The graduate program of the Department of Economics is addressed to students of high promise who wish to prepare themselves in teaching and research or for responsible positions in government, research organizations, or business enterprises. Admission to the program is limited to candidates for the PhD. Students are expected to devote themselves full-time to their program of study. Students who seek the AM degree only cannot be admitted.

There are six major requirements for the doctoral degree. They are (1) taking a written examination in economic theory, (2) satisfying course requirements in distribution and in quantitative methods, (3) writing a research paper in the second year, (4) taking an written examination on two special fields selected by the student, (5) presenting a seminar on the student’s research, and (6) preparing a doctoral dissertation.

The student is expected to satisfy the first four requirements within two years of residence. The department does not assume that students will have completed their professional training by that time, but does expect them to have formed an appreciation of the discipline of economics, to have settled on their personal fields of interest, and to have learned to apply their discipline to those fields. The examinations are designed to verify that the candidate has attained a broad integration of this sort.

Course of Study

Several kinds of knowledge are required of a professional or academic economist. An economist must understand the nature of long-term changes in the economy (economic history); the best thinking about the ways in which economic units interact with each other and with their environment, respond to change, and develop over time (economic theory and its intellectual development); and the techniques by which economic data are assembled, evaluated, and analyzed (statistical method and its application). In addition an economist needs the discipline and versatility gained by detailed study of some economic problems and policy areas (the optional fields).

Admissions Requirements

Concentration in economics is preferred but not required. Students will need a strong undergraduate training in both economics and mathematics. All applicants are required to take the GRE. If English is not the candidate’s native language, there are two acceptable ways to demonstrate English proficiency: 1) Hold a degree from an institution at which English is the language of instruction; 2) A minimum score of 80 on the Internet based test (IBT) on the TOEFL administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), Box 899, Princeton, NJ 08541.

Mathematics Requirement

Students are expected to have a strong background in linear algebra and calculus upon entering the program; knowledge of differential equations, real analysis, probability, and statistics is also very helpful.

To request an application for admission, write to the Admissions and Financial Aid Office, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center, 3rd floor, 1350 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138; or visit the GSAS Admissions website.

Admissions Information 2012-2013
Number of Applications Received: 655
Number Admitted: 36
GRE Scores (Admitted Applicants):

  • Quantitative: 780 – 800
  • Average: 797
  • Analytical: 3.5 – 6
  • Average: 5.0

On-campus interviews are not granted. The application for admission is the basis for evaluation of each candidate. It is essential that the Admissions Office receive all admissions materials by the due date. Incomplete applications will not be reviewed.

Degree Requirements

Academic Residence Requirement

Two years of full-time study (16 half-courses or equivalent) are required.

Plan of Study

During the first year of graduate study, graduate students are normally required to take formal courses in advanced microeconomic and macroeconomic theory in preparation for the required examination in economic theory. In addition, they should satisfy the course requirements in quantitative methods and may begin work on fulfillment of the distribution requirement.

In preparation for the Written Field Exam, described in more detail below, students are encouraged to choose from a very large selection of courses offered each year in the department and pertinent courses offered in other departments. In some fields, but not all, there is a two-term sequence of courses intended as the basic preparation for an oral examination in the field. A student may wish to take more than two terms’ work in the field chosen for the examination, including a research seminar or a reading program under the guidance of a member of the faculty.

Written Examinations

There are two written examinations in economic theory—one each in microeconomics and macroeconomics—which are administered in the spring and fall. Students must pass each examination with a grade of B or better. They ordinarily take the examinations in the spring term of the first year of graduate study. In preparation, students must normally enroll in Economics 2010a-b, Advanced Microeconomic Theory, and Economics 2010c-d, Advanced Macroeconomic Theory. However, they will be excused from one or more of these courses by passing the corresponding part of the theory examination with a grade of B or better when they enter in the fall.

Course Requirements

Students satisfy the econometrics methods requirement by completing Introduction to Applied Econometrics, Economics 2120 (with a grade of B or better). Economics 2120 is offered in the spring term. Students should take Quantitative Methods, Economics 2110, in the fall. This is a prerequisite for Economics 2120. The econometrics requirement may be satisfied by a more advanced course with the approval of the instructor. This requirement normally is completed during the first year of graduate study.

The distribution requirement is fulfilled by passing one course (with grade of B+ or better) from a list of courses available in the Graduate Office. The purpose of the requirement is to ensure that students are exposed to non-standard ways of thinking about issues central to economics. This is normally done by taking a course in economic history, a course involving nonstandard approaches to economics, or a course in disciplines of social inquiry (anthropology, government, history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, etc.) that deals with economic topics from the perspectives of those disciplines.

This requirement is frequently satisfied in the first year. The course must be taken during the time students are enrolled in the graduate program. (Courses taken as an undergraduate or in other graduate programs will not be considered.) Courses offered primarily for undergraduates may be acceptable provided there is a provision for graduate students to take the course with additional requirements.

Second-Year Research Paper

In the spring term of the second year, students must enroll in Economics 3000 (Research Paper) and begin work on the second-year paper under the supervision of a member of the faculty of the department. Students must complete the research paper to the satisfaction of their faculty supervisor and receive a grade of SAT in Economics 3000 before they may take the Written Field Exam.

