View Full Version : weak math, average undergrad, good GRE

06-27-2006, 06:39 PM
I graduated from a state school business program ranked on the fringe of the top 25 with a 3.7 GPA and scored 790Q/700V on the GRE. Unfortunately, my math background is limited to one course each in statistics and calculus.

Assuming that I do well in a few math classes this fall, do I have a chance of being accepted to a worthwhile phd program? If so, what courses would put me in the best position (I was thinking of taking introductory linear algebra and another calculus course)?

I appreciate any thoughts or suggestions.

06-27-2006, 06:55 PM
GRE scores don't help you get into top econ PhD programs. They can hurt you if you score poorly, but even a 790 or 800 merely puts you into the middle of the pack of applicants at top schools. To put it in perspective, a 790 on the quant section is around the 90th percentile, and a score below a 750 is often grounds for retaking the test.

When you say you've only taken one calculus class, do you mean that you've taken single variable differential calculus, but have not had a class in integration or multivariable calc? If this is the case, there are really a number of math courses you should take before applying to (or enrolling in) a PhD program. Multivariable calculus is the absolutely most basic, every day tool of even intermediate economics. At the graduate level, calculus should be an afterthough -- requiring no more thought than plugging numbers into a calculator, really. The second semester of single variable calc plus a semester of multivariable calc are absolutely basic, necessary prerequesites for a PhD in economics, at any school.

Linear algebra is another basic tool, used especially in graduate stats and econometrics. You must be comfortable in matrix notation; it's everywhere. Differential equations, used in micro and especially macro, also fall in to the list of "must haves." In my opinion, linear algebra is very straightforward -- perhaps the most of all of the subjects I've mentioned. You may be able to learn linear algebra without taking a formal class -- I never did -- but make sure you really understand the material, instead of just blindly manipulating the expressions.

In addition to calc, linear algebra, and diff eq, you need to have at least an introduction to formal proof-writing, and preferably a semester of real analysis. Graduate economics doesn't look anything like undergraduate economics. It's not about solving problems or optimizing, but rather about theorems and proofs. A weak math background makes it very difficult to learn the economic intuition, because in graduate school, more sophisticated math is used as a tool to teach these concepts.

As for your chances of acceptance, this depends greatly on 1) what you consider a "worthwhile" PhD program, and 2) on other aspects of your application, including letters of recommendation and research experience. GRE scores are a very, very small part of the admissions process.

06-27-2006, 07:15 PM
First off, I want to second everything asquare has just said.

As for letters of recommendation, they are very important in admissions. Your relationships with economists at your undergrad makes a huge difference, as does the institution you attended. When you said "fringe of top 25 business schools", I guessed you were using US News rankings and pulled this up:

22. Ohio State University (Fisher) (http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/grad/directory/dir-mba/brief/glanc_01174_brief.php) 23. Indiana University–Bloomington (Kelley) (http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/grad/directory/dir-mba/brief/glanc_01080_brief.php) 23. Michigan State University (Broad) (http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/grad/directory/dir-mba/brief/glanc_01118_brief.php) 23. University of Minnesota–Twin Cities (Carlson) (http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/grad/directory/dir-mba/brief/glanc_01126_brief.php) 26. University of Rochester (Simon) (http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/grad/directory/dir-mba/brief/glanc_01159_brief.php) (NY) 26. Washington University in St. Louis (Olin) (http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/grad/directory/dir-mba/brief/glanc_01134_brief.php)

So, if you went to UMN and have good relationships with some of the econ professors... then you stand a shot at top 30 programs, as long as you take multivariable calc and linear algebra. That doesn't mean you'll be prepared for the coursework, or that you stand a good shot at getting in... but it's not unthinkable so long as you have glowing LORs from the right people. But, if you were at IU or MSU, then your chances aren't as good.

As asquare said, this all also hinges on what you define to be "worthwhile".

If you can take classes full-time in the fall, go for multivariable calc and linear algebra... add an intro to proof-writing course and differential equations if you can. Then, take real analysis in the spring, if it's offered. Those four classes in the fall, with good grades (i.e. A's) will help you tremendously, both in preparing for grad school and in the admissions process. Real analysis would help even more, but you won't be able to get it into your schedule... but you should still take it in the spring because it should help with first-year coursework.

06-27-2006, 07:17 PM
I've arrived in time to echo asquare's thoughts. It's not clear which calculus course you plan to take, but you'd definitely need to take multivariable calc as well as linear algebra as an absolute minimum.

The other problem you'll have is a lack of recommendations from economists. How much economics did you take for the business program? This brings up a related issue, which asquare pointed out: PhD-level econ is very different from undergrad econ. I would encourage you to be very certain that you know what you're in for here--look at commonly used PhD-level textbooks (like, say, MWG), poke around econphd.net and so on, before you start working hard for something that may not be what you expect.

06-27-2006, 09:37 PM
You guys are fast. Thanks. I'll try to provide more detailed information on my background and goals in this post.

I went to Arizona State (WP Carey). I must have looked a different list than OneMoreEcon; I think the school was ranked 25th on the 2006 USNews list. Here are the course descriptions for the two math classes that I was required to take as part of my undergraduate business degree.

Finite Mathematics - Topics from linear algebra, linear programming, combinatorics, probability, and mathematics of finance.

Brief Calculus - Differential and integral calculus of elementary functions with applications.

