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Preparing for graduate studies
If you plan to pursue graduate studies, consider joining the honours program as it is designed to help students become a stronger candidate for graduate school applications. We also recommend speaking to an undergraduate advisor or a faculty member.
How to prepare for graduate school
A graduate school application typically has the following components:
Strong economics background
In order to be successful at graduate school, you need a strong background in economics and mathematics. You can achieve all of this through the honours program. The program offers you the opportunity to participate in a research thesis project, advanced courses, and the chance to build rapport with faculty members, which will be helpful when you require letters of recommendation.
Letters of recommendation
You will typically need up to three letters of recommendation. Ideally, your letters should be from regular faculty members as they are likely to have a strong professional reputation, and are also likely to be well-acquainted with your academic background.
- Many admissions committees put weight in an applicant's creativity, writing skills, and academic drive, which can be difficult to evaluate based on just a transcript. Ideally, it is recommended that you demonstrate these qualities to the individuals who will be writing letters for you, so that they can address these qualities in the letter.
- You can foster close relationships with faculty by becoming a research assistant (RA) or by working with faculty members in writing your honours thesis or term paper.
- How do you become a research assistant? Ask! Faculty who run experiments sometimes need help, as do those who work with data. Do not feel the need to limit yourself only to those who have taught you.
- Every year, several RA positions are open for applications during the Undergraduate Student Research Assistant (USRA) application cycle.
- To obtain truly excellent letters of recommendation, it is difficult to earn all of them in the same term. It is recommended that you start planning your letters at least a year prior to applying for graduate school.
Curriculum vitae (CV)
Unlike employers and some other departments and faculties, economics departments generally put less weight into your extracurricular activities and employment history, unless they are research-relevant (e.g. research assistantship, economic analysis for a think tank, etc.). However, if you took time off or have gaps in your schooling, it is important to demonstrate what you were doing during those gaps.
Statement of purpose
It is important to provide a statement of purpose that is polished. You may find it helpful to describe what you have done (e.g. your papers) or what you have found interesting (e.g. research articles that you have read), and to relate those topics to what you would like to study in graduate school.
Some schools put more weight into the statement of purpose than others, but it is never as impactful as the transcript or letters of recommendation (except perhaps in cases where the applicant has an unconventional background). You may also wish to provide your statement of purpose to the individuals writing letters of recommendation for you, as they may find it helpful and may be able to give you feedback.
Standardized test scores
Standardized test scores are usually used to screen applicants, and may not carry much weight once the application is under review. For your application to be considered, you may want to find out the score for the admissions threshold of the schools to which you are applying. Almost all US programs require the GRE, where the Quantitative section is the most important. Other standardized test requirements are mostly to ensure English proficiency.
Writing samples are rarely requested, but it is another reason why it is important to have prior strong papers on hand in case a writing sample is requested.
In the honours program, you will have the opportunity to write a honours thesis paper which would help you fulfill this requirement. The paper not only serves to demonstrate your writing skills, it also signals your ability to conduct research, analyze data, and present your findings.
Where to apply?
There are a number of high-ranking economics institutions in Canada, among which SFU Economics ranks competitively. It is also important to consider the faculty and course offerings provided at each school before you choose where to apply. Note that many top economics institutions in the United States do not offer a master's program in economics. These institutions often grant a master’s degree en route to a PhD.
To see where our students have been accepted, see below for our graduate school placement list.
Graduate School Placement List
- Carleton University
- London School of Economics
- McGill University
- McMaster University
- Northwestern University
- University of Alberta
- University of Barcelona
- University of British Columbia
- University of Guelph
- Queen's University
- University of Toronto
- University of Waterloo
- Western University
For more information and advice on applying for economics graduate studies, take a look at these guides written by economics instructors at various US institutions.
- Frequently asked questions on PhD applications by Chris Blattman, University of Chicago
- The complete guide to getting into an economics PhD program by Miles Kimball, University of Michigan, and Noah Smith, Stony Brook University
- Advice for applying to grad schools by Susan Athey, Stanford University