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Let's get real about quant

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I've been looking at back posts on the relative quantitative rigorousness of programs, and I've noticed that virtually every program is described by some as "quant heavy", etc. For me, the ability to push myself quantitative and learn advanced skills of statistics, econometrics, microeconomics, and program evaluation is one of my most important criteria for evaluating programs. And I feel a little let down by this forum, which is generally quite informative and helpful.

For instance, GSPP is often highly regarded as quant heavy. However, their math camp spends half of the time on pre-calculus topics. To me, that sends off a little alarm.

I hope to post some of the results of my own research, which will compare syllabi, topics, and textbooks across core quant classes, but my initial impression is that at even Harris, GSPP, and Ford, it's going to take some work to get beyond advanced undergraduate classes in econ and math/stats.

With that in mind, what do you know about:

1) Advanced track quant options within the program(Ford offers an "In-Depth" Micro II, Harris has something a long these lines, etc)

2) Taking classes from econ departments/attending econ math camp. How does testing work? Has anyone done this? Many students praise the ability to take courses from econ departments, but I know most professors aren't going to be happy with letting policy students into PhD level courses, which are highly theoretical and full of proofs. Most students of which survive them only by working close together with groups of other PhD students - something that I would have difficulty doing as an MPP student.

For current students, did any of you come from a math/econ background and feel underwhelmed by the policy school's quant offerings? How did you get around this?

I'm looking for econometrics and micro courses that use multivariate calculus (lagrangians, etc), matrix algebra, and maybe some proofs. Can anyone help me out with specific examples, courses, books, syllabi, etc? An econometrics book that references Greene, and a micro book on the level of Nicholson are some of the clues that I'm looking for.

Sorry for the rambling post guys, I'm feeling overwhelmed looking for old syllabi and course descriptions. Thanks for your comments.

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I can only speak to 2):

Your intuition about professors' reluctance to allow policy-degree students into graduate level economics courses is correct, at least at my university and based on anecdotal evidence from students at top 20 economics programs. In general, however, this reluctance won't translate into an outright refusal to allow you to take the class, but you usually need to show the particular professor that you've had a sufficient math background to at least pass the course.

For preparation:

Econometrics: Peter Kennedy - A Guide to Econometrics (most grad students swear by this).

Micro I: Just take Analysis. Think about going through Rosenlicht (Intro to Analysis). I wouldn't try and self-teach yourself PhD level micro. Also, most math camps at top programs are just an analysis course for those who haven't had it.

Macro I: Advanced Macroeconomics - Romer

Most of these courses are designed to train you to think like research economists, not policymakers. In general, they're going to be far beyond anything you would ever do in policy work, which is the reason that policy schools don't bother going into PhD level territory.

Edited by avr2012
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Hey, current Ford student here.

When I was applying I was also frustrated that evvveryone said their program had "really hard quant." During one of my last campus visits, I finally asked, "Okay, which schools don't have a lot of quant?" The students I was talking to just said, "Umm.... Bueller?" So obviously you're going to have to read between the lines! I asked a lot of questions about quant because I didn't want to spend two years doing nothing but problem sets (which sounds like it puts us at opposite ends of the MPP student spectrum), so take what I say below with a grain of salt.

Honestly, based on the research I did as an applicant last year, I'm not sure that any of the schools I considered (Chicago, Duke, George Washington, Georgetown, HKS, and Michigan) have quite the level of economics coursework you want in the policy school. I agree with avr2012 that policy schools just don't see courses with a lot of economic theory/ proofs/ etc as a good fit with their core objective of training practitioners. So I think what you really need to be asking current students, professors, and academic advisors about are the provisions for taking courses outside the policy program. (You should probably also be looking at adding something like a master's in applied economics to your MPP/MPA if you haven't already explored that sort of option.)

It's important to talk to current students who've taken courses in other parts of the university. When I was doing campus visits last year, the admissions staff all said, "You can totally take classes at other schools, no problem, you'll just have to get a couple of forms signed, yada yada." But when I asked students who'd actually tried to do this, I got a lot of stories about red tape, unwelcoming professors, scheduling conflicts, etc.

Michigan was an exception in this regard (not even trying to be unbiased here-- I LOVE my school) and I've been very happy to find that taking non-Ford courses is actually even easier than people told me it would be. I've taken two business school courses, a law school course and a phd course in the political science department. I have friends here who are taking graduate courses in the math department and the economics department and it seems to have been pretty easy for them. (Full disclosure: the person who took the phd economics courses is a standout who's probably headed for a phd program, so I don't know whether their experience is typical.)

I suspect that this isn't exactly the answer you were looking for (sorry!) but hopefully it gives you something to work with. Good luck with making your decision!

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Thanks for the responses you guys. One really nice thing that I've found about Harris is that they publish nearly all of their syllabi along with course descriptions. Do you know if Ford does this? I haven't been able to find it.

So far, it looks like Harris offers a lot more in the way of quant, in terms of the number of courses, and the rigorousness of courses, than any of the schools I've looked at. (Wow, that's a terrible sentence. Moving on...) I see Harris has a parallel stats sequence, as well as advanced game theory (aimed at PhD Policy students). As I recall, Ford Policy/Econ Phds take mostly econ core classes. Unlike Ford, Heinz and Harris have in-house PhD policy courses that delve fairly deeply into econ/stats. Harris also has advanced Micro analysis, using Hal Varian's Microecomics.

Then there are the field classes, education, environmental, etc. It looks like at Harris you have to use a lot more economics/stats than Ford, Goldman, and Duke. This seems like a major difference. At Harris is looks like you really apply the tools from the quant core to the subject areas.

These are just a few observations I've made today from digging a little while at work. Let the discussion continue!

