Wednesday, December 29, 2010

So You Want to Get a PhD in Economics?

This is a nice conversation between a graduate student and an undergraduate student who is asking the advice of graduate student on Economics PhD. Enjoy it on You Tube when you need to relax from hectic process of application.

Monday, December 27, 2010

How to Get Bank Letter Showing the Financial Availability

Before you get admission letters and I-20 you may be asked to provide the proof of financial availability. Since US education is costly therefore you may be asked to send the financial affidavit before the university issues the I-20 form. Remember even if you have got the assistantship you might be asked to send the proof of financial availability if the estimated expenditure for the year exceeds the assistantship amount. Only after the proof of financial availability is received by the university the university will issue the I-20 form and it may take 7-10 days to reach via regular mail depending upon your location. . Once you get I-20 form you can apply for visa. Yes, you can’t apply for a student visa unless you get I-20 form.

The proof of financial availability can be in two forms first, bank letter and second, financial affidavit. So, what is a bank letter? A Bank Letter is a statement that you have ‘stated’ amount of money in your account with a particular branch of a bank. This is a statement printed on the Bank letterhead and normally is not valid if not on a bank letterhead. So make sure you get the statement on the bank letterhead with the seal of the bank and original signature of the branch manager.

And how do you get the bank letter? It’s as simple as that. Normally if you have got assistantship you would be asked to show not ‘huge’ amount in your or your sponsor’s bank account. You may be asked to show some 2-3 thousand dollars in your account. However, it’s advised to show a little more amount than what has been asked, may be 2000 dollars more.

All you need to get a bank letter is, to contact your branch where you have a bank account and ask them issue a certificate showing that you have such and such amount in your bank account. The amount must be stated in US dollars equivalent by using the latest exchange rate. There may be a fee for issuing the certificate but it would not take long time.

You can also show money in your parents account or some close relative’s account. In that case you would need a financial affidavit.

Friday, December 24, 2010

How to Choose the Best University from among the Acceptances

When to expect admission results to be out can be found here. Once the admission results are out, the selected candidates would normally be notified by email. Sometimes the applicants are notified about the admission and assistantship decisions simultaneously however sometimes you may be notified of admission decision while the assistantship decision might be on hold and has not been taken yet. In such a case it could probably be a good idea to write to graduate director of your department asking about the assistantship decision.

Once you get an assistantship decision in your favor, you may proceed to next step. And that is applying for a student visa. However, you may probably want to wait for the admission and assistantship decision of other universities you have applied to. If the acceptance that you have got from is from the most favorite university of yours, then you can proceed for the student visa otherwise wait. Once you have got the admission decisions from all the relevant universities you have applied to, it’s time to choose the best university for you; by best I mean the most suitable university for you.

How to choose the best university you have got acceptances from? There could be two important criteria, inter alia, to choose the best university among the various acceptances; one, the perceived quality of the program as indicated by the faculty and your area of interest and the second, the financial status. If you haven’t already done this, go and check the profiles of the professors working in your area of interest of all the universities you are considering getting in. Some university may have a better ranking but there are not very good professors in your area of interest so it would be better to finally get admitted to one which has probably a little lower ranking but professors working in your particular area of interest are better renowned. Remember though ranking matters, ranking isn’t everything!

The second important criterion obviously is the financial aid status. Say, you have got admission into your first choice but not the assistantship then probably it’s a better decision to enroll into one that has low rank but you have secured assistantship in. For international students this is particularly a very crucial decision as for them US education might be prohibitively costly and they are not allowed to work outside campus. If you are working inside campus, your earning wouldn’t be sufficient to pay for your fees, let alone the living expenditure. Though some students work illegally outside the campus but that is very risky and if caught you might be deported back to your country and hence not advised.

Once you are decided about the university you are going to join request them to have send admission letter and I-20 form to your address if they haven’t already sent them. But before they send the I-20 form you might be asked for financial affidavit which is to be discussed in next post.

If you find the blog useful, please follow the blog.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Getting a B in PhD Course

Well… this post is a little deviation from PhD admission rather it’s related to those who are already pursuing their PhD. The motivation of writing this post is again a search item in Google with post name.

So what is the implication of getting a B in PhD courses? Okay… a B isn’t bad and if you have only B’s and no A’s and no C’s then it’s still okay but if you have only B’s with no A’s and even a single C that is probably bad. In most of the universities your assistantship is contingent upon maintaining good academic standing which means your GPA should be no less than 3.0 otherwise it may lead to assistantship withdrawn.

How is the GPA determined? Well… normally a student can get an A or a B or a C or an F in each course. If you get an F that means you have failed the course. Let’s not talk about this as you will be kicked out of the program in most of the economics departments. If a student gets an A he is given 4 points, a B means 3 points and a C means 2 points. The GPA is the sum of the total points divided by the number of courses. So if you get 2 B’s and an A in three courses you have a GPA of (3+3+4)/3 that is, 3.33. With a GPA of more than 3 your assistantship is safe. SO if you get B’s in all the three papers your assistantship is still safe and you don’t need to worry. Nevertheless, it’s better if you have slightly more than 3.0 such that you have room to make some mistakes in future. The main idea is not to let your GPA go below 3.0 if you care of assistantship.

Now, what is its implication academically rather than from assistantship point of view? Well… in my view in PhD grades should not matter much and this is your research often indicated by published journals or job market paper. But the grades do matter in real world. However, if you maintain most A’s and a few B’s this is certainly a good thing as better GPA is certainly going to give your transcript more value than otherwise. Anyways, at PhD level one should avoid getting C’s. C’s don’t look good on the transcript.

I would emphasize that research work is the most important thing. However, A’s on transcript looks better but you don’t need to worry if you have B’s in courses with some A’s.

Friday, December 17, 2010

What If You Have Missed the Deadline?

