Grad School Q&A

1. How did you go about doing research on graduate schools, and how would you compare it to searching for an undergraduate location?

There are a lot of rankings of grad schools.  Look at all of them… notice the patterns.  A good place to start is the US new rankings.

Only apply to schools that have the field you are interested in.  

If you can talk to grad students, go for it.  But, do not ask questions to professors unless you have an extraordinary reason, like I just won and NSF and was wondering if I could work with you.  Also, be aware that even admin people are involved in the admission process.  It is truly annoying, but you do not want to make yourself look unprepared by asking questions… 

It is nothing like applying to undergrad… Classes are what matters, not clubs, size of school, tours, dorms etc.  Also, you will be able to make most of the decisions as to where to go AFTER you are accepted to a school and go on a “fly-out”.  Schools really are not interested in convincing you to come until you are accepted.  

2. How did you decide which schools to apply to?

I made a spread sheet (see attached). Then, I purposely chose which tier 1, tier 2 , tier 3 and “other” schools to apply.  The rankings of the schools and which tier they fall in may have changed a little since I applied so it is worth doing some research.  However, it is pretty commonly accepted as to what school falls in which tier.  As I did more research, I progressively knocked off schools that had a deal breaker (horrible weather, no development program etc).  Most people that I talked to applied to anywhere from 8 to 20 schools.  

3. What was the most helpful thing you did before going to grad school?

Everyone needs something to keep them going through the first year.  Some people had excellent preparation and hence were scoring better than everyone on exams- this kept them going.  Some people loved one of the first year subjects (micro, macro, metrics).  Neither of these two things applied to me.  

But, I did know what I wanted to do after this first year.  I wanted to study development economics and I wanted to be a professor.  And, I knew how much I wanted this from all of my work with Dr. Humphrey.  Anything less than knowing the people in Honduras or knowing how much I wanted to teach would not have been sufficient.  I still wanted to quit multiple times throughout the year, but I am extremely pleased I stayed with it.

Everyone’s reason for being in grad school is different.  But, you need to develop a strong reason BEFORE you start the first year.  The first year will do everything to break you down, so you need to put a strong wall up.  

4. Would you recommend getting a master’s in mathematics before applying?  If so, who has told you about that and what sorts of mathematics should I look for?

This really depends on what school you are applying to.  I will try to break it down as much as possible but I really only know about the first case below

1. If you are applying to a top school (tier 1 or 2) and then have an econometrics comp, then yes a masters in math is a great idea.  I easily aced every umw math class I took (and I took most of them), but I was extremely behind in math.  This was by the far the hardest part of the year.  I lucked out and got guys in my study group who were brilliant and helped me learn entirely new concepts.  However, I still barely made it through and there is no guarantee you would be so lucky.  If a masters sounds like too much I think the following would be sufficient: (1) at UMW take calc1-III, multivariable calc, differentiable calc, real analysis I and II, topology, discrete math, upper level stat, econometrics, econ forecsting  and anything involving matrices; (2) at UVA or GW or GM… take grad level statistics (look for a course that perhaps use Casella and Berger) and take grad level econometrics (even if you just audit it). 

2. If you applying to a lower ranked school or a school that does not have an econometrics comp, then I think taking the UMW classes above would be sufficient.  Not sure though…   

5.  What are important things that are overlooked on websites that I should consider before applying to a school?

Required computer skills… Anything that says it is a “good idea” or “recommended” read as “necessary.”

6. How important is the size of a school?  What are the differences between big and small schools?  (again, as compared to undergraduate.)

Not at all.  Most grad schools are big by definition.  And most econ ph.d. programs are small, say 20-30 people per year.  The actually size of the school will be irrelevant as you never leave you econ cohort anyway.

7. What has been the easiest/hardest part of grad. school so far?

 Hardest- lack of math preparation… fear of failing, no time for a life at all

Easiest- my classmates were awesome.  I think this was key.  Look for schools that do not fail that many out the first year as these tend to be schools where classmates work together instead of competing against each other.  Schools with bad reps are Chicago and U Penn.

8. Do you have any advice in general?

Enjoy life at mary wash, it is wonderful ☺

First year is hell, but it does end and it was worth it.

Grad school is nothing like undergrad… just keep on telling yourself that.

Get as prepared as possible…both in terms of developing a strong determination  to go to grad (or decide not to go) and getting in needed classes.

9. What is your everyday life like at grad. school?  What part have you enjoyed the most/least?  A simple narrative about her experience would be helpful as well?

Okay I  can only talk about the first year… So I hope the following description will change dramatically.

I went to classes.  I met with my study group about 3 days a week.  I worked on studying/homework for every minute in between.  I took 30 min off for dinner and 20 min for a shower and that was literally it.  Sometimes, I talked on the phone to friends when I walked to class.  I chatted with my classmates for a few minutes before/after class.  Otherwise, no social life outside of study group.  I worked all of the time- literally.  There is no difference between Wednesday and Saturday except on Saturday you have more time to study since there are no classes.


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Thanks. – shawn