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Academic Dilemma: Math Graduate School for Economics Major?

  1. Apr 1, 2012 #1
    I have been lurking on PF for a while, so I have done a bit of research on the subject but figure I should get some specific advice from those knowledgeable about my dilemma.

    Currently, I am a junior Economics major at a Big 10 school, recently admitted into the honors program for my subject. I started my college career in Aerospace Engineering, switching to Economics early in my sophomore year. Now I really enjoy economics, but I have become much more interested in mathematics over this semester since I've been taking Real Analysis. I really enjoy writing proofs and the theoretical approach to higher level mathematics really opened my eyes to the possibility of graduate level work. Here's a quick profile:

    Undergrad GPA: 3.70
    Math Courses: Calculus I-III(A/A/C+), Linear Algebra(A), O&P Differential Equations(A), Real Analysis I(A)
    Econ Courses: Intermediate Macro/Micro(A/A-), Econometrics I/II(As), Money&Banking(A), Adanced International Trade/Labor(B+/A)
    Other Courses: Classical Physics(B-), Chemistry(A), Computer Science C++(B+)
    Research: Summer RA (Possible opportunity to continue into the fall), Senior Thesis

    As an economics major, do I have any chance for a decent graduate applied mathematics program? I'm afraid my CalcIII grade might kill my chances. Would I have to apply to a Master's in Mathematics, something I know is not usually regarded as a track to a PhD? My interests are really in 'micro' aspect of Economics like Game Theory (which I will be writing my senior thesis on hopefully), which is usually considered a discipline in the mathematics department. I also plan on being an RA for either an Economics professor or a respected Applied Mathematics professor this summer and take the GREs.

    I'm afraid I came to this realization too late. Next year I am scheduled to take ~9 credits of 400-level Economics as well as a 400-level Math course in Linear Programs. What else should I take to improve my chances? Discreet Math(Number & Group Theory)? Complex Analysis? I am lost in this aspect and I feel like most here are more knowledgeable about a proper course of action than my advisors.

    So to summarize, what should I do to better my profile? What programs would I be looking at applying to with a realistic chance to be accepted? Thanks for any help or advice you guys might have for me! I appreciate it.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 1, 2012 #2
    Anyone have any advice at all? I'd appreciate anything I could get. I'm sorry my thoughts seem disconnected and jumbled, I guess I just needed to write them down.
  4. Apr 1, 2012 #3
    I don't know much about getting a PhD in applied mathematics cause my interests lie in pure mathematics. If you feel like you have very strong quantitative abilities why not go for something along the lines of financial engineering?

    Back on topic: I'm not sure if it applies to applied mathematics but for pure mathematics, it is usually necessary to be competent in all areas of mathematics including analysis, topology, algebra, geometry, etc. From the looks of the courses you have taken thus far, you may have a problem but like I said this is pure. I am not sure about applied.
  5. Apr 2, 2012 #4
    Thank you for your input. I chose to take Analysis for the heck of it this semester, and I never really knew what people exactly meant when they suggested higher-level mathematics is nothing like the quantitative based calculus sequence. I may have found my interests too late but if I take Number/Group Theory, Foundations of Geometry, and Complex Analysis next semester I feel I have a better chance while learning more about higher-level mathematics.
  6. Apr 2, 2012 #5


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    Unfortunately, a undergraduate Econ is not the desired degree for a PhD in Math. I think taking additional math courses should help. Make sure you take courses with math majors from the Math department. Also, see if you can tackle some graduate courses in Mathematics. If you can double major in math, it will be a plus.

    Also when you apply to Graduate school, I would throw in some highly Mathematical Econ departments that do research in your areas of interest, just in case!.
  7. Apr 2, 2012 #6
    Hey Pyrrhus, I appreciate your insight. I was honestly thinking the same thing. I know the difficulty of getting into a great graduate school for any subject letalone mathematics, and breaking in as an Econ major would be even tougher considering my lack of higher level math so far. I am really interested in the math behind microeconomic events and game theory, but lack passion for econometrics. Maybe it has been my teachers more than the actual subject.
  8. Apr 2, 2012 #7


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    Interesting, I am doing my PhD in econometrics topics (consumption at the extensive margin). However, I know researchers doing innovative work in Game Theory, and Microeconomics. I know you probably feel you want to do math, and a undergraduate in Econ is not the degree for this. However, PhD in Econ do high level mathematics especially on theoretical research topics. I recommend finding out about a researcher doing the type of work you are interested. Read his/hers papers, and if you like it apply to graduate school there.

    For a taste of the level of math, Go to google scholar and Search Game theory and Mas-Colell. He is one of the most prominent Mathematical economists.
  9. Apr 3, 2012 #8
    If it makes you feel any better, I was in a similar situation as you when I decided I wanted to do graduate level mathematics near the end of my junior year of college (2009). I was also an economics major, and at that point, I only had Calc I-IV, and ODE's with a basic intro to proofs course. Now that I think of it, I was pretty insane back then and decided to finish a math major in my last year of college. I took around 12 upper division math classes my last year of college and took another year to do research in applied math. Luckily for me, my initial interests in economics was in game theory, so that must have played some part in my admission to an applied math phd program. I'm not sure if Stony Brook AMS is a good program to you or not, but I will be going to their applied math phd program in specializing in computational geometry.

    The point is, it is still entirely possible to do a phd in applied math. You had more math courses than I when I decided to do math grad school, so you have less math classes to cover if you were to take another year to study. It is entirely doable to take 12 math classes should you take another year. The bad news is that you would definitely need some more math classes than you currently have. Since you also have some research in game theory(which is math heavy), you might be able to play that off as applied math related research experience.

    If you are serious about trying to get into an applied math phd program, is it possible you drop the 400-classes you are about to take and take some topology/analysis/numerical analysis the following year? If you are aiming for masters programs, I really think you just need 3-4 more math classes to get into some good masters programs (UWash, UCSD for example).
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2012
  10. Apr 5, 2012 #9
    That takes some real dedication. I've been planning it out, and here is what I plan to fit in during my last year:

    Math: Discreet Mathematics, Complex Analysis, Linear Programs and Related Problems, Foundations of Geometry

    Econ: 6 Credits of Honors Econ (required), 6 Credits of Thesis, Graduate Microeconomics

    I would probably only be able to pick 3/4 of those Math courses. Which ones should I focus on? Or should I look at another math course entirely like topology, etc.?
  11. Apr 5, 2012 #10
    You want to do a math PhD in what topic?? Game theory??

    In that case, I would pick courses that have something to do with your preferable graduate studies. I don't think "foundations of geometry" would help there. Perhaps you could try some probability/statistics course? Or measure theory?

    Furthermore, you will probably want to take the math GRE. But you don't have sufficient knowledge for this. You'll need abstract algebra and topology as well for that.
  12. Apr 5, 2012 #11


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    Graduate Micro is good to set the framework for mathematical modeling in Econ.

    If you have the stomach for it... Graduate Game Theory as well.
  13. Apr 6, 2012 #12
    Thanks for the advice, there is a 4XX Math theory of games course I might take at my school next semester then.

    I received an e-mail from the department that I got in contact with to do research this summer, and the professor I will do research with is a research assistant at a lab as well as a professor who works in the fields I am interested in. Would this be good experience for graduate school? I'm pretty excited about the opportunity.
  14. Apr 6, 2012 #13


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    Yes. A lab? Isn't this econ? :)?
  15. Apr 6, 2012 #14
    He has a phD in applied mathematics and works for a university lab and does research in mathematical economics, he has an on campus office also I believe. Just wondered if it would help me out at all, I think it will.
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