Sometimes it happens. Even after your best efforts you may miss the last date of application. Though you should try to avoid any such situation however if you have missed the deadline of some university, just don’t sit idle. Here are some steps that you can take in order to have your application being considered even though it reached after the deadline.
First and foremost thing that one should do is, open the online application account at the university website well before the deadline and start filling up the necessary information. Even if you are running late and are still preparing for the required tests you can do it simultaneously. When you are in the process of preparing for GRE or TOEFL tests you need a break in between your studies to refresh your mind. In those periods of rest you can have a cup of coffee and start completing the application. This way you can utilize your time optimally. So by the time you have written your GRE you have almost completed the online application form to the selected universities while not compromising with the time which could be devoted to test preparation. So once your scores are ready you can simply input the test scores in the online application form and submit it. The idea is, to submit at least, online application form at the right time.
Once you have submitted the online application you can contact the universities about the documents which have been sent by regular mail. Simply tell them the situation that you have sent the necessary documents and it may take a few days to reach them to the university. If you are using some fast and reliable courier services the documents are normally delivered within a week, no matter where you are sending them from. The universities do consider such cases however it should not be too late. Normally a delay of 3-4 days can be considered as universities also expect some delay and hence, probably start reviewing application after 3-4 days of the last date of applying. Anyways it may take them a few days to sort the applications in an easy-to-review manner.
In cases where you have even missed the deadline of the online application submission before submitting the application contact the department authorities and make sure that they are going to review your application. If they are not, there is no point in wasting your money. In fact, some universities may accept online application for as late as 2 or 3 weeks. You must have a valid and strong reason however, in order to request this.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

When is PhD Admission Decision Available?

Again the credit goes to an applicant with the search itemwhen do admissions decisions come out for economics phd”. The deadline of application to the universities varies greatly from as early as 31st of December to as late as 15th of March. However, normally it’s a good idea to apply before 15th of February to the universities where the deadline is 15th of March. This increases your chances of getting admission with assistantship. Do not wait for the last date to apply.
After the application deadline, the admission committee sorts the application and start the admission process. Though I don’t really have much information on how an admission committee works but probably they sort the application first, according to GRE scores. Since a university gets much more applications than they can actually opt for and they don’t have enough time to go through all the applications, sorting the applications or the basis of GRE scores makes sense. They normally have a minimum score of GRE and they are not going to look upon the application with a GRE score less than that. This makes evaluation of applications a lot easier. One might ask why GRE score? The answer is simple: no other method of sorting is going to as easier as sorting according to GRE score.
Once they have sorted out the application on the basis of GRE scores, it’s very difficult to say what the most important factor considered for admission is. One of the admission committee members says ‘after we sort out the application on the basis of GRE scores, we look at all other factors very carefully’. That means they give equal weightage to all other factors. Depending upon the size of the program, it may take anywhere from 3 weeks to 8 weeks to be admission decisions to be taken and the successful students to be notified. They would also notify the rejected applicants and sometimes they are going to notify the applicants who are on the waiting list as well. Some universities display the admission decision of a particular applicant on his application account, however, almost every university will notify the applicant about their admission status by email or at least, notifying them that the result is available online.
The admission decisions begin to be notified to students by the second week of February. It would be probably a reasonable estimate to expect the admission decisions to be out after one month of deadline though. The waiting time for admission decision is indeed, anxious. However, to keep busy oneself if he isn’t already, can start preparing himself for the graduate school.
Please raise your questions such that I know what topic to deal with. Please subscribe to the blog if you find it useful and also get draft of the recommendation letter if you subscribe by email. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Applying online to graduate school

Chris has asked to provide some suggestion over how to apply: online or via regular mail? Certainly applying online is preferred by most of the schools and applying online is easier too.
The best thing about applying online is that you can complete your application in a couple of days or weeks. So you are not in a hurry of completing you application at once. It’s better to open your account on the university website before a month of application deadline or so. You can start filling up the basic information even if GRE and TOEFL scores are not yet available.
Filling up an online application is quite lengthy and requires patience. You might get bored and hence it’s better to complete the application in several sittings. You need to input all the information related to your undergraduate degree, your place of residence and even your passport details if you are an international student. Keep your documents handy when completing the application form. You may have to fill up the percentage of marks obtained; name of specific courses taken, the year you graduated or you are expecting to graduate. You also may have to provide the name of your recommenders, the organization your recommender is associated with and his address. You may have to upload your Statement of Purpose and Resume. However, remember that even if you are applying online, you need to send transcripts via regular mail on the university address, normally to the graduate school or the department in which you are applying.
Some universities will accept only online recommendation letter which has to be submitted by the recommenders online through the university website or via email. Some universities however accept hard copy of recommendation letter in a sealed envelope, so when asking your recommender for a reference letter; try to get sufficient number of copies such that you don’t have to ask him for one again and again.
Once you have completed the online application and you are ready to submit it. Go through all the sections of the application and recheck them. Make sure there are no mistakes and errors. Once you are done with it, you can finally submit the application. However your application is not submitted or even if submitted it won’t be considered for admission unless the fee has been paid. The application fee can be paid through credit and major debit cards and is non-refundable. In certain scenario, some of the applicants may be eligible for application fee waiver. See if you qualify for this.
Once the fee is paid and the application is submitted your part is done. You can’t make any changes after you have submitted the application. So in case after submitting the application, you found out you have done some blunder, immediately contact you department to modify it. I think… that’s it. If you have any questions feel free to comment.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Draft of Recommendation Letter

On the demand of many readers I have prepared two recommendation letter drafts. These recommendation letter drafts would be available to the followers and email subscribers of the blog. Once you subscribe to the blog via email, these drafts would be sent to your email address within 24 hours. The subscription form is in the right sidebar at the top. All you need is to enter your email address and verify it. You can unsubscribe anytime if you find this no longer useful.
Most of the schools ask for 3 recommendation letters. However applicants can prepare third draft by selecting suitable and appropriate sentences from these two drafts. Try to avoid too many same sentences in more than one recommendation letter. It is also the responsibility of the applicant to use the sentences which best fits him because not every sentence fits to every applicant. Remember something which seems to be ‘white lie’ may jeopardize your chances of securing admission. So make sure you don’t lie. Even though recommendation is supposed to be written not by you but the Professors, however the admission committee knows that in most parts of the world an applicant prepares the draft for the same. So it’s you responsibility to include only relevant and appropriate stuffs which shows you a suitable candidate for PhD. Focus on your strengths and get it substantiated by your recommenders.  

