Why come to UK for my PhD?

See what some recent alums say!

Our PhD program is ranked 19th among public universities in a recent national study. In particular, our Public Economics and Health Economics areas are ranked in the top ten among public universities. We are proud of our PhD program and the success of our graduates of the program. As you can see from our placements, our students have gone from our programs into a well-respected institutions in academics, government, and, occasionally, the private sector. See T. Grijalva and C. Nowell, "A Guide to Study in Economics: Ranking Departments by Field of Expertise" Southern Economic Journal (April 2008).

While we are a relatively small graduate program, we think that offers a number of advantages to our graduate students. First and foremost is the attention our faculty pays to our graduate students. Graduate student offices are in the same suite as the faculty, graduate students attend the same workshops, and work, in a number of ways, with faculty. We have had a long history of joint research between faculty and graduate students and expect that to continue. The size of our program also encourages a great deal of interaction among the students themselves.

We believe another selling point of our program is the interest of the faculty in applied research and policy analysis. We have an active environment for research in applied issues and policy that should be particularly attractive to those students interested in these issues.

Admissions Process

What forms and materials are necessary to apply for admission to the PhD program in economics?

Graduate School Materials Required:

  • Applicants apply to the Graduate School at the University of Kentucky. The Graduate School accepts online applications only. At the time of application, the Graduate School requires scanned copies of transcripts and self-reported GRE scores.
  • Department of Economics Materials Required for Application
  • The Economics Department also requires the following to be uploaded during the application process:
  • A resume
  • A one-to-two page personal essay about why you want to attend graduate school in economics
  • Two or three confidential letters of recommendation (you provide the contact information when you apply, and the letter writers will submit their letters directly)

Can I visit the department before making any decisions about whether to attend or not?

Certainly, we are happy to schedule a visit either before or after you apply or are admitted into the program. If you contact the Director of Graduate Studies, Josh Ederington, she will be happy to arrange a schedule for your visit. We generally try to arrange a visit in which you can sit in on a class, have some visits with faculty in their office, and talk, and perhaps have lunch, with our graduate students.

Are there forms to be used when writing recommendation letters?

No. There are no forms. However, it is preferable that letter writers use a letterhead indicating their place of employment.

What are the deadlines for applying for admission? What is the deadline for being considered for financial aid?

For full consideration, particularly for funding, apply by February 1 for admission in August of that year. This is the deadline for all international students. Our program is small and our available slots fill quickly.

Does the Department accept applications for spring admission?

No. Our program is designed to begin in the fall semester.

When do students begin the program?

We strongly encourage incoming students to take our Math Camp. This generally begins during the second full week of August. The Graduate School has a number of orientation sessions prior to the start of classes. In addition to orientation sessions from the Graduate School, the department will host a number of events for incoming graduate students providing an opportunity for them to meet current graduate students and faculty.

Are there minimum GRE scores and grade point averages for admission?

The Graduate School sets the following as minimum requirements for admission:

  • Overall undergraduate GPA of 2.75
  • Overall graduate GPA (if relevant) of 3.0
  • All three sections of the GRE must have been taken within the last five years
  • For international applicants for whom English is not a native language the minimum TOEFL score is 79. The minimum IELTS score is 6.5.

While these are minimum requirements set by the Graduate School, meeting these requirements does not guarantee acceptance into the MS or PhD program in economics at UK. More information is available at Admissions Information.

How many GRE scores will you accept?

We do not have a rule about the number of times you may take the GRE. We generally will consider all GRE scores though not necessarily weighted equally.

Is there a mathematics requirement?

We do not have a formal requirement regarding the amount of mathematics taken prior to attending the program. However, most admitted students have at least two semesters (more typically three) of calculus, a semester of Matrix Algebra, and additional statistics courses. Students without a strong background in mathematics are typically at a disadvantage in our program.

Is there an economics requirement?

No, there is no requirement. However, our experiences suggest exposure to economics as an undergraduate increases the likelihood of success in our program. We strongly urge candidates to have at least taken intermediate level courses in microeconomics and macroeconomics.

When will I receive notification of a decision on my application?

