Rules and Policies

University of Pennsylvania Graduate Group in Economics Rules and Policies


1. Goal of the program

To produce outstanding research economists: 

  • Those who will contribute to the field, not merely know what has already been produced.
  • Education is not for its own sake.
  • The most successful student is one who can teach the profession something.

2. Expected Timeline for Completion of Ph.D.

  • First year:
    • Pass prelims in micro, macro, and econometrics (May or August). 
  • Second year:
    • Complete Empirical Economics and upper level course requirements.
    • Attend seminars, including job market seminars.
    • Stay after formal presentation to interact with presenter and faculty.
    • Talk economics!
  • Third year (by May 31st):
    • Complete first research paper.
    • This will often form the first chapter of your dissertation.
  • Fourth year:
    • Pass proposal defense. 
  • Fourth or fifth year:
    • Present in regular workshop series.

3. Rules

The required demonstration of proficiency in mathematics is indicated by grades of B or higher in Economics 897 or by passing written waiver examinations covering these courses.

Students must meet the 897 requirement (by taking 897, by taking the waiver exam, or by getting approval from the Director of Graduate Studies) by October 1st of the first year of their graduate work. 

These exams cover the content of the economic theory sequence (Economics 701-704) and the basic econometric courses (Economics 705 and 706). The exams are given in three parts: micro (701 and 703), macro (702 and 704), and econometrics (705 and 706) in May and August of each year. The microeconomics prelim will examine the economics component of Economics 700-level (consumer theory, producer theory, and risk aversion). Each of the two two-hour exams will allocate approximately 20 minutes to the 700-level material. Students may attempt any preliminary examination twice. All students enrolled in the Ph.D. program in economics must pass the preliminary examinations by the end of the first August after their first year in the program. Students are graded separately on each part.

Further details are in the section on prelims.

This requirement is satisfied by passing a course (with a grade of B or higher) approved for this purpose by the Graduate Group Executive Committee and having the instructor certify that the course work completed, by the student, for that course is appropriate for the Empirical Economics Requirement. The purpose of the requirement is to give students a sense of the importance of institutions and data in context, often by conducting some empirical work of their own. Since some courses can be passed with varying degrees of involvement in empirical work by the student, separate certification by the instructor is also required. Students intending to take a course for the purpose of satisfying the Empirical Economics Requirement must tell the instructor at the beginning of the semester.

The list of approved courses will be made available at the beginning of each academic year. It will typically include, but not limited to, macro, labor, and development. In general, any course with a substantial empirical content will be appropriate. The Empirical Economics Requirement must be completed by June of the second year in residence.

The Graduate Group office must be specifically notified of completion of the requirement (see Graduate Forms for the form to submit upon completion of the requirement).

The graduate group offers many upper level courses in various fields of economics. Besides providing an introduction to the various subdisciplines of economics, these courses bring students up to the research frontier. The courses offered change over time, reflecting the interests of the faculty and trends in the profession. The requirement is:

By the end of their third year in residence, students must have passed four 700-level econ courses (excluding 701-706 and 7x9, the workshops) with a grade of A- or higher.

If a student does not satisfy this requirement by the end of their third year in residence, that student is ineligible for funding. If the student does not pass this requirement by the end of their fourth year in residence, that student is not in good academic standing and will be dropped from the program.

Note that only Economics courses can satisfy this requirement, however students can still take appropriate graduate courses for credit in other departments, such as Finance, Mathematics, and Statistics.

All students are required to have a faculty advisor within the Graduate Group of Economics by the middle of their forth year in residence. There is a form that must be signed by the advisor and handed in. The advisor is simply the person or persons (students can have more than one) with whom the student is currently working. The advisor can (and often does) change over time.

No forth year student should be on general dissertation. (995-001)

By the end of their third year in residence, students must complete a research paper. This paper need not be (and often is not) a polished piece of research. It should, however, have the clear potential to become one. This paper will be evaluated by two faculty members chosen by the student. The two evaluators chosen by the student must sign a form attesting to their willingness to evaluate the third year paper. This form must be turned in to the Graduate Group office by the end of January. At least one of those chosen by the student must be a member of the Graduate Group. A third assessor for the third year paper, appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies, will be used if there is a disagreement among the first two evaluators in the first round, and will always be used in the resubmission stage (explained below). The evaluators may recommend that the student present the work in a seminar environment.

