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Thread: Early Profile Review & Math Course Advice

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    Question Early Profile Review & Math Course Advice

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    I'm a year out of undergrad and am just starting to think about the process of applying for an econ PhD. I'm feeling a little overwhelmed and unsure on my chances so I'm hoping to post here to get some advice. A brief profile and questions are below...

    I graduated with a BA in econ from a small, no-name liberal arts school. 3.7 GPA overall. I haven't taken the GRE yet so no scores there. All A's in my econ classes (including econometrics) besides intermediate micro (B+) and one econ elective (B+ as well). Math courses include calc I & II and stats. A's in all three. I had very close relationships with my econ professors to have solid recommendation letters, however none of them are by any means famous in their field.

    I have two main questions/concerns. The first...will coming from a school with no reputation hurt? I suppose there's nothing I can do about this now, but just so I'm prepared.
    Second, I realize I'm lacking quite a bit in math courses. What should I do to supplement this? Should I be looking to get a masters first? If so, in what (I likely won't get into a stats program because of my lack of undergrad math). Should I just take grad level math courses that PhD programs recommend?

    I definitely want to note that I'm not aiming to get into the Harvards of PhD programs. I love research and data and I think a PhD in this field would set me up for a career I love. Any advice?

    Thank you so much!

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    Re: Early Profile Review & Math Course Advice

    Coming from an unranked school probably doesn't help (I'm in a similar situation, but my school is a state university with a PhD and research program so a bit different).

    Others can correct me if I'm wrong but given your grades, lack of math background, and school, I don't think a PhD is the next step. I think you'd be served well by a year in a research position (get some programming experience/proficiency) and some undergraduate math classes such as Calculus III & Linear Algebra (Analysis and Probability Theory would help as well). You've never taken a proof-based or abstract mathematics course so a grad level math course is not a good idea. I'm guessing your next step would be an MA program in Economics.

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    Re: Early Profile Review & Math Course Advice

    Does your liberal arts school have a graduate program? Could you easily commute to a grad program near your home, or would you even be willing to relocate (expensive but a great life experience!)?

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    Re: Early Profile Review & Math Course Advice

    No-name liberal arts does unfortunately hurt, both because it acts as a signal of the rigor of courses you've taken and because your profs are unlikely to be well recognized or have many connections among the admissions committees at PhD programs you might apply to.

    I do think you have work to do before applying, unless you're okay aiming pretty far down the rankings list (80-100, maybe? I'm not sure here).

    Unless you simply didn't mention it, one obvious area of concern is lack of research experience. Have you worked as a research assistant with one of your profs? Did you write a thesis? Did you write an applied research paper for any of your classes? This is just as important as adding obvious math classes like Calc III and Linear Algebra, if not more so.

    Econ MA is certainly an option, if you can afford it. I believe you can take your missing math courses there as well. But you'll want to scope out course materials ahead of time to the extent possible, as you may have a very hard time with the econ material without having the proper math background to start. In that sense, maybe a math/stats MS that allows you to take the obvious classes (Calc III, Linear, Real Analysis, something in Probability and Statistics at the level of advanced undergrad or early grad) would be worthwhile. In any of these, consider trying to work with a prof on research over summer/winter, and then including the prof you work for in your set of PhD rec letters.

    You could alternatively consider applying to full time research assistant jobs. I doubt your profile will be competitive at the more prestigious spots (NBER & profs hiring in top 10ish departments). It might be tough also to get recognized in the pool of applications at the Fed branches, but you can certainly try your luck there. You might try various think tanks (Mathematica, Urban, Brookings, etc etc). The more well known of these may still be somewhat tough to break into, but possible. There are many more out there besides the top names which could also be worthwhile. This sort of route has many benefits: (1) you make money, rather than paying it; (2) you strongly remedy the lack of research experience, and gain very useful rec letters from your boss(es) who directly observe your research work and testify to it; (3) often, these places will have tuition reimbursement programs, so you can take individual courses at universities offering that sort of setup and get reimbursed; (4) there's also more flexibility here if you decide a PhD isn't for you, in that these jobs will also be useful in getting you to a next step in industry, whereas it's less clear an econ MA would do as much for you there.

    You should discuss these sort of options with folks who know your situation a bit better as well. Try reaching out to your profs to talk. Ask about previous students from your school who have pursued PhD's.

    Also, if you do try to take one-off courses, I highly recommend Harvard Extension School's Math 23A, Linear Algebra and Real Analysis. This course is *hard*, so be sure you're prepared to do well in it (many course materials are online including section lecture videos on youtube). But it seems to be well received by PhD admissions committees, it's not terribly expensive, and it hits basically all of your missing math in one class (it covers linear algebra, multivariate differentiation, and real analysis).

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    Re: Early Profile Review & Math Course Advice

    jjrouseau gives good advice here, but let me add one more piece.

    Undergraduate economics is far removed from graduate training and from doing academic research. A first step is to take more serious math courses to see if you like them. (If you don't graduate economics might not be for you.) Similarly, RA jobs will help you find out whether you really like economics research.

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