aka, my grad school application essays:
Why do you wish to pursue a PhD degree in Economics?
The principal of the small boarding school where I worked decided our low-income inner-city students ought to be taught basic economics and assigned me the task. She gave me a book and a week to prepare.
I had never had a course in economics before, so as I taught the basics of money, velocity, inflation, business cycles, and no free lunches, I was learning as well. I began reading more widely in economics, subscribing to the Wall Street Journal, and studying Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics. Through this exposure I realized how little economics was understood by the other adults in my life, while the children I was teaching grasped it readily, and saw immediate applications of the concepts to their lives.
I resolved to return to academics to study economics in earnest. My goal was a thorough understanding of principles that I could effectively share with others through teaching at the university level, writing books, and ultimately developing seminars and workshops to present at business organizations, civic groups, and churches. I had yet to draw my first supply and demand graph.
I left a secure job and a stable environment for my wife and children. We moved to another part of town and my wife found good work. Motivated by long run benefits, I worked hard, and excelled in my undergraduate studies. I especially enjoyed courses in industrial organization, which dispelled the myth of bigness equals badness through readings in Alchian and Demsetz, and created a germ of curiosity about intellectual property through readings in Margolis, Paul David, and Posner; and political economy, which fed my doubts about the efficiency of government programs through readings in Coase, Hayek, and several Public Choice economists. My professors welcomed my frequent questions and arguments. They encouraged further study in these topics, which I took on, and continue to read in independently. My economic intuition matured and began thinking like an economist.
Application and admittance into the Accelerated Masters Program permitted me to take graduate level courses for electives. I enjoyed and did well in introductory econometrics, which shed great light on the value of empirical research, and economic growth and development, for I am gravely concerned about the needy and ethical implications which various prescriptions for growth entail.
I received low marks in graduate level micro and macro theory which demonstrated a lack of proper mathematical background. I am currently remedying these deficiencies through courses in Calculus 3, Linear Algebra, and Introduction to Real Analysis. I will be well prepared for entry into a Ph.D. program in the fall.
I remain excited by the power of economic reasoning. While I hone my mathematical skills I am also studying the basics of law and economics in a Master’s level course. My senior research seminar focused on the principal agent problem, and I read Richard Epstein and Richard Posner, so my interest in this field is expanding.
The opportunities afforded by a PhD in economics to research and teach powerful truths which can have large long run benefits to those who understand them motivates me to pursue entry into the University of ______.
Why do you wish to pursue your PhD at the
I am primarily attracted to the economics of ideas. Often decisions are made based on a mix of pecuniary and ethical motivations. While economics has nothing to say about ethics, it can demonstrate when arguments for policy decisions are mixing altruism with reason. Keeping the two separated does not preclude the use of either in making arguments, but it will lead to more honest debate and adoption of better policies.
The work of ___ in this area has been substantial, and this is the primary attraction which the
holds for me. I was first introduced to Dr. ___’s work as a sophomore through the book he edited with ____, The ____ Economy. During the same semester Dr.___ visited the ____ State campus to speak and I recall his lecture as being interesting, novel, and persuasive. University____
I am also interested in the monetary research, and history of economic thought work, of _____. Business cycle theories are fascinating to me, and the plausibility of financial institutions which do not require the martial backing of the state to achieve efficiency appeal to me as well.
While I have sympathies for _____ theory, I remain skeptical of many of its conclusions. For that reason I would like to do my graduate work in a diverse department where I can discuss big ideas and simultaneously fill my economists’ bag of tools.
I would like to do research and field work in industrial organization, public economics, and possibly history of economic thought. I am particularly interested in intellectual property and the role of patents, and the unintended effects introduction of protected privilege can have on an economy. The
is the ideal environment for my approach to and interest in graduate economic study and research. Universityof ____
What experiences have contributed most to your development? What characteristics do you think are most important for a graduate student to develop? Why?
Classroom economics is about learning tools and methods for solving problems. I have learned more about economics in the offices of my professors after class, over lunch with fellow students, and through extracurricular reading. I have engaged each of my professors outside of class for discussions relating to class-work, but just as often to share my own thoughts in response to related items I had read. Michael McElroy, my intermediate macro professor, challenged my thinking about business cycles and comparative advantage. Roy Cordato, my public economy professor, helped me to work through the relevance of ethical foundations for economic policy. Steve Margolis has directed my early thoughts on patents and intellectual property, and provided the latest in the relevant literature for me to read.
While journal articles are the arena in which the progress of economic thought occurs, most interesting ideas are to be discovered in books by economists investigating a peculiar problem in depth. Richard Epstein’s Simple Rules for a Complex World, Harold Demsetz’s Economic, Legal, and Political Dimensions of Competition, Bryan Caplan’s The Myth of the Rational Voter, Thomas Sowell’s Knowledge and Decisions, Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion, Stephen Margolis’ and Stan Leibowitz’s Winners, Losers, and Microsoft, and Dominik Armentano’s Antitrust and Monopoly all provided opportunities for me to employ the economic theory I was learning in class and test it on real world problems.
Graduate level work in economics trains students to do precisely this kind of in-depth research and analysis. I recall John Hood responding to, “Why did you write this book?” with, “I wanted to know more about the problem, so I decided to write a book about it.” That is the spirit of inquiry which creates new knowledge, and in which I want to take part.
Necessary for success are a dedication to hard work, an attitude of intellectual honesty, and optimism about the potential for one’s work to have a positive influence. Also required are the proper tools for applying to economic problems. Mastery of these tools takes practice and intellectual ability. I am prepared to do what it takes to acquire the necessary skills and I have the imagination needed to apply them where they can be most useful.
What honors or awards have you received? What are your major achievements and/or successes?
Beyond recognition on the Dean’s list three semesters (Fall 200_, Spring 200_, Fall 200_) I have little official recognition to commend me. The relationships I have developed are my primary source of pride.
I spent eight years working with low-income students from troubled homes in inner-city
. Over those years I developed significant relationships with many of my coworkers and most of my students. I was promoted from part-time staff and teacher to administrator and co-principal of the school, responsible for assigning staff to classes, selecting curriculum, creating schedules, and still teaching where the need arose. I also joined the advisory board for the non-profit which ran the school. ____, __
My own marriage and children are accomplishments I can only accept less than half of the credit for.
As a student, my rapport with my professors and fellow students is strong. My recommenders may reflect on this.
List any other information not covered elsewhere that may be helpful to the Selection Committee in considering your application.
As you will note on my transcript, and I mentioned in my first essay, I received a C and a C+ in Introductory Macroeconomics and Introductory Microeconomics, respectively. These grades are reflective of my performance in those classes. I also mentioned that I struggled in those classes due to a lack of sufficient mathematical background, and that I am currently working to remedy this through registration in the relevant courses this semester. I am confident that I will do well in these courses and that I will be ready to take on the more complex treatment of these subjects in the fall.