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Thread: Starting from scratch and applying to PhD -- will this plan work?

  1. #1
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    Question Starting from scratch and applying to PhD -- will this plan work?

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    Background / profile:
    -Graduated from top-ranked public undergrad with 3.6 GPA in humanities major with no STEM / econ coursework other than GEs
    -After working in government post-grad and learning coding and some math, interested in econ PhD and working in government, the fed, doing policy research, etc (not teaching / academia). I know a masters is easier but from my experience in the industry I want to work in, people with the jobs I want have PhDs.

    My plan:
    -Take math courses (full calculus sequence, linear algebra, discrete math) and econ (micro / macro) at community college
    -Get a very high GRE, especially in quant. (If I canít do this, probably a good sign to do something else)
    -Do an online (so I can work and move) masters of science in econ from a school with a thesis option and econometrics focus (North Dakota, Purdue, etc). This is to get some research published and receive letters from econ professors that went to reputable schools for their PhDs
    -Take advanced math courses (probability, mathematical statistics, real analysis) at some nearby in-person university as post-bacc
    -Apply to a variety of PhD programs (not picky, not sure what's realistic but preferably in the 20-60th range)

    Is this stupid, or actually effective? What is the least realistic part of this plan? Iím somewhat unsure about the online aspect of the masters, but I figured since PhD programs mostly care about letters and grades in hard math classes it doesnít make a huge difference? Obviously this is a very very long-term plan spanning 3-4 years or so before I apply, but that's fine by me.

    Tl;dr: Humanities major plan to get into PhD: math classes->online econ MS->more math classes->apply

    Thank you all so much for any advice you can give!

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    Re: Starting from scratch and applying to PhD -- will this plan work?

    The thing is, this should work, but it likely won't.

    You'll find that doing well in courses and research while also working is not feasible in 3 to 4 years, maybe you could do it in 5 or 6 years. Even then, you'll find community college classes and an online master's will be discounted. You'll also find that the instructors in these online classes might be grad students or not active researchers, meaning their letters are not very valuable.

    If your goals do not include academia, you might find that doing an MPP (in person, not online) and then a PhD in Public Policy can get you where you want to go at much lower cost.

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    Re: Starting from scratch and applying to PhD -- will this plan work?

    tm_master is giving good advice, especially about how long it might take.

    There's nothing wrong with picking up the lower level math courses at a community college, so long as you are sure that the level of rigor is comparable to what you'd get at a good research university. The online masters is not likely to have a lot of value. The one thing it might do is demonstrate that you've had basic econ classes. But those might be just as easy to pick up just a few of as a post-bacc.

    Do not expect to publish research before entering a PhD program.

    Also, I have to ask, do you know enough about what getting an econ PhD is like to know that you really want to do this?

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    Re: Starting from scratch and applying to PhD -- will this plan work?

    Quote Originally Posted by tm_member View Post
    The thing is, this should work, but it likely won't.

    You'll find that doing well in courses and research while also working is not feasible in 3 to 4 years, maybe you could do it in 5 or 6 years. Even then, you'll find community college classes and an online master's will be discounted. You'll also find that the instructors in these online classes might be grad students or not active researchers, meaning their letters are not very valuable.

    If your goals do not include academia, you might find that doing an MPP (in person, not online) and then a PhD in Public Policy can get you where you want to go at much lower cost.
    This is very sobering and helpful! I'll definitely explore public policy as well, but I'm not sure it would be a much lower cost considering that those masters are often fairly expensive. You're right that this is a very long plan though, and that work and a masters would be difficult. From what I've read, some people have done well in the Purdue / ND type masters programs while working, but regardless I should re-calibrate my expectations regarding research (the masters coursework alone would full my schedule). That's a helpful point regarding the letters. I'll speak to others who have done those masters to see who actually teaches the courses, otherwise it would indeed be a total waste.

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    Re: Starting from scratch and applying to PhD -- will this plan work?

    Quote Originally Posted by startz View Post
    tm_master is giving good advice, especially about how long it might take.

    There's nothing wrong with picking up the lower level math courses at a community college, so long as you are sure that the level of rigor is comparable to what you'd get at a good research university. The online masters is not likely to have a lot of value. The one thing it might do is demonstrate that you've had basic econ classes. But those might be just as easy to pick up just a few of as a post-bacc.

    Do not expect to publish research before entering a PhD program.

    Also, I have to ask, do you know enough about what getting an econ PhD is like to know that you really want to do this?
    Yes, I'm realizing that post-bacc coursework might be able to take the place of an entire masters, so that's definitely something to look into. Do you think that the thesis I could complete at those masters programs might be valuable, even if the masters itself is not? I thought having done some research was key for PhD admissions, but from what you're implying it seems like a good GRE, relevant math, and good letters is sufficient?

    You are 100% correct that I might not want to do this in the end, but I know that I want to work in a technical and analysis-driven field with relevance for government and economic policy. Given that goal, my thinking is that all the steps I do before the PhD should both inform whether or not I want to do it and build my technical/analysis skills even if I decide to not do it. For now, though, the econ PhD seems pretty unique and most of the people that do the work that is most interesting to me either did that or a CS/math type of advanced degree.

    Thanks for the feedback!

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    Re: Starting from scratch and applying to PhD -- will this plan work?

    Quote Originally Posted by Scratch View Post
    Yes, I'm realizing that post-bacc coursework might be able to take the place of an entire masters, so that's definitely something to look into. Do you think that the thesis I could complete at those masters programs might be valuable, even if the masters itself is not? I thought having done some research was key for PhD admissions, but from what you're implying it seems like a good GRE, relevant math, and good letters is sufficient?

    You are 100% correct that I might not want to do this in the end, but I know that I want to work in a technical and analysis-driven field with relevance for government and economic policy. Given that goal, my thinking is that all the steps I do before the PhD should both inform whether or not I want to do it and build my technical/analysis skills even if I decide to not do it. For now, though, the econ PhD seems pretty unique and most of the people that do the work that is most interesting to me either did that or a CS/math type of advanced degree.

    Thanks for the feedback!
    Having some research experience is valuable--doing independent research is rather rare.

    Since you have some coding skills and some experience working in a research team, you might want to consider doing an econ pre-doc. This has become an important avenue into grad school. Think about taking a few math/econ courses over the coming year and then looking for a pre-doc. (You should learn Stata is you don[t already know it and maybe R or Python.)

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