0 votes
asked ago by (120 points)
Hello, all.

My name is Dan, and my end goal is to pursue a PhD in Economics (with a focus on micro/welfare econ), but I still have a long ways to go, so I wanted to get feedback from those knowledgeable in the field to help me work smarter instead of just harder.

As Briefly As Possible:

My Goal(s) (“Point B”):
B1. Get a PhD in economics with a focus on micro / welfare economics.
B2. Willing to spend a significant amount of time and money necessary to get there while understanding I don’t have unlimited amounts of either.
Where I Am Now (“Point A”):
A1. Currently living in Philadelphia area. (Originally from the Midwest.)
A2. Have a Bachelor’s in English from 8 years ago.
A3. Have a cumulative GPA just shy of 3.5 (got mono during the last finals of my undergrad).
A4. Not independently wealthy (basically lower-middle class).
A5. No formal education in calculus, economics, statistics, or probability classes: what I know is self-taught.

What I Think I Need:
N1. Make acquaintance with academics who could among other things write me good letters of recommendation (because of A2).
N2. Raise my GPA (because of A3).
N3. Access to financial aid or loans to help finance whatever classes I need to take before I apply to grad school. (Because of A4)
N4. Ability to actually enroll in whatever training or classes I need (in doubt mainly because of A3 and A5; also affected by A1 and A4)
N5. To fill in the spots in my knowledge and advance my training. (because of A5)
N6. To properly display my current and acquired abilities and to impress admissions people (also because of A5)
N7. To be able to keep up with my mandatory expenditures while in school (because of A4).

Options At My Disposal (in whatever combination):
O1: University of Pennsylvania (Would help with most of my needs, except N3 (financial aid extremely limited in LPS or post-bacc programs), N4 (if I can’t get into a normal undergraduate program because of A3 or A5 or N7). Ideal for me especially because of A1, but might be out of reach. Still investigating.)
O2: Non-UPenn (Programs that are easier to get into would probably be better for N3 and N7, but worse for N1 and N6. Looking esp. into a combined bachelor’s/master’s, as it might be faster and the master’s portion would help with N6?)
O3: The Mini-Masters at MIT (better for N1, N4, N5, N7 and hopefully N6. Doesn’t help with N2, and N3 is a moot point re: it. Cheaper and easier to get into and lets me get MIT on my CV, but offers fewer classes. A good option, but not good as an only option.)

Current Working Hypothesis (constantly in flux):
MIT Minimasters, then Undergrad at UPenn, then Blended Masters at MIT, then PhD program?

Possible forms of useful feedback:
F1. Need more information/clarification on any of the above.
F2. I am over-, under-, or misvaluing any of the needs from Section N.
F3. I’m missing or misvaluing potentially useful options in section O.
F4. Some of the connections between items that I’ve listed are misunderstandings, meaning that I could be focusing on the wrong things.
F5. Miscellaneous.

Thank you all for your attention and any words of wisdom you could impart. I really want to make this happen.


An Aspiring Academic

2 Answers

+2 votes
answered ago by (960 points)
Have a look here to see what kind of background tends to get you into what kind of program, and also what your competition will look like : https://www.urch.com/forums/phd-economics/

Basically, it's two things that PhD programs really look for: (i) Top performance in quantitative classes (e.g. MA-level advanced micro, or real analysis). That's necessary but not sufficient. (ii) Great letters of reference. They need to indicate that you're an independent thinker who gets stuff done. The way of getting them is by working for a prof, or being advised by a prof, on a project on which you can display precisely these things. For instance, write a honors thesis that would be publishable in a decent journal, based on your own ideas.

Keep in mind that PhD admissions people are typically active research faculty members, not admin people. So they'll look for predictors that you'll be able to do stellar original research. Also keep in mind that even in the best PhD programs something like half of the students decide to take industry jobs, and not always because that's their first preference.
0 votes
answered ago by (3.2k points)
The suggestion to look at Urch is a very good one.

Your very organized way of thinking through issues and options is also very good.

However, you say you have no training in either economics of math. That means you have no idea whether an economics PhD makes sense. The first thing to do is to take a few serious calculus and economics courses. If you like both and excel at them, then it makes sense to think about next steps.