Getting into a top economics PhD programme

For many decades, graduates of Australian bachelor’s degrees in economics have been making the trek to the best PhD programs the world has to offer such as Harvard, Princeton, LSE. This is a testament to the quality of our undergraduate education. But to get into a top PhD program more is required than good training. Here are some factors/advice I think are important:

1. First class honours in one of the top Australian honours programs; quite
often with a joint degree. If you don’t get a first class honours degree
you will probably be out of the running for a place in one of the top
ten PhD programs.

2. Letters from academics who are known at the institutions to which
the students are applying and who know how to write a reference. It
makes sense to plan your honours degree by choosing a supervisor who
is internationally known, who knows academics in top programs, and who
has had some success with placing students in good PhD programs.

3. Thesis Topic. You will probably need to do a solid thesis in the
honours year. Something that highlights your analytical abilities and
your potential to do research at the highest level. Don’t take
shortcuts do a thesis related to well known literature.

4. Well Written Thesis. In most instances you will be sending your
thesis with your application. Make sure that it is well written and
that the thesis is typographically appealing.

5. Top GRE scores. You’re going to have to do the GRE tests and do
well in them. You don’t usually need to do the economics GRE. You
should practice and my advice is for you to travel to Sydney or
Melbourne to do the computerized tests in November.

6. Advice from academics who are “in the know” about the US, and
hopefully have gained this knowledge from having spent time at an
international institution with a good program. When writing up an
application show it to someone who knows how admission committees

7. Send your applications to many places and keep an open mind. It’s
very unlikely that all the top places will offer you a place so you
should apply widely.

8. Offers start coming in in early March. Stay on top of things and
check your email regularly. Some places may put you on reserve for
funding. They will need to know if you are still interested in them
and will probably contact you in April. The admissions process for US
institutions ends in early May.

9. Take the opportunity to visit. If Harvard and MIT offer you a
place, then you should try and visit them in April. This is not so
that you can negotiate a larger fellowship but it will help you decide
which institution you want to join.

10. Getting into a top PhD program is hard. You should start planning
early in your undergraduate degree.