I am using "top 5" as a vague catchphrase to refer to the best schools in the US, not as a specific set of 5 schools. Also, if I am preparing for those schools, I presume I am also becoming a good candidate to awesome programs like Columbia, UPenn, etc, so I might as well do that.
Last edited by EconPadawanBR; 03-27-2021 at 06:01 AM.
The main caveat about applying next fall for grad school and then for RA positions if it doesn't work out is that several of the "top" RA positions (e.g. NY Fed, SIEPR) are typically filled before you hear back from grad schools. Of course, you could say yes to them and then turn them down if you get acceptances, but I'm not sure that's a good idea, at least from a normative perspective.
It also seems like you really don't want to do an RA if you don't have to. However, I haven't really seen you speak to why you're against it. My main impression is that you just want to go to grad school immediately just because you might be able to. Thus, my advice to you would be to critically consider why you think spending 2 years on an RA job is a waste of time for you. It sounds like you already know you want to do a PhD, so conditional on that, you should be making decisions based on whether or not they improve your long-run career outcomes rather than only getting you into a good PhD school. It's not like attending a T5 school automatically makes you a better job-market candidate than other students. There's more to it than that, namely your "intellectual maturity."
Do you think that, by next fall, you'll have a sufficiently strong grasp of economics research that you'll get the most out of the first two years of coursework that you could possibly be getting? Don't forget that many very successful JMCs already had master's degrees, so they're reviewing material they already know, to some extent, during the first two years of grad school. Seeing material twice generally ensures you maximize what you learn and also reinforces what you already have learned. Further, just spending more time thinking about and doing research may help you get the most out of your interactions with advisors. Of course, you could already be at this stage in your intellectual development, in which case going to grad school could be better for you. But just because you can get into a top grad school doesn't mean you should go immediately.
At this point, I think most people have given what advice they can, so it's up to you to decide whether or not you should try for an RA first. Just make sure to think about the decision with long-run outcomes in mind rather than just "can I get into a good PhD program"?
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