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View Full Version : Advice for someone out of school who messed up their undergrad



idungoofed
12-03-2014, 12:56 AM
Hi all, long time lurker, first time poster. I'm wondering if anyone can give me some advice or input.

I graduated back in 2010 with a bachelor's in stats, and have since worked in IT. I'm sick of IT, and tired of constantly being envious of my friends who went into econ, so I really want to try to get into the field.

Trouble is I manged to get super depressed for two years in the middle of college, which absolutely wreaked havoc on my college career. So I have tons of bad grades on my transcript, no research experience, my professors barely knew me, I didn't take many upper level courses beyond the minimum required, etc. But there are at least a few bright spots that show I'm not a total idiot and capable of difficult work.

What do you all recommend? Should I take a bunch of math classes part time to prove that I actually am capable of doing well? Try to leverage my stats degree into any sort of research position? Write papers in my spare to time create a portfolio of sorts? Try to find a terminal master's? Give up hope? And don't worry, I'm assuming I'll never be going to a top ten school. I'm just not sure how to even go about repairing my situation.


PROFILE:
Type of Undergrad: BS in Statistics from Wisconsin
Undergrad GPA: 3.1 - 3.7 in stats, and 3.7 for the last four semesters
GRE: 170 quant, 170 verbal, 5.5 writing
Math Courses:
Honors linear algebra/multivariable calc - A
Intro to modern algebra - F (lol)
Econ Courses (undergrad-level):
Introductory micro - AB
Introductory macro - B
Advanced intermediate macro - BC
Other Courses:
I took 6 stats classes for my major, and got A's and AB's in all of them
Letters of Recommendation: My stats adviser liked me but I haven't talked to him in years...
Research Experience: Absolutely none
Teaching Experience: Some from extracurriculars and stuff I've done at work, but that's about it


Thanks in advance! And of course brutal honesty is appreciated.

Food4Thought
12-03-2014, 01:24 AM
Like you said, your econ professors barely knew you. You can take all the part-time math you want, but I doubt you are good enough at math for three LORs from math profs to be comparable to someone with economist recommenders. Terminal master's programs are a perfect thingfor students like you, who are capable of academic success but just need to prove it. Also, your profs from the Master's could serve as your recommenders.

publicaffairsny
12-03-2014, 04:29 AM
Don't sell yourself short. I believe in you. Your GRE scores, especially the verbal one, signal that you can compete with anyone. Plus your grades aren't even terrible. If you perform in a masters I think you can crack at least the top 30.

Dude, I graduated with a 2.87 in an English major, albeit from a good school. I applied to the only accredited grad program in my town that would accept me. To tell you the truth I actually got rejected, I had to lobby the department chair to get in. Now I'm one of the top students in my program and the only one interested in a phd, (its an MPA program). I'm fully confident that with supplementary math and econ classes to develop my policy orientation from the mpa I can get into a good econ program, in one year, perhaps two. All in all this will be a three year process for me, perhaps 4 if I need another year to get solid econ and math credentials and write an econ thesis. I think you could probably do it in 1-2 years if you go back full time.

This suggestion might get down voted, but I would look into SUNY Stony Brooks 2 year masters program. You do the first two years with the phd cohort and sit for comps at the end and you can either continue to the dissertation phase at Stony Brook or apply for admission elsewhere.

Econhead
12-03-2014, 12:55 PM
I think you could probably do it in 1-2 years if you go back full time.

There's almost no way that OP will be able to apply in 1 year to Ph.D programs, and 2 seems like it might be short.

As food mentioned, master's program would be good for you. You have the scores, and although your grades are far from ideal (although also far from terrible), there's really no indication why you want to pursue Econ. You've only taken 3 courses - I'm not convinced you actually like Econ, just that you have a bit of jealousy over a stagnant period of time in your life that you are dissatisfied with. I can't imagine an adcom will see this any differently. Someone else can perhaps vouch for this statement, but I feel like you'd need to take a semester of econ courses (Intermediate micro +2 others-game theory would be good if offered) before you apply (to a master's). Perhaps a better strategy would be take 2 courses in the spring, 1 in the summer/fall, and try to get two letters from Econ professors. Then you would not only have Letters from economists, but you could indicate that you are actually interested in Econ, and perhaps even indicate whether you are interested in micro, macro, or something econ related. I'd try to find a way to get some research experience with one of these professors also. Depending on where you take these courses, this might be difficult if intermediate micro or game theory is taught by a lecturer instead of a professor.

If you're interested in trial by fire, and you're confident in your ability to pick up econ at the drop of a hat, you could try to enroll in grad (probably master's) level Micro. That'd be a good letter demonstrating your ability, and passion (you should spend many hours in the professors office talking). Same for game theory.

If money is of no concern, see if wisconsin (I was assuming you meant you attended wisconsin-madison) will let you do it. They have a new master's that (last year) it seemed like they were having a tough time filling. They might be more willing to let you take grad micro/game theory as a non degree student.

ColonelForbin
12-03-2014, 01:56 PM
Don't sell yourself short. I believe in you. Your GRE scores, especially the verbal one, signal that you can compete with anyone. .



This is rubbish -- but you're grades aren't terrible. But your verbal score isn't going to do you too many favors.

publicaffairsny
12-03-2014, 03:46 PM
This is rubbish -- but you're grades aren't terrible. But your verbal score isn't going to do you too many favors.

GRE V is a signal of mental acuity. Just cause many econ applicants don't have it, and it is not the most valuable for econ admissions doesn't make it meaningless. I think people think its one of those things that can't be changed so they discount it. I wouldn't be surprised if it has signalling power for top programs.

