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.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Choosing the right program and the right school

Economics is a vast discipline and there are a number of specialisations within the discipline. Normally an US university will have many specialisations however the reputation of the University for Different Specialisations will be different. A university may have very good labour economics faculties but not that good financial economics department. Hence it’s very important that you are decided about the right program for you before you zero in on the universities you want to apply for.

Choosing a right program depending upon your area of interest is very important. Always remember that PhD a big commitment in which you have to dedicate 4-5 important years of your life. Hence it’s really important that you choose the program which is interesting to you so that you can complete it successfully. Once you are decided about the program the time is to choose the right universities. So you should choose a university which has good faculties with excellent publication records in your area of interest. If you are credentials are excellent and you can enter into top 10 or say 20 departments of the world then the data is easily available but if it’s not that strong you need to do a lot of research for choosing the right university.

Here are links to a few websites which provides rankings for economics program.
Now when you have seen the rankings you have to decide the university according to your credentials i.e. your test scores, GPA and your letters of recommendations. You should choose top 10 or 20 universities if your scores are near perfect. The quant score should be ideally 800 and definitely not less than 780, the verbal score should be more than 600. Your recommenders must be well known and your GPA should be high enough with a number of maths courses. Normally your undergraduate degree should ideally be from a reputed university or you must have some research experience in a reputed research or academic institution. Still you should keep some safety schools may be from top 50 list of universities.

If the GRE quant score is less than 780 but your other credentials are very good you can choose from the universities in top 100 list. However you should always keep some safety options. Normally you should apply to 7-8 universities. The list of universities one should choose to apply to can be classifies into 3 categories, ambitious universities, achievable universities and safe universities. The ambitious universities count should be 2-3 where you can get admission by luck because your credentials are not that good to get into those universities. However there is always some amount of randomness in the application process and hence sometimes you can get admission into one of those universities. You should apply to 3-4 achievable universities because it’s not necessary that you get into all of those because your admission does not only depend on your credentials but also of your competitors. And finally apply to 1-2 safe universities where you are almost sure to get admitted given your profile. This way you make sure that you don’t waste your year.

Now when you decide about the universities you are applying to determine your financial status. Can you fund your education or you need university assistantship or fellowship? If you need financial help from the university do some research about the universities. Go to their websites and check the status of financial aid availability in the university. If needed contact the current graduate students or the faculty or graduate co-ordinator and ask them what are the chances of financial aid availability at the university. See the profiles of the faculty and how many faculty are having financial grants. What are the research projects which are carried by the university and its faculty members? Because the money from grants and projects can fund you education by providing you research assistantship.

So this is how you have to choose the right school. In case you have any queries, feel free to ask and don’t hesitate to make comments.

Writing your TOEFL

Though you can write some other alternate exams, TOEFL is the most widely accepted score by the universities. TOEFL is required for international students who are not from a English speaking country. TOEFL may be waived for those students who have their last two years of education from a country where native language is English. However, it’s advisable for a foreign student to have TOEFL score.

TOEFL has four sections: reading, listening, speaking and writing. Each section carries a maximum of 30 marks and the’ total marks’ is 120. Most of the universities have a requirement listed as 79 or 80 however in practice, it’s recommended that you score 90 or above. The speaking section is the most important part for the students seeking assistantship from the university. A minimum score of 24 is recommended and 26+ is preferred in order to get an assistantship. Scoring 24 is not a big deal. You need to practice a little though. You may take the help of Barron’s, Princeton’s and Kaplan’s guide. The Barron’s CD is the most effective way to prepare for the TOEFL test.

TOEFL is not very much important in the admission decision however it certainly plays a role in assistantship decision. A score of less than 90 may hamper your chances of getting an assistantship. Hence you should be well prepared for the exam before you appear for it. It’s a good idea to write TOEFL shortly after you write your GRE. More information over TOEFL test may be found at

Again you can find lots of free materials available over internet for TOEFL preparation with the help of GOOGLE.

Writing your GRE

Well so the first step towards the admission to a graduate program in economics starts with the preparation of Graduate Record Examination. For most of the universities GRE is an essential requirement. If you don’t have a GRE score you can’t apply for graduate program in economics. Though some universities may accept application without a GRE score however, it’s strongly recommended to have your GRE scores before November of the year previous to which you are seeking admission.

There are two major academic sessions in US universities ‘Fall’ which starts in July – August and ‘Spring’ which starts in January. However, many of the universities don’t accept admission in Spring hence it’s advisable to apply for the Fall session. The online application process for the fall starts almost one year before the start of the academic year i.e. from previous September only. You can start your online application for most of the universities in September or early October of the previous year.