I didn't bother taking any other math courses because I was almost sure that my education would end after undergrad and was more worried about furthering my work experience.

I had an internship in the research department of a commercial real estate broker during my last semester at ASU. That position lead to a summer job writing a basic overview of the Phoenix market for an out of state self-storage developer and finally to another commercial real estate broker in a position that was called "research" but was more like inside sales.

While working in these three positions I closely followed the housing markets in Southern California and Arizona. I read a number of blogs and became very interested in the various perspectives on the future of the markets. Everyone seemed to have done their own research, yet some people were advocating buying houses, and others suggested converting all assets to precious metals and weapons to prepare for the impending collapse of the economy.

I would like to have the knowledge and tools to study things in a way that I know to be sound and to come to my own conclusions. I thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing the report that I created for the self-storage developer and prefer to work independently. I also enjoy teaching and think a life teaching, researching, and perhaps consulting would be extremely fulfilling. I'm not particularly interested in the prestige of the phd or reveolutionzing the field, so I would define a "worthwhile" program as any one that affords me the opportunity to live the life that I describe above.

Thanks again for all of your input.

To clarify, I took a statistics course in addition to the two math classes that I mention above. I didn't think that the first would be relevant when I initially posted, but since it mentioned some linear algebra I wasn't sure if it was of any value.

06-27-2006, 09:59 PM
I'm not trying to sound rude or deflate you, but the title and description of those courses sound like "math for business majors" courses.... which I guess they are.

How comfortable are you with math? Do you like it? While you can do econ without doing too much math, getting through graduate school will be difficult if you aren't comfortable with it.

I'd suggest two things: take a look at a couple of the top econ journals (say, Journal of Political Economy and American Economic Review, both of which can be found at jstor), and look at U of Minnesota's admission website (http://www.econ.umn.edu/graduate/admission.html) (http://www.econ.umn.edu/graduate/admission.html%29). Think about the type of articles you see in the journals, and the description of Minnesota's program (it's fairly representative of most econ programs and quite descriptive).

Together they ought to give you a good idea of the kind of math you'll need for grad school, and the kind of math you'll need as a professional economist.

If it scares you away, you might want to consider public policy or business ph.ds, which *can* be less math intensive.

Also, if you're intent on continuing the econ program, these are the courses you'll need to take to have pretty much any decent econ program take a second look:

M MAT 290 Calculus I. (5)
M MAT 291 Calculus II. (5)
M MAT 342 Linear Algebra. (3)

If you can fit in M MAT 371 Advanced Calculus I. (3) or M MAT 472 Intermediate Real Analysis I. (3) that would be a really good signal (if you do well, of course), but it looks like M MAT 300 Mathematical Structures. (3) is a prereq for either course. You should ask your advisor which of the two would be best for you, although I'd lean towards Real Analysis

Other good courses would be M MAT 274 Elementary Differential Equations. (3) or M MAT 475 Differential Equations. (3), M MAT 410 Introduction to General Topology. (3), and M MAT 372 Advanced Calculus II. (3) or M MAT 473 Intermediate Real Analysis II. (3).

When choosing classes, look for the theoretical ones , not applied, not the ones labelled for business or scientists, and the higher the course number, the better, in general. The three I listed at the top are absolutely required - and Advanced Calc/Real Analysis would be really, really good. The rest are just icing.

*edited as I took a closer look at the ASU catalog

06-28-2006, 02:00 AM
i'm sort of in a similar situation with you. i was a business major but realized economics was more of my thing (relatively speaking, anyhow) and thus had maths such as "statistics for business students" and "calculus for business students" all of which the math department said was insufficient compared to calculus i & ii, which is why i had to start my calc sequence all over again in my senior year. basically, all the maths courses you get exposure to from the business school is insufficient and they won't be conducive to phd application. if you see sites for prospective phd applicants like cornell's it specifically tells you that they will only count math courses from the math department, and none from business/econ dept. with titles such as "stats for economists" etc.

the calculus i took through business school taught me nothing of rigorous def'n of the limit or anything like that, it had more of the application in business/econ perspective, and i had no idea what epsilon or delta was until i had to retake calc i.

06-28-2006, 04:00 PM
Reading what you wrote about how you got interested in the field, it really sounds like a business or public policy program would be more up your alley. Not only would the math be much more manageable (though it would likely still be to your advantage to take a couple more calculus and stats courses), but the focus would be much more applied and useful from the get-go. Economics, at the PhD level, is much more theoretical, and would probably be much less interesting to you.

Another option would be one of the few useful (i.e., applied) econ MA programs. I could give you some more information on those if you're interested.

06-28-2006, 09:47 PM
Actually, I don't agree that a policy program or business school would necessarily be a better match. I read the OP's statement about how he got interested in doing a PhD as, "this is an example of a real-world puzzle I observed; I'd like to get the theoretical background to find an answer to these types of puzzles" -- and not as "I'm interested in studying housing markets." Assuming the former interpretation, that's exactly the sort of intellectual curiosity that bodes well for PhD programs. If, instead, the later interpretation is more accurate, then do as notacolour says and consider business school! :)

06-28-2006, 10:15 PM
Oh, you could be right. It was kind of vague and left open to interpretation...

Still, I don't think that business or pubpol PhD-level work is without theoretical basis. The theoretical framework is different from that used by most economists, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

And I will reiterate that serious study in economics will require quite a few mathematical courses that you haven't taken, so I would suggest that you look into other related fields as well.