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.