I have an undergrad degree in math and philosophy, and was wondering whether it would be possible to transition to economics for a PhD. With respect to economics classes, my transcript only has the intro to macroeconomics and microeconomics AP course sequence from high school. However, I have taken advanced courses on political economy (seminar on Smith and Marx through the political science department), utilitarianism, formal epistemology, real analysis, complex analysis, probability theory, linear algebra and Multivariable calculus. I also have work experience in securitization and have spent a bit of time self studying bond math, game theory, as well as macroeconomics more broadly, mostly as relates to my work. Would I be at all competitive for a PhD program in economics? I'd probably want to do work in either asset pricing or choice theory.

  • Being aware I will throw on myself the ire of many economists, from math to economics it's a really easy and interesting path. Economics is still getting out of its crysalis of "religion-like" science and slowly getting into real science. But it is heavily influenced by politics (necessarily so, by the way). What you are looking into (asset pricing, for example) is finance, there your degree in mathematics is even more worthwhile but you have to sell it well (i.e. try to do at least an internship or collaborate/volunteer for some startup somewhere in the finance world).
    – EarlGrey
    Jun 16, 2023 at 22:00
  • 2

1 Answer 1


Economics has become a very mathematical/quantitative discipline and a strong mathematics background is likely an advantage for applicants. In the Economics PhD programs (both faculty in an R1 economics department and as a graduate student) I have experience with, incoming students with Bachelor's degrees focusing on math are very common (Economics is the most common, you also see statistics and computer science majors as well).

You should read PhD program descriptions and admission guidelines to make sure you have a sufficient background. Most programs will require (or strongly encourage) you've taken classes through intermediate micro- and macroeconomics. Some additional economics field courses are viewed favorably, but not as strongly as demonstrating a solid mathematical background. Most top programs will only consider students who've taken undergraduate courses in multivariable calculus, real analysis, and some form of probability/statistics/econometrics. Empirical economists and even economic theorists do a large amount of computerized analysis, so coursework or work experience that demonstrates programming competency is also beneficial.

Based on a comment, if you haven't taken formal courses in micro- and macroeconomics it would be good to shore up that part of your transcript, some formal economics training is an important signal for a PhD. You have a few options:

  • Take core economics courses as a non-degree student. This would let you take just the courses you need. Many universities offer these courses on a variety of schedules. Online options are available but you should be sure to use a high-quality program.

  • Enroll in a terminal MA in economics. This would cover the courses you need and let you take a few other field courses in your area of interest. This will be expensive (most MA degrees are not funded) and take 18 to 24 months.

  • Work for two to three years as a professional economic analyst perhaps at a consulting firm, think tank, or government agency.

Finally, you mention that you may be interested in asset pricing, so I'll add you may want to broaden your search to Finance programs as well, which are often housed in business schools.

  • Thanks for your answer! The only thing I'm really worried about is the fact that i have 0 econ classes taken in college. My GPA is a 3.9 and I got As in every class I listed, including real analysis, complex analysis and linear algebra. I think I have the quantitative background, moreso worried about the lack of a big picture/conceptual background in econ.
    – NotAPlane
    Jun 16, 2023 at 20:40
  • @NotAPlane I added a bit to address your situation. Hope it helps!
    – CompEcon
    Jun 16, 2023 at 21:47

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