In United States, students may apply to Ph.D. programs in economics without first acquiring a master’s degree, meaning they can apply directly after completing their bachelor's degrees. Prerequisites for a Ph.D. in economics vary according to each university, but all programs expect that students have gained a certain level of knowledge in economics and mathematics.
Bachelor’s Degree and Test Scores
One of the prerequisites to pursue a Ph.D. in economics is a bachelor’s degree. This degree may be a bachelor of arts, bachelor of science or an equivalent degree. While students typically do not have to major in economics, most universities require students to have a foundation in economics and mathematics. In addition to a bachelor’s degree, applicants should also take and submit their scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test. Furthermore, applicants from outside United States whose native language is not English should submit their scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
Some universities like the University of Chicago, which has a highly regarded Ph.D. program in economics, require no formal prerequisites in economics courses. Other programs, however, mandate some experience in economics. For example, Cornell University requires students to have a good foundation in microeconomics and be familiar with microeconomics “at the level of a rigorous treatment of undergraduate intermediate theory.” Cornell states that its program prefers a more thorough background in economics, but the program does not have any specifically outlined prerequisites beyond microeconomics.
Basic Prerequisites in Mathematics
A strong undergraduate foundation in mathematics is one of the most important prerequisites for gaining admittance to a Ph.D. in economics -- both Cornell and the University of Chicago emphasize this position. Cornell University, for example, requires a minimum of four semesters of calculus and a class in linear algebra. The University of Chicago requires two semesters of calculus, a class in matrix algebra, and a class in mathematical statistics.
Advanced Prerequisites in Mathematics
Because Ph.D. level coursework in economics requires a strong foundation in mathematics, graduate departments emphasize the importance of taking as many courses in mathematics as possible. For example, Chicago wants applicants who have taken advanced mathematics courses like real analysis. Cornell, on the other hand, goes a step further and states that its program’s admissions and financial aid decisions are directly related to the number of mathematics courses that the applicants have completed. In particular, students who taken real analysis, differential equations, mathematical probability and statistics, topology, optimization and stochastic differential equations typically have more favorable admission and financial aid outcomes.
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