So the title explains why I'm posting. I'm a masters student in economics at a pretty prestigious university and one of the courses that you're required to take as a first year is called Math Methods for Economists. It covers topics from Calculus to Linear Algebra and Differential Equations. I really wanted an A in this class because I'm hoping to have the option of applying to a really good PhD program (although I'm not sure yet), but I got a B- in the class.

I'm pretty upset by this. I really thought I could get an A. I took Calc I and II as an undergrad and I got halfway through Linear Algebra- I dropped out because it was the last semester of my senior year and honestly I was just lazy (but I still remembered a lot of the concepts from the class).

In the class I did really quite poorly on the first exam and I do blame myself for not preparing enough for that one. I was going to drop the class and retake it in the Spring (because you have the option of taking it online with FULL internet access during the exams) but then the professor said that if you get an A on the final he'd just give you an A in the class. I was determined to use that loop hole and get that A on the final.

I spent the 5 days before the exam studying so hard- I mean every free second that I wasn't eating or sleeping- I was up until 3:00am every night studying. I don't think I've ever spent so much time preparing for an exam.

I kind of knew it was hopeless though. This professor gives insanely hard exam questions that he does almost nothing to prepare you for. As aforementioned, I have quite a bit of background in math and I have never seen math problems like the ones he puts on his exams.They're not conceptually hard to understand but he tries to trick you using the most obscure algebra techniques that even software has trouble finding a closed form solution for. I've tried plugging some of the problems into symbolab.com and multiple times I was told "can not be solved" - which I didn't even know was possible.

I ended up getting an 82 on the exam and I just think its so unfair that I have to have a B- on my transcript. I've never blamed a professor for my own grade but this is ridiculous. I know some students complained about the professor directly to the program advisor before and nothing resulted from it.

Is there anything I can do about this? Does the B- condemn me to eternal graduate school hell? I'm really just looking for some peace of mind.

  • 5
    Sorry, I only have a remark: 5 days cramming past midnight is not effective. You need time and a relaxed mind to learn effectively. Train smart, not hard, is what they tell the athletes, but it applies here, too. Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 7:52
  • Does your school allow you to re-take the course?
    – Nobody
    Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 7:55
  • Welcome to the site. If you think one grad will make or break your admission into graduate school, you are are likely a borderline student and there existing answers to that question on this site. Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 14:47
  • 2
    Can you explain the term "eternal graduate school hell"? Moreover, I do think the internet is often not a good place to look for "some peace of mind" and especially not Stack Exchange.
    – Haque
    Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 16:00
  • Not sure this is a duplicate of the listed question; econ's relationship with math is complicated enough that a B- in math-for-economists might be a bit different than just having a generally borderline record (or it might not be, someone can tell us in the answers). But I do think the question needs cleaned up, right now there are three distinct questions here (is it bad, what can I do, something about "grad school hell") and is comes across mostly as a rant.
    – cag51
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 4:36

2 Answers 2


Not the end of the world, but also rationally could be a gap.

Make your applications and proceed. I wouldn't even dwell on it (why explain a negative). If the rest of the application is strong, grad schools won't care. They have to find people too and there is not an infinite supply.

If you have the time/desire, one thing you could do is take another math class to show your ability. Maybe calc 3 or ODE or engineering math or a prob/stats course. [DON'T take real analysis. It's theoretical calculus and very low value for you, for your time. Even many applied math majors feel this.]

It's not 100% clear to me how much the issues were application versus ability. Obviously there is some pattern here, given the linear algebra miss also. Think about comparative advantage (as an economist, should understand this concept) and if concentrating on math makes sense.

That said, it is common for econ students to have an unpleasant reaction to the amount of math in grad school and for it to be a limiter. They liked micro, learning about supply/demand and actions of the firm, which is very intuitive. Then grad econ comes in and sometimes it seems like everything is dressed up in equations when it doesn't need to be or that one loses all intuition and just does regressions. Should not be this way and I have had disagreements with famous macro-economists that lacked supply/demand mindset. But realize the math requirements are there...so your question is rational, not just on appearance but even reality.

Ideally, you want to have both conceptual insights and math skill. Consider Milton Friedman who wrote a famous popular book and PBS TV series. But you can also find brutally mathematical papers of his (one is in a collection of papers honoring John Tukey).

P.s. One thing that was missing in your discussion of your situation was how the rest of the class did (overall, not just the final). If you got a B- and that was actually a high relative grade, than great. If not, it is more concerning of a gap that needs fixing.

  • 2
    I agree with all of this except for the real analysis comment. Most Econ PhD programs require Real Analysis.
    – Dawn
    Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 15:05

Is there anything I can do about this?

I presume you mean "can do to change your grade"? No, grades are final (perhaps with an exception for mitigating factors).

Does the B- condemn me to eternal graduate school hell?

I don't understand how a grade can condemn someone to "eternal graduate school hell," nor what "graduate school hell" is. If you are concern about graduate school admissions, then one grade will have little impact.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .