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Thread: What type of masters program is the best stepping stone to a PhD program?

  1. #1
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    What type of masters program is the best stepping stone to a PhD program?

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    Ideally I would like to apply directly to a PhD Econ program. However, I realize this is not a viable option based on my profile:

    Undergrad University: Top 100 (but barely) LAC in US
    UGPA: 3.1 (3.15 in Econ Major)
    Econ Courses: the typical Econ undergrad classes (B+ average);
    Math Courses: Calc I&II (AP), Multivariable Calc (B+); Diff Eq (C+); Econ Stat and Applied Stat (both B+); No LA or RA =(
    GRE: 800Q, 710V, 5.5AW
    LORs: Very poor. I would only be able to get 1 or 2 from Econ Phd holders. None of which are famous or that would be overly glowing.
    Research experience: A unpublished senior thesis paper. Currently co-writing a paper with one of my undergrad professors.
    Other: If this helps, currently serving as Peace Corps volunteer doing economic development in a former soviet bloc country. Being in this unique location is why I'm doing the research with my undergrad professor.
    Interests: Economic Development, NIE

    So based on my undergrad GPA (and no excuses, just partied too much), I don't think I can go straight into a PhD program. So my questions are:

    1) Am I correct in assuming I can't get into any decent PhD program?
    2) Is a masters program my best option at this time?
    3) If yes, what type of masters program? I'd prefer to stay in the US, though this is flexible if options in Europe are more ideal for my situation.
    4) Are there specific universities that are more ideal for being stepping stones to PhD Economics?

    Thank you so much for the help. Greatly appreciate it.

  2. #2
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    8 out of 8 members found this post helpful. Good post? Yes | No
    It seems like most people agree that the best masters to prepare for PhD are 1) European 2) Canadian or 3) the very few select American schools (i.e.Duke)

    I had a somewhat similar profile a couple of years ago (I had a higher GPA from an unranked state school) and went to Illinois State for my masters. Here's what the masters at ISU allowed me to improve:

    1) Picked up additional math courses (I had only taken up through Calc 2 before the masters, now I have the full calc sequence, probability, LA, and RA)
    2) Greatly improved my LoR (before I was asking professors who I had taken 1 or 2 classes with, now I have LoRs from people I have worked with for over a year)
    3) Research experience (before I had none to speak of, now I have a co-authored article in a decent journal plus a lot of experience writing scholarly articles)
    4) Questions about GPA (my UGPA=3.4, my grad GPA=4.0, this helps answer some of the questions about whether I could handle grad level courses)

    The results show how much I improved my profile with the masters: before the masters, I was rejected at the only PhD program I applied to (University of Oregon = ranked #59 on U.S. News); after the masters, I was accepted with funding at Michigan State (#31) and Kentucky (#56) and waitlisted at North Carolina-Chapel Hill (#34).

    If I were in your shoes, I would apply to a few of PhD programs (i.e. stretches) and a range of masters. If you get into a PhD then great, if you go to a masters program you can improve your profile to get into a better PhD program.

    Not that I am trying to sell you on Illinois State, but ISU does have a specific program for Peace Corp volunteers (one of the 5 largest programs of its kind in the US). So, that might be something worth looking into.

    If you search the forum you should be able to find a lot of similar questions and answers as well as more complete lists of potential masters programs.
    On the long road to dissertation

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    The Man, thank you for the reply. This was really helpful information. As you suggested, I did further research on this forum and have made a rather long list of masters programs that would be beneficial to apply to. My next question (and I hope this is not inappropriate of me to ask) is which programs are realistic shots for me. Even looking through the Profile/Results section, it is hard to find people even comparable to my poor GPA to know which masters programs to apply to.

    For example, BSGE, UPF, Toronto, Queens, CEMFI, Duke. These are all top masters programs, and would be excellent options for me if I could get accepted. However, I'm guessing it is probably not worth it for me to apply to any of these programs as I have no chance of getting in? To give a specific example, Duke's website states their average acceptance GPA is 3.65 for the masters program, which I fall so far below that I assume I shouldn't apply? I guess I'm now just trying to find the programs that are the best stepping stones that I have a chance of getting into.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.


    PS. On a personal note to you, ISU has 5 economic masters options. I assume you did "Applied economics with thesis option"? The fellowship option for Peace Corps volunteers has a lot of poli sci classes and a year of community development work. Which is not bad in itself, just not helpful towards Econ PhD.
    Last edited by bugibugi7; 04-27-2011 at 09:10 AM.

