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We appreciate your interest in our graduate program. Below are answers to some popular questions we face every year. These concern our admissions process, and the environment in our department. If you have any other questions that are not answered here, please feel free to send us an email.



1. Q: Do we have a rigorous set of admissions criteria?

A: We do not use a formulaic set of criteria during admissions selection. That said, we look closely at courses taken in economics, mathematics, statistics and related fields (e.g. finance), the earned grades, awards, GRE quantitative test score, economics research undertaken, and relevant work experience. The majority of our admitted students for fall 2017 had a perfect GRE quantitative score which placed them in the 97th percentile (3% of all test takers have a score of 170). The average percentile was the 93rd, and the lowest was the 90th. Those are not set criteria, but we will generally not admit a student below the 90th percentile. It is very important to have advanced courses in mathematics and/or statistics. A student with an undergraduate degree in Economics, but without math courses beyond calculus, without statistics beyond a standard undergraduate course taught in an Economics department, and without relevant work experience (e.g. central bank, consulting firm, etc.) will generally not be considered for admission.

2. Q: Do we use the GRE quantitative score as an admissions criterion?

A: As explained above, the answer is yes: generally, admitted students score above the 90th percentile. A student with a slightly lower score, but with a significant math/stats background, and/or a significant relevant work/research background, can be considered for admission.

3. Q: What kind of mathematics and statistics background do our entering students generally have? How are they relevant to a Ph.D. in Economics?

A: Students generally have taken multiple courses in calculus, real analysis, and linear algebra. Many have taken differential equations. Many have taken a standard statistics courses, along with mathematical statistics and more advanced probability theory. Real analysis, linear algebra and mathematical statistics are highly relevant: analysis uses relevant proof techniques, concerning properties of real functions, including convergence of sequences. Economics exploits proofs in all areas, and convergence properties are used widely in micro, macro and econometric theory. Linear algebra presents the mathematics of vectors and matrices, everywhere used in Economics, in particular in econometrics. Mathematical statistics combines statistics with analysis: convergence properties of random entities, key notions in advanced econometrics.

4. Q: What portion of applicants are admitted? How many are admitted ith funding?

A: In 2017 we admitted 16 students (about 3% of all applicants), and all were funded except two. If we limit consideration to the students with a GRE quantitative test score at or above the 90 percentile (163-164), then the percent of this group we admitted was just over 7%. Note that 43% of applicants scored at or above the 90th percentile.

5. Q: What does “funding” consist of, and what work do funded students (students with an assistantship) do in order to satisfy the terms of the assistantship?

A: The standard funding package is an “assistantship”: the student receives a monthly stipend plus health insurance, in exchange for grading, acting as a teaching assistant (which entails grading, holding office hours, and leading small recitation groups for large courses like intro to economics and intermediate microeconomics), and/or being a research assistant.

6. Q: What is the international make-up of our students?

A: Roughly 50% of our admitted students are U.S. nationals. For the remaining students, the country of origin varies from year to year. We have students from a great number of countries. Examples are: Jamaica, Mexico, Colombia, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, China, India, Russia, Turkey, Bangladesh. Sri Lanka, Brazil, and Spain.

7. Q: Can I waive taking the TOEFL or similar exam as an international student?

A: UNC’s Graduate School states the following:
“All international applicants must submit acceptable, official TOEFL (reported directly from or IELTS (reported directly from scores. We accept no other English Language tests…. Exceptions to the requirement of the English Standardized exams are available for the three categories listed below:
i. applicants from countries where English is the SOLE OFFICIAL language of instruction. (Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Canada-except Québec, England, Ghana, Ireland, India, Jamaica, Kenya, New Zealand, Nigeria, Scotland, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad, Tobago, Uganda, and Wales);
ii. applicants who have received or will receive a degree from an accredited university in the United States…;
iii. applicants who have received or will receive a degree from an accredited university where English is the SOLE language of instruction…
Please review all details at

8. Q: Do we have a master’s program? Are master’s students funded? What courses do they take?

A: At this time, we accept applications only from prospective students who are pursuing the PhD.

Current UNC-CH graduate students enrolled in another primary degree program will be considered as applicants to the MS degree. However, we do not offer separate master’s-level courses, and our master’s students take the same courses as our Ph.D. students (fewer courses, but all Ph.D. level courses). They do not need to take our qualifying exams, but they must produce a master’s project, similar to a master’s thesis. Master’s students are not funded.

9. Q: Does emailing an applicant’s materials to the department director of graduate studies help improve an applicant’s chances of being admitted? Can you tell me my chances of being admitted?

A: Although we appreciate each applicant’s demonstration of sincere interest in our program, we have too many applicants to be able to give advice on an individual basis. We refer interested applicants to UNC’s “Slate” admission system, or we give basic answers similar/identical to those given here. Emailing us your materials does not improve your chances of being admitted. Further, we are not able to tell applicants what their chances of being admitted is. We will simply provide information on this document, e.g. the GRE quant test scores our admitted students typically have, the math courses they have, and so on.

10. Q: Where do we place students? Do we provide teacher training?

A: We place students in all sectors relevant to economics: research academia (e.g. Penn State, Stanford), teaching academia (e.g. Davidson College), government (e.g. the Federal Reserve Bank, various other central banks, Dept. of Labor), and the private sector (e.g. Deloitt, Ernst & Young, PriceWaterhousCooper). Funded students who serve as a Teaching Assistant are required to participate in a weekly training program over two semesters in order to improve upon teaching style.

11. Q: May I take courses at Duke and NCSU? Do I pay additional tuition? How do these courses count toward field requirements?

A: Students may take economics, finance or statistics (or related departments: e.g. health policy, mathematics) field courses at Duke or NSCU for free provided that a similar course is not offered at UNC. Students may count for up to 9 credit hours (3 full semester courses = 6 half semester courses or mods) toward their Ph.D., with approval from faculty of the field and the director of graduate studies. This highlights the fact that we do not have rigid sets of courses for specific fields. Students may take courses in statistics, or finance, or at Duke or NSCU in economics, statistics or finance (or related), provided the courses represent a coherent path toward a well-defined field. The latter must be approved by the director of graduate studies and faculty in the field.

Department Atmosphere, Courses, and Student Life

12. Q: What fields do we specialize in? What are the most popular fields?

A: We have long had very strong groups in applied microeconomics (education, health, labor), econometrics (econometric theory, financial econometrics), macroeconomics/international finance, empirical industrial organization, and micro theory. Historically, many students align with applied micro or macro/international finance.

13. Q: How many students do our faculty advise? Do faculty co-author papers with students?

A: The number of advisees various greatly across fields and time. The number of students advised per faculty member ranges from 1 to 8, give or take, based on the year and student interests. Our faculty regularly publish journal articles and policy papers with their advisees, most prominently in applied micro, econometrics and macro/international finance.

14. Q: Is the atmosphere in our department collegial?

A: Overall our student environment is very collegial, and there are many opportunities for interacting with faculty. When we admit and fund students, we have a place for them, and our students are not in competition with one another in order to continue in the program or to receive funding. We encourage students to work together and indeed our students help each other throughout their time in the program including in the dissertation field workshops (students begin taking a dissertation workshop in the third year). Advisers and other committee members meet the students regularly, students are invited to join faculty during lunches with visiting speakers, and students regularly go out together socially.

15. Q: What is the cost of living in Chapel Hill?

A: Most students live in Chapel Hill or Carrboro (a near neighbor city to Chapel Hill).
If a student has a roommate, then the cost of housing can be as low as $400/month. Public transportation is free within Carrboro and Chapel Hill. Overall, the cost of living is relatively low.