I think people are significantly underestimating the profile. This seems competitive for top 50 econ or the finance equivalent, possibly top 30. About the "missing" calculus courses, note that the first calculus course at a top university in Vietnam would usually include what we refer to as Calculus III in the US - and possibly some real analysis - because they take two years of calculus in high school. They also take economics in high school, so I suspect his UG microecon/macroecon courses are closer to what we refer to as advanced micro/macro in the United States, and definitely covers the content of intermediate micro/macro. The proportion of A-range grades is probably around 10-20%, compared to 50-70% in U.S. UG/grad programs, and he got A+ in every grad course, in addition to his excellent GPA in a very competitive undergraduate program from his country (at many top East Asian universities, accounting is the most difficult track to get into). These grades look very impressive to me. If my interpretation of his grades are roughly accurate, he would likely get strong LORs from his professors who understand his grading system.
To OP: my main suggestion is to apply to a wide range of schools (e.g. 12+ applications evenly distributed between #15 and #60 econ/finance programs), and consider focusing on PhD finance programs. The difference between a PhD econ student focusing on monetary economics, and a PhD finance student focusing on macro-finance and banking, is basically trivial. They generally publish in the same journals and have the same networks; cross-placement is very common. But with your background, you will be more competitive in PhD finance programs. Furthermore, based on the experience of some of my friends who applied to both econ and finance, finance PhDs are slightly easier in admissions - they admit a smaller number of students, but have proportionally less serious applicants. Because not many people understand the nature of a PhD finance degree, only a small proportion of PhD finance applicants have an appropriate background for finance research (i.e. undergrad math/econ background + finance RA experience, which you have). Finally, PhD finance programs (and PhD accounting) give better funding offers, which is important to you. You may consider adding several econ programs that are close to your interest, but I don't think it is rational to exclusively apply to PhD econ programs with your background. In fact, I would suggest applying to PhD accounting over any PhD economics program, because income and income stability seem more important to you than a specific research interest, and PhD accounting provides very lucrative options in both academia and industry.
Note that, contrary to what some people might have experienced in undergrad, both PhD finance and PhD accounting contain a significant amount of microeconomic theory, and their research is almost exclusively based on modern econometrics. The difference in quantitative training is generally negligible, but again, I think it's significantly easier for OP to get admitted into a tier-1 accounting or finance PhD. Disciplinary prejudice sometimes plays a role in admissions, and as you can tell from this thread, it is common for economics PhDs/professors to under-estimate the quantitative rigor in econ-based accounting/finance degrees, especially those from good universities abroad.
Also, check for funding programs from the Vietnamese government for macro/finance PhD students. In many countries a funding program is available from central banks, contingent on work promise. If you can obtain government funding before admissions decisions are made, and notify the departments accordingly, then you will have significantly better chances at top PhD programs.
Last edited by chateauheart; 10-02-2018 at 01:21 PM.
Perhaps they are solid grades from rigorous classes, perhaps not.
As Chateauheart says, it's possible the Calc class actually was much more advanced than the OP suggests (although the B+ is not a great grade). Same can be said for the micro (another B+) class. Without more info, we don't really know, but an adcom member will struggle with the same questions. Therefore, my money is on this student being too risky to fund but would receive admission somewhere. Searching for funding from outside sources would be a very valuable exercise.
True, there's unavoidably variation in course quality and rigor, but this is strongly accounted for by information that (I assume) will be provided in his application - cohort rankings or percentiles over an entire degree program, which contains much less ambiguity than, say, specific math grades or overall GPA from U.S. private undergraduate institutions. The whole practice of deciphering transcripts that we do for U.S. (and a few other countries') undergraduates is a product of the ambiguity in their grading system and their top-ended curves (e.g. Harvard's UG median graduating GPA last year was 3.8/4.0. Meaning that even a 4.0 by itself would be garbage as a signal of competence for academic research, hence why adcoms look for "tough" pure math courses that have little-and-declining relevance to graduate training or research). All this interpretation/translation is unnecessary for foreign education systems that (1) are known for meritocratic/standardized admissions; (2) provide exact cohort percentiles or rankings, (3) based on meaningful grading curves (with median set to a B or C).
