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Thread: Last Minute Profile Assessment Managing Expectations and Costs

  1. #1
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    Last Minute Profile Assessment Managing Expectations and Costs

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    I will start with a disclaimer that I know my profile is mediocre at best. I am looking mostly for honesty, and guidance on what I should be doing and where I should be looking. My application is in general last minute and rushed. I did not appreciate the timetable on this sort of thing, but I am worried my skills might atrophy to irrelevance if I wait much longer.

    PROFILE:
    Type of Undergrad: Top15 State school, not sure where it is in overall rankings.
    Graduated in 2013 Double Major, Economics and History
    Undergrad GPA: 3.594
    GRE: 162Q, 169V, AW: (still outstanding I previously had a 4.5)
    Math Courses: Statistics, Business Statistics (same thing but with SAS and STATA), Econometrics, Calc 1.
    Taken subsequently online: Calc 1 (again), Calc 2, Discrete math. Plan to take online: Calc 3, Linear Algebra, Real Analysis, but unfortunately after applications are submitted. (Taking these regardless of graduate school prospects, mostly for my sanity of having an intellectual challenge as work is too banal)
    Econ Courses: Intro courses, Intermediate Micro, Intermediate Macro, Development Economics, Labor Economics, Finance Money and Banking, History of Economic Thought, Transition Economics (From Communism to Market Economies), Federal Reserve Challenge.
    Letters of Recommendation: Three professors from my undergraduate institution all do conduct research but none are particularly well renowned. Good relations with all of them, did well in all the classes I took with them, two actively encouraged me to look into academia.
    Research Experience: Limited to undergraduate senior thesis. I did create my own data set from historical souses if that counts for anything.
    Interests: Historical Economics, Development Economics, Behavior Economics, Labor Economics.

    My background: Basically I left undergrad about 70% sure I wanted to return to academia. Since I was not 100% sure, I have been working in the private sector at a law firm to pay off student loan debt. I have reached the conclusion that I do want to return, but I have found very little advice on my sort of situation. Most advice is geared towards current undergraduates.

    I do not believe I am bound for a top 10 program or a high level research position which is fine. I would like suggestions on the best way to go back to get the skills to try and get into that sort of program for someone contemplating a return to academia. I enjoy math, just never had the time to take it. Either way, I mostly just want the intellectual freedom, skills, and access to information that an academic position would allow for. So my questions are as follows:


    1. Does anything in my profile suggest I will be able to get into a good enough programs to subsequently receive any form of academic position?
    2. If yes I am interested in managing costs. How wide a net should I be casting for my applications? Currently I am aiming at applying to 15-20 programs.
    3. I can find plenty of information on general rankings, and especially on top ranked programs, but there is substantially less on mid ranked programs, or rankings broken out by specialty. Are there any vibrant programs in the areas I am interested in, in schools where I have a shot at getting in?


    I am not as of yet willing/able to just straight up leave my current job. That does make it difficult to acquire the kinds of math background I need outside of internet based courses. My hours are too long and variable to allow me to take even night courses.

    Backup plan is currently to still apply to some schools (mostly because my professors have already agreed to complete LOR and my pulling out now might burn bridges I need), but otherwise look at RA positions to get more practical background that I need.

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    Re: Last Minute Profile Assessment Managing Expectations and Costs

    Again, feel free to ignore my thoughts and apply anyways but this profile is unlikely to get an admit in a top 30 program. You only really have calc 1 as a math class. To be competitive for a top 30 program, you should at least have good grades up to calc 3 and linear algebra.

    Where are you taking those classes online? At the same school? The rank of the school matters when taking post-bacc classes.

    I recommend looking for RA positions and then to remedy your math background.

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    Re: Last Minute Profile Assessment Managing Expectations and Costs

    Quote Originally Posted by Zubrus View Post
    Again, feel free to ignore my thoughts and apply anyways but this profile is unlikely to get an admit in a top 30 program. You only really have calc 1 as a math class. To be competitive for a top 30 program, you should at least have good grades up to calc 3 and linear algebra.

    Where are you taking those classes online? At the same school? The rank of the school matters when taking post-bacc classes.

    I recommend looking for RA positions and then to remedy your math background.
    No I am not taking the courses at the same place I took my undergraduate courses. My school, despite being a state school, was small (~7,000 students). It does not have much offered online, and what it does have are mixed online and in person courses. That is not feasible on my current schedule since most courses were offered mid day.

    There is a highly limited selection of comprehensive online only programs in mathematics out there (far more professional MBA's). I have been taking them from Southern New Hampshire University, which is ok at best in rankings (low-mid).

    Should I assume from your response that I would need to get into a top 30 program to achieve my goals?

    What would be the best way to remedy my math background short of going back to school full time?

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    Re: Last Minute Profile Assessment Managing Expectations and Costs

    I think a Master's would be best if that's a possible option. If not, you can also work as a full time RA, as some positions provide tuition assistance and allow you to take classes while working for them.

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    Re: Last Minute Profile Assessment Managing Expectations and Costs

    Quote Originally Posted by mathenomics View Post
    I think a Master's would be best if that's a possible option. If not, you can also work as a full time RA, as some positions provide tuition assistance and allow you to take classes while working for them.
    A masters might be an option. I do have a few concerns from research I have done:

    1. They are focused on business not preparation for PhD's.
    2. Cost.
    3. Time - I would like to start an actual career at some point.

    Are there programs which focus specifically on preparation for PhD's to provide the math background I need? I am not sure how well I can turn around the application process I have already started to aim at a masters on short notice.

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    Re: Last Minute Profile Assessment Managing Expectations and Costs

    There are masters programs that are geared towards preparing students that are applying for PhD programs in economics. I'm sure other posters in this forum are aware of more programs than I am, but the ones I know are LSE (the econometrics and mathm. econ. program, as well as the MSc econ program), Masters at Duke, Columbia, and UT Austin.

