all students

Chris Blattman's "10 things not enough kids know before going to college"


first years


economics and math economics majors

My advice

  • Take a calculus class at CC early. Even if you have Calc 1 on your transcript from high school, take Calc 2 here. The econ classes will feel easier when you've refreshed your math skills.
  • Finish the intermediate theory requirements (301 and 302) your sophomore year.
  • Think about taking econometrics your sophomore year. Professors are more likely to hire you as a research assistant after you've taken econometrics, and two summers of RA work is better than one.
  • Choose electives with an eye towards choosing your thesis topic. In addition to topics, take classes from professors you'd like to work with and learn skills that will be useful during your thesis.

Chris Blattman's "How much economics should you study in college?"



international political economy majors

My advice

  • Take Econometrics. It's not required of you (yet) but basic knowledge of regression analysis will be helpful in your career.
  • Take my Impact Evaluation class. You need to know how to measure the impact of the programs you will advocate in your career.


considering an economics phd?

My advice

  • Develop your data analysis skills. Take econometrics early and take it seriously, work as a research assistant for professors over the summers, emphasize data analysis in your thesis.
  • At minimum, you need Calc 1, Calc 2, Prob Stat, and Linear Algebra. Calc 3, Differential Equations, Statistical Modelling, Numerical Analysis, and Real Analysis are also good.
  • Take Real Analysis, but take it at a time when it will be your highest priority. Getting an A in Real Analysis will be a big help in getting you into top programs, and getting you funding.
  • Think about learning a programming language. Python is good for many tasks.
  • Work for 2 years after undergrad and before graduate school, preferably at a job that improves your data analysis or theoretical modeling skills. 
  • How should you decide which programs to apply to?
    1. Talk to your academic advisor, thesis advisor, and bosses at work. (You ARE working for two years between undergrad and grad school, yes?) Aside from you, they know you and your potential best.
    2. Know that there are several types of degrees that can get you the same jobs. A Public Policy PhD is generally thought of as less prestigious than an Econ PhD from the same school. For example, a PhD from Harvard's Kennedy school is less fancy than a PhD from Harvard Econ. The same is true of Agricultural or Applied Economics degrees. However, a PP PhD from Harvard out ranks an Econ PhD from Michigan and depending on your package, you may have a better shot at a PP/Ag/Applied program at a fancier school than an Econ PhD from a less fancy school. Fancier schools tend to have more money to give you grants and more name recognition to get you job interviews. So for your applications, you should think of a portfolio strategy in which you apply to some Econ PhDs and some PP/Ag/Applied PhDs.

    3. Start at the top of the rankings of schools. Various rankings can be found here:

    4. Decide what fields you might be interested in pursuing and make separate lists of schools that are good in those fields. The top 5-7 are good at everything. After that, not all schools are good at all things. These rankings by field are old but not a bad place to start:

    5. For the top 30 or so schools on your list, visit their webpage and find out what programs they offer: Econ, Public Policy, Ag/Applied Econ. PP/Ag/Applied programs that require you to take classes with Econ PhD students are usually better than those that do their own thing. Look particularly at the methods classes. Is it real econometrics or is it "methods"? Look at the professors who teach in those programs. What are they good at? Are their recent working papers interesting to you? Are they publishing in good journals? Are they publishing regularly? You're looking for potential PhD advisors who are active but still have time to mentor you. Winnow your list to 20 or so.

    6. Try to find the recent placements of each program on your list. Remember, you're looking for a job at the end of this, not just a PhD. Where are people being placed? Would you be interested in those jobs? Can you figure out how many do not get jobs when they graduate? Some schools post placement lists on their website. For others, a graduate program secretary will send you a list if you ask nicely. To determine the fraction of students who don't get jobs, or don't get jobs their first time out, look at this year's job market candidates (these are usually posted November-February). What is the average number of years the job market candidates have been in the program? Good programs graduate most students in 5-6 years.

    7. This one is a bit of a reach, but try to find out what fraction of incoming PhD students are fully funded (meaning a tuition waiver and a living stipend), either through grants (preferably) or through RA jobs (next preferred) or TA jobs. (DO NOT TAKE OUT LOANS if you can possibly avoid it, particularly in your first year.) Again, a graduate program secretary might be willing to tell you.

    8. You can also think about looking at gossip websites for information. The one for grad students/PhD economists is; the one for undergrads/PhDs is

BE FOREWARNED, however: these sites are often horribly misogynistic, racist, homophobic, transphobic, antisemitic, etc. etc. etc. An undergrad from Berkeley (Alice Wu) quantified how bad it is on EMJR and it's been the talk of the profession for months now. The AEA finally issued a statement condemning the discriminatory and offensive language, and at the 2018 annual meeting promised to set up a competing site for PhD graduates that is better moderated ( Sadly, these gossip sites do still contain useful information, so if you can stomach it, wade in gently and know that I believe the profession is much better for minorities of all kinds than these sites might make you think. 

Dina Pomeranz's advice on Twitter

Eve Ewing's advice for students from historically underrepresented backgrounds, also on Twitter


Please help me add to this list!

jobs in international development


IPA (This is the group I worked for during graduate school)



IFPRI (This is where I did my post-doc)

Center for Global Development



Abt Associates

Mathematica Policy Research


Other data monkey jobs

The Federal Reserve Board (This is what I did after college)

Other Federal Reserve Banks


Non-NBER jobs listed on the NBER website

The Brookings Institution

Urban Institute



Abt Associates

Mathematica Policy Research

The Lab @ DC

State Government

Local Government