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Economics vs. (Computational) Public Policy  

7 members have voted

  1. 1. Which is better in your opinion?

    • APE - Paris School of Economics
    • MS-CAPP - University of Chicago

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Hello all, I am new to GradCafe (although I have updated the results page at least 3947202749358 times for my two rounds of grad school admissions over the years). My decision is between two fairly different schools/programs: 1) Analysis and Policy in Economics (APE) Masters at the Paris School of Economics (PSE) and 2) Master of Science in Computational Analysis and Public Policy (MS-CAPP) at the University of Chicago (UChicago) Harris School of Public Policy. Both seem to have a good reputation in their own realm, but some pros and cons for both (as I see them):


PSE Pros:

- Thesis degree (I already have a non-thesis MS in Biomedical Engineering, and it doesn't really mean much because of the lack of research.)

- Economics degree (Ultimately I am interested in sound policy, but more from the public and developmental economics perspective.)

- Combining the first two, it opens doors to an econ PhD if I discover I really like academia

- PSE has decent name recognition (6th in RePEc), especially with Thomas Piketty

PSE Cons:

- Paris (Definitely a pro in many ways, especially since I love Paris, but I am from the US, so people back home may harbor less-than-fair feelings.)

- I am afraid the econ theory is going to overwhelm the inner engineer in me, who cares more about empiricism than assumptions that don't hold in real life


UChicago Pros:

- Data science, machine learning focused, compared to traditional MPPs (I have interests/a background in machine learning and pattern recognition from my first masters.)

- Interdisciplinary with computer science (I've used Matlab, Python, and R for school, but I am definitely lacking, and could use more theory in data structures, algorithms, etc.)

- Practice over theory (Internship required between the two years)

- UChicago name (Although it's not their econ department, I feel like the university is generally more known than PSE... Economists feel free to chime in!)

UChicago Cons:

- Non-thesis degree (I don't know if it's worth getting another masters without research, especially if I end up wanting to apply to econ PhD programs.)

- I have heard policy jobs can be held by econ grads while the other way is not always true (CBO, World Bank, UNDP, etc.)


Please assume money is not a problem; I have ways to fund both programs. Please help!

Edited by mjyshin
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- To work at an international organization, I would go for the Chicago MA. Harris has great reputation. Plus, I know a lot of people working at international organizations and they are looking more of the data science, policy evaluation, etc. types. 

- An Econ MA can be a lot of theory and nothing practical. If you have not taken Micro and Macro before, it will be an uphill battle, and it is not something you can really use in practice. 

The reason why Econ MA can do policy jobs is because of their stats training. But the Harris School MA will give you a better preparation for that than any Econ MA. None of my friends working at World Bank, OECD, IMF, etc. did Econ actually.


- Also, have you seen this at Chicago? https://dssg.uchicago.edu/ I know people who participated and now work at google, survey companies, etc. It would be a great connection for you.

- Nobody cares about a thesis. You should work on research with professors or help them out as an RA. You can also work on your own project for classes without having to call it "thesis".


Edited by MrsPhD
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Thank you for the reply! Is your background in public policy? I am actually pretty surprised by your answer, because from everything I've read, those organizations (especially the IMF) seem to be accessible almost only with an econ grad degree (but I can imagine that things have changed).

Your second point is what I am most afraid of--that there won't be enough data focus. I have taken micro and macro many, many years ago in undergrad before I switched to engineering, but will definitely be lagging behind my peers.

I did hear Harris is known to be "quant heavy", but just to what degree is it? They seem to require just two courses in statistics (plus one machine learning [applied stats] requirement) vs. PSE's 3-course requirement in econometrics (with advanced electives later). As much as I enjoy machine learning, one of its downfalls I see is that it really is focused too much on prediction rather than inference, which is key (I would guess) in economics and policy. I am also afraid that I would just be repeating my stats and machine learning courses from my undergrad and grad school.

I have seen the DSSG fellowship, and I have been interested for a couple of years now! :) No matter where I end up going, I will end up applying to the summer program (especially since I am originally from Chicago, and call it home).

Does your last point apply also to people who want to go into academia? Even in Harris, almost all of the professors for the classes I find interesting seem to have a PhD in economics (I see one in computer science and almost none in public policy); it seems way too common for it to be a coincidence. Will UChicago's terminal MSCAPP be enough for PhD admissions, even if I do end up as an RA for a short bit? To harp on this and your third point, I have heard multiple people in policy say that an economist is needed in cases (even if a policy grad probably can do the same job): https://www.themuse.com/advice/should-you-get-a-masters-in-public-policy.