Written Field Examinations

The written field examination is comprised of a three hour exam in each of two fields and administered at the end of the second year of graduate study. Students are required to take two courses for credit for each field and must complete the written examination in economic theory, the course requirements in quantitative methods, the distribution requirement and the second year research paper in order to sit for the written examination. A letter grade of "B" or better must be obtained to successfully meet this requirement. 

In selecting fields for the written examination, the candidate must choose two fields from the following list of fields. 

Economic Theory   


Behavioral/Experimental Economics



Public Economics


Economic History

Industrial Organization

   International Economics

Labor Economics

   Financial Economics
Political Economics     


Students may take a second field from the list or may propose a second optional field for advanced study that is especially adapted to the candidate’s interests and needs. A special field of study may be approved if it meets the criteria: (a) that there is a significant body of economic literature in the field, (b) that the field is sufficiently broad to be recognizable as a field for teaching and research, and (c) that a member of the faculty offers instruction in the field and is prepared to give an oral examination in it. An optional field will not be approved if it is a field of specialization within one of the other fields presented by the candidate.


After passing the oral general examination, student must enroll in a working seminar or participate in an informal lunchtime seminar group. Students in their third year and above must present work in a working seminar (or informal lunchtime seminar) each semester.

Dissertation Committee Requirement

Within one year of passing the oral examination, students must assemble a dissertation committee consisting of at least two faculty members, and must complete a preliminary research plan of at most five pages, which is signed by the dissertation committee. The signed research plan will become part of the student’s file kept in the Graduate Office.


The candidate is required to demonstrate the ability to perform original research in economics by presenting a dissertation that includes a significant contribution to economic knowledge. There is no requirement as to length of the dissertation; its acceptability depends entirely on the originality and significance of the research undertaken and on the competence of its presentation.

The completed dissertation will be accepted by the department upon recommendation by a dissertation committee, consisting of the dissertation supervisor and two other faculty members. The student is expected to keep in touch with members of the dissertation committee on the progress of research. The final preparation of the dissertation manuscript must conform to the booklet The Form of the PhD Dissertation.

Good Standing

Students enrolled in the PhD program may be subject to termination of candidacy if they fail to remain in good standing, as defined below:

(1) Within three years of residence, the student shall complete the written theory examination, the course requirements in distribution and econometrics, the second-year paper, and the Written Field Exam.

(2) Within three years of residence of completing all the requirements listed above in (1), the student shall complete the seminar requirements and the dissertation.

Students who fail to remain in good standing are not eligible for financial support or employment through Harvard, including employment as a teaching fellow. Exceptions to these requirements for good standing will be granted by the department only in very unusual circumstances on the basis of a petition by the student. The dissertation must be submitted in final form within five years of the date of the oral examination; otherwise, the student’s candidacy for the PhD automatically lapses.

Recent PhD Dissertation Titles

  • "Essays in Industrial Organization and Technological Change"
  • "Essays on the Effects of Law and Policy on the Educational Attainment and Employment of Particular Society Groups"
  • "Essays on International Capital Markets"
  • "Essays on Finance, International Economics, and National Security"
  • "Disasters and the Lucas Orchard: Essays in Finance and Macroeconomics"
  • "Essays in Political Economy"
  • "Essays on Unemployment and Expectation in Macroeconomic Models"
  • "Essays on the Political Economy of Public Good Provision in Developing Countries"
  • "Topics in International Economics"
  • "Essays in Taxation and International Relations"
  • "Essays on the Economics of Crime and Criminal Justice"
  • "Essays in International Finance and Macroeconomics"
  • "Topics in the Economics of Health and Aging"
  • "Essays in Development Economics"
  • "Essays on Governance, Population, and Political Stability"
  • "Estimation and Inference Under Non-Stationary Data"
  • "Essays in Monetary Economics"
  • "Essays in Applied Game Theory"
  • "Essays on Public and Labor Economics"
  • "Essays on Public Goods Provisions"
  • "Three Essays on Development Economics and Political Economy"
  • "Essays on Matching and Market Design’"
  • "Essays on Careers in U.S. Labor Markets: The Interaction of Internal and External Labor Markets"
  • "Essays in Applied Microeconomics & Applied Econometrics"

Joint Programs

PhD in Business Economics

This program is administered by a standing committee composed of members of the Department of Economics and the Graduate School of Business Administration. It is described in the section of this publication entitled "The PhD in Business Economics." Additional information can be found on the program website. Inquiries about this program should be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Harvard Business School, Doctoral Programs Office, Sherman Hall, Boston, MA 02163.

PhD in Political Economy and Government

This program is administered by a standing committee composed of members of the Departments of Economics, Government, and the Harvard Kennedy School and is described in a section of this publication entitled "The PhD Under the Committee on Political Economy and Government." Written inquiries about this program should be sent to Director of Doctoral Programs, Harvard Kennedy School, 79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.

Applications for admissions and for grants, together with information regarding admissions procedures, may be obtained by writing directly to the Admissions Office, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center 350, 1350 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138. We encourage online submission of the application.

Further information regarding courses and programs of study in economics may be obtained by writing directly to the Coordinator of Graduate Studies, Department of Economics, Littauer Center 201, Cambridge, MA 02138, or by visiting the Department of Economics website.

Department of Economics Faculty