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Thread: advice needed (undergrad)

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    advice needed (undergrad)

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    Hello,

    I'm currently a junior at a private university (top 20 econ department).

    I am studying econ and math (double major), and I am in a dilemma right now:

    My GPA isn't good and I am expecting it to be around 3.64 by the time I graduate (assuming I graduate in 4 years). I was wondering if it is better to do an extra year and try to raise my GPA (while keep working as an RA). I have some research experience with a professor at my university, and this upcoming summer, I plan on working either with the same professor or a well known macroeconomist. Specifically, the two options I was thinking of were:

    1. Stay an extra year - take more math courses and take grad-level courses (both econ and math) while keep working as an RA for the professor and try to raise my GPA. Question: If I do a fifth year, should I go for a dual degree? Does dual degree matter at the end? (If I were to do a dual degree, one downside is that I would have to take more undergraduate econ electives, which I find to be not very necessary of my time.) Also, do the admissions committees view doing a fifth year negatively?

    2. Work as an RA under a well known economist after senior year (assuming I graduate in 4 years) - I know two well-known economists (not in my university) who are willing to work with me. Would this be a better option for me?

    Historically, my school has placed students in at least top 20 except one, who was placed in a top 40.
    Please give me some advice! Thank you in advance for your help.

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    Re: advice needed (undergrad)

    I vote for RA. It would also helps if you have a solid idea of what you want to do with your degree, indicated by a research project in your senior year. Once you get an RA gig you can take some math or grad level econ courses part time (provided your supervisor is okay with you doing classes). Don't worry too much about your GPA - I know a guy with UGPA of 3.6 and got into UPenn. Your letters matter most.

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    Re: advice needed (undergrad)

    Can you take grad-level classes as a full-time RA? That seems like the best of both worlds.

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    Re: advice needed (undergrad)

    Quote Originally Posted by whale View Post
    Can you take grad-level classes as a full-time RA? That seems like the best of both worlds.
    This is what I was able to do in my current RA job and I think it helped my profile immensely.

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    Re: advice needed (undergrad)

    3.62-ish GPA from top 10 liberal arts here, applied this cycle and in at UMichigan, UBC, Cornell, and a handful of programs in the 20-30 range. However, I have been shut out of top 10, unless Berkeley breaks the trend.

    Where are the weaknesses in your GPA? What's your econ GPA, and your math GPA? I'm asking these rhetorically for you to deal with. If your weaker grades are outside of econ/math, you probably have much less to worry about. For me, I had econ about 3.55 or 3.6 and math about 3.8. Also, how have you performed in upper-level econ and math courses? Have you demonstrated you can handle the material? Again, rhetorical.

    Frankly, I think choosing a 5th year would require a lot of justification. As it stands, if you get an RA job with a well-known prof as you say (assuming they are at a strong institution and have sent RA's to strong programs before), you can end up with a very good shot at 20-30 range programs, good shot at 10-20 programs, and some nonzero chance at top 10 with a bit of luck. In the meantime, you can *earn money* and possibly take awesome classes with awesome profs and awesome classmates while an RA, rather than spend (maybe your parents') money and time being a 5th year. To justify a 5th year, you'd need to be dead set on top 10 and/or see money as little to no object.

    And, bear in mind, research background is very important in the admissions process. You have some experience going now, but it's not like you're at a point of minimal returns there. In other words, it's also not clear that boosting your GPA at the expense of a very strong and thorough full time RA experience would actually result in a better admissions outcome, while being an RA comes with a host of benefits in the near term.

    In short: RA.


    Edit: Maybe worth noting I also did 2yrs at the Fed, plus my current 2yrs with well-known Cambridge-area profs. Your mileage may vary depending on who you work with etc. Nevertheless, given that you're coming from a top 20 institution, I think that your expected outcome is similar to mine following an RAship. Note also you should have math through linear/calc3/stats&prob/analysis, and basically anything beyond this is conventionally thought of as overkill.

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    Re: advice needed (undergrad)

    An important question to ask yourself is whether you can realistically do well in the advanced math/econ courses you would be taking in your 5th year. If the honest answer is that you're not sure, I would opt for the full time RA-ship. If (1) you're confident in doing well in additional advanced math/econ coursework you would be taking in your 5th year, (2) you're not under time constraints, and (3) your goal is to maximize admissions outcomes, then I think doing both a full time RA ship and a 5th year would be optimal. Although I don't know which econ/math courses you've taken and your grades in them, a 3.6 GPA suggests to me that you must've slipped in a couple of undergrad math/econ courses. You could potentially improve your academic record a lot by taking that 5th year (say, for instance, by taking grad micro/macro/metrics courses and getting A's in them), and doing the full-time RAship on top of that could really make a big difference in your application package.

    Background: I'm currently a full-time RA, so take my words with a grain of salt. My comments are based on observations of placements around me.

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    Re: advice needed (undergrad)

    Quote Originally Posted by mathenomics View Post
    An important question to ask yourself is whether you can realistically do well in the advanced math/econ courses you would be taking in your 5th year. If the honest answer is that you're not sure, I would opt for the full time RA-ship. If (1) you're confident in doing well in additional advanced math/econ coursework you would be taking in your 5th year, (2) you're not under time constraints, and (3) your goal is to maximize admissions outcomes, then I think doing both a full time RA ship and a 5th year would be optimal. Although I don't know which econ/math courses you've taken and your grades in them, a 3.6 GPA suggests to me that you must've slipped in a couple of undergrad math/econ courses. You could potentially improve your academic record a lot by taking that 5th year (say, for instance, by taking grad micro/macro/metrics courses and getting A's in them), and doing the full-time RAship on top of that could really make a big difference in your application package.

    Background: I'm currently a full-time RA, so take my words with a grain of salt. My comments are based on observations of placements around me.
    Thanks for your reply! If I were to take a fifth year and work as an RA after, I wouldn't have gone through the application "process" as others and would not be paid. I personally know the professors, and would be working with them for about nine months to a year. Due to proximity, money would not be a great issue - I'm mostly concerned about maximizing my chances. Do you think this would be a good option?

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    Re: advice needed (undergrad)

    Following up on my initial reply. Berkeley did, after all, break the trend. I'm noting this purely to better inform your data point comparing against what outcomes are possible given a ~3.6 GPA with really strong RA background.

    So, it is possible to break top 10 with that GPA. Nevertheless, still worth emphasizing I applied to all the top 10 and every other one rejected me. Still your best bet if you graduate in 4 years and add strong RA background will be a decent/good shot at the 10/20 range and a nonzero chance at top 10, and I still think all around this seems to be the clear choice that I would make in your shoes.

    Moreover, if I can pontificate for a moment, an additional point to bring up here is the actual value added from the options you're considering. You don't just need to get into a program, ideally you want to get in and then produce good research within 5 years. I've heard from current PhD students across a handful of top programs as well as from profs in the Cambridge area that there is a difference between being able to do coursework and being able to do research. Excelling in the first two years of coursework is probably not as correlated with excelling in the research stage of PhD candidacy as you might think. There really is something to being able to formulate an (interesting) research question and know how you would take it to data. Think about how you will build this skill set in either of your options as well.

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    Re: advice needed (undergrad)

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    Last edited by underg2121; 03-13-2018 at 11:05 AM.

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