Any comments and feedbacks are also welcome. If someone wants to add some specific information to his recommendation letter but he is not sure about it, feel free to get feedback on it.
All the best,
Thanks for subscribing to the blog.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Exam time

Hi Guys,
As all of you know this is time of final fall exams and I am also busy in that. That's the reason that I have been away from blogging for a couple of days now and will be away for a few more days. I will be back soon with new post related to Economics PhD Admissions. However, you are always welcome to give your feedbacks and raise you doubts. Those will be answered at the earliest.
All the best!
Thanks for visiting the blog.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

How to Judge SOP yourself

This is always a good idea to get your statement of purpose viewed by some experienced person, may be a professor or some of your seniors who have already got through PhD program. They can read and make some valuable comments. However before sending them you need to read your SOP carefully several times to make sure that there are no grammatical and spelling mistakes and that SOP is cogent and nice to read and is likely to make a good impression on readers.

Spelling mistakes and grammatical mistakes are fine but how are you going to judge if it’s impressive and cogent? There is a nice way which came into my mind randomly when one of my friends asked my comment on his SOP. I was not very much convinced on his writing style but could not find the right words to explain what the problem was with his SOP. And then suddenly an idea came into my mind and it worked. I am going to share this idea here.

Well, you don’t have to do anything much. All you need to do is to find someone who is very close to you. May be your parents or siblings or some close friend however I think the best person for this which I am going to explain immediately; could be you if you can forget for some time that it’s your SOP. You have to be unbiased.

Here it is: start reading your SOP from first sentence and finish it in one go.  Yes… you have to finish it in one go. After you finish it, ask yourself: did you or naturally finish it in one go or you had to force yourself to finish it in one go? Did you feel like quit reading it in the midway? If you did that means there is something wrong with your SOP which makes it non-cogent. And when you have read it you probably have got some idea that what is wrong. Where the lack of cogency is and what can be changed or modified. What is needed to be deleted or what else can be added. If someone else has read it, don’t tell them beforehand to finish it in one go. Rather simply ask them to read it and try to observe their facial expression. Do they look bored? After they finish it ask them the same questions which have been mentioned above.

After making perceived necessary changes, read it again. Duplicate the process until you are satisfied. Once you are satisfied with your SOP read it completely at least three times. If even after third time you read it and you didn't feel like making any modifications, probably your SOP is done and you can send it to some other person whose comment you think will be good.

I hope it works for you too. Please leave a comment if it worked and if you were able to make some improvements after using this technique. Before this read “How to Write Strong Statement of Purpose”.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Which Score of GRE will be considered for Admission?

Many of the applicants have to write GRE twice because somehow they could not perform well first time and their scores are very low and therefore they decide to write again. Sometimes they score pretty much higher than the first attempt and sometimes not. One of the reasons of performing better second time are that second time they are somewhat familiar with the examination pattern and the environment and hence they are more confident and cool compared to the first time. When writing exam for the first time many of the students feel a little uneasiness which is very normal but at the same time may have affected scores badly.  So if one is thinking he could not perform well or could not get the score that he deserved and his GRE score is low, it’s indeed a good idea to retake GRE.
However, many of the students have this question in mind: if they write GRE again which of the scores will be reported to the universities. If you have written GRE twice or more within a span of two year time, both of these scores are going to be sent by the ETS to the universities you have requested your score to be sent. The more important question thus is ‘which of the scores will be considered by the admission committee?’ Here is where the complexity arises since not every university has the same rule regarding which GRE score to be taken. So it would be probably a good idea to write to the program head of the department and ask what the policy of the particular department is.
In some  universities, the weighted average of the GRE scores will be considered for the admission. To illustrate, suppose you have scored 1300 in the first attempt and 1500 in the subsequent attempt, then your score will be considered 1400 which is the sum of the two scores divided by two. Sometimes, the latest score will be taken for the admission and hence, it is very important to score better second time than the first time.
However, the best thing for an applicant is that the best score be used for admission and many universities do this. So if you have specific universities in mind where you are considering applying, check their websites what their policy is for more than one GRE scores. If you are unable to find this information on their website write to them. This is going to help you a lot in deciding whether to retake GRE or not.
However, all this is relevant only if you have enough time to write GRE again. For example, if you write your GRE late December you have little possibility of retaking GRE as you would miss the deadlines of most universities. So it’s preferable to take GRE well in advance, preferably somewhere in October such that you can write it again (if you have messed it up), god forbid, before the deadlines of your targeted universities are gone.
These may also be interesting:
Comments are welcome!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Why a PhD in Economics?

Well… so far we have been talking about how to secure admission into an economics PhD program but we have not discussed why we shall consider a PhD in economics. Okay, so of course, the best answer should be because you want to a PhD in economics because you are so interested in economics. In other words you are passionate about economics.
But there are a lot more reasons which make economics PhD very attractive. Probably you know that unemployment rate for economics PhD is the least and it is close to zero percent. Yes, that means after the successful completion of you are certainly going to get a job. The small rate of unemployment which is found for economics PhD’s are frictional unemployment, that is, it is the period of unemployment when a person is switching between jobs. The job opportunities available for an economics graduate are lectureship in economics department, management colleges and agricultural departments, consulting to private firms and government agencies, position with governments, state and federal, position with research organizations and the international organizations like World Bank, international monetary fund and so on. So there is a vast range of jobs for an economics graduate to choose from.
Now, being sure of getting a job after the completion of your PhD, the next question that hovers around one’s mind is what will be the salary that one is going to earn. Again, economics PhD rank amongst the top in terms of average salary. Though not enough data is available, however economics PhD certainly figure out in top 5 of highest paid PhDs. A research study also shows that economics graduates are one of most satisfied professionals from their job. I guess that should be enough for a person to go for economics PhD even if he is moderately interested in economics since there are jobs available in which he would not have to do research if he is not very much interested in carrying out research after graduation.
However there is an advice too, before going for economics PhD, don’t forget to check these out:
Please do subscribe, follow and comment if you like the content of the blog. This keeps me motivated to gather information and convert them in a post.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Self-assessment: Are you a suitable candidate for PhD?

