Thinking about graduate school?

By Katrina Knisely

Many Tufts economics majors go on to pursue a variety of higher degrees in economics and related fields. This post contains some informal advice and helpful links to get started on your research. Interestingly enough, most of the seniors majoring in economics that I know aren’t going to graduate school next year, so I’m taking this opportunity to remind you that there is a great deal of real-world experience to be gained before pursuing a higher degree. Going straight into grad school, especially with an economics degree, is not for everyone. By now I’m sure you’re familiar with the term opportunity cost, which is something you should absolutely think about. That said, the types of degrees you can pursue with an econ background are VERY different from each other.

Generally they can be divided into three categories:

  • Professional (MBA, law, public administration/policy)
  • Master’s (economics, finance, commerce, global development, etc.)
  • PhD (economics)

Start off by asking, “Why do I want to go to graduate school? What kind of job do I want to get afterwards?” Familiarize yourself with the types of economics-related careers and work backward to find out what sort of education your ideal career requires. The American Economic Association is a great resource: http://www.aeaweb.org/students/Careers.php. Next, talk to your professors. It’s best to start early – no later than your junior year. Phil Agre from UCLA recommends going to professors’ office hours with this approach:

“Hello. I’d like to ask your advice. I am thinking I might want to go to graduate school, but I’m still uncertain about where I would go or what exactly I would study. I do know that I’m pretty interested in such-and-such. How would I find out about graduate schools in that area?” Some common responses to this are as follows:

  1. ‘I don’t actually know much about that area, but you should talk to so-and-so who is really the expert on that.’ Go talk to so-and-so.
  2. ‘I think you’re going to have to define your interests a little better before I can help you.’ Ask for help in defining your interests better.
  3. The response you’re looking for, namely a list of all the good graduate programs in that area, with as much detailed description of them as you can possibly digest.

Defining your interests is probably your biggest challenge – it certainly has been for me since the Tufts liberal arts education exposes us to so many fields that I find interesting. However, it’s likely that you already know what you don’t want to do. For example, if you stopped taking math after Calc I and feel overwhelmed writing a 20 page paper, a PhD is not for you. PhD programs in economics are the most rigorous and time intensive out of the degrees mentioned above, so if that’s your calling, make sure to prepare early in your academic career. Take as much math as possible, talk to your professors and get involved in research. Learn about the application process for the type of degree you’re considering. It’s a much more personalized process with more department and faculty involvement, and unlike with undergraduate applications, you’re expected to have a clear idea of your course of study. It’s also important to note that some programs like an MBA prefer that you have a few years’ work experience, so make sure you understand the timelines of each degree and career path. In all, the road to graduate school is a highly individual decision making process that requires a lot of self-reflection and research. Whether you want to go right after senior year or wait a few years, it’s worthwhile to look into your options now while you still have such easy access to professors. Helpful websites to get started:

Thanks for reading! If you found this post useful, you’ll probably be interested in the events the Tufts Economics Society hosts throughout the year. Sign up to hear about them by sending an email from your preferred address (include your name please!) to tufts.ec.society@gmail.com.

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