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Oh, and Re the MPA/ID: Thanks for the suggestion, but that's not really my thing. I know that program uses a lot of heavy econ, but I'm interested in domestic policy exclusively. I've used Kennedy a little, and that book can really help with the intuition for sure.

The thing about the PhD econ courses is that they're geared toward researching theoretical topics. In fact, most Econ Phd students just try to get through them with enough learning to pass the comps in the summer. They aren't even what 90% of Economists do. Most students will tell you that they learned most of the useful stuff in the field courses; drilling down on the specific models and theorems needed to analyze a particular area of economics, dealing with data, etc. Unless you want to study Micro theory, in which case you ace core micro.

I'm looking for courses that function like the field classes, in that they use the language of math to fully teach concepts, but also provide a filter for the policy context. I won't need to prove why the Meyers-Brigs (edit: Haha) White test works for detecting Heteroscedasticiy (or whatever it does :blink:), but I'd like to fully understand an applied economics papers that use that technique. Or give some justification for why and how to use in a Stata exercise.

And re an economics MA, I am interested in the Masters in Applied Econ program at Ford. Do you know anyone there who's combined the MPP/MAE degrees?

Edited by state_school'12
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Didnt know that Ford had a MPP/MAecon degree, Ill have to investigate that if accepted. Has anyone know anything about the experience doing a MPP/ Masters Econ Dual Degree at Georgetown? I'm into GPPI but havent heard back from the Economics Department yet.

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Some syllabi can be found on the Ford website (home page > curriculum > course listing > [subject area search] >in the search results, a link to the course syllabus will show up under the course name if it's available). If the syllabus isn't on that list it might be on the professor's personal website (faculty > faculty directory > [professor's listing]). I've heard professors say that they don't like to post their syllabi because doing so generates a lot of email from people doing independent study. Plus I don't think current Ford students use the website much... people here tend to learn about courses by talking to the professor or going to Coursemart. (Coursemart is pre-registration event held every semester during which all the professors give two-minute spiels about their upcoming courses. It's fun!)

There are a couple of second-years doing joint MAE-MPP programs and a number of people in the first-year class are considering it. I imagine the admissions office would be willing to give you some names, or you can ask around if you do a campus visit.

It sounds like Chicago would be a great academic fit for you. I really hope you (and everybody here) end up in a program they love as much as I love Ford.


When I read threads like this last year I felt scared too! I'm not gonna lie: if you don't like quant, an mpp program can be a bit rough. But it will also be extremely intellectually rewarding and the challenge will help you grow professionally, so it will all be worth it. :)

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I agree that all schools seem to claim they emphasize quant, but some make the claim more often and with more emphasis. Chicago beats this point to death, and won't stop telling you about their quantitative method. Berkeley claimed that they are very quant-heavy, but not as quant-heavy as some other schools. My impression is that CMU is also remarkably quant-heavy.

Any advice any current student has for preparation for MPP-level economics is extremely welcome.

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I wanted to take this thread in a slightly different direction. I've been admitted to Harris and Goldman and never took calculus (I did take a stats class in college designed for folks who hadn't taken calc).

I'd like to really build my quant skills in grad school and am willing to study hard for the next five months before it begins so I can be a step ahead and possibly take the more advanced tracks.

What would anybody who knows something about MPP programs recommend studying? Is working my way through a full college calc textbook worth it? Or is it more important to just build a familiarity with calculus and then focus on more advanced econ/stats?

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I am in the same boat, trying to figure out how to build my quant skills for next fall. I have been admitted to MPP programs without having taken calculus(took stats in college). I am a little nervous that this leaves me unprepared, as I want to get as much out of the MPP as possible. I recognize the value in quant skills and would like to make sure I am ready to go in the fall. Any and all advice appreciated.

*Note* At least one school admitted me under the condition that I take a "calculus based math course" before beginning the program. I will be doing that, but think there is more that I can/should be doing.

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I am also interested in this topic. Any opinion on these books (as ways to prepare for MPP) will be highly appreciated

1) [Mendelson] Schaum's Outline of Beginning Calculus


2) Healey, Joseph F. 2005. Statistics: A Tool for Social Research. 7th ed.


3) Principles of Economics, Gregory Mankiw, South-Western College Publications


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I am a current Harris student and entered without any background math. In fact, I hadn't taken a math course since HS since my undergrad BA allowed me to take language instead.

That said, I would strongly recommend using Schaumann's calc and algebra books this summer.

If you plan to take a class, take one that will challenge you. U of C math is a breed unto itself. again, the Schaumann's books were super helpful, and I wish I'd known about them earlier.

If you go to Harris, you'll need to attend math camp - it's not a course, but a review. Mandatory math proficiency is a requirement. If you were a math major, math camp is still helpful to meet people. It's fun (sort of).

Full disclosure, I did not pass the algebra or calculus exams and took the extra math classes. It was not ideal to take the classes during the core, but I survived. In the core, you will need to know how to take a full and partial derivative. You also need to be very comfortable with slope, functions and algebra - also freshen up on working with fractions.

If you are not a math person, I recommend you practice practice practice this summer.

if you have to take the math classes, it's not the end of the world. They are genuinely helpful. I am now quite comfortable with the quant parts of the program and am proud to have moved so far.

Harris is super quant-y. There are a fair number of non-quant people. Their philosophy starts to make sense once you get used to it. Everything is analyzed from an econ point of view - even the management class. So brush up on marginal benefit, expected utility, probability, and maximization.

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I talked to a Harris Professor last night. He suggested taking Matrix Algebra over the summer if you wanted to progress to the more advanced Econometrics classes. Either way, Ill have to force myself to study wicked hard this summer to brush up at on the calculus and Stat I haven't used since undergrad. Thanks to the above poster for the advice on Harris.

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