Thinking about a PhD in economics or finance?

Advice for getting on the path to the program of your choice

Graduate admissions is highly competitive and depends heavily on grades in economics and economics-related (e.g., math) courses and on recommendation letters from economics faculty. The general advice is: take more than the minimum number of courses in economics and mathematics and do well in them.

If you aspire to a top program, then you should double major in mathematics and economics. You should, in particular, take Math 4111 and Math 4121. These courses are demanding, which is one of the reasons admissions committees are interested in your performance in them. Note that, if you take these courses and the advanced probability and statistics sequence (Math 493 and 494), which the economics department also recommends, then you will be very close to having already fulfilled the requirements for Tracks A, B, or E of the mathematics major. For more specific guidelines, you should consult with the Mathematics Department and the Economics Department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies or Academic Coordinator.

Graduate admissions committees look closely at advanced economics courses (generally speaking, 400-level and above). You should take more of these than the major requires. You should, in particular, take econometrics (Econ 413 and 4151). For guidance on other courses, use the list of Economics Concentrations and talk to your advisor.

Graduate admissions committees in top programs are particularly interested in seeing grades in first-year graduate “core” courses like Econ 501 and 503. These courses are extremely demanding: they move fast, they are taught at a high level, and grading is tough. So you should consider taking these courses only if your academic performance has been outstanding and you have very good math skills. In addition, although taking one graduate course, and doing well, will help your application to top Economics PhD programs, there are sharply diminishing returns, in terms of admission prospects, from taking two or more. In particular, we do not recommend participation in the MA/BA program as a way of increasing your chances for admission to a top program.

To prepare you for first year graduate micro, we offer Econ 4111 (Optimization) and Econ 467 (Game Theory). Students considering taking Econ 503 in their senior year should take Econ 4111 in the spring semester of their junior year. Note that Econ 4111 has both Math 233 and Math 309 as prerequisites, so you should take these in the fall semester of your junior year or earlier. Although Econ 4111 provides very good preparation, even someone who has done well in Econ 4111 will find Econ 503 challenging.

On mathematics courses, a minimum (typically not adequate to gain admission to a top department) is a third semester of calculus (Math 233) and a course in matrix algebra (Math 309). You will be much better prepared for your first year graduate classes if you take Math 318, which is a more advanced version of Math 233. Mathematics allows strong students to take Math 318 in place of Math 233 provided the student has already taken Math 309; students should consult with their Economics advisor and with the Mathematics department. Some admissions committees also want to see differential equations (Math 217).

All students should take Math 493 (Probability) and Math 494 (Mathematical Statistics). An option for students with adequate preparation is Math 5061-5062. Students interested in empirical research should also consider Econ 4151 and Math 475 (Statistical Computation). Students should consult with the Math department and their advisors for additional guidance.

All students interested in economic or econometric theory should take Math 4111 and 4121, preferably prior to their senior year. As already noted, all students aspiring to top PhD programs should take these courses as well.

Students aspiring to a top finance program should consider ESE 520 (which has Math 4111 as a prerequisite) in place of Math 493, 494, and 495.

NOTE TO MATH MAJORS: The math major is divided into five tracks. Of these, the three that are relevant for economics are A (Traditional); B (Probability and Statistics); and E (Mathematics: Economics Emphasis). Refer to the Math department web site.