As a preface to this section, I’d like to make clear that very successful academics have followed all kinds of paths before reaching the academy, and there are definite benefits to working for a couple of years after undergrad before returning to school. Since it’s the path I’ve followed, this page will centre around paths to grad school from the UK in which one remains at academic institutions the entire time. Please, however, do not take this as a sign that other paths are less valid or possible!
I would also like to make clear that many, many academics work outside the top programmes and do fantastic, important research, live rewarding lives, and are richly fulfilled. However, Economics is a hierarchical discipline and getting to the elite programmes will leave the most opportunities open to you after grad school.
Having said that, it is important that you understand that getting to elite programmes from the UK will require focus, time, and effort during your undergrad, and a couple of years of planning. It is not easy! But with some structure and advice it is very achievable. Generally (see above), folk follow one of three paths into their PhD:
- Master’s in Europe to PhD globally
- PhD straight from Undergrad in USA
- Predoctoral programme globally (mostly USA) to PhD globally
For transparency, I am taking the third route, which is becoming more and more popular (see the Economist’s coverage of predocs). However, I believe the advice in the following links is (collectively) universally useful:
- Rachel Meager on getting into top 10 programmes (from Australia)
- /u/Integralds’ checklist on “I want to go to grad school”
- /u/Integralds on career advice for undergrads
- Susan Athey on applying to grad school in economics (general advice)
- Chris Blattman’s FAQ on PhD applications
- Chris Blattman on getting a PhD and saving the world
- Greg Mankiw on choosing a graduate programme
- Berkely have a fairly detailed admissions profile
- Stefanie Fischer thread on best PhD prep master’s programmes
- Ivan Werning thread in which various economists explain what they wish they’d known when starting
- G.C. Pieters on ironing out your application
- Dina Pomeranz thread on mental health and the economics PhD
- Dina Pomeranz thread on narrowing research ideas
- Alvin Christian on applying to predoc programs
My advice, tailored to UCL Econ undergrads, is to take Real Analysis, take part in ExploreEcon (in at least second year), do a full dissertation, and seek out faculty relationships. Seeking faculty relationships is, I know, intimidating, but I did not have one single bad experience at UCL with a professor when just dropping an email to ask for a chat. Just say you’re interested in grad school and would like to talk it over; alternatively, build relationships by going to office hours for your classes and ask questions. You need at least two rec letters (usually three) for grad school, and faculty can provide valuable feedback on your graduate applications, so go get them!
I am always happy to talk to any current UCL undergraduates. You can also check out the presentation I gave to Tribune writers on getting started with research.