The work will be marked as follows:

A      Exceptional
B Satisfactory
C Marginal Pass     
F Fail

Those that obtain an A or B will be given priority in future funding. Those students obtaining a C will be deemed as not making satisfactory progress. A student with a departmental guarantee of funding will therefore lose that guarantee upon receiving a Marginal Pass. Those that obtain a Fail have the opportunity to resubmit once, with a deadline at the end of the fall semester of their forth year. After resubmitting, the grade is either changed to a Marginal Pass, or it remains a Fail. In the latter case, the student will have to leave the program.

By the end of the fourth year in residence, each student must have approval by a dissertation committee; a presentation of either a written dissertation proposal or a paper, that will form one chapter of the dissertation. Once a dissertation proposal has been accepted by the committee, the structure of the dissertation committee can only be changed with the approval of the Chair of the Graduate Group.

Three members of the committee (including the advisor) must be in attendance of the proposal defense. At least two members attending must be members of the Graduate Group, and at least one must be a member of the department.

If a student does not pass the proposal defense by the end of their fourth year in residence, that student is ineligible for funding. If the student does not pass the proposal defense by the end of the first semester after their fourth year in residence, that student is not in good academic standing and will be dropped from the program.

1. Students must present a research paper in a regular workshop series (i.e., Econ 7x9). It is important that students speak to seminar organizers in September to get onto the schedule.

2. All students are required to complete two course units of a workshop with a letter grade. This requirement is satisfied by presenting a paper in the workshop plus regular attendance. Upper-class students are strongly encouraged to participate actively in workshops related to their areas of interest.

Students are not required to present in the workshop they have formally registered for. Once they have presented a workshop, the grade(s) of S will be changed to an appropriate letter grade, which will be given by the organizer of the series in which the student presented.

3. All students must complete a second course unit of workshop (not necessarily in the same series) with a grade of 'S' (Satisfactory), earned by regular attendance. Upon presentation of a seminar, the S grade will be replaced with the letter grade earned by the presentation.

4. If the student has completed 20 course units in economics, exclusive of workshop units, he or she need not register formally for the workshop, however he or she must satisfy all requirements for completion of the workshop with a letter grade. A letter from the workshop organizer, indicating that this requirement has been met, is required for the student's file.

5. All students on dissertation status who reside in the Philadelphia area must attend some workshop on a regular basis.

The explicit workshop requirements are; a presentation of a paper and a year's formal participation. However, all graduate students are strongly encouraged to attend at least one workshop every week.

Students in regular attendance are expected to help with things like overhead projectors and refreshments after the workshop.

Students will be included in the vita pack; up to two times and within the first three years of receiving their Ph.D. degree, whichever comes first.

Students in the vita pack must be ABD (all but dissertation). In particular, the Empirical Economics, Upper Level Course, Third Year Research Paper, and Proposal Defense Requirements must all be completed.

The committee consists of at least three members, two of whom must be members of the Graduate Group, and one of whom must be a member of the standing faculty in the Department of Economics. The advisor must be a member of the Graduate Group, unless another member of the Graduate Group is separately attending the defense and signing as "Chair of the Committee". The Chair of the Committee must be a member of the standing faculty and can be one of the other committee members. The Chair of the Committee is responsible for convening committee meetings, advising the student on rules, and advising the graduate group chair that all graduate group requirements have been met. If the Chair of the Committee is separate from the advisor, then he/she must sign form 152. The dissertation defense must be held with your advisor and two other members of your committee present. Effective August 2011, at least three members of the dissertation committee must participate in the defense. Participation of one of the three may be via video chat software (for example, Skype).

The Graduate Group office must be notified at least two weeks prior to the defense date. A defense can only be held after all other requirements for the degree are completed.

The structure of the dissertation is up to the student and the committee. Three unconnected journal length and style papers are common. Defenses are public and listed in the workshop schedule. This does NOT mean that the defense substitutes for the workshop requirement.

Students who do not satisfy Empirical Economics, Upper Level Course, Third Year Research Paper, or Proposal Defense Requirements within one semester of the deadline for that requirement, are deemed to be no longer in good academic standing (i.e., dropped from the program).

Students can also be dropped from the program for nonpayment of fees, extended periods of no contact, and lack of progress.

Students not in good academic standing cannot be funded nor receive an office.

Students dropped from the program for failing to complete the Empirical Economics or Third Year Research Paper Requirement within one semester of the deadline for that requirement, can be recommended for reinstatement at the discretion of the Graduate Group Chair (such as, after completing the requirement and with the recommendation of a member of the Graduate Group).