    But yes, cost and time would be an issue. However, with regards to time, wouldn't you say that 1~2 years is worth an investment in order to have a higher chance at better PhD programs, which would also impact your career? It would obviously depend on personal preferences, where you would have to compare the cost of time (1~2 yrs) with the benefit of having an increased probability of acceptance into better programs.

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    Re: Last Minute Profile Assessment Managing Expectations and Costs

    There is no short fix of your profile to be competitive at a top 30. It will be very difficult to do it in a year.

    Again, feel free to ignore my response but I doubt you could get into a top 50 with this profile. You effectively have one math class. Taking those classes online will not do you much good (besides learning the material) when you apply.

    If a PhD is really something you want to do (at a top 30), you have to do serious investments in taking classes at credible places. You could also try to land an RAship somewhere and impress senior faculty.

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    Re: Last Minute Profile Assessment Managing Expectations and Costs

    Wouldn't there be significant improvements after completing a two-years Master's program? I mean, there are undergrads in the U.S. who build their profiles for three years before applying to PhD programs their senior year. Obviously it would be difficult to reach the same level, but I'm sure two years worth of full-time coursework (at a credible institution, taking rigorous courses) will still bring significant changes to anyone's transcript. Even for someone who has not had a chance to make preparations in their BA institutions, I personally think that a two-year Masters + a full-time RAship (ideally 2 yrs) would bring very significant improvements to anyone's application. Of course, one would have to be willing to make considerable time investments in order to do so, but this makes perfect sense considering that time not spent on PhD preparations during the BA degree must be made up at some point before applying for PhD programs.

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    Re: Last Minute Profile Assessment Managing Expectations and Costs

    Quote Originally Posted by Zubrus View Post
    There is no short fix of your profile to be competitive at a top 30. It will be very difficult to do it in a year.

    Again, feel free to ignore my response but I doubt you could get into a top 50 with this profile. You effectively have one math class. Taking those classes online will not do you much good (besides learning the material) when you apply.

    If a PhD is really something you want to do (at a top 30), you have to do serious investments in taking classes at credible places. You could also try to land an RAship somewhere and impress senior faculty.
    I do appreciate the candor of your advice. I have 7 application all only awaiting my statement of purpose so I will likely finish those. This is mostly because it would be rude to have asked my professors for LOR then not followed through on my end. I will immediately start looking into RA ship though. What are generally good souses for those? Should I just be looking around at universities in my area? I do not have the funds to relocate at present, but am at least in the greater NYC area which has a number of good research universities and the Federal Reserve both in Philly and NYC.

    Quote Originally Posted by mathenomics View Post
    There are masters programs that are geared towards preparing students that are applying for PhD programs in economics. I'm sure other posters in this forum are aware of more programs than I am, but the ones I know are LSE (the econometrics and mathm. econ. program, as well as the MSc econ program), Masters at Duke, Columbia, and UT Austin.

    But yes, cost and time would be an issue. However, with regards to time, wouldn't you say that 1~2 years is worth an investment in order to have a higher chance at better PhD programs, which would also impact your career? It would obviously depend on personal preferences, where you would have to compare the cost of time (1~2 yrs) with the benefit of having an increased probability of acceptance into better programs.
    I looked at the masters programs. The going rate seems to be between 25k and 30 k per semester, or 100k to 120k in total, added to which is room and board. The time I am willing to expend, it will be spent doing something interesting at least. However, financially that is quite an expense. It would necessitate more student loans just as I paid off my current set and am looking to become independent. I will also need to leave my current job which sucks up 50-60 hours a week but is a souse of income to pay said loans. (I was looking to have the next step lined up and quite without burning any bridges there, but that seems difficult now). While I know it is an investment which could increase my earning potential it is still a difficult decision to make.

    I will probably attempt to become an RA at a quality institution first and see if I can take classes on the side from there.

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    Re: Last Minute Profile Assessment Managing Expectations and Costs

    I think the point that your math background is currently insufficient to be accepted into an econ PhD has been adequately made, so I won't focus on that. However, it's also important to note that math preparation isn't just used as a signaling tool for ad coms, it's absolutely required to make it through the first year sequence.

    But I digress; what I wanted to mention is that there do exist funded masters programs in economics. I had no undergraduate econ background (pure math major), so I did an MA in Econ at an unprestigious state school. I was fully funded (full tuition remission and ~$20k stipend) as as an RA so this allowed me to both get research experience and take the required economics courses. Typically, universities which have masters, but no PhD program in econ will be the ones at which you might receive funding as an RA or TA.

    Despite the lack of prestige of both my undergraduate and masters institutions I did get offers from schools ranked around 30 when I applied last year. The MA programs others have mentioned (Duke, UT Austin, etc) are certainly the premier MAs when it comes to PhD prep, but an MA from a less prestigious university can still help you achieve your goals provided you aren't shooting for top PhDs. Like you, there was no way I could self fund a masters, so this was the best solution in my case. The conventional wisdom on this site is that an MA degree from the US which is not from one of the select universities mentioned is useless in PhD admission; I did not find this to be the case. In my first year PhD cohort, there is another student with an MA from UT Austin, and we both ended up at the same PhD program in the end!

    In my MA, I was required to take only 5 core economics courses and was allowed to take my electives in the economics, math and statistics departments; I used them to fill in my stats background which was also lacking. So, this could be a way to fill in your missing math classes. A caveat is that your tuition remission may not cover classes like Calc 2 and Linear Algebra (which are likely 200 level undergraduate classes), so that is something you'd have to look in to.

    Anyway, something to think about if you are still interested in possibly pursuing a masters.

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