Getting Admitted into a PhD in Applied Economics— The Admit Lab

Philippe Barr, PhD
9 min readJan 26, 2023

You are interested in agricultural economics? Business economics? Microeconomic theory? Health economics? Economic development? Applied econometrics? Public economics? If that is your case, it might be a good idea to consider taking the plunge and pursuing an applied economics PhD. Whether it’s your first college-level foray into the world of academia or you’ve been down this path before, learning more about how to enroll in a doctor of philosophy program can feel intimidating. But fear not!

In this blog post, we’ll provide a comprehensive guide to all things related to gaining a doctorate in applied economics — from diving into research topics covered by advanced degrees within this field to tuition costs and job expectations after graduation. So if you’ve ever wondered what life looks like as a graduate student in applied economics working at the highest level of education, just keep reading…you’re well on your way toward becoming an expert!

What is a PhD progam in Applied Economics?

It’s like a PhD program in regular economics, but with an extra helping of difficulty! Just kidding — it’s actually a doctoral-level degree that provides advanced training and knowledge in the field of economic theory, research methodology development, quantitative methods, and applied economics. With this PhD in applied economics degree, you’ll learn to use data analysis skills to investigate real-world issues faced by businesses and public policies.

By pursuing this degree, you’ll gain the critical thinking skills needed to assess the development of market trends to help inform decision-making processes. You will also acquire expertise in writing economic academic papers and presenting your findings on various topics.

What is the difference between a PhD in economics and a PhD in Applied Economics?

A PhD in economics focuses on the theoretical concepts of economic theory, while a PhD in applied economics deals more with the application of economic theories to real-world scenarios. A doctoral program in applied economics provides advanced training and knowledge in topics such as research design, quantitative methods, and econometrics. As part of this degree, you will also gain expertise

in data analysis and problem-solving skills. What are some research topics covered by a PhD in applied economics? It isn’t all about calculations and equations — it’s also about understanding the development and root of economic issues from a variety of perspectives. As such, the research topics that you’ll delve into during your doctoral studies might include macroeconomic and financial policy-making, labor economics and welfare policies, international economic theory and policy, behavioral economics, education economics, and the economics of health outcomes. By conducting research on these topics and more, you’ll develop a better understanding of how the economy works, and you’ll be able to better inform decision-making processes in the future. Other areas you may cover include microeconomics theory, game theory, public finance, econometrics, and industrial organization.

Moreover, you could also choose to focus your thesis research on specific subjects like health care policy, experimental economics, international economic relations, development economics, agricultural finance, resources economics, or environmental sustainability. Many PhD programs in applied economics also provide their students with opportunities to engage in real-world projects related to their respective fields of interest — providing them insight into how their studies can be applied to real issues.

The admission process — what are the requirements and how do you apply?

The first thing you need is a strong foundation in mathematics and statistics so you can understand the theories behind advanced economics studies. Secondly, you must have an understanding of research methods, as well as the fields and research areas within this discipline that interest you most — including topics like international economics, regional economics, urban economics, environmental economics, and public policy.

But, before you can start diving into your dissertation and research topic, you need to be admitted. That means gathering transcripts, writing an admissions essay, and navigating the application process. It might seem daunting at first, but with some hard work and dedication (plus our helpful guide!) it’s not as bad as it seems.

Admissions requirements for a graduate program in applied economics vary by school, but generally include undergraduate transcripts demonstrating strong quantitative skills; letters of recommendation from professors or employers who can vouch for your abilities; a resume highlighting academic achievements; GRE/GMAT scores; and most importantly, a compelling statement of purpose.

What is a good GRE score for an economics PhD?

For the Quantitative section of the GRE, it is suggested that applicants score a minimum 164 or higher. On the other hand, international applicants should aim for at least 154 on their Verbal scores as they will be treated with more leniency by admissions committees.

If you desire to gain admission into one of the most distinguished universities in America for a master’s or Ph.D., an exceptional GRE score of 320 and above along with an impressive 4.5 Analytical Writing Assessment (GRE AWA) rating is essential.

What kind of research will you do?

Anything from tackling the complexities of healthcare policy to researching the economic impacts of climate change — and everything in between! With a PhD, you’ll gain the knowledge and expertise to answer important questions about how economics affects our everyday lives. But don’t worry if this all sounds a bit daunting — it’s not as complicated as it seems!

What is the detailed coursework of a Phd in applied economics?