ABD (all but dissertation) students who have been dropped from the program can be recommended for reinstatement under the following procedure:

1. Two members of the Graduate Group certify that the dropped student has a plausible plan for completion of the degree, and

2. The student, putative advisor, and Graduate Group Chair agree to a timetable for completion.

As of 2010-2011, the University's maximum time limit for completion is ten years after matriculation. Students who have not completed all requirements for the Ph.D., including the deposit of the dissertation, within that time limit must satisfy the following re-evaluation procedure in order to re-certify their candidacy for the Ph.D.

1. Re-take the Dissertation Proposal Defense Exam (see Rule 3.7 above);

2. Submit a written review of the most recent literature on the dissertation topic; to be formally approved by the dissertation committee (which also conducts the proposal defense), and

3. Prepare a timetable for completion, including a final date for the dissertation to be defended. This should be within one year of the re-certification date.

See also the Provost's site for the University's Time Limits policy.

4. Preliminary Examinations

1. Preliminary examinations will be given twice a year, during the months of May or June, after the end of the official period for final examinations in the spring term, and during the month of August.

2. Students may attempt any preliminary examination twice. All students enrolled in the Ph.D. program must pass the preliminary examinations by the end of the first August, after their first year in the program.

3. If a student fails to pass the preliminary examinations by the end of the first August, after their first year in the program, the student cannot continue in the program as a Ph.D. candidate.

4. There are three preliminary examinations, each part a length of five hours. They are: Microeconomics (701 and 703), Macroeconomics (702 and 704), and Econometrics (705 and 706). Each of these examinations has two parts, corresponding to the courses covered by each examination, and each part will be administered independently with a short break between them. In general, they will be given in a five-day period; no more than one examination will be given in any one day.

5. Since preliminary examinations are given in the spring, the courses offered in the spring may not have independent and separate final examinations. The parts of the preliminary examinations corresponding to these courses can serve both as the final examination and as a part of the preliminary examinations for June.

6. The content of preliminary examinations will be substantially related to corresponding courses, although references to elementary or well-known results in economics cannot be ruled out.

7. The committee that administers the examinations and makes the final decisions on the outcome of the examination will consist of all instructors who have taught Economics 701, 702, 703, 704, 705, and 706 during the preceding year. If some instructors for these courses are not available, then the Chairman of the Examinations Board and the Chairman of the Graduate Group will designate additional examiners so that each part of each examination will have two examiners.

8. Examinations are graded anonymously. The full examination committee will convene and still maintaining the anonymity of candidates, examine the pattern of grades for those who did not clearly pass all examinations, and then vote, for each of the Micro, Macro, and Econometrics examinations, to classify each candidate into one of three classes:

  • those who should be judged as passing the examination on the basis of preliminary examinations alone;
  • those who should be judged as having failed on the basis of the preliminary examination alone;
  • those whose results by themselves should be judged as failure, but contain some redeeming features.

9. Names of candidates who are classified into the third group, (8.3) under the provisions of rule 8 above, are then given to the members of the examination committee, together with the entire records of these candidates, and voted on to determine whether they can be considered as having passed the preliminary examination.

10. In addition to candidates from the Graduate Group in Economics, the examination committee administers examinations in the six subjects listed above, for candidates from other Graduate Groups of the University, at the request of the Graduate Chairs responsible for such candidates. In these cases, the examination committee will merely report grades for each subject, through the Chair of the Graduate Group in Economics to the Graduate Group to which the candidate belongs, without determination on whether the candidate has passed the preliminary examination as a whole. Candidates remain anonymous regardless of the outcome of examinations.

5. Financial Support

The Department provides financial support in two ways to students after they have passed the Preliminary Examinations. Tuition support is awarded to students based on their performance in the program. The Department also appoints a substantial number of students as teaching assistants. These appointments are based on both performance as well as likely effectiveness. In addition, a large number of students find other support by acting as research assistants in Economics (or in other departments at the University) or by teaching at other local institutions.

There is also limited university fellowship support beyond the first year for which all student are eligible to apply. The only support directly administered by the Director of Graduate Studies is that from teaching assistantships and university fellowships. Students who wish to be considered for financial aid must sign up with the Director of Graduate Studies in March of the previous academic year. Research positions are usually filled directly by faculty researchers themselves.

The funding decisions are made on the following basis:

1. There is a group of students who, in their admission letter, received a guarantee of funding for their first four years, contingent upon satisfactory progress. Students entering their second, third, or fourth year in this category and who are proceeding satisfactorily in the program are the highest priority for funding.

2. After these commitments have been met, the next highest priority is given to funding second year students who pass all their prelims in May. Second year students who fail some prelims in May may also (at the discretion of the Graduate Examinations Committee) receive a guarantee of funding (contingent on passing in September). The remainders of the second years are considered in the next group.

