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Steps Required to Get a Ph.D. in Economics

by Jennifer Allman, studioD

Earning a Ph.D. in any field is extremely difficult and time consuming, yet it opens doors to some of the top job opportunities in the world. A Ph.D. in economics is no exception, as job titles such as chief financial officer and economic policy makers can't be achieved without an average three to five years of study, in addition to any economics-centric undergraduate and graduate work. An economics Ph.D. is considered an expert in her field, so the amount of study, testing and writing is meant to prepare candidates to handle any issue that could arise in their careers.

Complete a bachelor's degree program, ideally in economics or a related field. If you know you want to earn a Ph.D. while you're an undergraduate student, earn your degree in economics. Be sure to discuss these aspirations with your adviser, as they will be able to help you in choosing and applying to school as well as give tips on any additional coursework and studying material that might be beneficial.

Take the GRE exam. This is a requirement for most programs, and the scores help determine the quality of school to which you will attend. The most competitive schools only accept students who receive top scores, so this is a vital part of the process. The test can be taken more than once, so if you are unsatisfied with your scores you can retake the exam.

Complete a master's degree program in economics. Some Ph.D. programs accept candidates with a bachelor's degree, allowing you to first earn your master's, then work toward the Ph.D. Though it is not a requirement to do so, it is beneficial to remain within the same school for both degrees. This ensures every class you take will count toward the Ph.D, and it allows you to get to know your professors, which is especially helpful as you begin work on your dissertation.

Begin coursework in the fundamentals of economics. Each school requires different courses to be completed, but in general the student will be expected to complete courses in micro and macroeconomic theory, econometric methods and methods of economic history. Exams are often part of the requirements to complete this phase, which generally lasts about one year.

Begin coursework in your chosen area of study. These courses and subsequent work should form the foundation of what will one day be your dissertation. A great deal of research is required to complete these courses. This could take about two years to complete.

Start the dissertation process. Although a good deal of research will have begun during your coursework, you must choose your topic and dissertation committee, and write and submit your proposal. Your adviser should be your primary resource should you have questions or concerns as you go through the entire process.

Write your dissertation. This process is completed at your own pace and can take anywhere from one to five years, and sometimes more. Many programs first require you to take an verbal exam to discuss your topic. This research-based work must contain original research while positively contributing to your field of study.

Complete your dissertation. A candidate can't officially earn her Ph.D. until she successfully defends her research findings in front of a panel of experts. You must also ensure your finished product is submitted in the appropriate manner, such as digital or microfilm. You are permitted to graduate once you have successfully defended and submitted your dissertation.


  • It's not merely enough to complete the work. In general, candidates must earn and maintain at least 3.0 grade point averages and earn at least Bs in all courses.
  • If, at an early age, you know you want to pursue a Ph.D. in economics, you should consider taking advanced math courses and introductory business and economics classes in high school.
  • If the decision to pursue a Ph.D. is made later in life, you might be required to complete certain courses at the undergraduate level, despite already possessing a bachelor's degree. Each school requires different prerequisites, so it's important to study the program's core requirements and meet with your adviser so you are able to plan accordingly.
  • To graduate, you must apply to do so. Your adviser will be able to tell you when to do this, though this generally happens during the dissertation writing process.


  • Higher education, especially a Ph.D. track, is expensive. While there are several options, including loans, financial aid and scholarships, every candidate should begin the schooling process understanding the financial repercussions of this decision.
  • Earning a Ph.D. is time-consuming, and most people hold jobs while working their way through the program due to financial needs. This means it could take several years to earn your degree, so be prepared for this commitment.

About the Author

Jen has been a professional writer since 2002 in the education nonprofit industry. Her work has been featured in the New Jersey SEEDS Annual Report, as well as several Centenary College publications, including "Centenary in the News" and the "Trustee Times." In 2009, Jen earned a Master of Arts degree in leadership and public administration from Centenary College.

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