For most of the universities, there are two deadlines of submission of applications. First, admission with funding consideration and the second, admission without funding consideration. The deadline of admission with funding consideration is much earlier than the one without funding consideration and varies from university to university. This deadline is 1st of November at the earliest and may go up to 31st of March. Nonetheless the deadlines of most of the top universities with funding are no later than 15th January with a few exceptions which may have a deadline till 1st of February or 15th of February. Hence it’s strongly recommended to write your GRE by 1st of November.

Having said that, now important question is ‘what is an ideal score in GRE’. Okay, so those of you who are familiar with GRE know that GRE has three parts

Quantitative reasoning: scores- 200-800 in 10 point increments

Verbal Reasoning: scores- 200-800 in 10 point increments

Analytical writing assessment: 0-6 in half point increments

More information about the GRE exam pattern can be found at You can register for GRE exam over internet while registering for GRE exam one should keep in mind that it takes almost 2 weeks for GRE result to be out.

Now, in the quantitative section of GRE an economics graduate aspirant is supposed to score a near perfect score i.e. 800 out of 800. The score should not be less than 760 or in the worst case not less than 740 if you want to get admitted in a decent college. For top universities the scores should be a minimum of 780. The verbal score is not very important however, since other students might have good score in verbal section also a score of 600+ is a decent score for top universities. A minimum score of 400 is necessary for a decent college and ideally it should not be less than 450. The AWA section does not play very important role in the admission decision however a very low score may hamper your chances of getting admission, Hence, a minimum score of 4.0 is recommended.

What is the importance of GRE scores in admission? Well... it’s important. The higher the score the better the chances you have to make it to your dream college. However, merely a good GRE score does not guarantee you the admission even if you have a 1600 score. But it definitely gives you an edge. So, GRE is important and you should really prepare for it sincerely and try to get a good score around 1400.

For getting a 1400 score in GRE you need to put in almost 2-3 months for GRE preparation. Quant is very easy but needs lots of practice. If you take it easy you may not be able to manage your time efficiently and might end up with a lower score than you really deserve. Verbal preparation is dependent upon the consistent revision of the wordlist from Barron’s GRE guide or Kaplan wordlist and other sources. I would not discuss much about GRE here because the main purpose of this blog is to help you in getting admission to economics graduate program. However I am noting down the addresses of a few websites which are good for GRE preparation. In case you need more information about GRE or you have any query, write it in the comment box and I shall try to explain your query.

Apart from that GRE Big Book is a must have In GRE big book you find questions which come into real GRE exams so do a lot of practice. The practice materials are available free on the internet. Just GOOGLE it.

INTRODUCTION: Steps to Economics PhD admission

>Well... let’s start with the question: why is admission process to graduate program in Economics a mystery? I would not give a straight answer of this question for the truth is I don’t have one. The admission process involves a number of steps, every single step is crucial and if you want to achieve your dream university a minor mistake in any of these may cost you rejection from the very same university and from other universities as well. Though it’s difficult to point down the steps to the admission process in the right order yet more or less it would be in the order given below:

1. Write Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

2. Write Test of English as Foreign Language (TOEFL), you can also opt for other test which can be replaced instead of TOEFL such as IELTS (you don’t need to have TOEFL score if you are from US or the countries where English is the native language, there are some more exceptions which will be discussed later in the post exclusively dedicated for TOEFL section)

3. Determine the right program for you within the discipline such as agricultural economics, labour economics, macroeconomics and so on

4. Choose the right school depending upon your area of interest, your GPA and test scores, your financial aid priority and the college profile

5. Write your statement of purpose and Resume

6. Get the recommendation letters

7. Get your transcripts

8. Apply to the targeted universities well before the deadline

9. Sending your application materials to the university

10. Submitting your application

11. Be in touch with the program heads of the departments you have applied to

12. Choose the best university for you from the universities you have got acceptances

13. Sending the financial affidavit

14. Apply for student visa

15. Congrats! pack your bags

The first step however is of course, that you should be aware well in advance (probably when you are in your undergraduate school) that you are interested in graduating in economics and would be applying for the same. So opt for lots of maths and economics courses and try to maintain good GPA’s preferably more than 3.5 and definitely not less than 3.

Some thesis work may help you a great deal in securing admission to a good university for PhD. The thesis work can be done as course work or working on some research project as a research assistant with some professor. If you are applying after a gap of 1-2 years after your undergrad it’s advisable to work as a research or teaching assistant at some good institution. These are the precursors to admission process which are going to be of great help in securing admission.

The order of the steps only indicates the timing of event and not the importance. All the criteria are extremely important and it’s really difficult to say which one is the most important. The importance may also depend upon individual applications, universities and for the candidates from the different countries. Hence, it’s best to have everything near to perfect to get admission to your dream university.

The next post will discuss the importance of GRE and will provide the information regarding GRE. The comments and questions are welcome so that more and more information can be provided and the mystery can be unraveled.