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Business Economics

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Questions about these requirements? See the contact info at the bottom of the page. 

Program of Study

Each candidate’s program of study will be developed in consultation with the Chairs of the Programs and Admissions Committee. The normal program is outlined below.

The First Two Years


Regular guidance through contact with faculty advisors is an essential component of doctoral education. Students should maintain close contact with their official advisor(s) throughout their enrollment in the program. Students are encouraged to develop informal advising relationships with several faculty members in addition to their official advisor. 

First-year advisors provide assistance during the initial stages of the program, but do not necessarily advise the student throughout their studies. Students are matched with initial advisors based on their research interests. As students familiarize themselves with program faculty during coursework, research work, seminars/workshops, and other activities, they may change their official advisor(s) as their academic and research interests develop. 


  • Two one-term courses in microeconomic theory (Econ 2010 a, b) are required.
  • One one-term course in macroeconomic theory (Econ 2010 c) is required.
  • Two one-term courses in graduate quantitative methods (Econ 2110 and 2120) or a more advanced course in econometrics are required.
  • One additional one-term graduate level course is required. This course should be chosen to help prepare for advanced course work in the second year. Econ 2010d is one possibility, which is strongly encouraged for completion of the macroeconomics course series. Other possible courses could be in mathematics, statistics, computer science, or psychology. The advisor’s approval of the course selected for this requirement is necessary.
  • Completion of the business history requirement. The business history requirement may be completed in several ways including the Business History Seminar, a pre-approved individual studies course, or a pre-approved MBA course.
  • Four one-term courses to satisfy the course requirement of the Special Field Exam, which occurs at the end of the student’s second year. See Special Field Exam for additional information.
  • Two one-term MBA Elective Curriculum courses.
  • Students must register for Ec 2000 in their third year and complete a research paper under the guidance of their faculty advisor. The paper must be complete and physically present in the student’s file in the department’s graduate office before the written field examination can be taken.
  • All courses should be completed with a grade of B or better.

Field Research Requirement 

The Field Research requirement provides students with the opportunity to engage in a field experience that will expose them to organizations and markets dealing with real-world challenges and help them advance their own research agenda. The Doctoral Programs Office is committed to funding this opportunity and for providing assistance, if needed, in finding appropriate field research sites. As an example, a student whose research involves analysis of economic policy or financial markets could use this opportunity to visit the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to gain exposure to policymakers, applied economic research, data, and financial market activity. 

Faculty advisor(s) will be responsible for approving a submitted field research plan to ensure that it is in line with the student's research agenda. Students are expected to prepare a report and present their work according to a timeline established by the faculty advisor(s) and Doctoral Programs Office. Further considerations are detailed on the doctoral programs intranet site.

Field Exam

The Field Exam is a written examination jointly administered through the Economics Department at the Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in conjunction with the Business Economics program at HBS. The purpose is to test areas of study in business economics and related fields in economics.  

The Business Economics Policy and Admissions Committee (PAC), in coordination with the Economics Graduate Instruction Committee (GIC) will communicate a list of fields to students at the start of each academic year so that students planning to take field exams that year may choose courses to satisfy their field’s requirements. For example, International Macroeconomics is an approved course for both the international and the macroeconomics fields; however, one course cannot count toward two fields. Students must take two approved courses for credit to satisfy the requirements for testing in a field. As such, a minimum of four courses need to be taken for credit. To maintain a minimum breadth of knowledge, a student who wishes to take an exam outside of the offered list needs approval from the Chairs of the Business Economics Program. 

By mid-March of the second year, students will complete a “Field Exam” Form, which requires students to indicate their two fields and the four courses they completed in accordance with the requirement. The Business Economics Chairs will sign off on the form to confirm the appropriateness of the courses and fields selected. 


The Field Exam is completed in May of the students’ second academic year (during the week following the spring term exams). The date is predetermined by the Business Economics PAC in conjunction with the Economics Department at the Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Students must take the Field Exam by the end of their second year. Students who take the field courses in their first year can take the exam early. Field Exams can only be delayed after permission is granted by the Business Economics Program Chairs in consultation with the student’s advisor. Extraordinary circumstances such as health related issues may also be taken into consideration when determining timing.


Each Field Exam will be three hours long. Whenever possible, exam schedules will be coordinated so that students will not be expected to take both exams on the same day. Students should be prepared, however, to take the exam as scheduled. 

The exam for each field will contain multiple questions, one (or more) from each of the courses that meet the field requirements (assuming at least one student has taken that course as part of their field requirement). Students will only be required to answer questions from the courses they have taken. For instance, if four courses meet the requirement, then on the exam, a student will get to choose which two of the four questions to answer. As for courses taken outside Harvard, such as at MIT, questions will be generated internally by the relevant faculty in the field. 


After students complete the exam, the examination committee members grade each answer on a four-point scale (Excellent, Good, Fair, Not Passing). If a student receives a “Not Passing” grade, then they are not guaranteed an opportunity for re-examination and may be withdrawn from the program. The decision to allow re-examination will depend on a consensus of the faculty in the field taken with the Business Economics PAC. The particular form of the re-exam will be determined by the faculty in the field and can take the form of an oral or written exam.

Year Three and Beyond

Teaching Requirement

Students are required to complete a teaching engagement of one full academic term that includes at least 8 hours of front-of-class teaching experience and at least 16 hours of teaching preparation time.

Thesis Proposal

By the end of their third year, students are required to present their research ideas to a committee comprising at least two faculty members, including representatives from HBS as well as FAS. The committee will provide feedback and decide if the student is making satisfactory progress toward the degree. Students will receive coordinated advice from faculty regarding the their progress and be given detailed recommendations for future research plans, particularly with respect to possible job market paper and dissertation plans. If both faculty committee members are present for a student’s seminar presentation (e.g., the PhD Finance Lunch), this could fulfill the Research Progress Report requirement in terms of demonstrating a student’s research development, so long as the student schedules a meeting with each faculty committee member for coordinated feedback post-presentation.

The Dissertation

After passing the Special Field Exam, students are expected to enroll in a working seminar or participate in an informal lunchtime seminar group. Students in their third year or beyond must present in the working seminar (or informal lunchtime seminar) at least once per year.

The student selects a faculty dissertation committee consisting of three members of the Harvard faculty; two of whom must be members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (one must be in the Department of Economics and one must be from the Business School). Under the dissertation committee’s advisorship, the student will proceed to complete the dissertation research. The dissertation should demonstrate the candidate’s ability to perform original research that develops in a scholarly way and is a significant contribution to the knowledge and understanding in the chosen special field. For the student to meet the requirement, analysis and evaluation of relevant data must yield significant and independent conclusions.

Contact Info

Business Economics Website

Harvard Business School
Doctoral Programs Office

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