There is no reason for you to get an MA. Doing a pre-doc would be valuable.
As an undergraduate student graduating 2021 and applying in fall 2020, I am still struggling between several choices: either applying to a PhD program directly, or applying to a MA program at first, or applying to a full-time RA position to strengthen my profile. Therefore, I really appreciate any feedback from you so that I can understand better and make clearer decision.
Undergraduate Degree: BAs in Economics, Mathematics, and International Studies from a 30-40 ranked private research university
Undergraduate GPA: 3.96/4.0
GRE: Q 169 V 164 AW 4.5
Math Courses: Calculus (A), Linear Algebra (A), Differential Equation (A), Probability (A), Statistics (A), Introduction to Proof (A). Plan to take Real Analysis in my Senior year.
Econ Courses: Industrial Organization (A), Econometrics (A), Grad Antitrust Economics (A)
Related Experience: I believe this is my weakest part since I did not RA for any professor. I only TAed Econometrics.
Letter of Recommendation: Not secured yet. I believe I can get one from the chair of the Econ department who taught me Econometrics, another from the professor that I TAed for, the last one probably from a professor who taught me Chinese Economy.
Research Interest: Not sure yet. I am interested in Econometrics and Antitrust or Industrial Organization.
My biggest concern is that my research experience is not strong. I was more inclined to find a job and apply to a PhD after working for a couple of years so my summer experiences were internships rather than research. However, the current situation interrupted my plan.
I'd highly suggest trying to do a stint as an RA at your university and/or an independent thesis if that's not too late. It is certainly more difficult to get a predoctoral RA position without some research experience (or at least proficiency in a statistical package or programming language like R, Stata, Python, etc.) It's also very important to note - you should be getting an Economics PhD not because you enjoy the coursework, but because you want to be a researcher. It's hard to know you want that without any experience in research. Also note that in PhD programs, your goal is to produce research (coursework is just your toolkit), and you are your own RA.
I do expect the upcoming cycle to be more competitive due to some schools having deferrals, and schools having smaller budgets. An RAship or some time to work in economics research is certainly worthwhile.
Pre-doctoral RAships at universities, NBER, etc. will typically look more heavily at your research and programming experience as opposed to an RA position at the Fed. Something to keep in mind. Feel free to reach out if you have more questions.
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