Graduate Studies in Economics
It is a long-standing tradition at Reed that a large proportion of students enter Ph.D. programs in their major fields of study. While the Economics Department does send a small number of students into highly-ranked economics graduate programs, equal numbers of economics majors pursue other graduate-study options such as business school, law school, and public-policy programs. Which, if any, of these programs is right for you depends entirely on your interests and aptitudes.
While the Reed label carries considerable weight in admissions decisions at many graduate schools, competition for positions in economics and other programs has become quite intense in recent years. Unfortunately, there is no substitute in the graduate admission process for good grades and/or high standardized-test scores.
Most economics graduate programs are Ph.D. programs, and give master's degrees to those who do not finish or as interim degrees. Relatively few programs, especially among the elite programs, accept terminal master's students. There are some MBA and public policy programs that offer master's degrees with concentrations in economics.
The most frequent comment members of the faculty hear from students who begin graduate programs in economics is It's all math! Indeed, most of the first-year curriculum in graduate economics programs is devoted to developing students' analytical skills and has little directly to do with economic policy or applications. In particular, students who struggle with the math may find that all of their attention is being devoted to methods rather than to issues.
The best way to deal with the analytical rigor of graduate school is to enter with a strong background in mathematics. Although Reed's undergraduate theory courses (Econ 313 and 314) are more analytically advanced than those of most undergraduate programs, graduate theory courses involve a great deal more advanced mathematics. Ideal preparation for graduate study includes a full calculus/real analysis sequence, linear algebra, differential equations, probability and statistics, and as many other math courses as you have time for. Students who decide early in their careers that they are interested in economics graduate school should consider the interdisciplinary major in mathematics and economics.
Most economics graduate programs accept students only for the fall term and have application deadlines between December 15 and February 1. Almost all require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) as part of the application. The GRE is a standardized test that consists of three basic parts: verbal, mathematics, and analytical writing. Many economics programs place great emphasis on the GRE math scores in making admissions decisions. The GRE is offered in computerized form by appointment at many test sites. If you plan to apply to a graduate school during your senior year, you should take the GRE no later than October. More information is available in the Center for Life Beyond Reed.
If you are planning to apply to graduate programs, you should meet with your adviser very early in the fall semester (or even before that) to select a list of schools to target for your applications. It is always a good idea to include both more and less selective schools on your list since it is difficult to judge the outcome of the admissions process in advance. Write for information and applications early so you can determine which, if any, of the schools require the GRE subject exam. Get signed up on time for an early-fall administration of the GRE. Request letters of recommendation from faculty at least a month before they are due. Once your applications are sent, bide your time and focus on your thesis work; you will begin hearing from the schools in March.
Graduate programs vary considerably in the number of students for whom they provide financial assistance. Teaching or research assistantships are often available for students after (and sometimes during) the first year. Assistantships typically involve a waiver of tuition as well as a modest stipend. Many programs expect students to pay their own way for the first year, with the understanding that successful students are likely to be supported in subsequent years. If this happens to you, make every possible effort to avoid having to take an outside job during the first year; you will need all your time for your studies. If you must take a job, look for situations in which you can study while you work (night watchperson in an office building, for example).
Many students take a couple of years off before deciding to go to graduate school. If you are not sure if a career as an economist is right for you, or if you think you want to go to graduate school in economics but want a break from academics, a job as a research assistant may be a good alternative. In recent years, several students have accepted jobs as research assistants (econometrics is usually a prerequisite) with a government agency such as the Federal Reserve Board or with an economic consulting firm. Spending a year or two in such a position allows the student to work with professional economists and participate in various kinds of economic research projects. This experience will teach you a lot about economics and let you see firsthand whether a career as an economist is appealing.
Students graduating with a Ph.D. can enter the job market for teaching and research economists. The most coveted positions in are those at the major university economics departments with well-established graduate programs, which go to the very top students from the very top programs. There is also high demand for research positions with major policy agencies such as the Federal Reserve Board, the Department of Labor, and international agencies such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Positions at universities with less well-known graduate programs and selective liberal-arts colleges are also subject to stiff competition.
An economics major is considered to be ideal preparation by many law schools. The ability to understand and analyze costs and benefits of events or decisions, which forms the basis of economics, is important background for many legal applications. Students who have an interest in law school should consult early and often with the Reed pre-law adviser.
Applications to law schools are usually due in the early spring and require scores on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Find out when the LSAT is offered and make sure that you take it early enough in the fall to get the scores reported by the date that applications are due.
Graduate schools of business usually offer two distinct graduate programs, with different curricula and separate admissions processes. The more common is the master of business administration (MBA) program, which is a nonacademic degree designed to train managers for the corporate environment. Most MBA programs give preference to applicants who have at least two years of experience in a management-related job in a large or small business. With an MBA, graduates can apply for middle-level management positions in companies of all sizes. The MBA job market had been extremely good until the supply finally caught up with the demand in the last few years. Graduates of the best MBA programs still receive numerous offers and high salaries, but an MBA from a less renowned program is no longer an automatic ticket to wealth and employment security.
Little or no academic business background is required for MBA programs. Some basic accounting and finance are useful, but most schools allow you to take these upon entry if you have no previous training. While the economics major is good preparation for the MBA, basic intelligence and a strong motivation to study business is usually more important than the student's specific undergraduate curriculum.
Most MBA programs require the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) along with the application. This is a standardized test that is offered regularly at sites around the world. Request your applications early and sign up for the GMAT in plenty of time to get your scores in before the application deadline.
Financial aid is not commonly available in MBA programs. However, the expectation of a relatively high salary after graduation makes it fairly easy to obtain loans. Some companies offer junior managers incentives to attend MBA programs either part-time while working or full-time after a couple years of work. Many schools offer evening programs for part-time students who want to work toward the MBA while maintaining their regular employment.
Reed has a cooperative program with the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester. Under the Early Leaders program, students may receive preferred status for admission and financial aid without having business experience.
Business Ph.D. programs are much smaller in size and more academic in orientation than MBA programs. They are much more like economics Ph.D. programs in that they require more mathematics and emphasize theory. Assistantships are often available and graduates often pursue jobs teaching in business schools. Ph.D. concentrations in finance are particularly similar to economics programs and require more mathematics than those in other business disciplines.
Economics graduates are also well-suited to pursue graduate degrees (usually masters degrees) in public policy at schools such as Harvard's Kennedy School or Princeton's Wilson School. Most policy programs look for students with a strong background in economics, political science, and history as well as good leadership potential and a compelling interest in public policy. The GRE is usually required.
Graduates of such programs typically work as policy analysts for government organizations or for policy-oriented consulting firms.