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Help me to get it right in my second try


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For 2015 cycle I applied to:

Harvard, MIT, Yale, Stanford,

Cornell, Duke, Brown,

Penn State, Michigan State, Indiana


Type of Undergrad: Mathematics (German University), minor Economics+Business Administration

Undergrad GPA: 3.64

Type of Grad: Mathematics for Economics (German University)

Grad GPA: 3.68

GRE: Q 167 V 156 AW 3

Math Courses: Linear Algebra I (A+), Linear Algebra II(A+), Introduction to Algebra(A+),

Analysis I (A+), Analysis II (A-), Ordinary Differential Equations (A), Measure Theory (A), Complex Analysis(A),

Numerical Analysis(A-), Introduction to Stochastic(A-),

Probability Theroy(A-), Stochastic Analysis(A-), Stochastic Partial Differential Equations(A-),

Linear Opti(A), Discrete Opti(A), Non-Linear Opti(A)

Econ Courses:

Introduction to Economics(B-), Intermadiate Microeconomics(B+), Intermediate Macroeconomics©,

Statistic II[sort of pre-econometrics](A-), Introduction to Econometrics(A-),

Methods of Econometrics©,Panel Data Analysis(A), Microeconometrics(A-), Time Series Analysis(A-)

Other Courses:

Business Administration I+II, Bookeeping I+II, Internet Economics, IT Project Management, Computer Science (programming)

Letters of Recommendation:

1) Econometris Professor(knows me very well, thesis advisor, can help me explain the bad grades if I ask him)

2) Math/Statistics Professor (PhD France, Post-Doctoral work in Stanford)

3) Math Professor (knows me, but I haven't worked with him since 2009)

(for this new cycle) 4) Economics Professor (PhD UPENN, this can turn into a very good letter I have to do some RA with him this couple of months)

(for this new cycle) 5) Colleague from Research Department Central Bank (PhD in Top 5)

(for this new cycle) 6) Prof in Industrial Organization (PhD UC Berkeley Hass, very active)

Research Experience: 1+ year working in a Central Bank (2 papers) + 1 Internship Central Bank (3 Months, 1 paper) + Honor thesis (Applied Econometrics)

Teaching Experience: 7 semester math (linear algebra, probaility theory, math for economics, calculus) lecturer at home University (Latin-American university)

SoP: It is always hard to tell how good it is. Many people with some experience have helped me with that.

Interests: Econometrics, Microeconomics, evtl. Industrial Organization...I am taking my first graduate course on this right now, it might not be smart to mention it as interest after only a course.

Other: I graduated in 2011 and have worked since then in Math R&D Departments until last year where I was hired by our Central Bank Research Department.

TOEFL(102) Math Olympiads(1 IMO, some regional olympiads with medals) Should I mention this?


Bad grades in Economics.

My priority at the end of my studies in Germany was to get finished asap because I didn´t have enough financial support, my time overseas was already too long. I was not comfortable anymore.I started studying in Germany after only a year of having learned the language, my basis knowledge in economics was mediocre during the whole program. I hate to give excuses, I just want to make the point that those grades do not represent my interest in Economics nor my ability (which I think I should show somehow)




I was rejected in every single program. I can understand that almost all of those programs were long shots for my profile (or maybe all of them?). But not even getting in any waiting list or an unfunded offer from the less competitive programs I applied to, make me believe there most be something important missing in my profile. I can also be very wrong here, but I believe(!) I do have some strengths that should be interesting for programs in the top 20 to 30 but this is not really important. I will be vary careful with my LoR this time and make sure I get strong recommendations.


It would be very nice of you mates if you help me with your advice where to apply, or your comments in general. I really do not care if I get in a top 10 or a top 100 program. I only want to do get a PhD and try to be the best in my program and then be happy doing research. I would be very happy in programs where I can use a lot of the math I have learned. I am starting the research in the programs where I can fit in.

Consider that I have the opportunity to accept an unfounded offer from any top 30 since my current employer would be helping me with that.


Thank you!

Edited by fake22
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Only thing that is not good in your profile is Econ grades. Since those were intro courses, if possible you can take intermediate or even advanced econ courses. You must also match your interests with department especially those with smaller intakes. Trust me, your research interests matters a lot when it comes to smaller programs. You don't really have to wait for your courses to be done before saying that you are interested in something. Everyone knows that your interests are likely to change after first two years but knowing that you at least plan your research in what they are good at helps them in making their decision.