We try to make our initial decisions in late February and no later than March 1st. However, because we have limited TA and RA positions and wish to ensure that our entering class is not too large, we tend to make only a few offers of funding initially. As we get a better indication of the number of students likely to accept our offers, we make additional offers. Generally we complete all admission decisions by early May.


Is there a separate application for funding?

No. All applications for admission are considered for funding without any additional information required or forms which need to be filled out. If you are not interested in being considered for funding, it can be helpful for us to know that.

What are the deadlines for applying for admission? What is the deadline for being considered for financial aid?

February 1 for admission in August.

How many students typically enter the program each year?

Generally six to ten students enter our program each year. For more details go to Admission Information.

What is the form of funding for most PhD graduate students?

The majority of support for doctoral students in the Economics Department comes from teaching assistantships (TAs). In a typical year, five to seven incoming students are awarded teaching assistantships that cover tuition and fees, including the student health insurance fee. In addition, a stipend is paid to cover living expenses. In return, the student provides instructional assistance (grading, acting as a teaching assistant, etc.) to the department. In addition, the department is able to provide small scholarships for particularly promising candidates.

A number of students also work as research assistants (RAs), many for our Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) and the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research. In addition, there are competitive fellowships from the Graduate School. We also frequently supplement TA or RA positions with partial scholarships.

The departmental Graduate Studies Committee awards financial aid on a competitive basis. The committee begins evaluating applications on February 1. Therefore, to be considered for financial aid, the Graduate Studies Committee must have all application materials by February 1.

MS students receive no funding from the Department.

How long does Ph. D. student funding last?

Students who have made satisfactory progress throughout the program will receive four years of funding; fifth-year funding is not guaranteed though we have been able to offer it for students demonstrating progress on their dissertation.

If I were to receive an offer of a TA or RA, how long do I have to decide on whether to accept it?

For offers made by March 1st you have until April 15th to decide whether to accept the offer or not. If you do not receive an offer until April or after April 15th, we generally give you one or two weeks in which to decide whether to accept.

If I do not receive funding initially, is there a possibility of receiving funding later?

Yes. When we have applicants turn down funding offers, we frequently make additional offers to applicants who may have already been admitted but not offered funding. In addition, we have often been able to make funding offers to students who have entered the program without funding after their first or second year if they have been making satisfactory progress. Note that we do not guarantee this.

Placements, Research Opportunities, and Dissertations for PhD Students

Where do students get jobs after completing the program?

While the vast majority of students, both domestic and international, obtain jobs in North America, we have occasionally placed students in other countries as well. And while most of our students place into academic positions, a number of them obtain positions in federal government agencies, generally in Washington, and occasionally in state agencies as well. A few have placed into private consulting firms as well. See the list of student placements.

What are the fields and topics on which students in the program write dissertations?

We offer six fields in our PhD program: labor, public, industrial organization, international, macro/monetary and environmental/health. Recent students have written students in all of these fields. For a sample see the dissertation abstracts of current graduate students.

How does the department assist students in seeking placement?

We assist students seeking placement in a number of ways. First, the DGS meets with students seeking employment both individually and as a group nearly a year in advance of their initial interviews. Students are encouraged and offered financial support to present their dissertation research at regional conferences as well as venues in our department. Students are given mock interviews with faculty and practice the presentations they will be asked to make when they visit prospective employers. The Department also handles and pays for mailing of all application materials.

Does the department have a workshop series? Are graduate students involved?

The department has several workshop series that meet on a regular basis throughout the semester. These include the Mark Berger Departmental Seminars and the Poverty Center Workshops. Workshops are a mix of external speakers, economics at other institutions, and internal papers, both by faculty and graduate students. We also regularly have brown bag seminars of works in progress by faculty and graduate students. Graduate students are expected to attend and participate in the workshops as well as present in them at least once during their time in graduate school. In addition to improving their presentation skills, comments from faculty at these workshops can significantly improve the quality of a student's research.

In addition to the workshops described above, there is a Graduate Student Workshop. Here the audience is other graduate students. In this workshop students have an opportunity to present more preliminary research, as well as practice their presentation skills in a more informal setting.

Workshops are a very important component of the research program, both for faculty and graduate students. The current schedule for our workshops is available at our web site.

