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As I get closer to applying for graduate school in economics (this year or next) I'm asking myself some very tough questions. It's almost certain that an Econ PhD will make me far less money in my lifetime compared to earning an MBA. And seeking employment in academia or government is different than the private sector.

 

My profile remains competitive: 3.94 GPA, 3.9 Math, 4.0 Econ. But my research experience is weak and there's always lingering doubts about the strength of LoR's. So I'm figuring my chances with a top 10 school will be a roll of the dice at best. Top 10 is my goal and top 20 is my limit.

 

So I pose this question to those that just got their admits:

 

Where did you draw the line? With your career goals in mind, did you say to yourself "top 20 school or bust"?

 

Is there anyone here that didn't get the schools they wanted and have given up on a PhD or just postponed it?

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I think it really depends on what you want to do. Definitely don't go into econ if your goal is to make money.

 

I'm shooting for top 20, as well. I think my line would be somewhere around the top 30-40, though it would have to be a place with several people doing work that really interested me. Without that, I'm fairly certain I'm not going to be happy.

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I think the question you are asking is reasonable. As much as you might be interested in Econ, you might also find other professions to be satisfying, so there certainly would be a point where the opportunity cost of going to graduate school is too high. And that point varies based on your interest level, but certainly the farther down the rank list you go, the closer you get to it (all else equal, right?).

 

For me, I thought about grad school when I was an undergraduate, but eventually decided getting some work experience would be useful for gaining perspective. It may have put me a bit behind some others, but I do think that the decision was the right one. I am more certain of my decision now to go back to school than I would have been when I graduated.

 

When it came to schools, I went more on geography than ranking, and only applied to california. So I guess that is where you could say I drew the line. Had things not worked out for me, I was going to keep working and apply for MBA programs -- not my ideal at this point, but not an unattractive alternative, either.

 

So obviously my opinion is rather colored by my experience, but I would suggest that working for a year or two to find out what the real world is like might not be a bad idea, and then apply to you top 20 schools (or however you draw the line) and see what happens. If you are unhappy with the outcome, then I guess you would know that an MBA would be better for you. You could then apply for business schools the next year, and you'll already have the necessary experience. You could also follow this strategy now, without the work experience (but then you might not have as an informed decision about what working in industry is like).

 

Anyway, good luck.

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notacolour's perspective is very good -- the faculty and research activity at lower-ranked universities are key factors. And making sure that there are SEVERAL professors you'd like to work with is a good idea. You want to have options if your interests change, if you have a personality conflict with one professor, or if a professor leaves for a different job.

 

When I applied, I only applied to schools that I felt gave me options I didn't have without the PhD. I already have a masters degree from a top institution and work experience. These have opened up several policy/think tank jobs, but with a glass ceiling of sorts. I applied for PhDs at schools where I felt confident I'd be sure of very good policy/industry jobs, and that gave me a good chance at accademic jobs as well. I did confine myself to top-20 schools, because I wasn't sure that my job prospects after a PhD from a lower ranked school would be that much stronger than they were with just my master's and work experience.

 

Academic job prospects from lower ranked universities are more tenuous propositions and require a lot more flexibility -- you can certainly get one, but you have to be willing to start your career in a part of the country or type of department that isn't necessarily your first choice. And my admittedly biased and limited opinion, I believe that jobs at the most exciting think tanks, policy shops, and NGOs (by which I mean the Fed SF, NYC, Boston, Board of Governors, World Bank, IMF, CBO, Brookings, and some similar places -- but this is my personal list, and certainly not the end-all, be-all) are very safe bets for grads of top-20 programs and attainable but not guaranteed for grads of other, lower ranked programs.

 

None of this is to say that the ranking of your university determines your future. But as expected utility maximizers ;) probabilities matter. My personal calculation was that a degree from a roughly top-20 program, plus hard work and luck, would give me a much better chance at creating the opportunities I want for myself than having my master's alone. And that a degree from a substantially lower ranked university might not open up that many more opportunities for me.