Ask yourself a question:
Why do you want to do a PhD?
There can be several reasons that you wanted to go for a PhD. May be you were unable to find a good job commensurate to your present educational qualification. You either didn’t get a good profile or the salary was too low. So you decided to do PhD.  Was it your family who wanted you to get a doctorate or some other pressure? The best thing however, is you decided to do a PhD because you were genuinely interested in research. And how would you know if you were genuinely interested in research? Observe yourself. Are you curious about the things happening around you and have you tried to find an explanation behind those things? If you did probably you like research and you decision of doing a PhD is right.
However, sometimes people enroll for PhD because they were unable to find a good job or some other pressure. But eventually they really develop an interest in research. And even after their PhD they stay in academia and research. And of course, sometimes even though they don’t find themselves interested in research still they successfully complete their PhD and thereafter choose some other job which does not require them to do research.
For being successful in a PhD program you don’t have to be one amongst the top in your class. I have heard from many professors, it’s more important to have patience than intelligence for a successful completion of PhD. However that doesn’t mean that intelligent people are not for PhD. Of course, a more intelligent student can get better results by dedicating the same amount of time in studies than a less intelligent student. However a student who has basic knowledge of mathematics and has a critical thinking can be successful in PhD.
As I have been pointing out in more than one of the posts in this blog, motivation is the key thing. A PhD student has to be self-motivated. His supervisor is not going to motivate him every day to do his research work. The student himself has to work and put in the required time to finish the work and get the desired or set goal.  If you have done any research work before and then decided that you want to research or PhD then probably you are making a right decision because you already know what research is and what it takes to do research. Research needs time commitment, motivation, hard work, and independent and critical thinking.
You may also be interested in this post, especially to evaluate yourself for being suitable for Economics PhD.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Evaluate yourself: Are you a suitable candidate for PhD?

The attrition rate for PhD programs is about 40 percent which indicates that there is a lot of wastage of resources in terms of money and time.  As there is a large cost involved in teaching a graduate student and often PhD students are provided assistantships, millions of dollars could be saved if the universities were able to choose only those candidates who are going to finish the doctorate degrees. However, this is not an easy task due to the lack of well defined parameters which could perfectly assess the probability of a candidate going to complete the degree.
A research study finds that those who drop out were almost as good as those who completed the degree at least in terms of the Graduate Record Examination and the undergraduate degrees. The attrition rates are higher for social sciences than sciences. The dropping out is also bad for the students because many of those students who leave the program never had experienced failure in life before and they may take a long time to get over with it.
Then the important question is, what makes a student to leave before the completion of the program? Obviously this is not a straightforward question as there are lots of factors behind this. First of all, PhD is a long time commitment. Normally it takes more than 5 years to complete a PhD degree and sometimes 7-8 years or even more.  Hence, before joining a PhD program one must ask himself this question: Am I dedicated enough to give 5-6 years of my life for PhD? Money is a factor too. Even though most of the PhD candidates are provided with assistantship, the stipend is significantly less than the salary they could have earned if they were in a job. Not only that stipend is sometimes limited for a given number of years usually 5 or 6 years.
As far as Economics PhD is concerned, the average completion year for economics PhD is also 5-6 years. Given one is ready for the time commitment, the next issue for an economics PhD is the amount of math work he thinks he would be able to do. An economics PhD student must have adequate knowledge of mathematics in order to successfully complete the program. Not that one has to be very good in mathematics but has to be open to learn mathematics and must have a mathematical aptitude.
Economics PhD is probably the most difficult PhD in social sciences and one of the toughest among PhD’s in all streams. Hence before applying to PhD program in economics, make sure to evaluate yourself for the time commitment and hard work requirement in order to complete the degree. Because if you drop out in the midway you have wasted some of important years of life and this also drives your morale down. Remember most of the times students leave not because they are not capable enough to complete the degree but there are other reasons which are not academic or very less academic than personal reasons.

Check out "Self-assessment: Are you a suitable candidate for PhD?" for further analysis. 
Please do comment, follow and leave your concerns to drive my morale high.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Are Mathematics Courses Absolutely Necessary for Economics PhD?

Let’s first rephrase this question into two different questions. First, are mathematics courses necessary for economics PhD admission? Second, are mathematics courses necessary for success into an economics PhD program?
The answers to these two different questions are different too. For the former question the answer is no. It’s certainly good to have a number of mathematics courses for admission into economics PhD program. If you are pursuing PhD in economics you are going to use the applications of mathematics extensively in your thesis and coursework. However, for admission into economics PhD program you don’t absolutely need to have all those courses in mathematics. A few courses which actually show that you have necessary knowledge of mathematics such that you can apply them to your studies further; are sufficient for admission. Having these courses on your transcript show that you are having the knowledge of basic and essential mathematics concept which can be used to develop and learn advance mathematical techniques which would be taught during the program.
The answer to the latter question is, yes. For success to economics PhD program, one must have a mathematical aptitude. Courses like multivariate calculus, linear algebra, probability, vector spaces and topology are going to be proved very helpful and if you are not familiar with them you are going to learn it or having a tough time. There is no way that you an economics PhD student can skip mathematics.
The bottom line is it’s more important to be having a mathematical aptitude rather than having a number of mathematics courses in undergraduate for economics PhD. But you are of course, going to get an advantage in the admission process if you have a number of mathematics courses on your transcript since this makes the admission committee confident that you know mathematics. This is the reason that economics PhD requires on of the highest scores in the quantitative section of the GRE. Hence even if you don’t have many mathematics courses to show on your transcript, you can apply for Economics PhD.
P.S.- I came across a question of this type on a forum and I decide to tackle it here. So please do comment your concerns and questions such that I can make the information as relevant as possible.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Very Low GRE Score: Next What?