3. The remaining positions are allocated on the basis of:

  • prelim grades.
  • course grades.
  • general progress in the program (as indicated by information solicited from faculty and completed papers); as well as
  • teaching needs of the department.

4. All third, fourth, and fifth year students (plus any remaining second years) will be considered jointly for the purposes of funding. As students progress through the program, grades become less important.

There is no formal departmental ranking of students. Since students are working in different fields, a precise ranking of students is not possible. Moreover, specific teaching needs may require a particular student to be assigned.

To the extent possible, no student will be disadvantaged by obtaining outside aid. This does not mean that the financial value will be exactly the same.

Only students who have been certified as being fluent in English in the classroom by English Language Programs can be appointed to Teaching Assistantships(TA).

Being a Research Assistant (RA) does not preclude a student from being a TA later. An important consideration for a student to be a RA is whether the work is related to the student's research, and whether such will be a help or hindrance in his or her studies.

Note that the Graduate Group does not cover student health for RA's or TA's. The Dean's office covers this for TA's. Fellowships (either from Penn or elsewhere) are treated differently.

6. Course Unit Requirements

The Graduate Division of Arts and Sciences requires that students complete 16 course units for the Ph.D., of which a maximum of eight may be transferred from other institutions. The number of courses students will need to take to complete their work in economics is quite variable; depending upon whether they have done graduate work elsewhere, their special fields, and their intellectual inclinations. By the end of the third year in residence, students must have passed four 700-level econ courses (excluding 701-706 and 7x9, the workshops) with a grade of A- or higher. More information under Rules 3.4.

Since students come with different backgrounds and interests, it is usual and advisable to talk about one's program with the Director of Graduate Studies as latent abilities and new interests develop. Students who wish to take courses in other departments at the University may do so with the permission of the Director of Graduate Studies.

The A.M. degree is granted upon completion of the Preliminary Examinations with an average grade (over the three prelims of micro, macro, and econometrics) of 3 or higher, 8 course units with a grade point average of B, and a research requirement. The latter may be an elaboration of a term paper assigned in some course, or it may be done independently of a course. The supervisor must certify to the Graduate Group that the research paper meets the research requirement. Students taking an A.M. degree after having failed the Preliminary Examinations twice may remain registered with the Economics Graduate Group throughout the fall term of their second year, and in exceptional cases through the spring term also.

The University rules allow up to 8 graduate courses taken as part of a graduate degree to be transferred. For foreign degrees (which are sometimes hard to interpret), if the degree is longer than four years, then courses taken in years 5 or later may be eligible. Any concerns about transfer of credits should be brought to the attention of the Chair of the Graduate Group.

The Graduate Academic Bulletin Rules and Regulations states that the grading scheme for graduate courses should be as follows:

A distinguished B good C unsatisfactory D poor F failure

Grades can be modified by '+' and '-'. The minimum standard for satisfactory work is a B average. Note that a grade average of B- is not satisfactory progress. A grade of B- indicates a marginal pass, with the interpretation that a performance of B+ elsewhere will redeem the student.

Note that Incompletes (I) become permanent after one year. If the course work requires research whose completion may take longer than a year, then students should discuss the possibility of receiving an (S) with the relevant instructor. (S) grades can only be assigned to independent study courses (999) and workshop courses. For all others, it may be used as a temporary grade (until the instructor has submitted the final course grade.)

7. Advice

7.1 Independent Studies

The School of Arts and Sciences has a rule that requires students to have taken 16 course units in order to graduate. In order to satisfy the requirement, students may sign up for independent studies and workshops (there is no limit on the number of workshops that a student can register for) after their second year. (Thus, the requirement does not force students to take 16 courses for credit.) Independent studies should be viewed as simply a formalization of students talking to faculty about their work. In particular, the Graduate Group does not require students to write a paper in order to receive a grade. The following grading scale is suggested for independent studies:

  • A: if the student has been in regular contact, is working hard, and making progress
  • B: if the student has been in regular contact and is working hard
  • C: otherwise

There is no presumption that an independent study is only done with a student's advisor or with a member of the student's committee.

7.2 Getting a Job

This is a top 10 department and so students are competing with students from Northwestern, Minnesota, Harvard, MIT, etc., for jobs. Papers must be polished. It is not uncommon for people on the market to have two papers (although this varies by field).

Students on the job market typically send out at least three letters of recommendation. Prospective writers of such letters should know this by September of the job market year.