Economics PhD Acceptance Rates 2024: Do You Stand a Chance? -

Philippe Barr, PhD
11 min readJan 8, 2024

Are you considering applying to Economics PhD programs in 2024? If so, you must be aware of the fierce competition and ever-decreasing acceptance rates in this field. Economics continues to be a popular choice for individuals seeking advanced study and a promising career path. However, as the number of applicants continues to rise, the acceptance rates at top-tier universities seem to plummet. Gaining admission requires a comprehensive understanding of the factors that influence your chances. It is crucial to make well-informed decisions throughout the application process to maximize your opportunities. In this blog post, we will delve into the world of economics PhD acceptance rates, providing you with valuable insights and guidance to help you determine if you stand a chance in this highly competitive landscape. Whether you are a recent graduate, a working professional looking to advance your career, or an aspiring economist searching for answers, stay tuned as we explore the trends, challenges, and strategies that may shape your journey toward a successful application.

Pursuing Excellence in Economics PhD Programs

Economics PhD programs are renowned for their competitive nature, attracting a broad pool of highly qualified candidates from around the globe. These programs are rigorous and demanding and seek to cultivate a deep understanding of complex economic phenomena and equip students with the tools necessary to conduct original research. Applicants often face intense competition with the number of available spots being significantly smaller than the pool of individuals seeking admission.

Unveiling the Competitiveness and Globalization of Economics PhD Programs

Economics PhD acceptance rates vary widely across institutions, but overall, they tend to be quite competitive. According to the National Science Foundation, the acceptance rate for doctoral programs in economics at top universities in the United States hovers around 10–15%.

Current trends in admissions reflect an increasing emphasis on quantitative skills and research experience. Applicants who have completed advanced coursework in mathematics or statistics, or who have substantive research experience, particularly if it has led to a publication, often have a competitive edge. There is also an increasing trend of students entering these programs with a master’s degree already in hand.

Another key trend is the growing internationalization of these programs. Universities are drawing applicants from across the globe, leading to an increasingly diverse cohort of doctoral students in economics. This trend not only reflects the global nature of economic challenges but also enriches the academic discourse within these programs.

Evaluating Your Suitability

When assessing your suitability for an economics PhD program, universities take into account numerous factors, among which your Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores and Grade Point Average (GPA) play a significant role. These quantitative measures offer admissions committees a snapshot of your academic abilities and potential for success in a rigorous program.

As a rule of thumb, competitive programs often expect a minimum GPA of 3.5 and high percentile GRE scores, particularly in the quantitative section. For instance, the Graduate School at Harvard University confirms that successful applicants to their economics PhD program typically score above the 95th percentile in the quantitative section of the GRE.

The PhD in economics at Berkeley states that recent admits have a major GPA of 3.8 or higher. Their quantitative GRE score is 165 or higher. Moreover, the school notes that students typically achieve A- grades or higher in intermediate-level theory courses such as microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics. Preference is given to those who have taken honors or mathematical track versions of these courses.

At Duke, students who matriculated in 2023 had a verbal GRE verbal score of 159, a quant score of 166, and a GPA of 3.6. Penn writes that admits have a GRE quant score that is 164 or higher.

Based on the data for the Department of Economics at Brown University, the acceptance rate for the class starting in 2020 was approximately 8%. This percentage was drawn from a pool of roughly 750 applications, out of which about 60 were admitted. However, this rate varied according to different GRE scores. Particularly, applicants with a GRE score below 165 had a significantly lower acceptance rate of about 4%.

Although Yale ‘s Department of Economics website explicitly states that there is no required minimum for GRE scores, it does provide insight into the average scores of admitted students in recent years: Verbal 159, Quantitative 165, and Analytical 4.2.

Despite these numbers, it is also important to note that these are not hard and fast rules. The American Economic Association emphasizes that strong letters of recommendation and relevant research experience can offset weaker areas in an application.