 

You have to make that same calculation. In your field, what are the job prospects for grads of top 20 programs? Top 40 programs? Those without PhDs? Do you want to teach? If you want to teach -- passionately want the life of a professor -- then go to graduate school no matter what the ranking, do your very best, make sure to get good teaching experience as a grad school, and tailor your job market process to schools that emphasize teaching. There's no way to be a professor without a PhD, so if that's your goal, your decision is somewhat easier. Do you want to do research? If not, don't get a PhD. There are better ways to get non-research industry or NGO jobs. Masters in econ, business, or public policy are good ways to go. If you do want to do research, but not in an academic setting, then the decision becomes more difficult.

 

If you are coming straight from undergrad, my best advice is to wait. To try working, and see what kind of work atmosphere you want for the rest of your life. Work experience will help you make a better decision about graduate school and will also help you IN graduate school. It's so much better to know for sure what you want from graduate school and to be sure of why you are there. It's hard to try other options after you start, so now's the time.

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Great Advice there from asquare and notacolour, I mean if u care about money then u should rethink about a Phd in econ but however, you can still get a Phd and work in industries rather than academia.

 

When you guys, talk about top 20, do u mean like US programs or Internationally... This is beacuse I'm applying to European programs that are in the top 20 in my sub-field of econ and was wandering whether that counts?

 

Also when it comes to limit I don't think I will be applying to any school below by current undergraduate institution, which is in the Top 40

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Gravity, I think a lot of it has to do with where you want to end up. Say your goal is to teach in the US, and you're looking at two schools in the top 15-20 in your subfield, one American and one European. The American university is almost certainly a better bet, holding everything else constant, since you'll have geographic connections to lots of American schools. If, on the other hand, you'd like to stay in Europe, this is much less of a concern. I don't know much about the European market (it confuses me!), but it seems that you can succeed there with a degree from an American or European institution.

 

Incidentally, what European schools are you looking at? I'm planning to apply to at least one or two, as well.

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I applied to University of Amsterdam, and Erasmus University Rotterdam for there masters in econometrics.

 

For my phd program, I'm considering LSE, Tilburg, Tinbergen Institute, and probably a couple of US universities.

 

If you are American I think you can still apply to Tilburg cos thats the only way they said I could apply because then they know u won't need a Visa to attend. Not Sure of Amsterdam and Erasmus.

 

Although I'm interested in both academia and the so called "real world jobs," I just checked a couple of faculty list of some of the TOP American universities and really did not find anyone from the schools I mentioned, expect for 3 or 4 from LSE...

 

Now I am regretting my choice.

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I applied to one school. So I guess that was my threshold. It was Stanford or nothing. Fortunately I'm in, so I'm going this fall. A Ph.D for me is more out of my personal interest than increasing my earning potential really. Of course, I'm not one of those sentimental people who claim that money doesn't matter and definitely do not consider my choice of abandoning a lucrative job for academic pursuit makes me superior in anyway than those who faced the same choice but selected the other route. I acknowledge that I'm one of those blessed few who can afford to live comfortably while not generating much income on my own. If for some reason that blessing goes away (knock on wood), I don't think my interest in the topic is strong enough to keep me in academia.
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A Ph.D for me is more out of my personal interest than increasing my earning potential really. Of course, I'm not one of those sentimental people who claim that money doesn't matter and definitely do not consider my choice of abandoning a lucrative job for academic pursuit makes me superior in anyway than those who faced the same choice but selected the other route.

 

 

 

I'd like to offer a slight contrast to the view shared by dyiwang in response to others who have posted. For the past few years, I've worked for a large firm doing client-based finance and financial reporting. The pay is very good, the company is very well-known, but at some points during the year I work over 100 hours a week and am out of town roughly 40 weeks/year.

 

I own a nice house but I never sleep in it.

 

I have a nice car, but I'm always driving a rental car.

