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Thread: The Truth About Top 10 Admissions

  1. #11
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    Re: The Truth About Top 10 Admissions

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    Edit: on second thought, I'll just comment by saying that OP is very provocative here and that we should all dwell/reflect on what they're saying. There's a lot to disagree with as far as their prescriptions go but their characterizations are basically accurate, even if overstated.
    Last edited by TheDeadFlagBlue; 07-16-2019 at 06:52 PM.

  2. #12
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    Re: The Truth About Top 10 Admissions

    I think the OP overstated the case considerably, the fact is that it is very unusual for someone from an unranked school to get into a top program. In the one year of data I have, the number of students who did their BA at an unranked American school and subsequently graduated from a top 15 program was ZERO.
    Last edited by startz; 07-17-2019 at 03:00 PM. Reason: Changed because post responded to was changed.

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    Re: The Truth About Top 10 Admissions

    Quote Originally Posted by startz View Post
    First, while I think the OP overstated the case considerably, the fact is that it is very unusual for someone from an unranked school to get into a top program. In the one year of data I have, the number of students who did their BA at an unranked American school and subsequently graduated from a top 15 program was ZERO.

    Second, while there is nothing wrong with making strong statements, most contributors here go out of their way to avoid personal insults.
    This post has been redacted.
    Last edited by TheDeadFlagBlue; 07-22-2019 at 02:23 PM.

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    Re: The Truth About Top 10 Admissions

    This post has also been redacted.
    Last edited by TheDeadFlagBlue; 07-22-2019 at 02:20 PM.

  5. #15
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    Re: The Truth About Top 10 Admissions

    Quote Originally Posted by startz View Post
    I think the OP overstated the case considerably, the fact is that it is very unusual for someone from an unranked school to get into a top program. In the one year of data I have, the number of students who did their BA at an unranked American school and subsequently graduated from a top 15 program was ZERO.
    I feel that it is always better to overstate the difficulty rather than to sell false hope. The point is, barring any extraordinary circumstances (such as having an MA from a top school, a full-time RA stint, an NSF award, a Rhodes Scholarship etc), it is unusual for someone from an unranked or lowly ranked undergrad to be admitted to a top program.

    In 2018, Harvard's JMC (who did Economics and Business Economics) went to Swarthmore, Berkeley (4), Queen's University, Stanford (2), Columbia, Yale (2), Sydney, Tel-Aviv, Harvard (3), Pomona, Chicago, Bocconi, Georgetown, MIT (2), Hebrew University, UPF-BGSE, Macalester College and Michigan.

    Since foreigners fall in a different application pool, let's drop the foreign universities. It's important to note that these are top (elite) foreign universities in their respective countries, and successful candidates are often ranked 1st or near to 1st.

    Swarthmore graduate was a two-year RA at the NY Fed. Macalester graduate worked for Gentzkow and Shapiro for two years. Michigan was JPAL for a year, Columbia Business School RA for a year, and studied medicine in Peking.

    The only non-elite admits left without a full-time RA stint are Pomona and Georgetown, both are still reasonably prestigious.

    I still believe good extra-curricular experience (RA) or further study (MA/MS) can compensate for a weak undergraduate pedigree. Since letters are most important, it only matters that you get them. The point I've made is the median student from an unranked state college who applies directly from undergrad will not usually have access to letters from well-credentialed economists.

    With this information in hand, you decide whether it is justified to spend the money on sending an application to Harvard/MIT given your profile, or would it be better spent on a good meal.
    S.B Mathematics and Political Science, MIT; PhD Economics, MIT

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    Re: The Truth About Top 10 Admissions

    I think I would like to elaborate on a couple more points, in-line with the spirit of masstech's comments. If you trying to become an RA to boost your profile pick your program/advisor carefully: Often, people neglect to choose their RA advisors as carefully as they would pick PhD advisors thinking that as long as their advisors are at a top 10 school they should be fine. This is NOT fine.

    Firstly, try to pick projects which you have some baseline interest in. No brainer. This would allow you to be actually passionate about the work you do and would make a good impression. As a corollary, don't just fire off hundreds of applications to every posting on the NBER RA page. I know the marginal cost appears to be negligible but you do not want to end up at a position where your interests don't align with your advisors. I had such a position at a school and then moved to another school because of I thought I could make better contributions in a different field.

    Secondly, try to evaluate the placements of your advisor's previous RAs. This is often highly correlated with how willing these professors are to leverage their connections to help you. Some professors don't care about placements in any shape or form and just want your labour. Some professors care about the placements of their PhD students but don't really think about their RAs. Some professors work really hard to place their RAs (Chetty, Gentskow/Shapiro are obvious examples but there are less famous examples like Zack Cooper, Johannes Stroebel).

    Three, try to join one of those structured predoctoral fellowships if you can. These include Opportunity Insights (probably the most selective), Stanford (SIEPR), MIT (SEII), Yale (Tobin), Chicago (EPIC, Heckman) etc. These are either big, well organized labs, or are formal programs (with coursework requirements etc) in which the sponsoring departments have a vested interest in making good placements. You have often get the added benefit of dedicated program director who can help with admissions advice. Of course, within these fellowships you should try to pick topics in your interest area (see point above).

    Four, take graduate core courses if you can, although you should have a precise prior about your own abilities vis-a-vis the incoming class. Unlike excelling in, say, a real analysis class as an undergraduate, here the objective is to be better than other students. Obviously, this is really hard to know ex-ante so just ask your advisors once you get there.

    Lastly, try to avoid RA programs where you will not be close to your PI a. la JPAL/EPoD UNLESS that PI is well known for helping their RAs place well (I have heard Rohini Pande is a good "distance PI").

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    Re: The Truth About Top 10 Admissions

    Another thing that I forgot to add was that you should try to find projects where your would have an absolute advantage —vis-a-vis a comparative advantage— in some aspect of the project. Now be careful because the average research economist is going to be better than you at almost all parts of the project they work on; they just choose to outsource some tasks because there are usually better uses of their time. But some of the newer projects require skills that many economists don’t possess, particularly in relation to management of large relational databases, running code on distributed clusters (many universities have Hadoop/Spark crash courses offered by the HPC people), applying machine learning techniques. On the last point, many economists are familiar with machine learning in the perspective of an econometrician and generally think of them as a class of estimators that do well as out of sample predictors. As such, they’d be familiar with machine learning in the context of inference (so things like double selection Lasso.) However, many would not know how to use specific tools well known in the ML community such as convolutional neural networks (or would not be familiar with the standard frameworks that implement them). I know someone whose choice of machine learning method helped improve the power of his PI’s instruments enough to get his name on the paper, and himself into a top 5 program. Obviously, economists are savvy people so this gap will quickly closed (and many top economists are already pretty well informed on these subjects) so better hurry and grab these opportunities as they come up!

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