Master's program being from an "unranked" South Korean university also likely isn't as bad as it sounds to you. Assuming he means academic research rankings for the associated department, it's a very poor predictor of a particular master's program's admissions difficulty, rigor, or placement track record. LSE/Cambridge's econ departments are ranked ~50 spots higher than Bocconi or BGSE but have significantly less rigorous/respected master's econ programs. Wharton is average in finance/organizational-econ research but has indisputably the most prestigious MBA program in the world. (mentioning that because OP's degrees are somewhat analogous to a combination of a standard econ master's and an elite MBA degree.) Additionally, in his field of finance/accounting research, U.S. business schools pretty much invented the entire contemporary literature; any foreign department will be ranked pretty low or unranked in the publication/award-based rankings in that field. That doesn't reflect undergrad quality at all; professional track business/finance/accounting programs have always been the most elite degrees in much of East Asia, and those undergrads are heavily over-represented in bulge bracket firms and in the top echelons of academia. If stereotypes about Anglo-American finance/business undergrads influenced your interpretation of his record, you should know those stereotypes should be reversed in most continental European and Asian universities.
Of course, what matters isn't how we judge his record, but how a typical PhD adcom would judge it. On that, I'm confident most adcoms in large-sized econ PhD programs will have enough experience in foreign admissions to judge his undergrad degree favorably. Partly because that information will be reflected in the strength of his letters, and partly because I've seen admission files that contained favorable decisions made on the basis of comparable information - top x% student at the best national university in a large country - with little else apparently deemed relevant or necessary. On the other hand, I don't know whether PhD finance/accounting adcoms would typically have enough experience with foreign transcripts, considering their small intake per year, but their admissions is much more network-based, and OP apparently has non-trivial connections to good PhD finance programs.
B+'s in Micro and Calculus are always problematic. The Korean Master's doesn't make sense to me: if the UG degree was so good, why follow that up with an unknown MA program? Lastly, the OP is aiming at low ranked schools, LoRs seem shaky, and the verbal score is poor.
Each of these is not a dealbreaker in and of itself, but when put together, they add up to an unnecessary risk.
If the OP could come back next year and fill us in on what happened, that would be helpful.
I agree with tm_member.
No, a calculus course at the university level in Vietnam does NOT cover analysis, although Vietnamese students do some analysis in high school. The linear algebra course is not also proof-based. They do NOT take economics in high school
Sure, his grades are very good, but it's not uncommon. Any serious student can get that GPA. All it would signal is that OP is serious about studying, but that's about it.
I think OP refers to 1 of 3 or so Vietnamese universities, and knowing some folks who have come to the US from Vietnam to do their PhDs, I would find it hard to believe if OP gets into top 50 with funding given the fact that his/her LORs aren't good as he/she admitted. I don't know anything about finance programs so I'll reserve judgement on that
Last edited by applicant12; 10-03-2018 at 02:42 AM.
Let me clarify a bit:
- We do study calculus at our high school and I think my calculus at the university level may be equivalent to calculus II,III. But I am not sure if the adcoms would have experience on Vietnamese transcripts and or do I need to explain in SOP/ or elsewhere?
- My UG major was Accounting (Auditing to be exact). This is the toughest track in my university in Vietnam. I’ve also worked for Deloitte for over 1 year.
- Unranked schools in South Korea: I was awarded a full scholarship to do my masters. My masters program is a research-based program. So, I decided to take that because it fitted my needs.
The most glaring problem with your profile is your LORs. If the person who should know you best (your thesis advisor) can't write you a strong letter, that's a big red flag. Just put yourself in the shoe of a person on an adcom. The obvious questions that would come to mind are things like "why can't his thesis advisor vouch for him? What's wrong here? Should I take the chance on this person when his advisor doesn't think that highly of him? etc." I don't know how you would be able to address this.
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