Liberal arts college and did not do particularly well there (3.0 GPA, my profile is in link pasted below if you wish to reference). I was an economics major however as can be seen in my grades, had no real academic ambition or drive. Soon after I graduated I joined the Marine Corps.
Without getting too nitty gritty, I have grown up a lot since I have been in the Marine Corps (as you may imagine). While I was in Afghanistan I saw first hand some of the things that constrain a third-world country from developing, principally lack of functioning credit markets. In ever bazaar and every village I was in (which were more than a few), there were no banks (outside of a small one in the provincial capital). There is a pool of labor (albeit fairly limited considering that 90% of the population is illiterate, another constraint on development) and a pool of land/machinery, however the incredible difficulty of getting loans (both because of lack of availability of banks as well as a fledgling currency) made getting a stable source of money in that area very difficult. The nearest bank was hundreds of miles away and people had to risk getting killed by the Taliban to even get considered for loans.
Now, while I saw this first hand, I will by no means postulate any sort of theorem or model that bad credit markets==>lack of development, although I am sure many others before me have done so successfully. However I will say that my "growing up" in the Marine Corps as well as some unique experience makes me a little different as far as being an applicant considered for admissions to a PhD program is concerned.
So my question is this: If I pursue a masters from a solid American program and do a few key things, namely:
1) Get perfect or close to perfect grades in challenging graduate courses in economics
2) accrue mathematical coursework (thinking of 2-3 semesters analysis, 2 stat/prob, 1 abstract lin algebra, minimum), again with great grades
3) Do a Masters thesis and RA, with good marks
Will all of those things, taken with my experience in the Marine Corps, act as some sort of "off set" against my poor undergrad performance? Would I even have a remote chance at landing admission at a top-tier program? Would I at least stand out?
Thank you for your honesty and frankness.
One...two...three...four...I love my United States Marine Corps!
Thanks for the insight. I just had a quick question -- for students that come from, say, the top 5, how do you compare them to students from lower ranked schools? Say you have a guy from Harvard with a 3.9 but with little research experience, are you willing to give him a shot over a guy from a top 40 that has glowing recs from his professors and 3 years of research under his belt? And how bad is a B- (say in analysis), if you come from a school that is known to have a notoriously difficult analysis sequence? is there a way to fix a blunder like that on your profile?
This thread should be titled: "Why you will never get a Ph.D. in economics: Promoting homogeneity and anxiety among graduate applicants."
I appreciate comments from the demand side on this forum, but this thread seems fairly apocalyptic. I know people who have gotten an A- in Linear Algebra (gasp!) with no real analysis and gotten into top 10 programs from schools without much recognition. While a lot of this advice is certainly helpful, I think it's going to cause more anxiety than whatever it is worth in benefits.
I should note that a few months ago on this forum, John List emphasized the importance of SOPs and LORs to create a 3-dimensional application, rather than worrying about how much that B in real analysis is going to hurt you. So, perhaps the strategy outlined in this thread is illustrative of a certain school of thought that may permeate the admissions committees at top programs in economics, but there are certainly other opinions on the matter. From my experience, the ability to perform research at/beyond the graduate level is not correlated with many of the things that the OP outlined, however, if you don't have these things, you clearly won't be doing research at the OP's school (which sounds like a top 20 feigning top 10).
I don't envy the OP's task of sorting through hundreds of applications and I understand that it is very difficult to compare applicants across multiple dimensions. I just wanted to remind folks on this board that the doomsday approach to becoming an economist isn't the only way.
When she says you ought to transfer, she is actually right if you want to maximize your probability of getting in. At my program, almost all of the American students come from the same set of places (Harvard, MIT, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, Chicago, Berkeley) plus a couple of places that the faculty have strong connections with and have been sending people here for a long time. Every so often there is an oddball who sneaks through the cracks from a less known place, but usually that person also comes with an NSF fellowship or is a math olympiad, Marshall Scholar or Putnam Fellow. As for the international students, they basically all come from the same universities and those universities send them every single year. The good news with that if you can get into a masters program at one of these places (e.g. UPF, LSE, di Tella, Bocconi) and make a good impression on the faculty, your chances at top places have gone up immensely.
It actually is kind of bleak, and while it is a shame, it is much easier to calibrate how good someone is going to be if they can be directly and accurately compared with people we've had in the recent past. If you don't believe me or tmp, go back through profiles and results. How many people do you see going from unknown places to top 5 programs? How many do you see running the board and getting in everywhere? Not many.
