FAQ for Prospective PhD Students
Preparing for Admission
- Do I need to have a degree in economics?
A large majority of our students enter the PhD program with a degree in economics. A substantial fraction has master’s degrees in economics. This said, a degree in economics is not essential to be considered for admission. However, students must have the minimum math, statistics, and economics coursework described below.
- What are the minimum math and statistics requirements for entering students?
Students must have coursework in calculus through multivariable calculus (Calculus III in U.S. curricula) and matrix, or linear, algebra. In some cases, a rigorous undergraduate course in mathematical economics that covers constrained optimization, determinants, eigenvalues, and Hessians, can serve as a substitute for matrix algebra and/or Calculus III. Additional coursework in differential equations and real analysis is strongly recommended.
In addition, students must have taken two semesters of probability/statistics or a course in econometrics.
A two-week long, intensive Math Camp is held in mid-August, before the start of the fall semester, for incoming PhD and MS students. Attendance at the Math Camp is not mandatory, but it is strongly recommended. A mandatory final exam is given at the end of the Camp. Performance on this exam is highly positively correlated with performance in the program. Entering students will receive the Math Camp syllabus in June so that they can study material before the start of the Camp.
- What are the minimum economics requirements for entering students?
Students must have intermediate-level (as opposed to principles-level or freshmen-level) coursework in both microeconomic and macroeconomic theory. Coursework in econometrics is strongly recommended.
- Do you have minimum GRE scores?
We do not have formal minimum GRE scores for admissions or for awarding financial support. We examine GRE scores (quantitative, verbal, and writing) within the context of a student’s entire application. This said, almost all admitted applicants have quantitative GRE scores in the top two deciles and many have scores in the top half decile.
- Will you assess my likelihood of being admitted or of receiving financial support if I send you detailed information about myself?
The information provided in this FAQ offers a good sense of what we are looking for in applicants. Admissions decisions are made by a committee that meets in the spring to review applications. As for financial support, we really cannot make valid assessments without looking at the complete pool of applicants. Therefore, we cannot provide early, or pre-application, assessments of an applicant’s likelihood of being admitted or of receiving financial support.
- Do you admit part-time students?
The PhD program is primarily offered on a full-time basis. Occasionally, the PhD program will admit highly qualified part-time students. Such students typically already have master’s degrees in economics from programs that prepare students for PhD study. U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services rules do not allow international students to study on a part-time basis unless they already have special (non- F-1) visas. If you are interested in part-time study, you should first contact the Director of PhD Admissions, Professor Samaniego.
- How do I apply to the program?
Applications are submitted online through the Graduate Application Center. Information on materials that need to be submitted when applying to the PhD program in Economics can be found through the Program Finder.
Please note that all application materials, including transcripts, should be submitted directly to Columbian College Graduate Admissions and not to the Department of Economics
- Who can I ask questions about the application process?
For any questions about the application process or about the status of your application, please contact Columbian College Graduate Admissions by email at [email protected] or by phone at +1 202-994-6210.
The status of your application can also be viewed online through the Graduate Application Center.
Questions about waiving the TOEFL or the application fee and about validity of past GRE scores should be addressed to Columbian College Graduate Admissions by email at [email protected] or by phone at +1 202-994-6210.
- What is the deadline for submitting an application?
- Do you admit students in the fall and spring?
We only admit students for the fall semester.
- How can I be considered for financial support (funding)?
All applicants are automatically considered for financial support; a separate application is not needed. Funding decisions are merit based. We unfortunately cannot offer funding to a large number of qualified applicants.
For additional information, see the FAQ section on Costs and Financial Support.
- I am an international student, what are your English language requirements and what credentials do I need to submit?
Please see the University’s webpage for international applicants.
Characteristics of the Program
- How many students are in your PhD program and where do they come from?
We have approximately 80 students from over 20 different countries. A list of current PhD students can be found in the Department Directory.
- What fields of specialization are offered by your program?
We offer a range of fields, including: development economics, international trade, international finance, urban and regional economics, labor economics, industrial organization, monetary theory and policy, and environmental and natural resource economics.
In addition to the expertise offered by the Department’s faculty, dissertation committees often include economists based elsewhere in the University who are affiliated with the Department. All faculty are listed in the Department Directory.
- How is your program structured?
Please see the main Economics PhD page for program structure and course information.
- How long do students take to complete the PhD?
Students generally take five to six years to complete the program. The degree must be completed within eight years.
- What is a full course load?
