Given that you've yet to begin the programme, whatever spare time you think you might have, is better spent ensuring you get A/A+ in all your courses.
I'm hoping to start my MA in Economics next fall (2020) at the University of Hawaii, but really want to get another graduate degree from Harvard Extension School during my spare time to beef up my qualifications, and wanted to see what you guys thought, if I should choose (a) International Relations, or (b) Data Science. To me, data science seems redundant from what I learn in the economics curriculum, and maybe not as useful as a background in international relations, particularly since my research interests are either policy-related or international in scope. What do you think I should pursue?
Let me be completely honest. You are severely delaying your human capital for things that are not going to make one bit of a difference. I am sure you know that one harvard class costs around 6k. Harvard extension school will not give you any prestige. Why not apply to masters in europe and start right away? For example you could apply to Bonn (which is tuition free) and use the harvard extension school money for rent. This is just one example to help you reconsider your options; because it is very very unlikely you will get into any top program from university of hawaii.
From my experience so far, it does not seem to me that there is any additional prestige gained from having additional degrees. I think the traditional wisdom, that additional degrees should only be used to erase bad undergrad performance, is the correct wisdom. Economists highly discount non-economics degrees (except for maybe engineering or math, but these aren't usually seen as better than econ degrees). I would suggest using spare time and money doing RA work or, if your interest lies in policy, doing an internship at some policy oriented institution (this will not make you more competitive for a PhD, but it will help you get a policy job that does not require a PhD should you decide to stop after the master's).
Second, serious data science is not at all redundant with economics.
Third, you've said elsewhere that you are planning on taking extensive math courses. If you're planning on applying to another economics PhD program, put your time into those courses rather than spreading yourself thin.
Thank you all...
tutonic: that's good wisdom, that is my foremost goal through the whole master's degree, and I was only going to start the other graduate degree (whatever it may be) after my first 2 years of the master's (I plan to do 3 years and the last year will be light for the U. of Hawaii part of my plan)
Bayes: one graduate HES class is actually <$2900 and the entire degree would cost $35k in today's terms (not accounting for tuition hikes) so that's another reason why I won't even start until my 3rd year of the master's at u. of hawaii if I happen to be successful with my side jobs (realtor, insurance agent, proofreader). I'm not reconsidering the master's at hawaii due to many reasons including bang for the buck and I doubt that I would be accepted at Bonn so this is me doing what I can. I figure exposure to Harvard (live there for a year after my hawaii master's and fulfill their on campus requirement) can only help me if I can afford to pay, and international relations is probably an easier nut to crack than data science so I'd feel more confident about taking on additional work. Also to beef up my application I'm hoping to do a predoc RAship (aiming for SIEPR but will see what happens there) so I can have letters from Stanford potentially.
laborsabre: I was also looking at Columbia's online applied math degree from their engineering school but figured it had very little to do with economics so it would be a complete waste of time and money, am I wrong? Also it costs more than $76k which is nuts. I'm pretty set on the econ phd and don't need an internship in policy, would rather travel to conferences and present my research ideas (of which I currently have 5 working papers to develop more in the coming year or two). My undergrad performance in grad courses wasn't stellar, so I think more courses with A grades would help tremendously in the long run.
startz: Yes I'm actually preparing for my hawaii master's econ and math courses right now during my spare time (outside of work... sometimes during...) so hopefully those bodies of knowledge will be squared away and I'd have time to do additional relevant work in three years' time. I know how important it is to get top grades so I'm intentionally pacing myself kind of slow and taking 3 years to do my master's degree, but don't want to just stop there knowing that I won't get into a top school by just sitting and doing nothing else when I can be proactive and productive.
Dogbones, I certainly appreciate your enthusiasm and will to become an Economist; that is a good thing! But let me be a bit more frank, life does not plan out like that and Im afraid your plan is just delusional. Make no mistake, becoming an Economist is certainly not delusional and with such a desire you can certainly become one. But realize that top 10 program admissions (even top 20-30 for that matter) are just a whole another animal. You are young (I am young), I get it, we want to go to the best program as possible but that should NOT be at the cost of what you are referring to with such minimal returns. Life is full of chaos and surprises. In a given year one might be healthy but then another year one might experience a misfortune whether health, family or other problems which requires the use of collected such funds. Dismissing such random noise and planning out how you will pay 40k+ whilst 'maybe' making connections is just not a healthy mindset; you should not be so obsessed. Your obsession (if it is for the love of economics and not prestige) should be saved for research or you will certainly go downhill with this mindset.
Why would you spend 3 years at a masters? Even if you were to take PhD course as part of your masters programme, it should only take 2 years max. It literally says that in your programme webpage. That 3rd year is better spent being a full-time RA.
From simply glancing through the programme webpage, it appears that you are able to take core courses as part of your masters. I can assure you that you will most definitely won't have any spare time to do anything else, if you're doing the core courses (which you should), especially since this will be the first time you're seeing the material.Students who satisfy all prerequisites and who can follow a prescribed schedule can finish the program in 18-24 months
Non-econ graduate qualifications are useless for admissions, unless if they're in math and you have a deficiency in math prep; even then, you only need a couple classes, and not the full qualification.
The top pre-docs have hundreds of applicants each year. Your experience being a full-time RA (in your hypothetical 3rd year) will benefit you more than all the other options listed above.
Lastly, there is a difference between a work-in-progress and a working paper. The former refers to a somewhat fleshed-out idea while the latter refers to an idea that has been penned into an actual paper, albeit one that still requires polishing.
Edit: Echoing what Bayes mentioned above, you need to be cognizant of how competitive top 20 admissions really is. Look through the past Profile and Results pages of the past few years and you'll see that even some stellar students can't break into Top 20.
My comment about the math/engineering MAs was more to say that people with those degrees get into econ PhD programs (I know several in my program). So the skills you learn in those programs help. But I would almost never recommend someone go out of there way to get those degrees when you can just go get an econ MA (like you are doing). A good analogy is this: imagine you want to learn Chinese. People find it easier to learn Chinese after first learning another East Asian language (like Japanese). This does not mean that one should go learn Japanese first when an introductory Chinese course is available.
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