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View Full Version : Should I get a PhD in Economics, or is a Masters in Public Policy a better option?



kevin1297
12-04-2014, 07:59 PM
Hi,
I'm currently a sophomore at a small liberal arts college in Los Angeles, and I was thinking about graduate school. I really like public policy, history, international relations and economics, and want to do something where I can influence policy decisions. Working in academia is fine, since I can do research which will be read by policy makers and hopefully influence public policy. I really like development economics, and hope someday to work for an NGO, the UN, or a development economics, or international economics consulting firm. I have a strong passion for all my interests mentioned above, and can talk about them all day, every day, forever, and I love research, but am not super comfortable with math. i like in theory, and think it's very interesting, but was never a superstar at calculus, statistics, etc. but managed to do well simply by working hard. I am currently taking Statistics, and will take Calculus II next semester to see how I like math, and continue if I find it enjoyable.

My dilemma is that I'm not sure whether I should go into a Masters in Public Policy or PhD in Economics program. I can learn to like math, but it never came easy to me, but if I work hard at it, maybe I can like it more. What should I do in order to figure out what path is right for me?

P.S. My GPA is a 3.57. If I do well the rest of college, i should have around a 3.75 to a 3.85. Is that GPA good enough for a PhD in Economics program, or a MPP?

Thanks,
kevin1297

PhDPlease
12-04-2014, 08:34 PM
If you aren't very comfortable with math, the MPP might be the better route. I would wait and see how you feel as you take a bit more math. In order to do an econ phd somewhere competitive, you'd probably need at least a bit of theoretical math. Personally I found the theoretical math to be harder than calculus (so I'd be a bit concerned if you're already finding math hard when you haven't gotten too far into the math sequence), but there are some people who are very good with proofs and have a tendency to make errors when doing computations... Also in the econ phd, the focus is very strongly on mathematical modelling. Even if you do a field like development, you are going to spend a LOT of time on math (rather than stuff like studying the culture and history of the foreign country). There are certain careers that an econ phd will open up and some fields where you might hit a glass ceiling without a PhD, but there are also many careers where you can do very well with the MPP. Based on what you've said so far, I'd say the MPP seems like a good fit. However, I'd continue on to calc 2 and reevaluate your feelings on math before making final decisions. If you feel like you've had enough math after calc 2 and don't want to take anymore math, then I'd go w/the MPP. If you do well enough in calc 2 and continue on and take some more math, then I'd keep the econ phd under consideration.

I think 3.75 to 3.85 is a good gpa for most programs. for the econ phd at least, they are more concerned on your math and econ gpa than grades in classes like English or history, so it depends not only on the overall gpa but on your specific grades in math/econ

publicaffairsny
12-04-2014, 09:19 PM
MPP leaves the door open to econ, but also opens the possibility of PhDs in public policy or public administration as well as other fields.

ColonelForbin
12-04-2014, 09:24 PM
I think the dominant strategy is to push yourself with the math... assuming it isn't making doesn't make your GPA tank or make you depressed.

If you want to work for the top-tier NGOs, the WB or the UN, then pedigree matters a lot. In turn, you'll have a leg up on MPP admission if you can handle the quantitative side. Plus, if you find yourself in a policy role, it would be really nice if you could be the one to distill the economics research into meaningful snippets and facts for your peers.

That being said -- I think PhDPlease has nailed it.

kevin1297
12-04-2014, 11:04 PM
I think the dominant strategy is to push yourself with the math... assuming it isn't making doesn't make your GPA tank or make you depressed.

If you want to work for the top-tier NGOs, the WB or the UN, then pedigree matters a lot. In turn, you'll have a leg up on MPP admission if you can handle the quantitative side. Plus, if you find yourself in a policy role, it would be really nice if you could be the one to distill the economics research into meaningful snippets and facts for your peers.

That being said -- I think PhDPlease has nailed it.

So should I go towards an MPP or a PhD in Econ?

Thanks for your advice by the way.

publicaffairsny
12-05-2014, 12:20 AM
So should I go towards an MPP or a PhD in Econ?

Thanks for your advice by the way.

Practically speaking, I'm not sure it makes much difference in terms of your course of action for the next semester and year or two. Keep taking math classes as if you were going for econ. This will help you get into a better MPP with better funding.

I would also encourage you to consider working for two years after graduation and would encourage you to lay the groundwork so you have options for that. If you are unsure of direction there is nothing like time in the real world to help you clarify. Also Professional programs have preference for candidates with work experience so this will be a necessary step for MPP prep.

ColonelForbin
12-05-2014, 01:49 PM
^^ That. Just keep working towards preparation for the economics Ph.D. and that way you're not closing off any doors.