I would also advise you to spread your applications to more departments. Something like 3-4-3. 3 in top 15, 4 in 15-35 and and another three in 35-50. You can adjust as per number of applications you are willing to put in and your lower bound. Read the website properly for each department and look for what they are asking and then ask yourself if you have some kind of advantage specific to that department. Some departments look for economics courses others focus more on maths. For instance you might want to apply to caltech instead of say Yale or cornell if they are in same ranking range because caltech prefers more maths based approach. In every ranking range you have to look for such advantages.

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Thank you very much econdoc! I appreciate your advice a lot!


Actually, I am evaluating programs right now... Do you people have any particular tips on how to collect information about the programs that can tell me (between lines I suppose) how "mathematical" they are for example, or any particularities of the program. Of course, I can read their website and in some cases it will be very clear, but in some other maybe it won't. I have been looking at the faculty profs distribution by interests, their CVs, IDEAS Rankings... do you have any other information sources or approaches you think might be helpful.


Thank you very much!

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Perhaps check field rankings at Rankings ; they're old, imperfect but give you an idea where the program is traditionally strong when you compare field ranking to total ranking. E.g. Caltech or Northwestern are high in Micro Theory, which is a good indicator that if you're interested in game theory kind of math, these are good places. That's not the best source of information, but it's something :)
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My speculation of what went wrong is the following: while your profile clearly indicates that you are good at mathematics, and may be not quite as strong in economics, two out of three of your recommendation writers were math professors, and the other was an econometrics professor, who probably does not have much say on your low micro and macro grades. If I was on the admission committee (speculating now!) I would be worried whether you can pass the macro and micro comprehensive exam after the first year. Moreover, ad coms hate this kind of uncertainty! Considering this, I think you made a better selection of letter writers for your next cycle. However, I was wondering why you would not let your econometrics professor write you a letter again instead of asking a colleague. Econdoc definitely made a good point by suggesting you take a higher level macro and micro course if you have access to such courses and are confident that you can do well. Since the grades would probably not come out by the time of application, I would suggest you ask your professor of those courses to write you a recommendation letter if you actually end up taking those courses and do well in them.


Also, you should probably apply to more schools. 10 programs is a decent number, but with the unsatisfactory result of this cycle, it might serve you better to cast a wider net next time. Good luck!

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Thank you very much for your comments. They are really helpful to me. Your speculation, xjxji, seems very possible. I will talk to my LoR writers about it.

At the moment, I went back to school (as student) after a couple of years. I hope that a graduate IO course will help me.


I made this shortlist of programs I am interested in. If you have one or two sentences about any of them or in general it would be very cool if you share it with me while I search for old threads in here.


University of California, Berkeley (UCB)

New York University

University of Wisconsin-Madison

University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

Cornell University

University of Rochester

Boston University

Johns Hopkins University

University of Texas, Austin

Ohio State University

Pennsylvania State University

University of Virginia

University of Illinois

University of North Carolina

Arizona State University

University of Arizona

University of Iowa

Indiana University

Purdue University

University of Southern California

Rice University


I hope to get a list 15+ programs (I would apply to all 21 too)...Do you think I am wasting my money with the most competitive programs?


Thank you!!

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Just by eyeing your list: it is far more difficult to aim to Berkeley rather than to places like UPenn or Northwestern (not that they are easy to enter, yet easier than Berkeley). Penn has superb metrics and Northwestern has impressive IO. I'd apply there instead than Berkeley, IMHO.
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If you are interested in Econometrics, you should also consider Yale. I definitely do not think you are wasting money by applying to top 20 programs, as I feel that you really have a chance for those programs if you can improve some weak spots of your profile. Quite the opposite, I think you might be wasting money by applying to too many lower ranking programs. Bottom line is, if you don't have significant resource constraint for application fee, and if your letter writers are okay with it, apply to as much program as you are interested in. Best of luck.
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This is a difficult position for me, because I believe I could apply to a lot of top 20 programs, but I do not want to make the same mistakes I made this cycle. After 10 rejections one might be less self-confident. That is why I left out very good schools like Michigan University, in that case, I thought Wisconsin-Madison is slightly better in IO and Econometrics combined and UCSD makes a huge jump into the top 10 if I filter the rankings to econometrics. Other programs such as Duke and UCLA are great options also that I did not shortlisted in order to diversify the programs I will apply.


MSU asks for at least 22 in writing TOEFL and I have 21...so I did not want to risk it again (quite a silly reason to cross-out a good option since their website specifically mention that part of the test) while U Virginia, Penn State and Ohio State University in the same range of schools seem to me like very good options too without that obstacle.



I can happily sacrifice some programs outside the top 30 to put options like Yale, Michigan, UPenn, Duke or UCLA, I just do not want to end up with 20 rejections this year.



My econometrics professor happily agreed to mention that my bad grades in Economics do not reflect my aptitute towards it. I believe he will put a lot of effort on trying to present me as a great candidate. That is important since he will be the only one from Germany who will write me a letter this year.



