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Thread: Would full-time RA improve my chance of going to a top program?

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    Would full-time RA improve my chance of going to a top program?

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    Hi I am an undergraduate senior. Because I decided to apply for a PhD not long ago, I wonder what I should be doing now to improve my chance of going to a solid program. I don't think I am well prepared given my profile.

    Type of undegrad: formerly US news Top 20, later transferred to US news Top 10 (Econ dept ranked top 20)

    GPA: 4.0 at previous college, 3.925 in the current college (2 A-s)

    Math: Calc I and Calc II (A), Linear Algebra (A-), Multicalc (A+), Real Analysis (this coming fall), Probability and Stats (at previous college, A), Probability in current college (Currently taking, didn't do well, expecting a B+ or A-).

    (Meanwhile, I am planning to take Math stats and dynamic programming in my last semester)

    Econ: Intro Micro (A), Intro Macro (A), Metrics (A), Intermediate Micro (A), Intermediate Micro II (Math based, A), Intermediate Macro (A), graduate policy analysis course (A), graduate special topic research capstone course (A).

    (Will take graduate metrics, micro and time series this fall.)

    Research experience
    : produced a paper in the research capstone course, attended a few conferences. Just started working as a RA this summer and probably would extend this job to the end of next semester. Will right an honor thesis this senior fall.

    So in general I feel like I didn't prepare myself well for applying to PhD yet. I wonder if working one or two years as an RA would give me enough time to take important math and stats class and enrich my background. Or should I go for a master?

    Thank you!

  2. #2
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    Re: Would full-time RA improve my chance of going to a top program?

    Quote Originally Posted by yumioyang View Post
    So in general I feel like I didn't prepare myself well for applying to PhD yet. I wonder if working one or two years as an RA would give me enough time to take important math and stats class and enrich my background. Or should I go for a master?
    Seems like you answered your own question here, but I'll add a couple comments.

    Generally speaking, a full-time RA job will help applicants at every caliber mainly because it helps them secure one very strong letter from an economist who regularly places students into PhD programs (yes, it'll help even the perfect cookie cutter ones with 3.95 GPA's and undergrad RA experience). This is what most American applicants do. You can take courses for credit while working as a RA, but remember that your job is your primary responsibility- this means that you probably won't have time to take more than 1 per semester (from personal experience).

    An MA degree will certainly help applicants who need additional coursework in math/stats/grad econ classes. It can also help you get additional letters through coursework and your thesis, if you have the option to write one. In terms of whether you have "enough" coursework, you're probably better off asking faculty at your school for advice. They're the ones who have experience placing students from your school into PhD programs. For what it's worth, here's a N=1 sample: I know someone who went to your school, had a similar profile (assuming you do well in grad micro and metrics), and placed into a top 5 department. Probably a good idea to increase your sample size to get a more wholistic picture.

    Before deciding whether taking a gap year is even a good idea or not, you should ask yourself these questions: (1) Are you dead-set on an economics PhD program? Your background is very attractive to a lot of employers who can offer interesting jobs and high pay. (2) Do your professors think your coursework is strong enough, relative to other students they've placed into PhD programs? (3) Do you have three economists who can write you strong letters? (4) If the answer is "no" to 2 or 3, am I certain enough about this PhD-path to spend a couple extra years just for admissions? If not, you should reconsider taking a gap year, or maybe that full time RA job is not a bad idea- you're paid $40-55k a year while figuring out what you want out of life and whether this is the right path for you (arguably the most underestimated benefit of an RA-ship). The only downside is that they're extremely competitive, but I think you have a good chance considering your background.

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    Re: Would full-time RA improve my chance of going to a top program?

    Yep, seems like 1-2 years as full time RA is the best option.

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    1 out of 1 members found this post helpful. Good post? Yes | No

    Re: Would full-time RA improve my chance of going to a top program?

    You donít need a Masters. Youíll have had enough econ coursework so that better rec letters and research experience will help more. Also, Iíd be cautious about taking Micro, Macro and Real Analysis in the same semester.

    I also sent you a private message.

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