If your numbers fall below the threshold of economics PhD acceptance rates, some areas to potentially improve could be to retake the GRE after thorough preparation, undertake additional coursework to boost your GPA or gain relevant research experience to strengthen your overall application

The Real Impact of a Master’s Degree on Admission Chances

When applying for PhD programs in Economics, many applicants believe that holding a master’s degree can have a significant impact on their admission chances. This belief stems from the notion that a master’s degree provides a valuable platform for producing high-quality research, which is highly regarded by admissions committees. Demonstrating the ability to contribute to the field is a primary expectation of PhD programs, and a master’s degree can serve as evidence of this capability.

Moreover, a master’s degree can also be seen as offering opportunities for obtaining strong recommendation letters from professors who can attest to the applicant’s readiness for rigorous doctoral study and therefore enhance the admission chances of master’s degree holders applying to economics PhD programs.

While this can be true, the reality is not as straightforward. According to data from the Council of Graduate Schools, there is not a direct correlation between holding a master’s degree and an increased likelihood of PhD acceptance. While a master’s degree can provide students with a deeper understanding of the field and advanced research skills, these benefits do not necessarily guarantee an edge in the highly competitive PhD application process.

Universities carefully assess each application in a comprehensive manner, taking into account various factors including academic accomplishments, research background, letters of recommendation, and personal statements. This suggests that by 2024, possessing solely a master’s degree may not significantly enhance the likelihood of being admitted to a PhD program.

Ultimately, prospective PhD applicants in 2024 should focus on building a robust profile encompassing strong academic records, relevant research experience, and compelling personal narratives, rather than relying solely on a master’s degree for admission.

Decoding Economics PhD Acceptance Rates: Unveiling Trends across Institutions and Years

Acceptance rates vary from year to year, reflecting changes in the academic landscape and student preferences. Some of the most competitive universities, such as Harvard and MIT, demonstrate consistently low acceptance rates due to the large number of high-caliber applicants they attract annually.

For example, Harvard’s economics PhD program has historically accepted around 5% of its applicants, a figure that’s remained relatively stable over the past decade. On the other hand, smaller or less renowned institutions might exhibit higher acceptance rates. For instance, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has an acceptance rate of about 40%, driven by its smaller applicant pool.

However, while these figures indicate the competitiveness of these programs, they don’t necessarily reflect the overall quality of education or the potential outcomes for graduates. Therefore, when contemplating the pursuit of a PhD program in economics, it is imperative to go beyond mere acceptance rates and take into account other significant factors that bear influence.

Enhancing Your PhD Application: The Importance of Quality Research Experience and Strong Recommendations

Gaining a depth of research experience and strong letters of recommendation are crucial aspects that can significantly enhance your PhD application, making you stand out in the increasingly competitive landscape of 2024.

For research experience, consider engaging in projects that align with your intended field of study. This could be undergraduate research, independent studies, or working as a research assistant. Being credited on a published paper can provide a significant boost, but it’s not solely about the volume of research conducted. The depth and quality of your work are equally important. Your research should also demonstrate your ability to think critically about research problems, develop hypotheses, design experiments, and draw compelling conclusions.

When it comes to recommendations, choose professors or supervisors who know you well and can speak to your skills and potential as a researcher. A glowing letter from a professor who has worked closely with you can carry more weight than a lukewarm letter from a big name.

Ways to strengthen your application and stand out from other applicants

To bolster your application and distinguish yourself from other candidates in the economics PhD acceptance rates, consider emphasizing your unique skill sets and experiences. For instance, showcasing proficiency in technical skills such as statistical analysis software (like STATA, R, or Python) or mathematical modeling can demonstrate your readiness to engage in high-level economic research.

If you have a specific area of interest, such as labor economics or development economics, aligning your research experience, coursework, or future research goals with this specialization can also make your application more compelling.

Furthermore, articulating a clear, thoughtful, and original research proposal in your statement of purpose can significantly enhance your application. This proposal, ideally aligned with the research interests of faculty members at the institution you’re applying to, indicates your potential to contribute significantly to the field.

Lastly, consider undertaking professional experiences that align with your academic pursuits. For example, internships at economic research firms, governmental agencies, or industry positions that require a strong foundation in economics can demonstrate your ability to apply theoretical knowledge in a practical context.

Remember, a PhD in economics is not just an academic endeavor, but a platform for impacting economic thought and policy, so any evidence of your ability to contribute in this way can strengthen your application.

