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Thread: Transition to Economics from CS&Maths Undergrad?

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    Transition to Economics from CS&Maths Undergrad?

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    Hi guys,

    I'm currently an undergraduate student at Oxbridge, studying CS & Maths.

    Recently, after doing a research project in game theory, I have been reading various texts and taking online courses (MIT OCW, etc.) in economics, and I'm finding it extremely interesting so far. I might be thinking too many steps ahead, but I would like to make a transition to economics; I would like to continue on to a PhD program, preferably in the US (I always wanted to take on postgraduate studies, it feels like economics is the one).

    I've come to know that a lot of programs look favourably upon students with heavy maths and programming background, but also that they expect at least some previous exposure to economics at the undergraduate level. Yet, as I'm studying in the UK, I'm only doing courses in maths and computer science, and quite likely that I will need to do a masters degree to match that expectation.

    I have been more or less in the top 15-20% of my cohort (trying to get those up), and my coursework includes (this list could get much longer if I continue on to 4th year):

    (Maths) Linear Algebra, Groups, Real Analysis, 2 years of Probability Theory, Multivariable Calculus, Differential Equations (ODEs and PDEs), Complex Analysis, Topology, Statistics, Functional Analysis, Probability and Measure, Stochastic Calculus, Dynamical Systems, Differential Geometry and more

    (CompSci) Object Oriented Programming, 2 years of Algorithms, Computational Complexity, Machine Learning, Computational Game Theory, and more (I cut down some courses rather irrelevant)

    What would be some possible pathways for me to get into Top Econ PhD programs? Should I do a masters degree in economics (e.g. LSE EME, Cambridge Diploma then MPhil)? Or does anyone have other suggestions? Realistically speaking, what would be my chances?

    Thank you everyone! I would hugely appreciate any advice.

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    Re: Transition to Economics from CS&Maths Undergrad?

    For your circumstances I would recommend a master degree since you didn't take Econ courses before. But just according to my experience, unless you are extremely good at your courses during your master education, RA experience is also necessary if you want to get into one of the top schools in the US. Regarding your chances, that depends on how well you do in your Econ courses and your research experience.
    I think more than half of the applicants in the top 5 programs have a math double major (I saw once a prospective student fly out list from one of the top 5 schools, approximately 60 percent of them has math double major. Some of them indicate they only have math degree. But I happen to know one of them, his school offers a math degree combined with Econ courses. He actually has taken many Econ courses and got letters from all Econ professors. ). Your math and cs background does help, but it doesn't stand out that much compared to other applicants applying to the top programs. Also rec letter from a math or CS professor doesn't help much. It's best for you to get rec letters from all Econ professors. So definitely more Econ courses and research experience.
    As for master degree, EME is obviously the best. But the competition is really intense. I know about half of the cohort drop out and choose to do the regular Econ master. Definitely be prepared for that. If you are willing to consider master degrees overseas, Chicago has probably the top Econ master programs compared to other programs in the US. People do complain about their course structure but you get the chance to work for top professors in Econ which puts you in a way much more advantage position once you applied to Econ phd. There are also some other very good programs in Europe. Wouldn't recommend other Econ masters in the US other than Chicago though.

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    Re: Transition to Economics from CS&Maths Undergrad?

    Worth noting: a lot of really interesting work in game theory is actually being done by computer scientists. See Noam Nisan, Tim Roughgarden, David Parkes, etc. Also Google "algorithmic game theory pdf" for a very exhaustive (if dated) reference. If that's your field of interest, you could go far by just doing a CS PhD. CS PhDs are also quite decentralized so if you studied in e.g. Harvard's EconCS group you could do a lot of the work you want to do and not a lot of the work you're not interested in.

    From econ perspective though, your math background is excellent, but you almost certainly have to have more econ, probably a masters. For example, MIT's website says "it would be extremely unusual for us to admit someone who had not studied intermediate microeconomics". Recommendations, as magicahan points out, also need to be from economists.

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    Re: Transition to Economics from CS&Maths Undergrad?

    You have enough math to be able to get into LSE's EME. That would be the best path forward. You can also apply to both the MPhils in Oxbridge. You might gain entry into them, by virtue of being a current student (i.e. your letter writers can help nudge things in the right direction).

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