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University Bulletin
Graduate Degree Programs

Economics (ECON)

Program Home Page

Barry W. Ickes, Head of the Department
603/618 Kern Building


Degrees Conferred:

Ph.D., M.A.


The Graduate Faculty


Admission Requirements

Requirements listed here are in addition to general Graduate School requirements stated in the General Information section of the Graduate Bulletin.

Graduate study in Economics relies heavily on abstract mathematics. It is recommended that, at a minimum, applicants should have taken mathematics up through multivariate calculus.

We require that applicants take the 3-part general aptitude GRE. In judging applicants, we try to take into account that different applicants expend different amounts of effort in preparing for the GRE and that there are systematic differences among applicants from different countries. We require that the GRE be taken within 5 years prior to applying to our Ph.D. program. (Institution Code: 2660; Department Code: 1801)

The language of instruction at Penn State is English. All international applicants must take and submit scores for the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), with the exceptions noted below. The minimum acceptable score for the TOEFL is 550 for the paper-based test, 213 for the computer-based test, or a total score of 80 with a 19 on the speaking section for the Internet-based test (IBT). Applicants with IBT speaking scores between 15 and 18 may be considered for provisional admission, which requires an institutional test of English proficiency upon first enrollment and, if necessary, remedial course work. (Institution code: 2660; Department code: 84)

International applicants who have received a bachelor's or a graduate degree from a college/university in any of the following countries are exempt from the TOEFL/IELTS requirement: Australia, Belize, British Caribbean and British West Indies, Canada (except Quebec), England, Guyana, Republic of Ireland, Liberia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the United States, and Wales.

We place considerable weight on, and require three (3) letters of recommendation. Letters should be from people who know you well and who are familiar with graduate programs in Economics at leading universities. The most valuable letters are from people who can credibly compare you to others who have succeeded in such programs.

Highly successful Ph.D. students in Economics display a wide variety of research skills, including creativity. The questions we ask on the application are intended to elicit information about those skills. Also, if you have completed a paper that displays such skills, upload it via the GRADS online application system.

Requirements for Graduate Degrees

The Ph.D. - The Ph.D. program has 3 main parts taken in sequence: the core, subfields (of specialization), and the dissertation. Most students take 5 years to complete the program. Occasionally, but rarely, a student finishes in 4 years.

The Core - The core consists of 2 semesters of course work: a 2-semester sequence in microeconomic theory, a 2-semester sequence in econometrics, and a course in mathematics for economists followed by an intensive single-semester in macroeconomic theory. At the beginning of the third semester, students are required to take two 3-hour candidacy exams: one in microeconomics and one in macroeconomics. Students who fail an exam on their first attempt are allowed to take the exam a second time. Competence in econometrics must be demonstrated through satisfactory completion of the coursework. Students with prior graduate training may, however, obtain permission to skip some of the coursework in the core and take the candidacy exams earlier than the 3rd semester.

Subfields- Students must demonstrate competence in 3 subfields. Competence in a subfield is usually demonstrated by completing 6 credits in the subfield with no grade lower than a B.

The department offers the following subfields: development economics, econometrics, game theory, industrial organization, international economics, and macroeconomics.

With the permission of the student's advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies, a student may take a subfield in another department. For instance, students have taken subfield courses in Demography, Political Science, and Statistics.

Ph.D. Program
Fall 1st Year
Spring 1st Year
Fall Candidacy Exams
Fall 2nd Year
Spring Candidacy Exams (if needed)
Spring 2nd year
Micro I (ECON 502)
Micro II (ECON 521)
Field 1.1
Field 1.2
Econometrics I (ECON 501)
Econometrics II (ECON 510)  
Field 2.1
Field 2.2
Math for Econ (ECON 500
Macro I & II (ECON 503 & 522)
Field 3.1
Field 3.2
Empirical Methods I (ECON 512A)
Empirical Methods II (ECON 512B)
  • 3rd-year paper requirement must be completed before spring semester of 3rd year
  • Comprehensive exam (dissertation proposal defense) must be completed before fall semester of 4th year

Empirical Methods Course I & II -- (ECON 512A & ECON 512B) In their second year, all students must enroll in ECON 512A Empirical Methods in Economics I (1 credit offered in the fall.) This course introduces students to computational methods used to numerically solve and simulate economic models and program econometric estimators. Also, all students in their second year must enroll in ECON 512B Empirical Methods in Economics II (2credits offered in the spring semester.) This course is a continuation of ECON 512A covering the modern computational methods used in both theoretical and empirical research in economics. Students will be required to work on a small project involving data analysis.

3rd-Year Paper - Students must complete a paper by the end of their 5th semester, the spring semester of their 3rd year. The paper must be approved by a 3-person faculty committee. The paper must contain original research and must be written in a form suitable for submission to a journal.

Dissertation Research - Most dissertations consist of several essays, each of which has the substance and quality of a journal article. However, a dissertation which has the substance and quality of a single major article in a leading journal is also acceptable. The comprehensive exam (dissertation proposal defense) must be completed before fall semester of 4th year. The student will spend the 4th year and the beginning of the 5th year completing the dissertation and will use the summer after the 4th year and the beginning of the 5th year in preparation for the job market.

Dual-Title Graduate Degree Programs - Occasionally students construct a dual-title graduate degree program. One such program is Economics and Demography. Another is Economics and Operations Research. Details may be obtained by clicking the links above or from the Graduate Director.

Good Standing. A student must remain in "good standing" while in the program. This means following the course sequence outlined above, maintaining a GPA of at least 3.0 and completing the candidacy, third-year paper and comprehensive exam requirements on time.

The M.A.

The M.A. degree in economics may be earned by (a) satisfactorily completing at least 24 credits of appropriate graduate course work, together with a master's dissertation for which 6 credits is granted, and passing a final oral examination; or (b) by satisfactorily completing 30 credits of appropriate course work, presenting a master's essay for which no graduate credit may be granted, and passing a final oral examination. The master's essay option, which most students elect, includes preparation of a paper which is written under the supervision of a faculty member. Under either option, at least 18 credit hours must be in approved graduate courses.

The department does not admit students who seek an M.A. as a terminal degree.


Graduate courses carry numbers from 500 to 599 and 800 to 899. Advanced undergraduate courses numbered between 400 and 499 may be used to meet some graduate degree requirements when taken by graduate students. Courses below the 400 level may not. A graduate student may register for or audit these courses in order to make up deficiencies or to fill in gaps in previous education but not to meet requirements for an advanced degree.


ECONOMICS (ECON) course list

Last Revised by the Department: Fall Semester 2012

Blue Sheet Item #: 41-03-118

Review Date: 11/13/2012

Faculty linked: 6/9/14


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