 

I've got a great tv, but I'm usually watching TV at a Marriott.

 

Etc, etc.

 

And I'm currently miserable.

 

So while I'd echo dyiwang's sentiment that money DOES matter to a point (you don't want to be sleeping in a cardboard box), sometimes the trade-offs aren't worth the extra money.

 

I, for one, am really looking forward to being slightly poorer but taking graduate classes that interest me.

 

Bottom line: An MBA might pay more money, but if you're doing something that you aren't interested in, then the money isn't worth it.

 

My 2c.

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I think the question you are asking is reasonable. As much as you might be interested in Econ, you might also find other professions to be satisfying, so there certainly would be a point where the opportunity cost of going to graduate school is too high. And that point varies based on your interest level, but certainly the farther down the rank list you go, the closer you get to it (all else equal, right?).

 

Excellent thread..unfortunately because its not application time threads like this are going unread..

 

PCG, you said that there would be a point where opp.cost of going to grad school is to high..While I think you meant that in terms of rankings, what about age?...In the general scheme of things if you want to go to grad school you should go HOWEVER

 

Do you guys/girls think that if someone is around 30 when starting phd (probably with a few yrs of work experience) is it too old to get PhD when 35-36?..

or let me put it this way:

 

What is the cut-off point in terms of age for starting PhD? AND how dependent is this on factors such as (1) marriage/kids (2) ranking of school (3) past work experience

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Excellent thread..unfortunately because its not application time threads like this are going unread..

 

PCG, you said that there would be a point where opp.cost of going to grad school is to high..While I think you meant that in terms of rankings, what about age?...In the general scheme of things if you want to go to grad school you should go HOWEVER

 

Do you guys/girls think that if someone is around 30 when starting phd (probably with a few yrs of work experience) is it too old to get PhD when 35-36?..

or let me put it this way:

 

What is the cut-off point in terms of age for starting PhD? AND how dependent is this on factors such as (1) marriage/kids (2) ranking of school (3) past work experience

 

 

 

IMHO. I don't think starting around 30 is too old as long as you have already arranged your personal life (e.g. have a family of your own) and you're attending a decent economics Ph.D. program that's likely to help you graduate as soon as possible (4-5 years) and to place you well. If you haven't arranged your personal life by this age then it's less likely you're going to have time while in the graduate school (or at least during the first two to three years untill you pass the qualifying examination). Of course, people have different priorities, for some starting a family at the age of 40 may be fine. For me it's not. That's why I feel extremely frustrated that I didn't make it into any Ph.D. program this year. I'll be 29 in fall of 2007 and I am not sure if I still will be willing to start a Ph.D. program at a such old age if I am not married by then. Plus, my time and what I do with it is now worth to me twice as much compared to when I was 24 and I start wondering whether going to graduate school is still worth it if I can't get into a top-25 (or so) economics department. I certainly wouldn't be worried about the ranking or the other things if I was in the first half of 20s (but I'll probably give it another shot anyways and see what happens).

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klop..i dont think its impossible to meet a fine person and build up a relationship when you are in grad school...its not like youre going to be studying 18 hours a day at grad school...

 

on the other hand it might be a negative to do PhD after youre married..Im married and Im aiming to get into PhD in 2008..my wife will have to endure all the hard studies with me...This will be more so if shes not allowed to work parttime or full time then shell be bored out of her brains..

 

anyway..im giving a bit of a mixed massage here BUT..I dont think 29 is a late age to start..Ill be 27 and I think thats a good age too..and I wouldnt stress over not having a partner by then...who knows what the 5-year period would present..

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klop..i dont think its impossible to meet a fine person and build up a relationship when you are in grad school...its not like youre going to be studying 18 hours a day at grad school...

 

on the other hand it might be a negative to do PhD after youre married..Im married and Im aiming to get into PhD in 2008..my wife will have to endure all the hard studies with me...This will be more so if shes not allowed to work parttime or full time then shell be bored out of her brains..

