Type of Undergrad: Top 10 University (Overall, Econ, Math) (top 5 depending on the ranking system) RESULTS:
Undergrad GPA: 3.8 Math + Econ
Math Courses: Calculus (honors), Analysis (real and complex), Algebra (honors), ODE (mostly A's, couple A-/B+), some other logic type stuff
Econ Courses: Micro (Intermediate), Macro (Intermediate and Advanced), Econometrics (Honors, Topics, Advanced), some random joke topic classes (Population economics, econ of crime, etc) (mostly A's, couple A-)
Other Courses: Statistical Modeling, Probability Theory, Intermediate level CS courses
Letters of Recommendation: 1 Stanford PhD, 1 Harvard PhD, 1 Berkeley PhD (All both supervisors and professors, 2 well known, the 3rd very very well known)
Research Experience: Undergrad Thesis, 3 years as an U-Grad RA, 1.5 year econ consulting (I've heard others complain about this, but I actually run regressions, plan pricing surveys, etc...)
Teaching Experience: Math TA (3 years) for Calculus
Research Interests: IO/Micro/Dev
SOP: Generic (was told to make it as bland as possible by my profs)
Concerns: the couple B+ grades; spent waaay too much time on non-academic activities in college (but I did have a blast)
Other: Facing the academic two-body problem.
Applying to: Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Chicago, Chicago(Booth), Northwestern(Kellogg), Berkeley, NYU, UPenn(Wharton), NYU(Stern)
Acceptances: Yale ($$$$), Northwestern Kellogg ($$$), NYU Stern ($$$), Chicago Booth (accepted off wait list)
Waitlists: MIT (eventually rejected), Chicago (removed self from w/l), Columbia (removed self from w/l), UPenn Wharton (removed self from w/l)
Rejections: Stanford, Harvard, Berkeley
What would I have done differently/recap:
A 3.8 (including grad/honors sequences) is common among applicants to top 5 schools. However I had the benefit of going to a major research institution, a place where anyone who shows even an iota of interest immediately gets placed into a research assistant position with a professor. And not just any schmuck who is bound to be bounced when he or she is up for tenure. Rather an average position may entail working directly under a Bates Clark winner, Nobel prize winner or senior Obama appointee (or a combination of thereof). Thanks to this, my recommendations came from highly visible economics and business faculty. While my grades were sufficient to keep me in the running, my research and recommendation letters likely put me over the top.
So I may have not been admitted to the top 2 (Harvard, MIT), but I clearly broke the ranks of the top 5 and top 10. How could I have broken the "super-elite" ceiling (yes, I'm calling MIT and Harvard the "super-elite" - I can already hear the whining of the "elite")?
Now keep in mind my sample size is extremely small (it includes just me, the noise inherent in graduate admissions may have been what kept me out)
I could have gotten better grades. For those coming from undergraduate studies at a top research school (e.g. Berkeley, Stanford, Chicago, Northwestern, MIT, or an Ivy) - I suggest spending more time on the books and less on non-economic extracurricular activities. I spent easily 40/hrs a week on such "useless in terms of econ PhD admission" activities (for me these included debate-style events in addition to student artistic productions); this meant there was less than 25-30 hrs/week for classes, studying and homework. I should have reversed the two. A grade range of 3.8-3.9 isn't too difficult to achieve. A 3.95 does however stand out. [Note: People talk about a gentleman's C; today it really is a gentleman's B+. Put in a couple more hours of work and that becomes a marginal A-. This is excluding some of my math and stat classes. I had a couple of "old school" bad-asses that stuck to a rigid grading scale that was both fair and had a C+/B- tendency.]
However I have no regrets. Hell, I'm going to a top school. I had a great time as an undergrad, both doing econ research and running debate. If getting into a better grad school meant cutting out one of the things I really loved doing (and where I made some of my best friends and met my girlfriend), forget the grad school.