How do I get a Phd in Economics?

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  • Written By: Jessica Hobby
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 24 February 2020
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Economics is a social science which, at its most basic level, studies decision-making. Economists focus on how individuals, businesses, industries and nations make decisions in regards to cost versus benefits calculations. The highest graduate degree you are able to earn in the field of economics is a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). If you wish to earn a PhD in economics, you will need many years of schooling combined with a variety of other activities to aid you in reaching your goal.

The first step you must take to earn a PhD in economics is to successfully graduate from high school and continue on to earn a bachelor’s degree at an accredited institution of higher learning. Although it would be easier if you earned your undergraduate degree in economics, it is not necessary. Undergraduates in other social sciences such as political science go on to earn PhDs in economics. Additionally, math, science and engineering majors may also pursue a PhD in economics.


Once you have successfully completed your four-year degree, you must take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The GRE is a standardized test which consists of a verbal and quantitative section. Although it has been debated, final scores on the test indicate the likelihood of long-term success in graduate school. Once you have completed your GRE, you must apply to the graduate school of your choice. You will be admitted, or denied, based on your complete application package, which typically includes transcripts from previous institutions, GRE scores, letters of recommendation and writing samples.

When you get accepted and choose to enroll in a PhD program in economics, you will have a large amount of work to complete in a five- to seven-year period. First- and second-year PhD students primarily concentrate on taking graduate-level courses in economics. When you begin your third year of your PhD program, you will most likely begin to reduce your course load and prepare to research your dissertation, which is a final thesis that demonstrates your knowledge in your field and is required to earn a PhD in economics.

Preparing for research requires preparing a research proposal, forming a dissertation committee of faculty at your university and orally defending your research proposal. These activities are typically completed by the end of your third year. You will primarily be working on researching and writing your dissertation beginning in your fourth year of graduate school. Most PhD candidates finish their dissertation in their fifth or sixth years, but occasionally it may take longer. Once you have completed your dissertation, you will be awarded a PhD in economics.


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