How to Apply/Prepare for Best Graduate Schools in Economics

Doing a graduate course in economics is a very important decision in one’s life. It takes a lot of effort , serious financial commitments and patience. But at the end the rewards far outweigh the pains and that is one of the reasons why number of applicants for this program at top universities always far exceeds the number of students admitted.

Tips and Guidelines to Strengthen Application for the Best Economics Grad Schools

Following are some tips and guidelines on how to strengthen your application to make it stand out from others at top programs around the country while preparing to apply for graduate economics study.

Essay Writing Tips

Writing essays is more about answering all the questions or include all information the graduate school has requested. Your essay should be unique, informative, and personally directed to your life and not a copy of something you read  online, or from any other source. Essays help graduate schools to understand the candidate as a person, as Stanford University says, “other parts of the application gives insight to candidate’s academic and professional accomplishments, the essays reveal the character of the person behind those achievements.”

Keep the following points in mind while developing your thought process to write an essay.

Essay is all about you. Graduate schools want to know why you want to study economics and the reasons you want to study at their school. They are looking for a possible “match of interest” between them and you and not looking for most well written essay with the catchiest introduction.

Essay is also about the school. Your graduate essay can be a little more impressive if you can quote relevant faculty member’s name and their research work. For college admission folks this is an indication of your extra effort in researching the school compared to average applicants. In the essay after all you are trying to demonstrate that you know the school, this school is right one for you and you are one of the most eligible candidates for admission.

Essay is personal. Your graduate school essay needs to communicate your motivation and your intrinsic qualities like your critical thinking ability, ability to overcome obstacles, positive attitude etc. that make you a highly qualified candidate for the school you have chosen to apply.

Give Time. Graduate essay is a significant part of your application process and you can’t afford to do a rush job. Invest enough time, effort and collect all your thought to produce an authentic story. The most impressive essays are the most authentic. Start this job early.

Be concise. Follow the guidelines like word limits, line spacing etc. for writing the essay. In case you find it difficult to stick to it for a genuine reason, call admission office to seek further guidance. Admission folks are overburdened and they are likely to read an essay thoroughly if it is concisely presented. 

Avoid Pitfalls

While writing your graduate essay be cautious about/ avoid following pitfalls

Spelling Errors: Admissions committees assume that applicants to graduate school can spell everyday words and, if not, know how to use spell check. Spelling errors are a mark of sloppiness.

Grammar Errors: Considering that grammar is part of the elementary school curriculum, poor grammar can send a graduate application straight to the trash. The misuse of contractions and the apostrophes are particularly common. Ask a friend to proofread your essay because grammar errors, like spelling errors, signal laziness at best, ignorance at worst.

Misuse of Words: Many words are commonly misused. As an applicant, you're trying to present yourself as intelligent, well educated, and prepared for graduate study. Confusing words like your and you're, for example, will not impress the admission committee. Ensure that your essay does not include silly mistakes.

Informality: Sometimes admissions essays are too informal. For example, essays containing slang may turn off some readers. Others may dislike the use of contractions. Err on the side of formality to ensure that you don't offend the graduate admissions committee.  Do not use jargons, profanity or racial slur.

Addressing the Wrong School:  Most applicants apply to multiple graduate programs. As they write their graduate admissions essays, most applicants refer to the university to which they are applying. Take special care to be sure that you change the institution name each time. An admissions committee will trash your application if the admission essay refers to another school. Don't let a careless mistake prevent you from attending a graduate school of your choice.

Tips for Interview

Most of the graduate schools do not call for an interview. However, if you have applied to a business school to do your economics graduation, then expect a call for interview.

This interview is an opportunity to “sell” your candidacy to the school and judge the faculty, graduate students and the department at the school better. Similarly the school takes this as an opportunity to assess you as a person and your fitment to do the course.

