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Preparing for a Ph.D. in Economics

The minimum requirements of the Economics undergraduate major are not designed to be training for doctoral economics programs. Students who plan to continue their education should take more quantitative courses than the minimum required for the major. Preparation should start early in your undergraduate education. See an advisor for assistance in planning your undergraduate program if you hope to go to graduate or professional school. 

Students who plan on going to graduate school should take every opportunity to work directly with their faculty, whether through participation in undergraduate research, writing an honors thesis*, or doing an internship. There are many options which you should discuss with your academic advisors to find a project which is right for you.

*Please make an appointment to speak with Mark Witte, Director of Undergraduate Studies, if you are interested in pursuing an honors thesis.

Next steps: 

Take Math, Statistics, and Analysis Courses

Economics at the graduate level is vastly different from the economics courses you may have taken as an undergraduate. Graduate-level economics is dominated by either highly mathematical theory or sophisticated empirical research (econometrics).

“…the point has been simply to stress that they need to prepare mathematically. Too often in my experience students would tell me that they were thinking of pursuing a Ph.D. but it turned out that they had no idea of the math required.”

 – Eric Schulz, Professor of Instruction

Figure Out What Area of Economics You Want to Study

While it is important as an undergrad to get a healthy sampling of all the economic areas, as a Ph.D. student you will need to focus your interest in one or two areas. For example, here at Northwestern, we offer Development Economics, Econometrics, Economic History, Financial Economics, Industrial Organization, Labor and Public Economics, Macroeconomics and Microeconomic Theory.


“Something that is harder to give a clear path for, but students also need, is to start knowing economics well enough, and what parts of economics they like, to be able to write a good NSF proposal & good personal statement. That could be through RA work (if empirically oriented probably), doing a senior thesis, etc.”                     


Lori Beaman, Associate Professor of Economics

Talk to your Professors

There is no greater resource than those who have come before you. Your professors and advisors are there to help you succeed and will know how to best help you reach your goals. Remember these are the people who are often your future mentors and will write your letters of recommendation.

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