Mathew952
12-06-2014, 02:08 PM
Well, I'd also say that having some extra quant skills in the modern job market is never going to hurt, so I think math is a great idea regardless. But, If you're not quite sure about the math and at least want to see what you're getting yourself into, these are the courses I'm taking as Econ PhD prep, and a few with an * that are highly recommended, but that I can't take due to course sequencing issues.
Computational Math
Calc 1-3 (At my school, this is the entirety of Stewart's Calculus, 7th Edition. Some Schools break this up into 4 classes)
Linear Algebra
Differential Equations
Proof Intensive Math
Basic Concepts of Mathematics (Proof Writing Class, basically)
Mathematical Econ
Real Analysis 1&2 *
Advanced Calc 1&2 * (Generally people do either Real or Advanced, not both)
Statistics
A few stat classes through your stat department, probably like an intro and an intermediate , every school has different names so I won't bother.
Probability Theory (Math Dept.)
Mathematical Statistics (Math Dept)
Econometrics (Econ)

If you want to see what these are like, for the computational stuff at least, I'd check out the Khan Academy sections on them. Khan has helped me over and over even in the honors sections of those classes. If you want, PM me and I can link you to the books I've used so you can get an idea from there as well. Best of Luck!

Econhead
12-06-2014, 05:42 PM
Real Analysis 1&2 *
Advanced Calc 1&2 * (Generally people do either Real or Advanced, not both)


This could be misleading to OP. From my experience (personal and time on this board), these are substitutes not compliments. Universities usually do not offer both (in fact, I'm not sure that they ever do). They are just different titles for similar courses. Adcoms view one as substituting for the other, as well.

behavingmyself
12-06-2014, 11:39 PM
On admissions:

1) An MPP is effectively useless as preparation for an econ PhD, as is time in the working world. However, they aren't negatives either, so you do have the option of trying things before you commit to a PhD.

2) If you want to keep your options open, take a rich set of math and econ courses while you're an undergrad, and ask for letters of recommendation now, before your instructors forget who you are.

3) We are not really able to evaluate your competitiveness for an econ PhD from your GPA without knowing more about the quality of your school.

On suitability for an econ PhD:

1) If you love research, then a PhD offers an attractive lifestyle: get paid to do work that you find fun and interesting.

2) If you are not a very strong PhD, you will most likely have quite little impact on policy.

3) If you are not very strong at math or dislike it, you are unlikely to be a very strong econ PhD.

kevin1297
12-07-2014, 12:50 AM
I go to Occidental College, a small liberal arts college in L.A.. Obama went there for two years before going to Columbia. The academics are known to be challenging, and many people who do transfer out do so because of the challenging academics.

kevin1297
12-07-2014, 12:52 AM
Also, would it make sense to get a MPP and a Masters in Econ at the same time, or get one after the other, for a back up option? That way I can work in policy at NGOs, think tanks, etc. and have the econ background to work at places like the IMF, World Bank, etc.. If I decide that I'm done after my two masters degrees, if that's the option that I choose, then I'll have a good option for careers, at least in my opinion.

PhDPlease
12-07-2014, 02:10 AM
Are finances a concern? If I were you I'd only do one grad degree unless you have wealthy family or get a job with tuition benefits. If you decide to do an Econ PhD I'd either try to take all of the correct classes now or find an employer with a tuition benefit (such as working as an RA at a university or policy institute) and study part-time while working to minimize any debt before entering 5-6 years more grad school. If you decide not to do a PhD, I would go for either a more quantitative MPA (such as Princeton's which has an econ track that is quantitative) OR a policy-oriented econ masters. I think to some extent the mpp and econ masters can substitute for each other (esp if you do a fairly quantitative mpp) so I just don't think the $$$ cost of doing both rather than just one is really worth it unless you are wealthy or use tuition benefits (and even w/tuition benefits assuming you go PT it would take a long time to complete 1 degree never-the-less 2 degrees). If you have the $ I don't think your plan of multiple grad degrees is bad, but I personally wouldn't go into high debt for multiple grad degrees.

kevin1297
12-07-2014, 02:15 AM
Given that my parents are upper-middle class, and both have MBA's, I guess you could consider my family well off, but not rich. Through saving a lo, they were able to pay for private school tuition without me taking any loans. I probably will have to take loans for grad school, depending where I go. (If it's Oxford, LSE or another school in Europe that's cheaper than a school in the US, then I probably won't take loans).

PhDPlease
12-07-2014, 03:14 AM
Maybe this is helpful to you: What MA, MPA, or MIA program is for you? - Chris Blattman (http://chrisblattman.com/2013/10/04/what-ma-mpa-or-mia-program-is-for-you/)

I know people who have done both Econ MA and MPP/MPA as the terminal degree and are working in policy. I don't know anyone who has done both. IMO I don't think the marginal benefits of doing both is worth it relative to the costs but that is just my personal opinion.

publicaffairsny
12-07-2014, 04:56 AM
https://mccourt.georgetown.edu/academics/mpp-ma-econ

This might be a program to look at. Georgetown's MPP is definitely elite. I was actually surprised to learn that georgetown's econ is top 50 but barely. I would think the best program in Washington DC would offer some unique opportunities and attract elite faculty, but maybe the elite economists in Washington are clustered in government and at think tanks.

If you do rigorous math prep in undergrad, I bet they would let you take out some of the dubious quant courses in the policy and econ sequence in that degree and substitute them with advanced econometrics or things like that. You could probably make it work for you.