 

anyway..im giving a bit of a mixed massage here BUT..I dont think 29 is a late age to start..Ill be 27 and I think thats a good age too..and I wouldnt stress over not having a partner by then...who knows what the 5-year period would present..

I was undergraduate for the past 3 years and I basically had no life outside of school to the point that I think that was becoming unhealthy (well, beside the school I was working >20hours/week). Why will the graduate school be any better? All these things make me wonder if I should put my life on hold for another 5 years (actually 6 since I wasn't admitted anywhere this time). I shared these worries with one professor and he said yes, the graduate school IS like that. Somehow I had a program in my mind for quite some time that I should be married by 30, just like my parents. Besides, entering the bachelor market at the age of 35 or so will certainly reduce my options in terms of who I can meet.

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I was undergraduate for the past 3 years and I basically had no life outside of school to the point that I think that was becoming unhealthy (well, beside the school I was working >20hours/week). Why will the graduate school be any better? All these things make me wonder if I should put my life on hold for another 5 years (actually 6 since I wasn't admitted anywhere this time). I shared these worries with one professor and he said yes, the graduate school IS like that. Somehow I had a program in my mind for quite some time that I should be married by 30, just like my parents. Besides, entering the bachelor market at the age of 35 or so will certainly reduce my options in terms of who I can meet.

 

Hmmm.... I don't agree that Grad school will necessarily take up all your time so that you can't develop personal relationships. I worked up to 40 hrs a week extra during my master's degree and things got a bit crazy, but if you cut out TV and crossword puzzles, it can work. I found that my hectic schedule made me use my time better than my peers, most of whom weren't working. I finished my thesis quicker than most of them.

 

The main issue as I see it, is allowing your work (whether studying or employment) to take over your life at the expense of relationships. You can treat studying like a job and set boundaries of how much work you will get sucked into. Diminishing returns mean that even if you work only half as much as some of your colleagues, you'll get 80% of the level of success.

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Ah, the school-life balance question. It's certainly a big issue. Grad school is time consuming and more than that, it's a lifestyle rather than a "day job." You can manage the time demands somewhat. I find that what works best for me is to treat school like a job -- to go to the department in the morning, start working on problem sets, go to my classes/office hours/seminars, and then go back to working and studying. I pack and eat a quick lunch while at school, and have dinner when I get home, around 7 or 8 pm. But by working steadily from 8:30 am to 7 or 8 pm, I'm able to avoid doing more work at home (at least most of the time). I do have to spend one day each weekend at (or working on) school. Still, for me, this schedule helps -- it feels a little more like doing a job and a little less like being an undergrad.

 

The time and scheduling aren't the only difficult parts of being an "older" grad student, though. For those of us who have real-world work experience, it's an adjustment to go from a situation where you are a professional to being a student again. The first year classes can feel a little pointless at first. I was used to seeing results from my labors when I was working, and the things I did actually mattered to someone besides me. In school, you solve the same five problems as the other 20 students in your cohort, and of course the professor already knew the answers...it doesn't feel as though you're contributing to the world, and it's hard to remember that it does matter, because it gives you the foundation you need.

 

I think the most important thing is to try to keep a healthy perspective about why you are in grad school and what you want out of the experience. Make a conscious effort to connect your coursework to your research interests. Above all, go to seminars -- they are the heart and soul of academic economics, and attending will both give you practice in thinking like a researcher and inspire you to come up with questions and topics of your own.

 

And as for a social life -- well, one downside of universities is that they are almost by definition located in college towns. Most of the people you meet will be connected to the university in one way or another. And overwhelmingly, they'll be connected to your department. Particularly in economics, because of the way the program is structured, you'll know your own cohort very well. It's nice to have a built in group of friends, but also a little claustraphobic. You spend all day studying with these people -- do you really want to go out drinking with them in the evening? You may, but if you don't, it does take some real effort to meet grad students in other departments, and even more effort to meet non-grad student types. Joining a local sports league, a church/temple, or volunteer project are some ways to build those connections. Remember that you'll be in school for 5 years or so, so becoming part of the community is worthwhile. You're not just passing through -- it's home.

