Help me learn math!
June 4, 2008 7:01 PM   Subscribe

What are some good sources to teach myself advanced math in preparation for an econ/finance phd?

I graduated last year from a well-regarded university and was lucky enough to get a great job in investment banking. I am genuinely interested in finance and really enjoy what I do. However, the hours are pretty crappy and I have too many other interests to spend my entire life at work.

I'm seriously considering going for a Phd in Business or Economics and pursuing a career in academia. I had a very high undergrad GPA, was Phi Beta Kappa, etc. and I do very well on standardized tests. However, my degree was in Biology/History so I don't have anywhere near the math required to get admitted to a good business school (I don't think - acceptance rates to business programs are very low). I haven't taken any math courses since senior year in high school (Calculus BC).

I'm really not sure what is the best way to proceed to improve my profile for admissions - I could get a master's in finance or math, then apply, but I really don't want to go into debt to fund a master's program and I don't know if most master's programs in finance/math are funded (I doubt it). An alternative would be to take math classes at a community college, and hope that that is sufficient.

At this point, though, I simply want to make sure that I "have what it takes" to do an econ/finance PhD. I've always been good at math and did well in calculus, but I know that finance is very math-intensive and I don't know much about how difficult higher-level math is as compared to calculus. Also, I want to see if I "enjoy" higher-level math, or can at least tolerate it. I don't want to enroll in a PhD program if I end up hating the math. I don't remember particularly liking or disliking calculus; I was kind of indifferent to it.

So after all that buildup, here's my question. Please recommend good sources to teach myself math, so that I can see whether I can do it and like it. With most subjects I would just buy a textbook or something and self-teach, but math seems to be the one subject where it really helps to have things spelled out by someone (or something) who knows what they're talking about, since math has it's own language that isn't always easy to pick up. Free online sources preferred, but book recs are appreciated also.

posted by btkuhn to Education (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
IANAEorFPhD, but I am a grad student. I just can't imagine a program letting you in without seeing some university level econ and math courses. Unless your local CC is different from mine, going higher than calc isn't possible.
posted by k8t at 7:31 PM on June 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

An econ PhD program will definitely want to see college math courses, real analysis is the one that gets mentioned the most. The most common textbook is Rudin's Principles of Mathematical Analysis. If you can get through Rudin on your own then you're probably set, but few people would try that. Also is a great resource.
posted by thrako at 7:45 PM on June 4, 2008

You could try asking on EconPhD forums, although it appears to have died down now that the admissions season is over. Take their advice with a grain of salt, though - the people on that forum are pretty obsessed with getting into top 10 programs, so if your sights are set a bit lower, getting into a decent program may not be as difficult as they're making it out to be.
posted by pravit at 7:49 PM on June 4, 2008

I would not try to teach yourself, not for econ. Econ, especially good departments (which you badly want: the better the department, the better the job market), will demand at least linear algebra, real analysis and differential equations.
posted by paultopia at 8:31 PM on June 4, 2008

Wow... I just wrote a long answer asking the OP how they expect to get into a PhD with only a Bachelor's degree and no research experience, and then found out via Wikipedia that in the USofA, this is quite common and the Masters study is done 'in-situ' with the PhD! No wonder American PhD's take so long!

Back to the question though, I agree with the other posters that you probably need finance/economics experience to get into this type of PhD. I know you said you don't want to do it, but maybe the best approach is to get (or at least start) a Finance/Economics masters degree first? If you like it many universities will allow you to 'upgrade' to a PhD, and if you don't you can either a. quit or b. finish it anyway, since it will probably help you later if you want to continue in investment banking!
posted by ranglin at 9:12 PM on June 4, 2008

Here's some great general advice from an economist about applying to Econ Ph.D programs. She confirms the point about taking real analysis. You need to get a grade for these classes so you can prove what you know. You can probably take them at a local college by registering as a part time student.
posted by cushie at 9:39 PM on June 4, 2008

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