Deciphering Myths: Understanding and Navigating the Landscape of Economics PhD Acceptance Rates

Often, the domain of Economics PhD admissions is shrouded in myths and misconceptions that can cloud the judgment of aspiring scholars. One such myth is the belief that a flawless academic record is the sole determinant of success. While a strong academic standing is undeniably important, admissions committees also place significant emphasis on research experience, recommendation letters, and a well-articulated statement of purpose that presents a clear vision of your research interests and goals.

Another pervasive myth is that applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree in economics to be considered for admission. The truth is that many programs welcome candidates with diverse undergraduate backgrounds, valuing the unique perspectives and skills they bring.

Similarly, it is a common misconception that applicants must have extensive mathematical training. Although a basic understanding of calculus, statistics, and linear algebra is required, most programs do not expect applicants to be math wizards.

Lastly, there is a mistaken notion that gaining admission to top-tier programs is impossible without prior connections or a pedigree. In reality, admissions decisions are based on a holistic review of an applicant’s profile, not their connections or pedigree. It’s important to dispel these myths and understand the true nature of the admissions process to successfully navigate your way to a fruitful academic journey in economics.

Embracing Opportunities: The Advantages of Enrolling in Less Prestigious Economics PhD Programs

While it is certainly understandable to aspire to attend top-tier universities for your PhD in economics, it is equally important to recognize the potential benefits that less prestigious programs can offer.

Firstly, a less renowned program may provide a more intimate and supportive learning environment, allowing for closer mentorship and more individualized attention from professors. This can greatly enhance your learning experience and research progression.

Secondly, these programs might present more opportunities for you to lead or initiate research projects, as competition might be less intense compared to top-tier institutions. Such experiences can be invaluable in building your academic portfolio.

Lastly, less prestigious programs often harbor unique strengths or niche specializations that may align better with your research interests. These programs could provide you with unique perspectives and experiences that can make your research more distinctive. Therefore, rather than considering admission into a less prestigious school as a setback, view it as an opportunity to carve your unique path in the field of economics.

Making the Wise Choice: Starting Early and Seeking Guidance for Successful PhD Economics Admissions

It is essential to remember that a successful application to PhD programs in economics is not a product of rushed decisions or last-minute efforts. Instead, it is the result of meticulous planning, punctual execution, and thoughtful decision-making carried out well ahead of time. Initiating your application process early will afford you ample time to undertake in-depth research about various programs, understand their requirements, and tailor your application to best demonstrate your suitability. This practice can significantly boost your chances of admission by allowing you to present a well-rounded and thoughtfully curated application that reflects a sincere interest in the program and a clear understanding of its demands.

Furthermore, reaching out to mentors, alumni, or current students for their insights can be incredibly beneficial. Their firsthand experiences and perspectives can offer invaluable advice, expose you to different viewpoints, and help you avoid potential pitfalls.

By taking your time, starting early, and seeking input from others, you can significantly enhance your probability of securing admission to your desired PhD economics program.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the future of economics PhD programs is a competitive and rapidly evolving landscape. With an increasing number of applicants and declining acceptance rates, it is crucial to equip yourself with the necessary knowledge and strategies to stand out among the sea of applicants. From understanding the trends in acceptance rates to making informed decisions throughout the application process, these key insights can make all the difference in your journey toward a successful admission. As you consider your options for applying to economics PhD programs in 2024, remember that preparation is key. Don’t let the thought of intense competition discourage you; instead, use it as motivation to put your best foot forward and take advantage of every opportunity. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or seeking professional guidance, be sure to check out our comprehensive PhD application services. We are here to support you on your path toward achieving your academic and career goals in the field of economics. So don’t waste any time, take charge of your future today! Have questions? Sign up for a consultation. It’s FREE!

With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Dr. Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Dr. Barr spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Dr. Barr has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

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Originally published at https://admit-lab.com on January 8, 2024.

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Philippe Barr, PhD

I am Philippe Barr, founder of The Admit Lab, a graduate school admissions consultancy that helps students get admitted into grad school: https://admit-lab.com/