You are coming out of the GRE test center with a sad face because your score in GRE didn’t come out to be what you expected. This is not very uncommon. This can happen with anybody. So if you wrote GRE well before December, you have one option that you can write GRE again but if you wrote it very late and you fear that by the time you write GRE again the deadlines of the universities will be over and you don’t want to miss the year. What are the options?
Well considering you don’t want to miss the year, you can probably apply to low ranking universities which are achievable with your score. But what if your score is too low… say 1100 or even lower. Though you can get admission to some universities with a GRE score of 1100 too if other credentials are good yet it’s a little risky. One option to you may be to consider your PhD in agricultural economics which is very similar to economics PhD but not exactly the same. However you can do almost same research which you could have done as an economics graduate student. And with a GRE score of 1100 and more you can get admission to a decent ranking university in agricultural economics department.
One more option could be talking to the program head of the school you are applying to. Sometimes you can write them a mail describing your situation that somehow you could not score very well in GRE because of some reason but you want to apply to that university. You are planning to write GRE again but you are going to miss the deadline. In some cases, though very rarely, they may allow you to apply with the current score however they require you to submit the new score as soon as possible. In that case if you could improve your score next time you may get admission.
Nonetheless, the best strategy is to write GRE a little early such that you can write it again if you mess up your test and you can rewrite it at right time such that you can apply to your target universities. You may also want to discuss the reason of scoring bad in your SOP.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Unique idea to get into a Top University

Another post related to the ranking of university. Undoubtedly everyone wants to get into the top universities but of course, everyone can’t as there are limited positions available for a large pool of candidates around the globe. So, if you want to get into a top university but you don’t really have such excellent credentials which are necessary to make into economics PhD program in such universities here is what you can do. Okay, so there is a unique way to secure admission into a top university but of course this is not costless. Just like everything else there is a trade-off which I am going to reveal right away.
So let’s say your credentials are good but not really excellent to make into a top economics PhD program but for you the ranking of the university matters the most. Let’s put it in a simple way: you are having say, 740 in quantitative section of the GRE which is not sufficient to secure admission with funding to a particular university which is say in top 30 or 40. But you want the same university or the same ranking university to attend to. Well, here is the idea. Instead of applying to the economics department at the same university, you can apply to the Agricultural economics department of the same university and you have better chances of securing admission with funding into agricultural economics department. Better still, you can apply to both the departments and see if your luck holds for the economics department.
As a matter of fact, the GRE quant requirement for agricultural economics PhD is much less than economics PhD and the competition is also less compared to economics PhD program. The trade-off is that you are not an economics PhD student however, in most of the cases; you can work towards almost the same area of research as you could have done as an economics PhD student. For example, as a PhD student in agricultural economics you can still work in the field of development, labor economics, regional economics, urban economics, resource economics, consumer theory, some specific areas in macro theory and so on. You can just browse through the website and the faculty profile and can find out if there is research going in your area of interest. Usually in a top university the department has a larger number of faculty members with different areas of research interest so it’s easier to find a particular area in which the research is being carried on. In fact, in many of the universities agricultural economics students and economics students attend a number of courses together by the same professor. Sometimes you may also be able to transfer your enrollment to economics department if you have good grades.
Ultimately, the choice depends upon the intensity of preference for graduating in Economics or graduating from a top university. If you are more concerned about the name of the university and want a top brand name to carry with you for your whole life, go ahead and apply to some of the top agricultural economics department in top ranking universities.
I hope I am providing the relevant information in this blog. Please do comment, follow and give suggestions if you find the blog useful.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Does the Ranking of a University matter: Decision of Application year

Once again of course, it does. If you are a Harvard graduate employers are ready to welcome you their arms wide open when you approach them. A Harvard graduate certainly has advantage over the graduates from a university which is not in top 10. And yes, spending 5 years in top university with top intellectuals and a highly intellectual environment indeed inspires you to give your best and after 5 years you come out as a real intellectual.
Having said that, we can divide universities in four categories: top 10, ranked between 11-50, ranked between 51-150 and below 150.  Essentially the ranking is US university ranking and not the world ranking. Also this is not a very scientific method to divide the universities in different categories and there is not hard and fast rule about deciding the exact number in each category. The sole purpose of the discussion here is to make the decision easier for those who are in a fix if they shall apply immediately or shall wait for a few years so that they can get into a higher ranked university.
Therefore, if you are not from top 10 but from top 50 and when you go to job market you have revealed advantage over those who are not from top 50. What I essentially mean here is say you are from a university ranked 15 then you don’t have revealed advantage over a candidate who is from a university ranked 45. The decision is going to be taken depending on other factors. I am not saying that if you go to a top 15 university it’s not worth. It is but I don’t personally think that it’s such a worth that you decide to wait for 2-3 years to make yourself get accepted by that university. Ultimately in PhD, it’s your work that counts. But yes…. If you can’t even make to a top 50 university then probably I would say that it’s worth to wait for a few years.
Same logic applies to an applicant who is in a state of fix where he can get admission to a university ranked 100 but can’t make to a university ranked around 50. In fact it’s very difficult to decide on the basis of ranking after top 50. Can you really make a clear difference between two universities one figuring in early 50’s and another in late 50’s. So ranking must not be the most important criteria while seeking admission according to me. And of course, some faces matter too. If a professor is well known for his research productivity in a certain area then for an applicant who is also interested in same area, the particular university could be a better option than some other university which is ranked higher than this university but not so well known professors in the same area. However, normally you find top professors in almost every field are in top university.
The choosing a university ranked below 150 is indeed a tough decision. You might not get a very intellectual company in such university. However I must say ‘something is better than nothing” applies here too. Get your PhD from such university, work hard, produce good results and publications and if not immediately you would be able to carve a niche for yourself with the course of time.
I am sure that there are so many holes in the post to argue about and raise your finger on. But at the same time I hope that it helps at least a few applicants who are in a transfix to apply this year or next year or may be dropping the idea of doing PhD altogether. Leave your comments.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What One Must Know Before Taking GRE

To score well in GRE one must know certain secrets of GRE exam. In GRE test the time management is the most important thing. Make sure you answer all the questions. The GRE test is a computer adaptive test (CAT) which means that computer adapts itself according to your performance. Therefore, if you answer a question correctly the next question on the screen is relatively more difficult and if you answered it incorrectly the next problem is probably an easier one. So if you see that the difficulty of the problem is increasing, you are doing well.
The first few questions in a GRE test is worth more point so you can spend comparatively more time on a first few questions. Try not to get first few questions incorrect otherwise it may have devastating impact on your score. To emphasize, answering wrong to the questions appearing first has more negative impact on your score than answering the questions appearing at the end. However, that does not mean that you should struggle with a question which appeared earlier in the exam. DON’T spend too much time on a question, move ahead. Answering a question wrong does not devastate your score. In GRE you can answer 2-3 questions wrong and still can score perfect that means even after getting 2-3 problems wrong you can score 800. However that depends on the difficulty level of the questions. In any case, spending too much time on a question is not advisable.
When you are approaching the end of the test, you may sometimes find that you don’t have sufficient time to answer the remaining questions. Don’t leave any question unanswered. A question unanswered has much more negative impact on the score than a question not done right. Since you cannot skip a question in a GRE test hence if you are running out of time just make educated guess and you should be fine. This is my personal experience, I didn’t practice much for the quant section because I thought it was too easy and hence in the test I was not able to manage my time properly in quantitative section. I realized at the end of the test that I had 8 questions to answer in less than 3 minutes. So I just started choosing the options blindly but completed all the problems by the time. I was in the mood of canceling my test because I thought I had messed up my quant but since I wrote the test already too late if I canceled the test I lost my year. SO finally I decided to see what my score was. And much to my surprise I had scored 760 in quantitative section. The central point of the discussion is, don’t lose your cool during the test and answer all the questions. You would be able to score well.
Got questions and comments? Feel free to write down your concerns.