Does this improvement together with two strong letters justify to mainly aim to top20? I am just a little surprised what letters can make for an application.

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If I were you, I would not listen to much of the advice given earlier, except for one which mentioned about poor econ grades. You can make all sorts of excuses but if you are consistently getting grades less than an A in econ, there is something wrong and the programs are smart enough to notice that. I am not sure how your recommendation writer can defend those econ grades. I expect them to defend 1/2 grades- not the whole econ performance (I would question their credibility if they do it). Remember that math is only a tool that grad econ programs use - your econ intuition is very important. The ability to frame a problem is more important than actually solve a problem - you have all the tools in the world to solve once you write the problem.


My advice is that you follow up with the programs and get some feedback (my hunch is that they will all point to your econ grades) - you may not always get it but when I applied, some faculty members provided me reasons for why I wasn't admitted. Of course, you should have been in their radar for that to happen. This means that if you were close to getting admission, the faculty in the admissions committee probably remember you. In addition, I would seriously consider taking some graduate econ courses to prove that you can actually do well in graduate econ programs - being good at math is simply not enough! I am not going to suggest you the range of schools because I just don't believe that you are ready for graduate econ program at this point. I hope that you will not take this post negatively because I genuinely want the best for you but some of the advice you are given here isn't going to help you much. Last, this is just my opinion - so, take it with a grain of salt.

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Thank you Econ2011, it is actually a really helpful contribution.


Maybe "defend my grades" is not correctly formulated but he can tell, as my thesis supervisor, that those grades do not represent my intuition for economics. He knows me very well and I trust his judgement, the only thing I need him to achieve is to convince the admission committees to look at further aspects in my application. Perhaps it is too much to ask for, I know.


I hope I am not fooling myself but I will try to prove in my application that I am ready for an Econ graduate program, it doesn't have to be top10 or else. As I see it a PhD program trains students to become excellent researchers. Grades are one of the most reliable and important aspects to filter future good researchers but I hope there are more.



One of the cards I will have to play is the fact that I have a full-time position at the Research Department in the Central Bank of my country where I am exposed to problems in Economics every day.

Even in my small country, it is a very competitive position. Hence I do have experience as research economist, working together with very good PhD holders from top programs.

Besides that, I will take two graduate courses in Economics that I have to get an A at, in order to prove my point.



Maybe you are right and those grades make it too hard to convince adcoms that I am ready for an Econ Program. But I will just try to do, what is possible for me to do right now and give it one more try.


I will ask in IU, MSU and Duke, that were the programs that made some rejection rounds before I got mine.


Thank you very much for sharing your point of view it has helped me further.


@Where To Go: I hope not. I got a 102 together which means I have 26+ in all other areas... from the programs I applied to the only one that mention something specific about the writing section was MSU.... I mean the only one I did not fullfil.


Thanks for taking the time to help me! =)

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Take grad econ classes at the top university close to your location. I assume you are working at a CB in Latin America, which is probably in the country's capital and hence close to a top national university with a PhD program modeled after the US standard. Take Micro and Macro, get good grades and this should absolve you of your past grades.


I think that this is the main problem in your profile right now - I have never met an international student who has been accepted to a top US PhD without having done any graduate economics courses (there are some exceptions, but these are truly exceptional people).


Ask the professors there for recommendations. Complement them with recommendations from top research people at the CB where you work. Recommendations from math professors who never published in economics will not be given much weight, especially at higher ranked programs.

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what is your job in the Central Bank? I also came from Latin America and I also used to work at the CB of my country, and I know that the type of job you do at research division might not be research. Are you working doing just research?, as a research assistant to senior economist?, or are you working doing conjuncture analysis or forecasting??. I think that there a huge difference depending what type of work you are doing. Specially about what the letters that you get in the CB might say.


Personally I used 5 letters to apply, 3 from professors, and 2 from work (my boss with a phd in UCLA and the boss of my boss with a phd in Stanford, neither of them has published in relevant journals in the last couple of years, just working papers and articles in the CB journal), and I got better results in the universities where I applied just using professors letters (one was my thesis advisor, other one I did RA and Ta with, and the last one a professor I just take 2 classes).


Other thing you need to consider is which else is aplying, for example the year that I applied there were 10 people from my University appliying, and I suppose the same number from the other top school in my country. Normally the programs just select one person per country, specially latin america country, so its important to know who else is appliying. The year I did I knew most of the people applying with me has better grades, so I try to look for programs that fit my profile more specifically, where I could have some advantage.


In conclusion, I think that just working at the CB do not change your profile a lot, so you should include more safetys, and drop some of the top schools you're applying.

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