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How can I improve my odds of getting into graduate school for economics?
January 9, 2008 10:32 AM   Subscribe

I want to get a Master's in Economics in a few years, probably focusing on real estate finance and affordable housing finance. How good are my chances of getting into a good program, and what can I do to improve them?

I graduated from a good but not great university (NYU) with a good but not great GPA (3.2) in a related but not directly related major (urban planning and architecture). That was in May. I have since landed a good but not great job working for the NYC Dept. of Housing. I haven't taken the GRE yet, but I have a knack for standarized testing, and expect to finish somewhere in the 90th percentile.

With this sort of academic background and work experience, I figure I'd probably have a good but not great chance of getting into a great graduate program (i.e. Columbia), with one caveat: I never took any math, statistics or economics courses in college. I took calculus BC in high school and aced the AP, but I never so much as brought a graphing calculator to class in college. This, correct me if I'm wrong, whittles away my odds to pretty much nil, even at a more modest program (i.e. Baruch), right?

So, let's say that you were in my position, with the goal of going to a great graduate program in Economics in a few years. What would you do? Take night classes? Take online classes? Read books? Write papers? Get a different job? Move to a different continent? Despair?

Thanks so much for any advice.
posted by boots to Education (10 answers total)
Why an economics degree and not real estate or finance? What do you ultimately want to do?
posted by desjardins at 10:40 AM on January 9, 2008

Good point. Currently I see myself pursuing real estate development, especially affordable housing development. I want to pursue an econ degree instead of a finance degree because my interests have historically been fickle and I imagine an econ degree would facilitate a career in a wider range of fields (policy, business, journalism, etc.).
posted by boots at 10:43 AM on January 9, 2008

This advice might not be helpful but I've now gotten into 3 graduate programs that I didn't really think I was qualified for...well, I wasn't really qualified for. One at a state school here in Maine, one at Columbia and one at Berkeley.

I think what got me into Columbia and Berkeley was that I befriended/was befriended by an instructor that was teaching in the program that I was applying to. I didn't know her well but I asked her to write a recomendation based on her limited knowledge of me. That along with a recomendation by a college professor who knew me well (well...I wrote that one, he signed it).

Anyway, my GREs were not spectacular, I didn't have a lot of experience in the field I was applying for. I'm pretty sure having killer recomendations did it. So that would be my suggestion. Kiss whatever you have to to get some insanely glowing recomendations.

And also I'd say that you shouldn't avoid applying for something because you don't think you will get in. I didn't think I would get into any of them and I got into all of them.

[I ended up not going to any of them, and that's a long and harder story to tell.]
posted by sully75 at 10:52 AM on January 9, 2008

You're right - you're at a great disadvantage without any collegiate calc, stat or econ courses on your transcript. You're probably looking at low-end state school programs at best unless you ace your GRE and are widely published in your field, which it sounds like you're not.

The problem is that there has been a large influx of grad students in econ in recent years, so you're facing much stiffer competition. I'd say either make up your coursework deficit by taking those classes (maybe an associate's degree?), or figure out if you really need a Master's degree to do what you want to do.
posted by po822000 at 10:56 AM on January 9, 2008

As an Economics PhD drop-out, I would suggest taking lots, and lots, and lots, of math and statistics.

If you are naturally a whiz at math but just never had the opportunity or need to take very many math classes, then you may do fine. What I mean as a whiz would be if you do differentials and integrations for fun while watching hockey, or if you do matrix algebra on napkins at lunch, or if you use linear programming to calculate your most efficient route through town to pick up dry cleaning, go to the bank, and pick up dinner.

If you are math-challenged or even at all math-uncomfortable, you need to get yourself to calculus and statistics classes, and I mean ASAP.

Your results on the GRE will help gauge your needs. If you score less than 700 on the Math, you need help. Most of my classmates had 720+ math. Anything over 600 in Verbal you'll probably be fine.

You also will be completely lost without at least a Principles/Fundamentals of Economics series 1 semester microeconomics, 1 semester macroeconomics (i.e. Econ 201 and 202). You need to take this at, literally, your first opportunity.

You can't even really know if you want an Econ degree if you've not had Principles.

That said, a lot of economics is what is called "economic intuition", and it is something you either have or you don't. It can be developed to some degree, but it influences your entire outlook on the world.

If you are bright, can pick up the math, have a bit of natural "economic intuition", and apply yourself, I think you will have a very good chance.
posted by Ynoxas at 10:58 AM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

You can take the math classes (and econ prerequisites if you need them) through Columbia, or NYU (expensive) or CUNY, probably much cheaper.
posted by Jahaza at 11:16 AM on January 9, 2008

A lot of econ degrees are pretty theoretical. Why not go for an MBA?
posted by k8t at 11:23 AM on January 9, 2008

I agree with k8t. If you want to do real estate development, get a professional degree not an academic one. If you can match it with a strong GMAT score, I'd imagine admission committees would eat up an application essay that tied your experience in the NYC Dept of Housing to your desire to develop affordable housing projects. Definitely sets you aside from the all the Wall Street types applying to the top bschools. And I think it would still give you a lot of flexibility to pursue other careers, so long as you don't want to go back to academia.
posted by mullacc at 11:49 AM on January 9, 2008

nthing the MBA. It's easier to go into a different field with an MBA than go into the RIGHT field with a social science degree.
posted by desjardins at 12:12 PM on January 9, 2008

If you want to do real estate development, get a professional degree not an academic one.

Yep. And if you want to play up the non-profit angle, a few schools have programs where you can get an MBA and also a degree from a School of Government or Public Affairs. Harvard and Columbia (Kennedy and SIPA) come to mind, but I'm sure that there are many others. I suspect that these programs are three year programs.
posted by Kwantsar at 1:16 PM on January 9, 2008

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