Fall Semester versus Spring Semester

Many applicants have a question which semester they should apply to. Unambiguously the fall semester is the best choice for applying to a university for better admission and assistantship opportunities. In US universities there are primarily two semesters: Fall semester beginning in August and Spring semester beginning from January. However most of the universities don’t accept admission in spring semester hence, it’s highly advisable to apply in fall semester.
The arguments of the students willing to apply to spring semester goes somewhat like discussed below. In the spring semester there are not many applicants applying for admission and hence there is not much competition for admission as well as assistantship. But this argument is only partially correct at the best. It’s true that there are significantly less number of applicants in the spring semester but the number of admission and assistantship to be offered is even less and hence, it’s more difficult to get admission. So, be ready to write your GRE and TOEFL at the right time such that you don’t have to wait till the spring semester. But if you have to in certain circumstances then you can give it a try in the spring semester or probably you would want to work for that year which adds value to your application.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Worst Possible GRE for Economics PhD admission

‘Interesting title’ – isn’t it? Well, the credit goes to an applicant who searched this keyword in Google search which returned this Blog address. I found this very relevant and interesting and now penning down what I think about this. Hope this helps this guy.
As everyone is aware that GRE is one of the important criteria for not only admission but also for the assistantships. GRE requirement for admission is lower than GRE requirement for assistantship. For an international student, to get admission into a good university; a GRE score of 1200 plus or on the safe side 1250 plus should be fine. Of course the division of scores is important, a quant score should be minimum 720 (740 plus preferred). The assumption here is that the applicant has a decent SOP, GPA and recommendations. For an American student on an average, 1200 plus should do.
What about the assistantship? To secure an assistantship opportunity, an international applicant should have ideally a minimum of 740+ in quantitative section of GRE with a total of 1250. But that does not mean that a student with 1200 GRE score can’t get assistantship. Of course he can as other criteria are also important for admission and assistantship.
However, there are universities where one can expect assistantship with GRE score as low as 1150 or may be even less. One should choose the universities to apply for very carefully as it needs resources in terms of money and time to apply for every single university. You need to make according changes in your SOP for every university you are applying to. Make sure you browse the university webpage to gain all the necessary information. Also determine your chances of getting funding from a particular university. You should be able to find all the information on the website. Many of the students go to Consulting agencies for the same which may be time consuming, costly and do not add any value to your knowledge about the university.
How about top 50 universities? To get into a top 50 university almost everything should be excellent. A GRE score of around 1400, a very good SOP, a good GPA and good recommendation letters may be required.
You don’t need to go to consultants if you use this blog in a proper way to find information on… how to write SOP, whom to request recommendation letters from, and how to choose best universities depending on your scores and GPA. Leave your doubts as comments and I will be able to address them.
All the best!!!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Writing a Professor for Assistantship

Many of the applicants have this question in their mind: should they write to the Professors of the department they have applied to for assistantship? The answer to this question is not straightforward as it can be beneficial but also can backfire sometime. This is sometimes viewed as against the academic spirit.
The best idea thus, is to have zeroed in on the particular universities you want to apply according to your area of interest well before the application season may be six months before or so. After having done this you need to identify some professors who are working in the similar field. You can then write them about your area of interest and the work you have done so far in that particular area as research assistant or in some project or even in school assignments. You need to substantiate why do you like that particular area and why do you think that working with that professor will be good for you and what you can contribute to it. You may then ask him the question like… will it be a good idea to get a PhD from that university and like that. If you look serious enough about the topic and the professor is working in the same field he might offer you research assistantship directly under him. But that of course, requires solid background in that particular topic.
Considering the fact, it’s too late and nobody has time left for that now let’s move on to what an applicant shall write if he wants to do that now. That is a tricky question as noted earlier because some of the professors may take it as a negative thing. However, you can write to a professor but be professional in your mail. Tell him you want to work with him… you read such and such papers of him and this is something you liked and this is something you disagree to. Validate whatever you write to. Stress on your strengths and your ability to contribute. Be concise in your mail. If you write a long mail the professor may not even go through this as he obviously doesn’t have free time like you when you are waiting for the reply from the universities.
What if he doesn’t reply? Don’t shoot another mail. A professor gets tens of such mails every day and unless he sees some substance in the mail he is not going to reply you back. Sending another mail may irritate him and this may have a negative impact on your application.
But yes… surely write mails to the professors and the department chair if you have got admission but not the assistantship. Describe your situation to him that it would be difficult for you to continue your studies without funding and that you are really interested in the department because of such and such reasons. Again don’t bluff… browse through the website of the university and find out the information about the university so that you have something substantial to say about.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Documents Needed for Applying to Universities

This is early November and you have got your scores, GRE and TOEFL, you have your transcripts and recommendation letters ready. This is time to apply to the universities you have selected. As discussed in Introduction, one should apply to 7-8 universities which can be divided in 3 categories: ambitious, realistic and safe. One should apply to some universities which fall in safe list for him in the sense that given his credentials it’s almost certain that those universities will grant him admission with assistantship because you don’t want to waste one year in case you are unable to get admission to your dream universities.
Now that you are decided about the universities you are ready to apply to; recheck the admission documents especially the SOP and CV if there are some spelling mistakes or grammatical errors or some important information is missing. Find the deadlines of the universities which range from 1st of November to 1st of March or even later but be advised that only a few universities have deadline left after 1st of February so your choice set gets smaller day after day 1st of January. Most of the top universities have deadlines no later than 15th if January. You need to check the website of the university to find their deadlines.
In most of the universities the application can be submitted online.  For online application one needs to open an account on the university website. However, some universities may require to apply via mail. Some of the universities may accept online application but may require a recommendation letter to be physically sent to the department address. Remember almost all of the universities will require you to send your transcript to them via post before the deadline in order to view your application complete. So send these documents well before the deadline of application otherwise your application would not be considered complete and may not be reviewed by the admission committee.A list of documents that university needs:
SOP: Most of the universities accept online SOP.
CV or Resume: For most of the universities it can be submitted online.

