Preparing for Graduate School in Economics
As you are no doubt aware, admission to top graduate programs in Economics is extremely competitive. These programs seek students who will thrive in graduate study by embracing and overcoming challenges that others find daunting. Top schools look for evidence that an applicant is excited by discovery and intellectual challenge, is creative in solving problems, and is well prepared for the courses and research demands they will encounter. Although excellent performance in a comprehensive set of Economics courses is a prerequisite, the top programs are also looking for students who are well prepared in statistics and in mathematics, especially if those skills have been effectively applied in a successful original research project, such as those required in our MTEC capstone courses (ECON 496/497) or our two-semester Honors Program in Economics (ECON 498/499). Successful completion of a graduate-level course in economic theory, such as our ECON 501 - Microeconomic Theory I, is also a good indicator that you are prepared for the rigors of graduate study in Economics.
More generally, your chances of admission to and subsequent success in a top program will be greatly enhanced by demonstrating a deep interest in and aptitude for advanced quantitative analysis. A high GPA achieved by selection of less demanding courses is not a recipe for success. Please keep in mind that the requirements for our majors, including the MTEC major, are minimum requirements for a student contemplating graduate school in economics. Top schools will expect you to supplement our required courses with complementary advanced courses in other subjects, particularly in statistics and in mathematics, including courses in analysis and topology, which cover topics that are essential to an understanding of modern economic theory. (For an overview, see Andreu Mas-Colell, Michael D. Whinston, and Jerry R. Green, Microeconomic Analysis.) Below we list some courses taught in other departments at Rice that we believe are particularly helpful in preparing for graduate-level study of economics. The value of these courses lies not only in the highly quantitative topics covered, but also in the mode of instruction, argumentation, and proof. Exposure to proof-based courses in analysis (e.g. MATH 302 or MATH 321/322) would be especially helpful.
MATH 302 Elements of Analysis
MATH 321 Introduction to Analysis I (or MATH 331 Honors Analysis)
MATH 322 Introduction to Analysis II
MATH 354 Honors Linear Algebra
MATH 381 Introduction to Partial Differential Equations (or MATH 423 Partial Differential Equations I)
MATH 426 Topics in Real Analysis
MATH 435 Dynamical Systems (also CAAM 435)
MATH 443 General Topology
STAT 405 R for Data Science
STAT 410 Linear Regression
STAT 421 Applied Time Series and Forecasting
STAT 425 Introduction to Bayesian Inference
CAAM 435 Dynamical Systems
CAAM 440 Applied Matrix Analysis
CAAM 471 Linear and Integer Programming
PHIL 106 Logic
PHIL 305 Mathematical Logic
We also encourage you to learn more about the PhD program in Economics at Rice.
Other Sources of Information
Several excellent sources of additional information about preparation for various graduate programs in economics can be found on the web. Here are a few useful sites:
American Economic Association: Graduate Study in Economics Web Pages
Greg Mankiw's Blog: Advice for Aspiring Economists
Greg Mankiw's Blog: Which math courses?
Berkeley Economics: Preparing for a PhD in Economics
Matthew Pearson: Guide to Surviving the First-Year of Grad School
Wayne Grove et al.: Survive, Then Thrive (Empirical Paper on Graduate School Success)
Rice Workshop on Applying for NSF Funding for Grad School
John Cochrane: Recommendations for Academic Writing
John Creedy: Introduction to the Publishing Process
For (somewhat dated) rankings of the top schools by the major fields, see 2004 rankings.
A Final Word of Advice
Graduate school can be very intense and demanding. Your classmates will be very able, well trained, eager, and fully committed to near-24/7 study of Economics. If you are likewise committed to the enterprise, you will find graduate school to be an exhilarating and amazingly productive experience. If, however, you have doubts about the path on which you have embarked, graduate school can be quite unpleasant. As with crying in baseball, there is no room for second-guessing or half-hearted effort in graduate school. For this reason, it is especially important that you do not delay discussing your interests and options with professors, graduate students, former students who have been successful in top economics graduate programs, and current Rice undergraduates with similar interests. Applications to graduate school must be submitted during the fall of your senior year. Your commitment and readiness must be abundantly evident by that point if you hope to gain admission to a top program.