Besides OP has a 170 Q and 5.5 AW. He has the brain power to perform at any level, like I said..

idungoofed
12-03-2014, 04:23 PM
OP here, thanks for the replies everyone.

It sounds like my best options would be to either try to get into a master's program, or to spend a year or so taking some more basic econ classes. Do you think I'd need to take some econ classes before applying to a master's program as well? After all, if I'm a weak candidate for a PhD program now, I'm probably a weak candidate for a master's program too.

If so, and I do need to take some more remedial classes before doing a master's, is there a benefit to then applying for a master's rather than going directly to a PhD? That is, to doing (classes > master's > PhD) rather than (classes > PhD)? I suppose if I did well in the master's I could be a more competitive PhD applicant, so maybe.

As for whether I'm actually interested in econ versus bitter about a couple wasted years, I can at least say that I do read a lot of econ in my spare time. Some of that is just popular books that are meant to be accessible to your average reader, but I've also read some more technical ones as well, and I've read some academic papers on topics that have piqued my interest, and I frequent some economic blogs as well. So I might take an econ class and realize I actually only like reading about it, but I'm guessing probably not. Although I definitely should think about how to properly get this across properly when applying to programs.

Lastly, thanks for the encouragement, although I guess it's hard to feel too optimistic when I have several D's and F's and plenty of C's on my transcript.

idungoofed
12-03-2014, 04:27 PM
Dude, I graduated with a 2.87 in an English major, albeit from a good school. I applied to the only accredited grad program in my town that would accept me. To tell you the truth I actually got rejected, I had to lobby the department chair to get in. Now I'm one of the top students in my program and the only one interested in a phd, (its an MPA program). I'm fully confident that with supplementary math and econ classes to develop my policy orientation from the mpa I can get into a good econ program, in one year, perhaps two. All in all this will be a three year process for me, perhaps 4 if I need another year to get solid econ and math credentials and write an econ thesis. I think you could probably do it in 1-2 years if you go back full time.

Dang, that's some impressive perseverance. Congrats on getting into the program and doing well, that's honestly inspiring to hear.

idungoofed
12-03-2014, 04:31 PM
If money is of no concern, see if wisconsin (I was assuming you meant you attended wisconsin-madison) will let you do it. They have a new master's that (last year) it seemed like they were having a tough time filling. They might be more willing to let you take grad micro/game theory as a non degree student.

Right, UW-Madison. Although unfortunately (fortunately?) I moved to NYC back in June.

publicaffairsny
12-03-2014, 04:33 PM
OP here, thanks for the replies everyone.

It sounds like my best options would be to either try to get into a master's program, or to spend a year or so taking some more basic econ classes. Do you think I'd need to take some econ classes before applying to a master's program as well? After all, if I'm a weak candidate for a PhD program now, I'm probably a weak candidate for a master's program too.

If so, and I do need to take some more remedial classes before doing a master's, is there a benefit to then applying for a master's rather than going directly to a PhD? That is, to doing (classes > master's > PhD) rather than (classes > PhD)? I suppose if I did well in the master's I could be a more competitive PhD applicant, so maybe.

As for whether I'm actually interested in econ versus bitter about a couple wasted years, I can at least say that I do read a lot of econ in my spare time. Some of that is just popular books that are meant to be accessible to your average reader, but I've also read some more technical ones as well, and I've read some academic papers on topics that have piqued my interest, and I frequent some economic blogs as well. So I might take an econ class and realize I actually only like reading about it, but I'm guessing probably not. Although I definitely should think about how to properly get this across properly when applying to programs.

Lastly, thanks for the encouragement, although I guess it's hard to feel too optimistic when I have several D's and F's and plenty of C's on my transcript.

Theres definitely a reason for folks who have low grades in an econ major to do a masters. But for someone who hasnt taken undergrad econ there is a lot to learn by enrolling in udnergrad courses and writing an undergrad thesis. It is probably equally valuable to masters work, especially in a US masters which is not always research oriented. I

f you do a phd you get a masters along the way. However, one benefit of doing a masters is at the end you will have a useful credential if you don't continue on to an econ phd. Regular people will understand what you are talking about when you say "i'm getting a masters in econ." They won't understand why you're going back and taking random courses as an unmatriculated undergrad student.

For me, I'm not really looking to pick up another masters but I will if necessary. My plan right now is to take 1 year of undergrad econ and math courses, two if I don't get in on the first round. I would then decide on whether to pursue an econ masters at that point.

behavingmyself
12-06-2014, 09:42 PM
There's nothing that prevents you from applying to PhD programs at the same time that you apply to master's programs. If you don't get in, you just spend the year getting better and apply again the next year.

Obviously, though, you want to feel adequately prepared before you start a PhD program. In order to be prepared, I would recommend taking real analysis, intermediate micro, and econometrics. If you're in NYC, surely you can register as a part-time student at a top school and take these courses. There are two reasons for making sure you take them at a top school. First, the actual content of these courses (especially intermediate micro) can be quite watered down at weaker schools. Second, you want to get the instructors for these courses to write you letters, and you want your letter-writers to be able to compare you to good students so that they can say you're better. Your F in modern algebra will look more like laziness and less like lack of ability if you're getting As at Columbia. Nobody wants students who lack ability, but there are good PhD programs which will take a risk on students with talent and a history of inconsistent motivation.

Beyond that basic coursework, it's not a bad idea to try to get a position as a research assistant. Not only is this valuable and (if you want to do research for the rest of your life) fun, but generally it is much easier for someone to write a good letter for a research assistant than for a student because the letter can draw on so many more interactions.