The PhD program in the Department of Economics at Harvard is addressed to students of high promise who wish to prepare themselves for careers in teaching and research in academia or for responsible positions in government, research organizations, or business enterprises. Students are expected to devote themselves full-time to their programs of study.
The program prepares students for productive and stimulating careers as economists. Courses and seminars offered by the department foster an intellectually active and stimulating environment. Each week, the department sponsors more than 15 different seminars on such topics as environmental economics, economic growth and development, monetary and fiscal policy, international economics, industrial organization, law and economics, behavioral economics, labor economics, and economic history. Top scholars from both domestic and international communities are often invited speakers at the seminars.
The Harvard community outside of the department functions as a strong and diverse resource. Students in the department are free to pursue research interests with scholars throughout the University. Faculty of Harvard Law School, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Business School, for example, are available to students for consultation, instruction, and research guidance. As members of the Harvard community, students in the department can register for courses in the various schools and have access to the enormous library resources available through the University. There are over 90 separate library units at Harvard, with the total collections of books and pamphlets numbering over 13 million.
Both the department and the wider University draw some of the brightest students from around the world, which makes for a student body that is culturally diverse and likely unequaled in the range of intellectual interests of its members. These factors combine to add an important dimension to the educational process. Students are able to learn from one another, collaborate on research projects and publications, and form bonds that are not broken by distance once the degree is completed and professional responsibilities lead them in different directions.
Applying to More Than One Program
Harvard has several PhD programs that may also be of interest to students considering applying to the PhD program in economics. These include Business Economics, Political Economy and Government, Public Policy, and Health Policy. Many students in these programs have considerable overlap in their coursework with courses offered to PhD students in economics. Many also have dissertation committees that include faculty members of the economics department.
We encourage those with interest in any of those programs to also apply to those programs. The Department of Economics will make admissions decisions independently, so application to or admission to other programs will not adversely affect admissions decisions within the department. However, please note that if you choose to apply to additional programs, you can only submit two applications to GSAS in a single year and no more than three applications during the course of your academic career.
Applicants should have an understanding of economics. At a minimum, we expect some economics courses beyond the principles level. However, the ultimate objective of the program is to produce successful economic researchers, so demonstrating the ability to do research is an important criterion. This could be accomplished by either having done research previously or via experience as a research assistant. In the latter instance, a letter from the supervisor indicating the ability to do research is critical.
Mathematical preparation is also important. The minimum level of mathematical preparation to be considered for admission includes calculus and linear algebra and demonstration of proficiency with mathematics. Increasingly, successful applicants will have taken more mathematics. In particular, most successful applicants now take real analysis, although that is not a requirement. For the 2020-2021 application cycle, we are making the GRE requirement optional. Prospective students must include a writing sample of no less than 15 pages.
Graduate students in economics receive full tuition and stipend support while they are enrolled and making satisfactory progress toward the PhD. The division strongly encourages applicants to apply for support from extramural agencies. Students who receive competitively funded extramural fellowships, which will be used toward our student support upon matriculating to our programs, may be eligible to receive an educational allowance from the division. If you have external funding, please be sure to state that in your application. If you don’t have funding when you apply but receive it later, please make sure to communicate this to the department.
The department arranges for campus visits for all admitted students and we cover a portion the costs associated with these visits. We do not encourage visits prior to being admitted. Since the department receives an overwhelming amount of applications, it’s simply more efficient to arrange meetings with faculty after students are accepted rather than before.