Interested in our graduate program?

I am now the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) for our department. I field many questions about our PhD and MA programs.

I would like information about the MA program/PhD program.

This is a generic question. It is very difficult to answer in an email reply.

We have a website for the PhD program and a website for the MA program. Those pages will provide you with most of the information you are interested in. In particular, note the FAQ pages for both programs. (Those really are frequently asked questions.)

Attached is one or more pieces of information about my background. Can you guarantee admission and funding if I apply?

Admission and funding decisions are made by a departmental committee. The committee reviews all completed applications after the deadline. Department policy prohibits me from commenting on an application until it has been reviewed by the committee. Therefore I can’t and won’t respond to your email with any of the following:

  • An offer of admission and funding.
  • A probability that you will be admitted with or without funding.
  • An addition to your application (another course, a magical GRE score, etc.) that will guarantee admission and funding.

A couple of related points that regularly come up:

  • Meeting the minimum requirements for the program only guarantees that we’ll consider your application. A surprising number of correspondents are under the impression that meeting the minimum requirements guarantees them admission and funding. This is very far from reality. The truth is that we have a budget, like every department, and the PhD admissions process is very competitive. We are only able to offer funding to a small percentage of all applicants. You have to be in the top tier of the applicant pool in order to be funded, and you’re competing against strong applicants from around the world. Admission to every reputable US PhD program in economics is competitive.
  • Individual faculty members don’t admit students. They don’t talk to the admissions committee and tell them to admit an applicant on the basis of an unsolicited email. In all my years as a faculty member and Director of Graduate Studies, I have never heard of an applicant being admitted because a random faculty member received an email from that applicant. The admissions committee makes its own decisions based on the budget and the entire pool of applicants.

I’m interested in your research. Are you willing to serve as my advisor if I enter the PhD program?

Maybe. Graduate students find an advisor after completing the core theory and econometrics courses. If you pass the qualifying examinations and you still have an interest in my research at that time, let’s talk. You really don’t know what you want to do until you familiarize yourself with research in different fields of economics. You should choose a graduate program on the overall strength of the department, not based on a desire to work with one faculty member. There is no guarantee that any individual faculty member will even be working at K-State in a couple of years.

Whether I will agree to advise a dissertation depends on several factors:

  • The topic has to be sufficiently close to my areas of expertise.
  • The topic has to be one that interests me.
  • There has to be room in my schedule to properly advise another dissertation. If I overload myself with too many advisees, I will be doing a poor job advising all of them.

Note that an email telling me you are interested in my research will have absolutely no effect on the probability that you will be admitted with funding. Note also that sending every faculty member an email claiming an interest in their research will definitely not help. Most faculty forward those messages to the DGS, who handles grad program inquiries. It obviously does not help your application to have claimed to be interested in ten different fields of research.

I’m interested in your research. Will you talk to the admissions committee to tell them to give me admission and funding?


I’m interested in your research. Will you hire me to work in your research lab/research group?

Admission and funding decisions are made at the department level. I do not have a research lab or a research group, and I do not hire research assistants using grant money. You may be looking for the College of Engineering instead. Although there are a few exceptions in the top-ranked departments, most faculty in economics do not have research labs.

Does your PhD program expect prior research experience? Do you expect applicants to have worked as a pre-doc?

This seems to be a popular topic these days. The wealthiest few departments have so many extremely strong applicants that they resort to criteria that are arbitrary and in the interest of their faculty’s research agendas when making admission and funding decisions.

We are not one of those departments. We make admission decisions based on the applicant’s potential to do well in the program. By itself, research experience prior to grad school probably doesn’t tell the committee much about your potential, so it won’t get much weight. Just to be clear, prior research experience will absolutely help your application if it has resulted in a revision request from the Review of Economics and Statistics, but that’s really not what we’re talking about. Research experience can be something as simple as recording a small amount of data for a professor.

Highly talented students should apply to our PhD program straight out of their undergraduate program. Individuals with a weak academic background should consider getting an MA degree first to make up for their deficiencies, or take a few additional math courses, or do something else that pushes their application to the top of the pool. Of all the things you can do to strengthen your application, I would only recommend a pre-doc if it is extremely prestigious, but in that case, you can probably get into one of the highest-ranked PhD programs. (We provide excellent training, with our graduates getting good jobs and publishing in good journals, but nobody would consider our PhD program to be ranked in the top ten.)