Recommendation letters: Most of the universities accept them online however, some universities still require them to be sent physically. Most of the universities require 3 recommendation letters.
Transcripts: Most of the universities require one transcript. However, some universities may ask for 2 transcripts one for the department and one for the graduate school. So when you are requesting your school for the transcripts, carefully determined how many of them you will need.
GRE score: You need to order ETS to send your score directly to the university. You can find the school code on the university website or can find its code by its name on ETS website.
TOEFL Score: Again only official TOEFL score reported directly by the ETS will be accepted by the university. Normally ETS takes about a week to send the score to the universities so make sure you order them a week or preferably 2 weeks before the last date of submission of application.
Well… that’s it. Seal them all in a big and strong envelope and mail them a week before the deadline if you are sending them from within USA or send them at least, 2 weeks before the deadline if you are sending them from outside USA. Use a fast and reliable postal service.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Post-recession PhD funding scenario in USA

The recession that began in December 2007 and hit the US economy badly has finally reached an end and the recovery has begun. The ‘National Bureau of Economic Research’ has declared that 18 month long recession finally hit a trough in June 2009 and the economy is recovering. What is it’s implication on PhD funding?
Well, because of the recession many universities are facing financial crisis. Many of the state universities are facing budget cuts and hence, they have reduced the number of PhD students significantly. The private universities are also facing financial crisis because of less projects available. So in 2009 and 2010, it was relatively harder to secure funding even for them who thought they might easily secure a funding. The situation has become worse for International students. Hopefully in the recovery phase the funding situation will improve but it may take another 2-3 years to return back to initial level.
The recession has not only decreased the funds available for the PhD students but also increased the competition for it. As many of the undergrads who are unable to find a job continue their education to graduate level. However, this does not mean that funding is not available at all. The universities are still offering TA/RA ship to its students.
So presently it’s recommended to have a better GRE score and other credentials in order to secure funding. Even US students are recommended to score at least 1200 GRE with 740+ in quants in order to secure admission with assistantship in a good university.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Length of SOP

What is the proper length of a ‘Statement of Purpose’ for an economics doctoral applicant? Well, this depends how much you have to write about your academics and research prior to applying. However, you cannot just keep on writing and writing. There is a limit on the length of the SOP. Even if there is no limit; an ideal SOP should not be too long as it might distract the readers and they may miss out the important information. At the same time, it should not be too short such that it looks too abstract and difficult to understand. This happens because of the use of multiple complex sentences and due to the lack of cogency.
An ideal SOP should be of around 1200-1500 words. Not more than that. The committee has a large number of applications to evaluate and choose the right candidate from a large pool of applicants. So they want to extract the relevant information in as little time as they can. 1500 words is more than enough to write relevant information for you where you can easily show them your strengths and prove why you are a suitable candidate for PhD and of course, also for the assistantship.
Some of the universities require that SOP must not be more than 500 words. Reducing 1500 words 500 words is not an easy task and some important information may not be incorporated. It's better to limit your SOP in 500 words in those cases, however, there can be a few more words but not too many. One good idea when you are not able to fit all important information in the limit provided, is to conatct the department. In certain case they may increase the limit. That’s a pain. In any case, it’s advisable to keep the 2 drafts of your SOP ready, one with 1500 words and one with 500 words such that you are not under pressure when you find out that a certain university requires 500 word SOP. As mentioned under ‘Writing your Statement of Purpose and Resume’ this is a very important part of your application which shows your personality and creativity. Include only the correct information about yourself and don’t lie! Look convincing whatever you write about yourself.

Friday, October 8, 2010

“Does the ranking of a university matter?”

Here is one of the most asked questions from a graduate applicant
“Does the ranking of a university matter?”
Of course, it does. The question should be ‘how much’?
Should one sacrifice one’s a year or two in the hope that he can get into a better university later? Is it worth to study in a university which has a ranking more than 100?
Indeed this is an interesting as well as a complicate question which needs to take into account many possible factors and depends on the circumstances one is applying in, like the current applicant has to take into account the going recession impact too.
I would like to see your views on this and also raise your questions as this is very important to choose your university and the deadlines for the applications are approaching. After your comments I will try to summarize and discuss the pros and cons of the issue while building up the idea based on your questions and comments.


You have nothing much to do for transcripts. You just need to contact your university or college whichever applicable in order to issue the transcripts. However, in some part of the world people are still unfamiliar about transcript and so when you contact a schhol official in those part of the world they might as well ask you a question: what is transcript? Don't panick!
You just need to convince them that transcript is nothing but a statement of marks or grades which is signed and sealed by the school official with the official seal. Remember that transcript just like the recommendation letters must be sealed in an envelope preferably one with university logo.
Sometimes it may take a while so it's better to contact your school well before in time such that you get it on time. An application is not considered to be complete until your official transcripts are received by the department you are applying to. So the US students are also advised to apply for their transcripts as early as possible once they are finished with the required tests.
One more piece of advice to international students relates to picking the service provider to send the admission documents. Choose one which is reliable even though it's a little costly as otherwise you may have to feel lots of stress when you see that your documents are not delivered on time by a cheaper courier service. So in the long rum you are worse off.

P.S.- I see from the stat that many students are probably visiting the blog but they refrain from making comments and so I am not sure which information I should stress on. As I can't remember exactly the questions I had when I was applying, I would encourage you to post your questions and comments and I will try to answer them as perfectly as possible. This I also feel that my time is used in a productive way. Thanks.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Recommendation Letters

Here is one of the most important parts of your admission application. The recommendation letters are given high priority in the admission process. Before I got into the PhD program I wondered why it is so. And above all, when they already have so many parameters regarding your academic ability such as your GRE and TOEFL scores, your undergraduate GPA and statement of purpose

Well, success into a PhD program does not only require academic ability but it also requires a lot of patience and dedication. Let me reiterate, you need to be very patient and dedicated to be successful in PhD program which on average takes 5 important years of your life. Sometimes it can be frustrating and sometimes… I must say it will give you a feeling of pride.

