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The aim of the doctoral program in economics at the University of Pittsburgh is to prepare students to be professional economists in academia, business, or government.

The normal time to complete the PhD is five years. The Department of Economics does not offer a master’s degree program. Nevertheless, graduate students may apply for a Master of Arts (MA) under specific circumstances as described below.

  1. Continuing Master’s Degree
    Continuing students may apply for an MA in economics after they have passed all preliminary examinations and have at least 30 credits in graded coursework at the 2000 or 3000 level. In addition, their GPA must be 3.0 or higher in all courses counting toward the 30-credit minimum.
  2. Non-continuing Master’s Degree
    The Graduate Committee may recommend that a MA in economics be awarded to a student who is leaving the PhD program either voluntarily or because of dismissal. The requirements for the terminal master’s degree are: 1) either passing each of the seven first year courses with a minimum grade of B or passing one of the preliminary exams; and, 2) completing 30 credits of graduate level coursework with a cumulative GPA of 3.0.

Continuing students do not qualify for a non-continuing master’s degree.

Faculty members have a wide variety of research interests. Currently, the department’s strengths are greatest in the following fields:

  • Comparative Systems and Development Economics
  • Econometrics
  • Economic History
  • Experimental Economics
  • International Economics
  • Labor Economics
  • Macroeconomics
  • Microeconomic Theory
  • Public Economics
  • Urban Economics

Contact Information

Department Chair: Lise Vesterlund
Director of Graduate Studies: Marla Ripoll
Main Office: 4901 Wesley W. Posvar Hall
Fax: 412-648-1793

Additional information concerning the department’s graduate program may be obtained from the University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics, Graduate Administrator Amy Linn, 4914 Wesley W. Posvar Hall, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Phone: 412-648-1399. Fax: 412-648-1793. E-mail:


Applicants for admission must submit transcripts of all college-level work, three letters of recommendation, a career statement that addresses the applicant's personal and professional goals and the reasons for pursuing doctoral study in economics, as well as and scores on the verbal, quantitative, and analytical sections of the Graduate Record Examination. International applicants whose first language is not English are required to submit official scores from either the TOEFL administered by the Educational Testing Service with a minimum score of 90 on the internet-based test (with at least a score of 22 in all four sections). Applicants may also submit scores from the IELTS administered by the University of Cambridge, Local Examinations Syndicate. The minimum acceptable score is 7.0, with at least a score of 6.5 in each of the 4 sections (taking the academic writing and reading modules). Application must be received by January 15. The department admits students only for the fall term.

Financial Assistance

The department generally offers financial support beginning with the first year of graduate study. Awards are competitive; not all students who are admitted to the program are offered fellowships. All fellowships and assistantships offer full tuition as well as a stipend and some include medical coverage. Students who are admitted without funding may qualify for funding if they pass the preliminary examinations in microeconomics and macroeconomics at the end of the first year of study.

Provided there are adequate funds, students with fellowships or teaching assistantships who make satisfactory progress toward completion of the PhD can expect their financial support to continue for up to four years beyond the first year of study.

Requirements for the PhD

Credit Requirement

The minimum requirement is 72 credit hours. Of these, 45 credit hours must be in graded course work. Core courses include ECON 2010, ECON 2020, ECON 2100, ECON 2110, ECON 2120, ECON 2130, and ECON 2150.

Preliminary Examinations

The PhD preliminary exams consist of a four-hour exam in microeconomic theory and a second four-hour exam in macroeconomic theory. These exams are offered in June after the first year of study. If a student fails either or both preliminary examinations, a second attempt is offered two months later in August. Students must pass both exams by the second attempt to continue in the program.

Minimum GPA

All students must attain a minimum GPA of 3.00 in 2000- and 3000-level course work in economics as well as maintain a minimum GPA of 3.00 in all courses qualifying for graduation to be certified for the PhD in economics, as well as to qualify for continued financial assistance.

Comprehensive Exam Requirement (Research Paper)

All students are required to complete a single authored, original research paper demonstrating their ability to do research in economics. This is typically begun in the latter half of the second year and completed in the first term of the third year. The paper is reviewed by two faculty members, who may ask for revisions or additions. Following their approval of the paper, the student is certified as having completed the comprehensive examination requirement.

Field Requirements

Students are required to take coursework in two major fields, consisting of two graded courses and one graded seminar in each field, and one minor field consisting of two graded courses.  The two major fields must be completed within separate areas of research, as follows:

  • Microeconomics
  • Macroeconomics
  • Applied Microeconomics
  • Experimental Economics
  • International, Comparative, and Developmental Economics
  • Econometrics

The list of fields offered within each area is periodically updated by supervising faculty members within the relevant area.

Dissertation Overview (Admission to Candidacy)

Following successful completion of the comprehensive examination, the student begins to work full time on the doctoral dissertation. This involves searching for a topic, finding a faculty advisor, and beginning preliminary research. When a topic is selected and preliminary research is underway, the student, in consultation with the advisor, forms a dissertation committee. A dissertation overview is held at which the student presents his proposal for doctoral research, preliminary findings, and a strategy for completing the work to the dissertation committee. If the dissertation committee approves of the topic and research strategy, the student can file an application for admission to candidacy for the Doctor of Philosophy.

Dissertation Defense

The final oral examination in defense of the doctoral dissertation is conducted by the doctoral committee and is open to the University community.


Course Listing

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