In the first three years of the program, a full course load is three 3-credit courses per semester, for a total of 9 credit hours per semester. In the fourth and subsequent years, the number of courses taken in a given semester depends in large part on additional field courses a student would like to take. In the last two or three semesters in the program, when working on their dissertations, students typically only register for one continuing research credit in each semester to maintain full-time status as a student.
- Can students take courses in other departments at the University?
Students can take relevant courses in other departments at GW with the approval of our Department and of the instructor teaching the course. A number of students have taken courses on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in the Geography Department; others have taken courses in the Statistics, Mathematics and Data Science Departments.
- Can students take courses at other universities in the Washington, DC area?
GW is part of a consortium of universities in the Washington, DC area, which makes it straightforward to take courses at nearby universities. With permission of our Department and of the instructor teaching the course, up to 9 credit hours can be taken at other universities. A number of our students have taken courses at Georgetown and the University of Maryland.
- Can course credits be transferred to GW from other graduate programs?
Students who have obtained a master’s degree in economics may request to transfer up to 30 credit hours. Students who do not have a master’s degree may request to transfer up to 30 credit hours for graduate coursework in economics taken elsewhere, provided the courses were taken no more than five years prior to admission.
In all cases, a grade of B or better is required in a course for credits to transfer, and the course must qualify as a course suitable for our PhD students. More detail is available in the PhD Student Handbook (PDF).
Though transferring the maximum number of credits possible may seem desirable, students, especially students who come in with funding, have found that it may not be. It is best to consult the pre-candidacy (Unit I) advisor before submitting any request to transfer credits.
- What have been the job placements for GW PhD graduates?
We have a strong placement record. Our students obtain positions in academic institutions, international organizations, research institutes, government agencies, and the private sector. A list of placements over the past several years is available here.
The Department maintains an active, formal placement service, especially for academic and research positions. Students in the market for such positions give dry-runs of their job talks and participate in mock interviews conducted by faculty members, among other preparatory activities.
Costs and Financial Support
- What is the cost of attending your program?
Information on tuition, fees, and living expenses can be found on the Student Accounts Website. The Economics Department is in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, and the standard graduate tuition credit charge applies. The PhD program requires completing 72 credit hours.
- What sort of financial support (funding) is available for PhD students?
All applicants are automatically considered for financial support; a separate application is not needed.
Financial support is typically in the form of a teaching assistantship. Standard teaching assistantships consist of a fellowship stipend, a salary, a tuition fellowship of up to 18 tuition credits per year (i.e., a full course load), and a supplement for health insurance. The health insurance supplement helps defray the cost of health insurance. The number of tuition credits awarded depends on the number of credits that a student requires to maintain full-time status; this number diminishes as a student progresses through the program.
Standard teaching assistantships are generally renewable through the fifth year in the program, provided the recipient remains in good standing and is making good progress in the program.
There are also a few teaching assistantships that provide support for only one semester; these positions are usually held by upper-level students. In addition, there are partial tuition fellowships that provide from one to 12 tuition credits per year. These awards do not automatically renew from one year to the next.
Teaching assistants typically lead discussion sections of principles of microeconomics or macroeconomics courses, hold office hours, and assist with grading. Some senior teaching assistants help with the core, graduate microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics courses. Teaching assistant duties take up 10-20 hours per week.
- How many of your PhD students receive financial support from the University?
Approximately half of our students receive at least some financial support from the University.
- If I do not get funding in the first year, what are my chances of getting funding in the second or subsequent years?
There is typically some funding available in the second year or later for previously-unfunded students, although it is limited.
- How else do students support themselves?
Several students hold research assistant positions, either in the Department, in the Institute for International Economic Policy (IIEP), or in the School of Business. These positions are usually held by upper-level students who have completed substantial coursework in econometrics. Some students also serve as hourly wage teaching assistants or graders in the Department or in the School of Business.
Students who have completed substantial coursework in econometrics also find research assistant positions in the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other organizations in the Washington, DC area.
International students are subject to the work restrictions associated with their visas.
- Do you provide summer support?
We do not offer separate summer support. However, it is not unusual for qualified students to work as research assistants on campus or at the World Bank and other organizations in the Washington, DC area over the summer. In addition, qualified students can teach summer-session courses at the University, or serve as instructors for the Math Camp.
Contacts and Additional Information
- Where can I find more information about living in Washington, DC?
- Where and how can I get more information?
Any questions about the application process or about the status of your application should be directed to Columbian College Graduate Admissions by email at [email protected] or by phone at +1 202-994-6210. The status of your application can be viewed online through the Graduate Application Center.
If, after reviewing this FAQ and the information on the Department’s website, you have questions about our PhD program, please contact the Director of PhD Admissions, Professor Samaniego.