Academic ability doesn’t necessarily show your research capability though they might be closely interlinked with each other. So, here is where the importance of the recommendation comes into the picture. A recommender has to comment on your research capability. He is normally the person who has taught you or guided you in some reach project and thus, he is able to make comments on your research capability. He is comments on your dedication towards research and the probability of your being successful into the PhD program because when a university accepts you as a grad student it wants you to complete the degree and not drop it in the midway.

Knowing that what is expected from a recommender, now you need to know who can be the best recommender for you. Of course, most of the universities need three recommendations out of which two must be from the persons who have taught you. Now, here is the thing, you have got to get recommendation from a Person who holds a PhD degree. Reason: A person who has himself done a PhD is in a better position to comment about the other person’s ability and dedication for the same. Second, the person who is going to recommend you must know you very well. You can’t take recommendation from a person who hardly knows you. This essentially means that you should not get recommendation from your relative or your acquaintances who have not taught you no matter how renowned he is in research and academia and how important his recommendation can be. 

Try to get at least one recommendation from a person who is familiar to US education system in any capability. He might have been associated with any US university as a grad student, or he can be a visiting faculty or something like that. A person familiar with US education will have more weightage in his recommendation than his counterpart who is ignorant about US education system and this is very obvious.
Proceeding further, many students have a question: whom should they take recommendation from? From a person who is well known and who will write moderate recommendation opposes to one who is not well known but is going to write really good recommendation? There is not a clear-cut answer to this question because that may depend upon the circumstances. So in order to minimize the risk, the best idea I guess will be to get mix recommendations. To make it more clear, one shall try to get two recommendations from the persons who are going to write good about you and you can use one which has written moderate about you. However, make sure that none of the recommendations should make negative comment on your abilities because that may jeopardize your dream of making into the program. Wherever possible, you can ask the faculty if he can write good things about you. Those are in general, going to write positive about you in whose courses you have done well. You shall ask them to write recommendation letter for you well in advance and also ask them if they need your help in writing one. Sometimes they may ask you to come up with a draft. Search on google and you will find many drafts for recommendation letter. If needed, I can also provide some link on it.

Hope this helps, please leave your comments such that I know there are people who are interested otherwise I feel I am wasting my time.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How to Write Strong Statement of Purpose and Resume

Now... this is a very important part of your application. Your statement of purpose (or motivation letter) defines your personality and tells the admission committee who you are. This is the space where you have to explain yourself and prove why you are a suitable candidate for the program you are applying to. Remember they have your scores and the transcripts which show your academic ability. So in your SOP you need to show them why you are interested in the program and why you think you would be able to do justice with your commitment to complete your PhD.

In your SOP you should discus all your strengths and defend your weaknesses if any for example if your marks in a certain semester are bad, you can clarify it in your SOP. It’s better to start with your schooling and then gradually coming up to the point when you decided to apply for graduate program. You should explain your motivation to pursue a PhD and why did you choose to pursue a PhD in the chosen specialisation and why you think that the particular school you have applied to is a good choice. Your SOP should be convincing. While writing your SOP, make sure that the grammatical and spelling errors are negligible and you clearly state what you want them to know. The SOP should be cogent and there must be a link from a sentence to the next sentence and a paragraph to the next one. Your decision of making any choice about papers and any other career choice should not look random but it should look a conscious decision.

A SOP can be both; a very general one or mentioning your particular area of interest. Normally it suffices to write a SOP mentioning your area of specialisation however; one can choose to write a SOP which clearly shows your interest towards a particular topic within the specialisation. This is recommended only when you have very good idea about what you really want to do and if it is at all feasible. It also requires you to make carful study about the faculty members of the department if any of them are working in the same or related topic.

In many of the universities the two decisions regarding admission and the assistantship are made separately. Anyways while writing your SOP it’s a good idea to support your case of both admission and the assistantship. The university is not going to give you an assistantship unless you prove yourself worthy of it. While your GPA and test scores support your case of admission. Your research and/or teaching experience support your case assistantship. Your academic excellence may help you in both i.e. in securing admission as well as securing an assistantship opportunity. Hence you should make sure that you discuss your academic achievements in an appropriate manner such that it does not look boastful but you should never hesitate in mentioning it. In case you need some good SOP you can follow these links and find out how to write a good SOP. We’ll also discuss about writing a good SOP in detail later once all the steps in the admission process pointed down in the ‘Introduction’ post is discussed in brief.

Writing a resume is also an important part of the application. It enlists your academic achievements, projects you have been associated with and the jobs you have done. If you are an international student and you have worked in an institute outside USA or the country where you are applying for PhD it’s likely that the admission committee doesn’t know about the organisation you have worked for. In such cases it’s your responsibility to make them aware of the importance and the excellence of the institution and it should be supported by the adequate evidences. Usually this has to be done in SOP because there you can provide the details and don’t forget the mention your contribution towards the organisation as well as how working at the organisation has contributed to your knowledge and furthered your way towards making you better suited to PhD or made you a better candidate for research and /or teaching assistantship. For example, if you were working as a teaching assistant at a reputed university or institution for some papers related to economics it means you have some experience as teaching assistant and hence, you have an edge over other applicants without any such experience. Prior research is valued heavily in the admission process however if you are directly coming to graduate school after the completion of your under-graduation you might not need having any publication but any thesis on the under grad level may be helpful.

In all your resume and SOP must reveal your academic ability and your motivation towards PhD. Remember merely stating anything does not help you but you need to substantiate it. Sometimes it’s a better idea to get your statements substantiated in the recommendation letters. For example, if you claim that you have been great in researching in a particular field and have helped some professor as a research student in the topic you must get it written in your recommendation letter from that very professor. You should not hesitate to take the help of your friends and teachers in writing your SOP and resume. That makes sure that the errors are least and the SOP is convincing. Some suggestions over how to write a good SOP can be found here.

In the next post we’ll discuss about recommendation letter. What constitutes a good recommendation letter and who should be your recommenders etc. Feel free to leave your comments and suggestions to make the information on this blog more useful.