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Re: US News and World Report 2017 Economics Rankings
There is no easy way to rank PhD programs. It's all subjective. There are 3-7 schools that are at the very top of the profession - Princeton, Harvard, MIT are definitely in there. A case could be made for Yale, Chicago, Stanford, and Berkeley to be right there next to those three. If you get into any of these seven schools, you should not be considering anything outside those and your outcomes can be expected to be similar regardless of where you choose to go. Pick whichever one you like best from this top tier.
Originally Posted by pocketecon
The next group (Tier 2) covers schools ranging from Northwestern, Maryland, Penn, and NYU, to schools like Michigan and Duke. Which school is best for you in that group depends on your interests. It also includes schools like BU, UCLA, Caltech, and Columbia. Again, if accepted in that group (but not anywhere better) you should just pick whichever one suits you.
Below that are a third tier of schools including Boston College, Pitt, Vanderbilt, UNC, Virginia, and so on. Job market outcomes from these places is not so great - it's not that the programs are poor quality, it's just hard when the schools above them have 200-300 students graduating each year. You really need to think long and hard about attending these kinds of programs. About half of graduates from these kinds of programs end up in tenure track academic positions and those that get academic positions generally place into lower ranked schools and LACs if they are good teachers. You need to have a low opportunity cost of attending in order for these programs to make sense. Again, conditional on not getting into any schools in Tier 2, pick whichever one you like best - your outcomes from attending Virginia instead of Arizona will not be "better" (but they will be different).
Below that level (outside of the top 50), it's tough to recommend attending a PhD unless you have very very specific reasons to do so.