Econhead
12-07-2014, 01:46 PM
I honestly think, based on your interests, this would be a perfect Ph.D program:

Tulane Economics - Doctoral Program (http://econ.tulane.edu/grad/)

Tulane is a lower-ranked program, but they are also 'brand spankin new.' It took them awhile to get back on track after Katrina (they restructured the program as well). It won't be IMF or something of that caliber, but if you are looking something that is not so international, where you are more likely to make a difference, this might be a good idea.

behavingmyself
12-10-2014, 03:26 PM
I was actually surprised to learn that georgetown's econ is top 50 but barely. I would think the best program in Washington DC would offer some unique opportunities and attract elite faculty, but maybe the elite economists in Washington are clustered in government and at think tanks.
Maryland is the top department in the DC area.

behavingmyself
12-10-2014, 03:31 PM
I honestly think, based on your interests, this would be a perfect Ph.D program:

Tulane Economics - Doctoral Program (http://econ.tulane.edu/grad/)

Tulane is a lower-ranked program, but they are also 'brand spankin new.' It took them awhile to get back on track after Katrina (they restructured the program as well). It won't be IMF or something of that caliber, but if you are looking something that is not so international, where you are more likely to make a difference, this might be a good idea.
While their program might be well-matched to the poster's interests, I would be wary of calling a program a "perfect" fit when we have yet to see any record of placement, and when the faculty at the school do not publish as well as faculty at a typical top 50 program.

behavingmyself
12-10-2014, 03:33 PM
I go to Occidental College, a small liberal arts college in L.A.. Obama went there for two years before going to Columbia. The academics are known to be challenging, and many people who do transfer out do so because of the challenging academics.
I see. A 3.7-3.8 at Oxy would likely make you a solid candidate for top 50 PhD programs, depending on the quality of your letters and the details of which courses you had taken and done well in.

kevin1297
12-13-2014, 06:34 AM
I see. A 3.7-3.8 at Oxy would likely make you a solid candidate for top 50 PhD programs, depending on the quality of your letters and the details of which courses you had taken and done well in.

What's Oxy's reputation in academic and university circles? Is it known to be a good school?

What about with MPP programs? What GPA would I need to have to get into a top 50 or top 20 program?
Thanks

publicaffairsny
12-13-2014, 06:10 PM
What's Oxy's reputation in academic and university circles? Is it known to be a good school?

What about with MPP programs? What GPA would I need to have to get into a top 50 or top 20 program?
Thanks

Occidental is a great west coast liberal arts school. I don't think the school will limit your opportunities, its all about your performance.

MPP admissions is a different ball game. With a 3.5 GPA, strong math background, 2 years good work experience and good GRE scores you should be thinking top 20 all the way and its probably more a question of where you want to go that where you can get in.

Mathew952
12-16-2014, 11:48 PM
This could be misleading to OP. From my experience (personal and time on this board), these are substitutes not compliments. Universities usually do not offer both (in fact, I'm not sure that they ever do). They are just different titles for similar courses. Adcoms view one as substituting for the other, as well.

That is what "not both" means.

Econhead
12-17-2014, 12:44 AM
That is what "not both" means.

Yes, but your initial post said:


Advanced Calc 1&2 * (Generally people do either Real or Advanced, not both)

Which implies it might be possible to do both. This is misleading, and could lead readers to think they are at a disadvantage because their university only offers one, not both. They are, of course, not at a disadvantage because they are substitutes.

nguyenminhhieuh
12-17-2014, 02:27 PM
Sorry for being fussy but in my observation, usually Real Analysis and Advanced Calculus are NOT the same thing, and I would disagree that they are substitutes. The Advanced Calculus sequence (usually Advanced Calc 1 goes as far as derivatives and different types of convergence are concerned, and Advanced Calc 2 deals with integration of different forms) is like a gentle introduction to Real Analysis. Real Analysis draws on Advanced Calculus knowledge and discusses set theory and a little bit of general topology while focusing largely on metric spaces, measure theory, Lebesgue integration, and spaces of functions. So Real Analysis would be more appropriately (I think) equated with something like "Real Variables."

Having said that, I should also add that the precise topics for each of these courses differ from school to school, and from instructor to instructor.

Catrina
12-17-2014, 05:46 PM
Sorry for being fussy but in my observation, usually Real Analysis and Advanced Calculus are NOT the same thing, and I would disagree that they are substitutes. The Advanced Calculus sequence (usually Advanced Calc 1 goes as far as derivatives and different types of convergence are concerned, and Advanced Calc 2 deals with integration of different forms) is like a gentle introduction to Real Analysis. Real Analysis draws on Advanced Calculus knowledge and discusses set theory and a little bit of general topology while focusing largely on metric spaces, measure theory, Lebesgue integration, and spaces of functions. So Real Analysis would be more appropriately (I think) equated with something like "Real Variables."

Having said that, I should also add that the precise topics for each of these courses differ from school to school, and from instructor to instructor.

This depends a lot on the school. Some schools don't have a course called "advanced calculus" and just start with a course called "intro to real analysis", while others don't have a course called "real analysis". My school had nothing called "advanced calculus". and the two-semester real analysis sequence seemed like a mixture of the two types of courses you are speaking about.