Treat this interview as a professional interview for the job. Play your part well and you will be that much more appealing to the graduate admission committee. You can leave a great impression on the school by following these tips:
  • Dress professionally for the occasion.
  • Gather information about the school, the department, professors and their research areas by reading website, printed literature and blogs. This will help you to respond to and ask intelligent questions to them.
  • Prepare to discuss your professional goals, areas of interest, motivation for graduate study. Prepare on your personal statement also.
  • Present yourself as positively as possible. Talk about your strengths, not weaknesses.
  • Ask questions that matter to you and give the interviewer insight into your personality and priorities. Don’t ask questions that can be answered in the school’s literature.
  • If you are interviewed in a party setting do not drink even if others are drinking. Remember that you are there for interview and not partying.
  • Send a thank you note to the interviewers either by e-mail or by post. Keep phone calls to a minimum.
  • Keep records of your impressions about the grad school immediately after the interview. It will help you to compare all the grad schools that had interviewed you.

Where and how many schools to apply?

  • If you are exceptionally well-qualified (all As and near perfect GPA, hard math classes and Eco major), you should apply to all top-ranked economics departments (e.g. Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Princeton, Chicago, Yale, Berkeley), and several backup schools, depending on the strength of your record.  You should definitely seek advice from faculty members on this.
  • If you have a somewhat weaker record, there are lots of good graduate programs out there, but you need to shop more carefully for schools that have well-known advisors or have recently been investing a lot in graduate students.  Some middle-ranked schools (eg Pennsylvania State) aggressively recruit prospective students and have placed graduating PhD students in top 5 schools by investing heavily in them. You need to do a lot of homework, and talk to lots of faculty about good places to apply.  Information about good places to go is likely to be dispersed.
  • Give serious consideration to small but prestigious PhD programs at business schools: Stanford GSB has a placement record that rivals the top economics departments, and Harvard and Northwestern also have programs worth looking into.  These programs typically offer more individual attention and have more generous funding.
  • The applicant pool seems to be getting more sophisticated and well prepared all the time, so if you have something like a more "typical" undergraduate background (undergraduate major, a couple of math classes, a thesis and mostly As), you need to cast a fairly wide net.  If you have more than a couple of B's you need to cast wider still.

Tips for Preparing Application Parcel

Application parcel contain various documents. This varies from school to school. The best way to find out about the required documents is to research college website and speak to the admission counsellor of the grad school personally. However, a general list of documents required by various grad schools is provided below for guidance:

1. Application Form. Many schools prefer online submission of application form- Common Application Form. For this one has to register at the website. Printed forms are also accepted. Collect the printed form and start filling it up if that is what you want to submit.

2. Application Fee. Pay the application fee online. If you want a waiver of the application fee please contact the school for further guidance.

3. Transcripts. Scan and upload the transcripts of all colleges /universities attended previously. Once fall terms are completed and grades are posted to your record a revised transcript should be uploaded or posted to the school. Applicants who have attended international institutions whose transcripts are in a language other than English must upload both original transcript and the certified translations or sent them to the department.

4. Recommendation Letter. When filling out online the recommendation section of the application, you will be asked to provide contact information for recommendation letter writers, including name, affiliation, title, and institutional e-mail address. The number of letters required varies depending on the degree program. It is generally advisable to have past professors or others who know you in an academic setting write your recommendation letters.

5. Standardized Test Scores. Graduate schools need official GRE general scores i.e. the score card is sent to the school directly by the agency conducting the GRE and not by the candidate. When taking test you need to provide the school/institution code number to the test conducting agency so that they send your score to your requested schools. Take these standardized tests early so that your grad school gets the scores well ahead of time of final selection of candidates.

6. Personal Statement of Purpose. This is a very critical component of your application package for graduate school. It should address your past work, preparation for study of economics, relevant background and interests, academic plans, and career. It should be used to describe your reasons for applying to the particular department or program. This statement may assist the admissions committee in evaluating your aptitude and motivation for graduate economics study.

7. Additional Material. If you think various components of application form have not been able to capture some important aspect of your academics or personality for admission officials to know then please include them in the application package.
General advice, however, is to be cautious to include additional material not requested for - the admission process is designed to capture candidate’s academics and personality, and secondly the admission office is overburdened due to large number of applicants. Additional material is unlikely to swing decision in your favor.

 So put your energy into filling out the application as fully as possible, and then if you feel like anything is still missing, contact the economics department to see if they would welcome additional material.
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