Do graduate students frequently co-author with faculty and each other?

Yes, graduate students frequently co-author with faculty and occasionally with other graduate students. Some of this co-authorship may be related to the student's dissertation research, some may be related to the student's work as a research assistant, and some may arise simply through mutual interests.

Are there opportunities for graduate students to attend conferences?

Yes. Students, particularly if they will be on the job market in the near future, are strongly encouraged to attend and present their research at conferences. Both the Graduate School and the department have provided significant funding of graduate students trips to conferences in order to present their research. Recent conferences that UK students presented research include:

  • Southern Economics Association Meetings (SEA)
  • National Tax Association Meetings (NTA)
  • Western Economics Association Meetings (WEA)
  • Midwest International Economics Meetings
  • Midwest Macroeconomics Meetings
  • Kentucky Economics Association (KEA)

Program Structure and Requirements for PhD Students

How long does the program take to complete?

The length of the program depends on the student. Most coursework is generally completed by the first semester of the student's third year. Some students enter the job market in their fourth year while, like many PhD programs in economics, increasingly more enter the job market in their fifth year. Students who have made satisfactory progress throughout the program will receive four years of funding; fifth year funding is not guaranteed though we have been able to offer it for students demonstrating progress on their dissertation. The average length of time to complete a dissertation is approximately 4.5 years.

What is the general structure of program?

In the first year of our program, students primarily take courses in theory (macroeconomics and microeconomics) and econometrics, with a course in mathematical economics as well. In June, students take preliminary examinations in microeconomics and macroeconomics.

During their second year, students take an additional course in microeconomic theory (General Equilibrium and Welfare Economics) and an additional course in econometrics. In addition, students will take two courses in at least one, and generally both, of their two fields. In June, students will take an exam in one of their two fields.

In the third year, students have nine more credits (three courses) of supplemental work to complete. Frequently three credits of this work is independent study on their dissertations. During the third year students are working on their dissertation and expected to defend a dissertation proposal.

In the fourth year, students are focused on their dissertation. Some may go on the job market this year; if not, they will go on the job market in their fifth year.

An outline of the typical PhD schedule is found at PhD Program in Economics.

What fields are offered at Kentucky? How many fields are students required to take?

We offer fields in Labor, Public, Industrial Organization, International Economics, Macro/Monetary, and Health/Environmental. Field courses are offered on an every other year basis with each field consisting of two courses.

We require students to complete coursework in two fields. However, they are tested in only one of the two fields. Ideally, this should be the field in which they intend to write their dissertation.

What examinations are students required to take?

Normally, at the end of their first year (June) students take preliminary examinations in both microeconomic theory and macroeconomic theory. Students are required to pass both examinations. If they fail one or both exams the first time, they have a second chance to take whichever exam they failed.

In addition to the preliminary examinations, students must pass an examination in one field. Normally this exam is taken at the end of the second year. They have two attempts to pass this exam as well. This exam is the written component of the Qualifying Exam, with the oral component being the student's dissertation proposal, generally done during their third year.

Teaching Opportunities for PhD Students

Do PhD graduate students have the opportunity to teach their own course as graduate students?

Yes, but not immediately. Graduate students who receive TA funding for their first year serve as assistants, primarily graders, for faculty. However, in their second through fourth year they have the opportunity to teach their own sections of a course. While teaching their own sections, teaching assistants teach under the guidance of a faculty coordinator who can offer assistance and suggestions to help them in their teaching. Generally students teach sections of introductory microeconomics or macroeconomics or business statistics. However, more senior students have occasionally taught other courses such as intermediate microeconomics or macroeconomics.

Is there any training as a teacher?

Yes. The graduate school provides some orientation for teaching assistants. The departmental-level training, however, is a true strength of our PhD program. Funded graduate students take ECO 700 (Teaching Methods in Economics), a one-credit course in August, before the start of their second year. In this course, students are offered guidance and suggestions on how to be effective teachers by Robert Gillette and Gail Hoyt, faculty members known throughout the profession as outstanding teachers. In addition, graduate students are reviewed by faculty members every semester and offered advice on how to be an effective teacher.