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    1 out of 4 members found this post helpful. Good post? Yes | No
    1) You should not apply to PhD programs without LA because most schools list it as a minimum (as far as I've seen). (Not to mention I doubt it would be possible to complete the PhD without LA).
    2) You may need to do some outside work before an MA (if you want to be accepted into one of the ones you listed). You may consider trying to RA for someone while taking math classes on the side. Eventually though, an MA is your best bet for a PhD program. Once you get there, make sure to take at least one of the PhD Micro, Macro, or Econometrics courses (probably not macro).
    3,4) Use the search function, like it seems you have.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bugibugi7 View Post
    For example, BSGE, UPF, Toronto, Queens, CEMFI, Duke. These are all top masters programs, and would be excellent options for me if I could get accepted. However, I'm guessing it is probably not worth it for me to apply to any of these programs as I have no chance of getting in? To give a specific example, Duke's website states their average acceptance GPA is 3.65 for the masters program, which I fall so far below that I assume I shouldn't apply? I guess I'm now just trying to find the programs that are the best stepping stones that I have a chance of getting into.
    You may be able to get in some of the schools you mentioned, though the probability of receiving funding is not high. You should also look for safeties -- lower-ranked master programs where you should have a decent chance of being admitted. These may include non-top-4 Canadian schools (e.g. Simon Fraser, McGill), and some European schools (U Autonoma Barcelona (they are quite strong but it seems it's not that hard to be admitted), Stockholm School of Economics, maybe some German or Swiss schools... please, somebody help with the list -- there should exist non-top European programs ).

    Btw, for masters BGSE = UPF. Description - Economics Program - Barcelona GSE

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    If you can pull a decent letter from the prof you're currently doing the research with, I think you have a decent shot at getting admitted to the regular stream MA at UofT (your GRE scores will be very helpful here). You will almost certainly not get admitted to the doctoral stream MA. In the regular stream, you get a teaching assistantship, but this will not even cover your tuition fees (which are very steep as an international student). If this sounds attractive to you, there is no reason not to apply

    If you want to get admitted to a reasonable PhD program afterwards, you should really work hard enough to pull up your grades to something A-ish. Applying in the fall of the MA program would probably be too rushed, so you may want to look at two-year programs as well.
    Entering a PhD program? Better think carefully.

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    Would a master's be a better choice than just auditing classes at a phd program?

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    2 out of 2 members found this post helpful. Good post? Yes | No
    Quote Originally Posted by Zeratul View Post
    Would a master's be a better choice than just auditing classes at a phd program?
    There are two types of benefits a prospective PhD student can get from a MA degree:
    1) Signaling competence to adcoms
    2) Acquiring skills that enhance one's ability of succeeding in grad school

    Auditing classes may help with respect to (2)--how much really depends on the individual's commitment to learning--but auditing contains practically no signaling value. So from that standpoint, earning a MA is likely a superior option to just auditing classes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by oleador View Post
    Btw, for masters BGSE = UPF.
    My apologies. I knew Barcelona GSE was UPF, but I thought "BGSE" was Bonn GSE. Is Bonn a respected program like UPF?

    Thanks for the tips. I've been trying to look at second-tier Canadian and European programs as well. It's hard (for me at least with my inexperience) to tell the quality of a program. I've been unable to find any masters rankings for European and Canadian schools. As far as I can tell, there are only rankings for PhD programs. Do any of you happen to know comprehensive lists of masters econ programs abroad? Ranked or just purely listed?

    I appreciate the vote of confidence. I'm glad some of you are more optimistic than I am about getting into these solid programs. I still have another 8 months or so until I need to apply, so that gives me time to try and improve my profile. I read a lot on these forums about what the PhD programs are looking for (good grades, lots of math, great LOR's etc). Are there different things that the masters programs are looking for? Any suggestions on things I could do that will help my profile for getting into masters programs? For example, I was thinking of signing up for online classes for LA and RA. Granted the value of an A in these classes won’t mean as much being online, but do you think they may help even marginally?

    @tang: That definitely sounds appealing, even if I had to pay for it completely I would attend UofT if I was accepted. It's the kind of quality program where, if I go and succeed, I can correct a lot of the doubts cast by my undergrad GPA. Yea I completely agree. It's 100% vital for me to wait until I have a full year's worth of (good) grades before I apply to PhD programs. So if I do attend a 1-year program (which it seems most non-US programs are?) then I'd have to take a year off between my masters and PhD. Perhaps this will give me time to get more research experience that can help my PhD application? We'll see.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bugibugi7 View Post
    My apologies. I knew Barcelona GSE was UPF, but I thought "BGSE" was Bonn GSE. Is Bonn a respected program like UPF?
    Oh, I forgot that Bonn also uses acronym BGSE. Bonn is a good and respectful school. I don't know much about them, I heard they are good in micro and experimental, don't know about NIE and development.


    Quote Originally Posted by bugibugi7 View Post
    I've been trying to look at second-tier Canadian and European programs as well. It's hard (for me at least with my inexperience) to tell the quality of a program. I've been unable to find any masters rankings for European and Canadian schools. As far as I can tell, there are only rankings for PhD programs. Do any of you happen to know comprehensive lists of masters econ programs abroad? Ranked or just purely listed?
    I've never seen master program rankings. I believe that for European and Canadian schools PhD ranks strongly correlate with MA/MSc ranks.

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