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Re: Would full-time RA improve my chance of going to a top program?
Seems like you answered your own question here, but I'll add a couple comments.
Originally Posted by yumioyang
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.