Will an A- in linear algebra kill your application here if you don't have analysis? That depends on the rest of your file, obviously. We had plenty of people in my class without analysis, but they all came from places that regularly send students here. How many of them had A- in linear algebra? My guess is not many, based on my relative performance in the econometrics sequence.
Now, this is at a top 5. And it is also addressing how to maximize your probability of getting in. Perhaps you have other goals, liquidity constraints, etc. That is fine, and there are plenty of good reasons to go to your flagship state school- however unless that flagship state school is also an economics powerhouse, it will decrease your probability of getting into a top place. That is a trade off that you need to make and be comfortable with.
Now another thing you could consider is trying to get an RA position with someone well connected to the top places. If that person could write you a great recommendation, again, that would be huge for you. However, I'd tell you to have some caution with this, as RA positions often do not give you the opportunity to fully show off your potential. Recommendations really are king, and there is nothing in your file that can really do the same thing as a glowing recommendation from a very well connected researcher.
It is also been raised that the content of your letter of recommendation matters more than the person. That is both true and false in the following sense: if your letter of recommendation is written by someone who can't accurately compare you with people currently succeeding in the profession or at a top school, it will have little value in pushing you over the top. It can't really hurt, though. On the flip side, if a well connected and/or famous guy writes you a rec that says you aren't top 10 material, then guess what? You ain't getting in to the top 10. Well connected LORs decrease the uncertainty in your file by orders of magnitude, and the letter of recommendation is primarily how admissions committees determine your potential to do good research.
In conclusion, go easy on tmp. She is being honest, and under the assumption that you as a college sophomore or junior or senior, want to increase your probability of getting into top places, she is right.
The OP, who we cannot be certain is truly on any adcom, promotes what we could call a cookie cutter approach to getting into econ grad school that is for all intents and purposes predicated on you knowing you want to be an academic economist before finishing high school. I don't believe that a significant portion of graduates from Top 10 schools were in that position of wisdom and could choose their UG accordingly.
For the rest of us mere mortals, it's about accepting the choices we made, and doing the best we can with our backgrounds as they are. You can have a productive and satisfying career with a PhD from any school that grants you one. So long as you are doing research you like, passing on your knowledge to the next generation, and earning a wage that allows you to have a lifestyle you are content with then in my book you are far ahead of most people who have or ever will walk this earth.
Moreover, this thread does nothing but make everyone feel like they have to go to a top 10 school, while at the same time making it seem impossible to do so unless you have the perfect profile. This forum would be redundant without applicants who need advice on how to improve their existing flawed profile, and threads like this have little use to anyone except the random 15-year old who sees it who is already planning on winning a Nobel in Econ at that age. The rest of the advice is standard forum advice to (i) get research experience, (ii) have a good math background, and (iii) make sure your letters are glowing and written by active, respected faculty.
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Re low undergrad grades: I'm aware of a small number of cases where poor undergrad performance was overlooked. One way is to score at the top of a core graduate class that we know is hard (this would usually require persuading the prof to let you register). Another is good performance in a masters that we trust - but keep in mind that most of these are in Europe, Brazil, etc.
Re B- in analysis: if it's a B- in honors analysis at Chicago, or a beta- in a part III paper at Cambridge, we know that those courses have nasty curves. If the math class you got the B- in is only locally notorious, then you have a bigger problem. Maybe a credible recommender can explain its local notoriety? The best solution of course is to take the next course in the series and get a better grade, but that's not always possible.
Re 3.9 at Harvard: everyone has a different opinion about these. I would stare at the transcript, and try to figure out whether they were just going for a high GPA, or whether they were taking meaningful courses, and then later decided they wanted to do. A very high GPA from a very good school on not-so-great course selection with only a little research is guaranteed to be controversial. Some people like reading statements of purpose.
There are a surprisingly large number of files where someone got straight As in economics from an ok but not great school, and then continued on to do a masters from that same school, and is now applying to our program. Judging by their course selection, it seems like they knew they liked economics from fairly early on. It's possible that they're just applying to our program on a whim, and that they neither want nor expect to enroll here. If they're actually serious about wanting to come to our program, though, the decision to stay put at a good but not great school was a very poor choice. There seem to be a lot of people who stay put like this, and then apply to our program. One possibility is that they know exactly what they're doing, and their behavior is optimal given their preferences. Another possibility is that they're misinformed about the way in which candidates are evaluated. The latter is a real possibility, given that very few department webpages provide much information about how important program quality is in admissions decisions.
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