 

And finally, finding true love ;) It does happen. In part, it depends on how you feel about spending the rest of your life with another academic, and balancing a dual job search, and all of those things. Perhaps a quarter to a third of the students in my program are married or engaged when they enter the program. Others do meet and marry while in school, but I agree that it's not all that common. But one of the questions you have to ask yourself is, "am I substantially less likely to meet someone in school than while working?" You do meet a lot of people in school -- it's a matter of what (who, I guess) you are looking for. My personal opinion is that you can't put your life on hold while hoping for the right person to come across your radar screen. I could understand delaying or canceling grad school plans if they meant ending a relationship you were committed to, but not going at all is taking a big gamble that you will meet "the one" by taking your outside option and would not meet her by going to school.

 

And I really do thing the biggest issue is who you meet, not time or money or stress or anything else associated with being a student. Ultimately, all of that is managable.

 

This may be the longest post ever, so I'll quit here. Good luck.

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asquare: seems like you've thought about this a lot. I agree with most of what you said. And I actually think it's easier to meet someone while you are in school. But all this talk about meeting "the one" makes me sad. My parents met in college, so the fact that I came out of college without finding "the one" makes me feel like that I've missed the boat somehow (The image of me desperately leaving frantic messages to all my ex when I turn 30 begging them to marry me is pretty funny, but not if it actually happens). The clock is ticking and it seems that every time I talk to my grandma the topic that I'm single comes up (and I talk to grandma almost every other day). BUT!!!! I will stay optimistic. There are plenty of nice and cute girls in Cali and one of those charming ladies might just be attracted to me enough to be THE ONE receiving condolences cards from my family and friends on our anniversaries (playing California Girls by Beach Boys in the background....)
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Well, I just finished the micro prelim, so I finally have a chance to stop and think about the first year ;) And I'm happy to report that overall, it's been good.

 

I think it's easy to meet lots of people while in school but I'm not sure it's easier to meet the right person to marry. Compared to undergrad, you meet a more homogeneous group of people. Then again, you have a lot in common with them. And your social group tends to be more circular. There's less meeting friends of friends because, well, you all have the SAME friends. But it's not a lost cause! You just have to be more deliberate about meeting people outside of your department and immediate social group.

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This thread has explored a lot of facets of graduate life that I didn't consider. Even though I'm relatively young, even on my timetable I would still be a student until age 29 or 30.

 

Last week I ran into another problem. I've been extremely sick for the past two weeks and three exams fell on the same week. I took them all but knew I wasn't mentally sharp enough, and that came through on one econ exam. Now I have to go plead my case to my professor and hope a poor midterm will not keep me from an A in a very important class (I aced a previous course of his and he knows my work). And if I think this is bad now, I'm dreading the idea of quals.

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  • 15 years later...
On 5/15/2006 at 11:47 PM, dyiwang said:

asquare: seems like you've thought about this a lot. I agree with most of what you said. And I actually think it's easier to meet someone while you are in school. But all this talk about meeting "the one" makes me sad. My parents met in college, so the fact that I came out of college without finding "the one" makes me feel like that I've missed the boat somehow (The image of me desperately leaving frantic messages to all my ex when I turn 30 begging them to marry me is pretty funny, but not if it actually happens). The clock is ticking and it seems that every time I talk to my grandma the topic that I'm single comes up (and I talk to grandma almost every other day). BUT!!!! I will stay optimistic. There are plenty of nice and cute girls in Cali and one of those charming ladies might just be attracted to me enough to be THE ONE receiving condolences cards from my family and friends on our anniversaries (playing California Girls by Beach Boys in the background....)

Replying to a post over 15 years later, I did meet THE ONE during my PhD! So all worked out great! 😁

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