I am sorry for all of the questions... But it is a huge career change for me, and I just want to gather all the info before I make a decision. All of the forums and question boards I have read is between an MA in econ vs an MPP, and although the UChicago program is in the public policy school, the MSCAPP degree seems much too specialized to be treated like a regular MPP. Again, maybe it helps to know my goal is ultimately to have an influence in economic policy (taxation, incentives, public funding, etc.) based on analysis of data.

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15 hours ago, MrsPhD said:

The reason why Econ MA can do policy jobs is because of their stats training.

Respectfully, this is demonstrably false. The reason economists do policy jobs is that a large part of policy design, in almost all fields these days, is applied economic theory. The distinction here is important: economists are not statisticians. Statisticians can run the numbers, but they are at a disadvantage for policy design jobs because they don't know the models.

I don't know how many friends you have at IFIs, but your sample is not representative of degree attainment in these organizations. The majority of people at the IMF are either economists or financiers. Because of the nature of Bank work, it hires people from a variety of backgrounds, but economists are very well represented. It's true that you can hold an economist title with a policy or other non-economics degree, but if OP is sure that they want to be an economist, getting a degree in economics is the most straightforward way to achieve that.

OP, your choice here largely depends on what you want to do. If you want to be an economist, I'd go with PSE. It's a pipeline to the EBRD and OECD, and among economists it's well-known as a top program. Among non-economists it's obviously hit and miss (think carefully about how much economists' vs non-economists' opinions will be weighed in your intended career path). Economics as a field is very cliquey and you'd have to spend some time proving that you're not a monkey if you come from any program this is not "MSc Economics" or "MSc Finance", so if you're certain that you want to be an economist, just get the economics degree. 

Chicago is more well-known stateside and to non-economists, but it's also a relatively new program, there is little alumni network and more importantly, people don't really know what to expect from its graduates in terms of ability. I hear you on the practical applicability, but keep in mind that data analytics is a different thing from economics. If you just want to do data work, this is fine. If you want to build economic models, I'd check that the curriculum actually teaches those. They're harder to learn (indepth) than coding.

Consider also whether you want to work in Europe or the US after graduation. If you have work permission in both this is moreso a consideration of what professional network you will build (although it's hard to build a professional network in DC from Chicago and on as intense a study schedule as Chicago degrees usually have); if you need a visa, this should be one of your primary concerns. Further, if Chicago isn't giving you serious money, it's not really worth the extra 50k over PSE imo.

Either way, you can get into IFIs with whichever one you choose and both will benefit your career about equally in the long run. You'll be fine if you just go with the one you prefer.

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Wow, thank you ExponentialDecay, for your insights! As far as funding goes, I commissioned into the military right after undergrad, so I actually have enough of my GI Bill left after my first masters to pay for either of the degrees. I don't really see myself living in Europe long term, but I also don't see myself in the federal sectors, so I am fine not being in DC haha. My two "dream" options are either research for academia or research for policy advisement at the local levels (communities that are struggling, e.g., South Side Chicago, Puerto Rico, or even developing states outside the US).

My one big requirement is to come out of the program being credentialed to speak about economic policy issues, but also able to prove it through the data. It seems that many modern econ programs have moved beyond simple, frequentist parametric models, and many modern data science/policy analytics programs have moved beyond prediction to include inference. So I think you are correct in saying neither will be a bad choice. :) I will definitely look into the UChicago curriculum to see how far they delve into economic models.

I have learned so much just from the two of you. If other economists/policy analysts have similar or differing opinions, please chime in for a better sense of how things work in real life!

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15 hours ago, mjyshin said:

Does your last point apply also to people who want to go into academia?

One key part for getting into PhD programs is letters of recommendations. From Chicago, you know that if you get a letter from a professor, people are going to know who they are and they also got their PhD in the US. From Paris, you should only be getting letters from really well known professors; for instance, if you get a letter from a junior professor who did their PhD in Europe, it is not very informative if you want to do a PhD in the US. (Even a letter from an assistant at Chicago with a PhD in the US is more informative than that.)

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One of perks of the APE program at Paris is that you have a chance of getting picked up for the 3-year PhD program right after the second year masters, as well as having two well-known research centers (the World Inequality Lab and J-PAL Europe) within its walls.

Would you both agree, however, that a US PhD holds more weight, even internationally? A US PhD would take a lot more than 3 years since an undergrad would start at the same level as someone who already holds a related masters, in which case it seems PSE and UChicago are on similar footing, as long as I motivate myself to latch onto an economics professor's research early on.

Another pro for Harris is that, according to a professor there, you are able to take courses within all of UChicago, including their famed econ department, which opens up doors to learn theory-heavy economic models if that becomes necessary.

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