FAQs on the PhD in Economics and the MA in Applied Economics




FAQ:  What are the main differences between the PhD in Economics and an MA in Applied Economics?

One main difference centers on the level of mathematical skills for the two programs. The Applied Economics MA requires a semester of college-level calculus as a prerequisite while the PhD program requires multivariate calculus, linear algebra and probability theory. While both degrees require students to have strong quantitative skills, students in the PhD program focus on rigorous economic theory and advanced econometric methods useful for fundamental research and in-depth study of economic issues. PhD students are expected to produce research that is publishable in respected peer-reviewed academic journals. 

Students in the Master’s in Applied Economics program will also develop the mathematical skills that all students with a graduate degree in economics are assumed to possess, but they will focus on applying those tools to existing economic understanding in an empirical, or applied setting. The program’s focus is on applying mathematical and statistical tools to study economic problems facing individuals, businesses, international institutions, think tanks and government policymakers. 

The Economics Department at GW does not offer a master’s degree in economics. Students enroll directly in the PhD program and take graduate level courses in theoretical economics in their first years in the program.


FAQ:  I would like to obtain a PhD in Economics.  Which program should I enter?

You should apply directly for the PhD program if you wish to study for a PhD in Economics.  Students in the PhD in Economics program take advanced economic theory courses that prepare them to study for a PhD.  The PhD program is divided into a pre-candidacy stage and a candidacy stage.  In the pre-candidacy stage, the student takes coursework and completes general examinations in microeconomic and macroeconomic theory and two fields. Upon request, students are awarded the M.Phil. degree upon completion of the pre-candidacy stage. The PhD program is offered primarily on a full-time basis and students are expected to complete the degree in five to six years.  Occasionally, the PhD program will admit highly qualified part-time students. 

The Applied Economics program is not designed for students who wish to study for a PhD in Economics. Students who wish to study for a PhD in economics should not view the master’s in Applied Economics as substituting for the coursework required for a master’s in Economics as a step toward a PhD.


FAQ:  Which program should I take if I’m mainly interested in applying theory to current economic problems?

You should apply for the MA in Applied Economics. That program is designed for students who wish to take a practical approach to economic analysis. Students in the MA Applied Economics program focus on understanding and applying existing knowledge to solve current economic problems. The program focuses on understanding how theory is applied in practice.


FAQ: Is the MA in Applied Economics an alternative to an MBA?

The MA in Applied Economics can be seen as an alternative to an MBA for students who wish to focus more on economic analysis than on business administration. Students in the Applied Economics program are allowed to take up to two electives outside of the economics department as part of their 10 course requirement, and certain courses in the Business School qualify for those electives.  Students in the master’s program may study for one of the Graduate Certificates in the Business School as part of earning their MA in Applied Economics.



FAQ: What level of mathematics is required in the Applied Economics MA program?

The MA in Applied Economics requires students to have earned at least a B grade in a college-level calculus course as a prerequisite to starting the program.  All MA Applied Economics students enroll in the “Mathematical Methods for Economics” course as one of the required core courses.


FAQ:  What are the differences in the Microeconomics courses between a PhD in Economics and a master’s in Applied Economics?

The main difference between the two programs is that microeconomics in a PhD in Economics program takes a highly theoretical approach to the fundamental concepts of consumer and producer theory, general equilibrium and welfare economics, and game theory that form the basis of microeconomics.  A PhD level Economics course would use theoretical textbooks, such as “Microeconomic Analysis” by Hal Varian and “Advanced Microeconomic Theory” by Geoffrey Jehle and Philip Reny, which are mathematics-based texts.

The MA Applied Economics microeconomics course presents the theories and shows how they apply to real world problems.  Students will use the theory to develop empirical models to test how well the theory applies in practice.  The MA Applied Economics course uses the textbook “Intermediate Microeconomics and its Application” by Walter Nicholson and Christopher Snyder, which incorporates applications of the theory as a fundamental part of the course.

FAQ: What are the differences in the Macroeconomics courses between a PhD in Economics and a master’s in Applied Economics?

The main difference is that the macroeconomics course in the   PhD  program constructs rigorous models using advanced tools such as dynamic programming, solves for an equilibrium, and analyzes its comparative-static properties.  Students discuss assumptions and what happens when they change. Students also analyze determinants of economic growth, optimal government policy, the impact of distortionary taxes, and so on.


The MA Applied Economics macroeconomics course focuses on developing an integrated framework for analyzing the determination of macroeconomic variables, such as total production, unemployment, interest rates and inflation.  A key objective of the course is to create a link between economic theory and economic policy so that data interpretation and policy decisions are based on solid theory.  Students will focus on using the tools of economic analysis to solve current policy issues facing the government, the private sector, and international organizations.


 FAQ:  Dos the Applied MA program require econometrics?

Yes.  The MA Applied Economics program will focus on using a range of econometric tools and statistical packages, such as Stata and R, for empirical testing and data analysis.


FAQ:  Does the Applied Economics MA program require writing a thesis?

No. The MA in Applied Economics program does not require a thesis.  Students may take an independent study course or enroll in an optional research course if they wish to demonstrate their ability to apply economic theory to solving a real-world problem. 


FAQ: What types of presentation skills do students develop in the Applied Economics MA program?

Students in the MA Applied Economics program develop the ability to present economic analyses for general as well as professional audiences. Most courses require students to make presentations in class.  Students may take a workshop in Oral and Written Communication Skills that has been developed specifically to address the needs of applied economics students as part of their program 


FAQ: How long does the master’s program take to complete?

Students who study full-time should be able to complete the degree in 3 semesters plus one summer.  All students must complete the program within four years.


FAQ: May I study part time? Are there exceptions for international students?

Yes. Students in the MA Applied Economics program may study part time. International students, however, generally must attend the program full time to fulfill their visa requirements. International students may enroll part-time in their final semester if they have just one or two courses remaining to complete the degree.


FAQ:  What do students do after earning their Master’s degree?

Graduates are prepared to start careers as economists in the government, think tanks, and the private sector. Take a look at the careers page on the MA Applied Economics site for additional information.

Students who earn an MA in Applied Economics are prepared to pursue doctoral studies in applied economics, public policy, and business, among others.


FAQ:  Where can I find out more information about the Applied Economics MA and the Economics PhD?

You may find details about the Applied Economics MA by going to the program’s website at:


You may find details about the Economics Phd by going to the program’s website at:



FAQ:  Who should I contact to find out more about the graduate programs in economics at GW?
Dr. Joann Weiner is the Director of the MA program in Applied Economics. You can reach her at [email protected]

For questions about the PhD program, contact Dr. Roberto Samaniego at [email protected]

For general questions about the Economics Department, contact the Department secretary, Ms. Cristin Guinan-Wiley at [email protected]