It’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty! If you plan on pursuing a PhD in applied economics, know that it’ll involve more than just researching papers and taking core courses. In addition to each research paper you will have to produce for each class, you will also very early on have to choose a dissertation topic which will require you to interact with faculty members to test out your hypothesis or explore your interests. You might also have the opportunity to take field courses or conduct an independent study with a faculty member. You’ll be required to synthesize your understanding of economic theory, undertake original research projects, attend seminars and workshops, write a dissertation, and defend it before a faculty panel. Additionally, graduate students will need to be able to confidently present their findings and explain the implications of their conclusions in public settings.

The first year of your program consists of taking core courses in macroeconomics and microeconomics and quantitative economics. You will also very likely be enrolled in a preparatory research course and complete an assigned research paper under advisement from faculty.

How long does it take to complete?

That depends on a few factors, including the required coursework, your specialization, your course load, research requirements, and your level of dedication to your studies. Once admitted into the program, you will be expected to take courses such as microeconomics, macroeconomics, data analysis techniques, and other core subjects related to applied economics through elective courses. After completing these courses, you’ll then have to complete a dissertation, which is an extensive written thesis that will require extensive research and data analysis. On average, however, you can expect to complete a PhD in applied economics in between five and seven years. But don’t let that scare you off — you’ll be rewarded for this time investment with an impressive degree and career prospects!

How much does a PhD in Applied Economics cost?

It’s a question that has caused many students to rack up debt faster than they’d like. But fear not, the answer isn’t nearly as astronomical as you might think! As the cost of college tuition continues to rise, it’s natural for prospective students to wonder if a PhD in applied economics is worth the investment. Many programs offer fully funded tuition and stipends that cover living expenses, making this advanced degree path more accessible than ever before. For those who are academically ambitious and driven by the pursuit of knowledge, a PhD in applied economics might just be the perfect choice.

What are the career opportunities for someone with a PhD in applied economics?

Once you have an applied economics PhD, you will be eligible for many career opportunities. Most of these positions involve higher-level work with prestigious companies in private industry such as investment banks, consulting firms, or think tanks. The skills acquired during your time obtaining your doctorate can also be applied to other roles within the field of economics such as economic policy advisor or financial analyst.

No matter what career path you take after completing a PhD in applied economics, you’ll be sure to benefit from the knowledge and experience gained over several years of research and study in the program — not to mention the newfound respect from peers and employers alike!

After graduation, you could find yourself consulting for a large corporation, teaching at the college level, working in health care management, international development, or even running your own business. You’ll have the ability to analyze economic data and provide insight into market trends that can help businesses make more informed decisions. Plus, you’ll be better equipped to think critically and solve complex problems related to fiscal policy.

When it comes to job prospects after graduation, having a PhD in applied economics can open some pretty impressive doors. From economists at major corporations to research positions within governmental agencies, having an advanced degree in this field can offer you the opportunity to make a real difference in the world. Plus, with salaries ranging from $60,000 to six-figure salaries, it’s not too shabby either!

What are the best PhD programs in applied economics?

That’s the million-dollar question. After all, a Phd in applied economics can take you places. It’s not just about getting your coveted degree — it’s also about career development, increased earning potential, and subject-specific expertise that will set you apart from the rest of the pack. Overall, the answer depends on your goals and interests. Each university offers a unique approach to studying economics — so it’s important to research each school before making your decision.

Here are our ten picks for the best phd programs in applied economics from around the world, in no particular order.

1. University of California, Berkeley

2. Stanford University

3. Harvard University

4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

5. Princeton University

6. London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

7. Toulouse School of Economics (TSE)

8. Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF) in Barcelona

9. Columbia University

10. Georgetown University

You have explored PhD programs in applied economics, now what?

At this point, we are getting pretty close to having covered everything you need to know about getting a PhD in applied economics. We covered the research topics often explored in-depth by graduate students for this degree, as well as job expectations and tuition costs associated with various programs. We hope this quick blog post was helpful and informative, and if you’re feeling motivated to take the plunge yourself we suggest starting with some research into potential dissertation topics. Once you have an area of focus, reach out to programs that offer degrees in your desired field to get a sense of what the application process looks like. If you’re feeling ready to take the next steps towards a doctoral program in applied economics, The Admit Lab can help make your application process seamless. And if you’re still on the fence about whether or not this degree is right for you, sign up for a free consultation with an admissions expert today! Got 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 and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

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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: