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PhD or Masters?

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So, I think I'd ultimately like to do a policy or political economy Ph.D such as the one at WWS or Harvard's Political Economy and Government program. I'd like to focus on the political economy of development (migration in particular).

However, I know that these programs are ridiculously competitive...and I just have an undergrad degree right now, and I don't know if this would be perceived as rigorous enough. I'm trying to decide whether I should just go for masters for the moment...

I went to an Ivy and doubled in econ and IR and have strong grades and math preparation but some of my intermediate and upper level econ classes were Bs.

I have 3 years of central bank research experience and several (unrelated) major research grants under my belt, though - and should have good letters from both political scientists and economists discussing my econometric and programming abilities.

To those of you who are applying or have applied to policy PhD programs, what kind of work experience did you have? what kinds of quantitative preparation? is it imperative to get an MPP or something prior to applying for PhD programs like the ones I mentioned above?


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My program isn't exactly a policy PhD, but I looked at a few of them when I was applying. My general impression is that it makes more sense to go directly into a PhD program; while many applicants do have a prior MA degree, it was not originally intended as a stepping stone (e.g. they belatedly decided to go for the PhD after already beginning/completing their degree). Getting an unnecessary MPA/MPP/MA is an expensive proposition, both in terms of time and money, so I would probably recommend applying for a PhD program straight out of the gate and just casting a broader net. For example, it sounds like you would be very qualified for the new PhD program at Duke or other similar programs that are (slightly) less competitive than WWS or HKS.

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Assuming you rock the GRE, you could have a strong PhD app for WWS. There is a prof there - forgot his name - who's a great guy and is on the cutting edge of migration research. Do a quick search for him, read up on his stuff, talk with him and wow him a bit and see where that takes you. The rest of your background is there and supposedly over a third of WWS PhDs are straight from undergrad - if anyone's competitive for those slots you sure sound like it. There are other great programs too of course: Duke, etc., but you might be better off applying for a couple MPPs/MPAs at Top-10 schools (where you'll most likely get in) and then applying for PhD's at Top-30 schools. Maybe you reach at WWS because of the migration-focused prof and hope for the best, but just apply for the MPP at Harvard to give you an Ivy opportunity in case WWS falls through and you're not happy with any other schools whose PhD programs you got into. Just an idea, good luck!

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