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Profile Evaluation- PhD in Econ

I'm an incoming third-year undergraduate planning to apply to start my PhD in fall of 2020. I'll be applying in 2019. Since I've only finished two years, I don't have grades information for all the classes I plan to take, but I just want to know if I'm generally on the right track so far.

Profile:

Gender: Female
Ethnicity: Caucasian
Undergraduate Major: Applied Math and Economics- top Ivy League university
Undergraduate GPA (overall): 3.9
Undergraduate GPA (math): 3.92
Undergraduate GPA (econ, all mathematical/quantitative courses): 3.75

Math/Statistics Courses: Multivariable Calculus (A), Linear Algebra I (A-), Applied Math Modeling (A), Intro to Set Theory, Group Theory, and Real Analysis (A), Advanced Econometrics (forthcoming), Probability Theory (forthcoming), Real Analysis (forthcoming), Linear Algebra II or Differential Equations (forthcoming-see below)

Economics Courses: Advanced Intermediate Macroeconomic Theory (mathematical) (A-), Advanced Intermediate Microeconomic Theory (mathematical) (A-), Political Economics (empirical research seminar) (A), Capital Markets (mathematical finance theory) (A-), Monetary Policy (forthcoming), Economics Seminar (forthcoming)

Research Experience: I've worked as an RA for a well-known professor at my university for the past year and plan to continue researching for them throughout my remaining two years of undergrad. I have done one summer of economic research work as an intern for a well-known top financial institution, I'm planning to work as an RA on campus for an entire additional summer (forthcoming), and I'm planning to write a senior thesis (forthcoming).

Programming: Basic/intermediate econometrics work in R, pretty proficient in MATLAB, I will learn advanced econometrics in Stata (forthcoming) and a solid introduction to about six other languages in forthcoming computer science classes.

Questions/Concerns:
1. Am I on the right track so far? Is there anything I'm missing?
2. What are my chances of being admitted to a top 5, or top 10, program?
3. Will my research experience be enough, or should I take two years after undergrad before applying?
4. I will likely only be able to take one of Linear Algebra II/Data Analysis or Differential Equations (ODE and PDE) next year. My intro to linear class was very badly taught and I got an A- in it; I'm confident I can learn linear better with another course. However, I have no experience with differential equations at all. Which of these classes should I take if I can only take one?
5. Do I need a lot more math or statistics than what I already have taken and have planned?

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Re: Profile Evaluation- PhD in Econ

1, 2, and 3 can be answered much better by people at your school than us. They place a bunch of students each year and can compare you to them.

I would do linear algebra 2. Is there a stats course that goes with the probability course? I have always seen a sequence of 2 courses. Mathematical statistics, statistical inference, or something like that.

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Re: Profile Evaluation- PhD in Econ

Since you are at Harvard, your comparative advantage will be your letter writers; I really don't think you need to take super hard math classes for signaling unless you are interested in theory. I also don't think you need to take two years after undergrad just for letters' sake because your recommenders will already be at the top of their fields; you should only do a 2-year stunt for personal growth. I would take differential equations over linear algebra considering you haven't had any diffeq class.

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Re: Profile Evaluation- PhD in Econ

I'll recommend getting 1 year of experience out of undergrad before you matriculate at grad school. For multiple reasons - maturity, avoiding burn-out, developing collaborative/social skills - I think avoiding the BA-directly-to-PhD route is a good long-run choice for almost all top U.S. applicants from elite schools, and my impression is that this is corroborated by grad school experiences and placements. But your profile should be good enough by the time you finish undergrad that it doesn't have to be 1-year RA experience; you can consider spending that year in data science or MBB.

Note that you'd still have 3+ years of part-time RA experience, letters from well-known faculty, and nearly a perfect transcript by the time you apply; in terms of application chances, there's only marginal benefits to getting anything beyond that. The only rationale to get another year of RA experience is if you want to get a head start on your own research without having it count against your PhD years, but frankly, that may be strategic to the point of being dishonest. In contrast, there are real benefits from getting professional experience: it gives you a much better chance at the top Bus-Ec programs which generally have low teaching commitments, will make it much easier to teach MBAs if you place into a b-school, and it gives a good outside option to fall back on if you want to leave with a master's. In the case of some Business Econ PhDs, dropping out in two years would be equivalent to getting paid for an MBA degree, and you'll be 1-2 years ahead of most of your elite undergrad peers in the industry. This is much better than the typical outcome for a PhD dropout; most PhD applicants don't really sufficiently plan for the possibility that they'll be part of the 30%-50% attrition due to lack of interest or disillusion with academia. That's the part you need to worry about when you're already so well-prepared and evidently qualified for academic work.

Last edited by chateauheart; 06-11-2018 at 04:20 PM.

I'll recommend getting 1 year of experience out of undergrad before you matriculate at grad school. For multiple reasons - maturity, avoiding burn-out, developing collaborative/social skills - I think avoiding the BA-directly-to-PhD route is a good long-run choice for almost all top U.S. applicants from elite schools, and my impression is that this is corroborated by grad school experiences and placements. But your profile should be good enough by the time you finish undergrad that it doesn't have to be 1-year RA experience; you can consider spending that year in data science or MBB.

Note that you'd still have 3+ years of part-time RA experience, letters from well-known faculty, and nearly a perfect transcript by the time you apply; in terms of application chances, there's only marginal benefits to getting anything beyond that. The only rationale to get another year of RA experience is if you want to get a head start on your own research without having it count against your PhD years, but frankly, that may be strategic to the point of being dishonest. In contrast, there are real benefits from getting professional experience: it gives you a much better chance at the top Bus-Ec programs which generally have low teaching commitments, will make it much easier to teach MBAs if you place into a b-school, and it gives a good outside option to fall back on if you want to leave with a master's. In the case of some Business Econ PhDs, dropping out in two years would be equivalent to getting paid for an MBA degree, and you'll be 1-2 years ahead of most of your elite undergrad peers in the industry. This is much better than the typical outcome for a PhD dropout; most PhD applicants don't really sufficiently plan for the possibility that they'll be part of the 30%-50% attrition due to lack of interest or disillusion with academia. That's the part you need to worry about when you're already so well-prepared and evidently qualified for academic work.

I'm curious as to why you mentioned data science and MBB in particular. Data science firms, even at top schools, rarely hire non-CS/ECE candidates; even stats majors without enough programming prowess may have a hard time cracking their technical interviews. MBB is incredibly hard to break into even coming from HYP from what I know of my (very smart) high school friends there, not to mention that the work there does not utilize the OP's econ and math training. Given that the OP is interested in an Econ PhD, wouldn't it be better for her to work at the Fed/IMF/Econ consulting, utilizing her academic training while still gaining the benefits of having "real" professional experience? The only downside I could think of is that these positions generally require you (though I'm not sure if it's contractual) to work for two years, whereas many RA positions allow you to leave after 1.