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There is one truth about top 10 admissions that I hope everyone here knows in order to adjust their expectations. By top 10, I refer to MIT, Harvard, Stanford (and GSB), Princeton, Columbia, Yale, Berkeley, Chicago, Northwestern, and NYU. Economic admissions is elitist. Which means that if you come from an "unknown state school," or from a "top Southeast Asian university," you're not going to get admitted. Forget it. It's the cold hard truth of economics admissions that you have a near-zero chance of being admitted to a top program if you do not come from a top undergraduate. To set this a little bit straighter, this has nothing to do with your ability. I'm sure most of the self-selected applicants who apply to top 10 programs will pass their quals just fine. It is just the way things are. If you want to know why, read on. According to the many more "prominent" advisors on this website, as long as you take a lot of mathematics and statistics courses, get As in all of them, ace your GRE, do a lot of RA work, you have a greater chance at being admitted. This is true, but it is not helpful. Because while you can improve your chances of being admitted as a whitebread economics-mathematics major with a 4.0 GPA, your chances will still be near-zero, unless you have letters of recommendation from prominent economists who has connections to economists on the adcom on the other side. If you're from an "unranked state school," or from an "unknown" school in some remote country, the chances that there exist prominent economists on the faculty of your school is measly. Make no mistake, your letters of recommendation and connections to the department you wish to be admitted at are the most important aspects of your application, to the point that your GPA, math courses, and GRE will play a small secondary role. Make no mistake, your chances at being admitted to a top economics department has already been determined the minute you choose which undergraduate school to attend. I've heard many on this forum make the argument that they are giving advice to the "regular" applicants, not to the applicants who have had the luxury of being in a top 10 undergraduate. My response to that is these people over-estimate the number of spaces that are reserved for "regular" applicants. In most years, classes can be filled by people whose recommenders who have connections to the adcom entirely. This means that apart from the handful (less than a handful) of students that a typical department will admit from Japan, China, Russia, France, Britain, Argentina, Chile, Mexico etc, there are years when ALL the "American" admits are "backdoor" admits. These are full-time RAs of economists on the adcom, students of Nobel Laureates, or students of economists who are friends of economists on the adcom. The community of economists is very tight-knit and elitist. Economists in the top 10 often mingle only within the same group. If your professor was a classmate of an MIT professor in graduate school at Harvard, and now your professor teaches at some unranked state school, don't expect that to be a good connection. But if you go to Yale, and one of your letter writers is William Nordhaus, you will get in anywhere you go because adcoms are usually made up of professors who might know him personally, and would not want to risk the embarrassment of answering the question "why didn't you admit my student that year?" So what should someone from a weak undergrad program do? 1. Do an MA/MS. Certain top universities offer terminal MA/MS programs in economics, or in statistics. What you learn in the program does not matter. The goal of joining a terminal MA/MS programs is to get better letters. Always have that in mind. The goal is the letters, not the additional math/stats courses that you can take which adcom doesn't care about anyway. The Stanford MS in Statistics, the Harvard AM in Statistics, the Columbia MA in Quantitative Methods, Economics, or Statistics, are good ways for someone from a low-ranked undergraduate to get the "elite" exposure that is so crucial. Of course, this is the route for the wealthy. These programs are extremely expensive. Unless you have a scholarship, take the full-time RA route. Be willing to travel to places like Indonesia or Kenya for a couple of years to get letters from Olken, Banerjee, or Duflo. 2. Switch fields. Economics is one of the most competitive fields in which to do a PhD. But certain other fields, such as sociology, have very low barriers to entry because they are not that popular (or useful) in the first place. It is far more likely to get into an elite sociology program. 3. Figure out if doing a PhD in Economics is what you truly want to do. A lot of people interested in economics are not particularly interested in economic research. For a 5-year time investment, this should be the sole consideration—do you want to be an academic economist? Otherwise, there are MPP/MPA programs, MBA programs, MA programs, or British MS programs which give you exposure to economics without the bureaucracy of economics PhD admissions. 4. Do a PhD in Economics in Britain. Many MPhil programs in Britain allow students to carry on to complete a PhD without making another application. But I shall warn you that the training of a researcher is very mediocre in Britain and academic placements are the same. You get to slap on a DPhil in Economics from Oxford at the back of your name but this will only impress people outside of the world of economics. We all know British PhD economists are trained more adequately for professional placements, not academic ones. Ultimately, I personally do not think it is worth it do commit 5 years to any economics PhD program for the sake of getting a PhD in Economics. If you did not get into a program that you truly like, and I mean truly like, there are better ways to spend your time. The world of economics is full of elitism. You are not going to be a very successful or famous economist if you're at a top program because journals are also elitist. You are also not going to be placed at a top department if you did not graduate from a top program. You will not be placed in a top graduate school if you did not graduate from a top undergraduate. Your whole career in economics is defined the minute you start college, and if you do not come from a wealthy family, there is no way to salvage the situation by spending hundreds of thousands for an MA/MS at a top department to get letters. There are certainly other ways to spend your life which will give you much better utility. Background: I have an S.B in Economics and Political Science from MIT. I audited Linear Algebra (which means I have no grade in it), I took Multivariable Calculus P/NP, my Differential Equations was a B, and my Real Analysis was a B. This was it for my mathematics preparation. I did two years of JPAL, and was admitted to MIT, Harvard, and all of the top 10 except Princeton. I became an tenure-track AP at a top 5 (where I was on the adcom for a while), but left for the private sector, where people earning the same amount as I do, doing the same job, are much much younger and a lot less qualified. My boss, earning 7 figures, only has a BA in English from Oxford. There's more to life than getting a PhD in Economics. Feel free to ask for any advice or profile evaluation on this thread.
Q. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Always telling the truth is the most important consideration in any relationship between people. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer. My response: I strongly believe that honesty is the best policy. Having said that, I have also come to realize that nothing is absolute, including ‘truth’. Everything is relative, and like so many other things, whether one should tell the truth or not in a relationship also sometimes depends upon the situation. Our intentions and actions are dependent upon the context in which we see things and our previous experiences. So one should make an effort in rationally understanding the reason behind somebody’s thought process when told the truth. In a situation where, a person has made a mistake or done something unintentionally and later realized that it might end up hurting the other person, I think coming out clean about what one did is the way to go. As until one tells the truth, one keeps on feeling guilty about that act of error. So, for one’s own peace of mind and clear conscience, I would recommend telling the whole truth. In the end, if the other person truly respects and cherishes the relationship, they would understand and let bygones be bygones. Whereas in a situation where even telling the truth might not help the problem or maybe even make it worse, it is better to not say anything. For example, if somebody is behaving in an erratic manner because they are going through an emotionally difficult phase, it will not help to confront that person with the blatant truth. In that case, one should support that person and give them their space. If their behavior is going out of hand, then maybe it can be subtly pointed out in a manner that will not hurt their feelings too much but will also let them know what the issue is. Such situations are tricky and need to be handled very carefully. As relationships can be very involved at times, there is no one right answer to that question. However, from my personal experience I can say that telling the truth is the right thing to do in more than ninety percent of the situations.