1. The site makes clear that getting accepted to the top tier economic graduate programs is difficult. Christian Roessler, who runs the site, discusses “PhD fields in order of difficulty of entry” and concludes that of 28 graduate fields, economics ranks fourth-toughest (below computer science, physics, and math). In strong support of this conclusion is some information about individual students accepted and rejected during 2002 and 2003 for 47 schools (Excel spreadsheet). These students were not randomly selected, so we must take care in generalizing, but if one examines the thumbnail sketches of the applicants who were rejected by Harvard, MIT, and Stanford, the conclusion seems inescapable.
2. If an applicant is undeterred by these odds, it’s clear that he or she should be well prepared in math. Susan Athey, Stanford professor, writes, “Real analysis is an especially important class because it tends to be demanding everywhere, and forces you to do logical and formal proofs. Get a good grade in this class.” Roessler writes, “If you really want to delight the adcoms (you do), take topology and functional analysis (real analysis II) too.” For more on the math used, Google “math camp” economists. The ambitious student can also look at what mathematics courses Professor Thomas Sargent suggests for economics Ph.D. students .
3. Fortunately, there are a lot of very fine economics programs below the ones in the top tier. Roessler has listed, for many schools, each school’s particularly strong fields (Excel spreadsheet).
4. It seems like a good idea for any student applying to graduate school in economics to apply to more than just a couple of schools. One aspiring economist, Chris Silvey, has posted his results:
Rejections: Duke, UCLA, Minnesota, Rochester, Wisconsin, U. of Washington, Berkeley.
Acceptances: UC San Diego, Ohio State, Maryland, Cornell, Texas A&M (all with money); UC Davis and Virginia (financial aid to be announced).
Wait-listed: U. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
5. It also seems like a good idea to read about the experiences of some current graduate students. Here are three who have many interesting things to say: Ngan Dinh (U. of Chicago) first year, second year; Santosh Anagol (Yale); and Rob McMillan (Stanford).
6. The economics department at Davidson College has collected some useful information and links.