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Thread: Public Policy vs Econ

  1. #1
    Trying to make mom and pop proud
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    Public Policy vs Econ

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    The end of undergrad is rapidly approaching for me and this means that I now need to actually figure out what I want to do with myself. So far I've been involved with the economics department at my school (T20 Econ T10 PPol) and have been able to get a bit of research experience under my belt along with the expected math/econ courses as well as another major in philosophy, though I realize that will mean very little its just something I enjoy. I've been looking a lot into the paths required to end up at a good Econ grad program however I have lately been much more interested in public policy for various reasons.
    I was wondering what the main functional differences in the programs would be between Econ and PPol (also potentially Political Econ) and if one is typically easier to get into e.g HKS vs Harvard Econ. In terms of placements I see that some of the top PPol programs have sent people to top tier Econ departments and I was wondering how realistic of a path that is. Would my econ background help because it shows I have the ability to do relatively quantitative research or would it hurt since it seems I'm not focused on policy? Also, any tips on how I would go about deciding which is right for me?

  2. #2
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    Re: Public Policy vs Econ

    There's more diversity in public policy programs. Some can be fairly similar to economics programs (i.e. Harvard, Chicago, and Michigan); some have a quite different focus.

    It is generally easier to get into the public policy programs at Harvard, Chicago, and Michigan than their economics programs; likely the same at other schools.

    I wouldn't base your decision on the placement of outlier cases. Yes, there are people who have PhDs from public policy programs and got jobs in good/top economics departments. If your goal is to have a job in an economics department, better to get a PhD from an economics department, though there can be some nuanced trade-offs between top PP programs and lower-tier economics programs. No harm in applying to both and making this decision after you see your options.

    The main difference is that the required courses and areas of specialization will be somewhat different. If you go to an econ-focused policy school, you'll still take microeconomics and econometrics. You probably wouldn't have to take macroeconomics. In a policy school, you may have the option to take micro and metrics in the economics department or a less-technical version in the policy school.

    I think the way to think about this is to start with your substantive areas of interest; i.e. labor, education, health, etc. Then focus your applications on programs (economics and non-economics) that are strong in that.

  3. #3
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    Re: Public Policy vs Econ

    Support tbe's post, but one specific bit of information I might update: Michigan's policy school is not easier to get into than the economics department. You actually need to get admitted to the economics department in order to get the policy admit, and there are about 2 of those seats available each year. As a result, it is actually harder to get the policy seat because it's a subset condition. The graduate school reports admissions rates from 2016 to 2020, and economics ranges from 10-19% for any specific year while public policy & economics ranges from 4-5%.

    Program Statistics - Rackham Graduate School: University of Michigan

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