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Should You Apply to Penn State?

Last year (for admission in fall 2015), the program received approximately 500 applications. We granted admission to 94 applicants and offered full financial aid to all of those admitted. Most financial aid is in the form of graduate assistantships, which require that the recipient carry out duties helping the faculty in their teaching or research. In Fall 2015, 22 students enrolled.
Without knowing where you stand among applicants, the above acceptance rates mean very little to you. We judge applicants by course grades and the kinds of courses taken, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, the answers to the questions on the application, and other written work submitted.

Grades and Courses

Economics is unique among fields in the degree to which graduate programs at the top departments differ from undergraduate programs. The main difference involves the extent to which abstract mathematics is used. Therefore, good grades in undergraduate courses in Economics do not guarantee success in graduate school. Applicants should have taken a considerable amount of mathematics, at least through multivariate calculus, and should have done well in it.

GRE scores

We require that applicants take the 3-part general aptitude GRE. The average scores of the entering class in Fall 2015 were: Verbal = 155, Quantitative = 167, Analytical = 3.4. In judging applicants, we try to take into account that different applicants expend different amounts of effort in preparing for the GRE and that there are systematic differences among applicants from different countries.

GRE scores should not be more than five years old. Specifically, if you are applying for admission for the Ph.D. program beginning in the fall of year X, then you should have taken the GRE no earlier than the fall of year X-5.

  • Institution Code: 2660
  • Department Code: 1801


All international applicants must take and submit scores for the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or the IELTS(International English Language Testing System), with the exceptions noted below. The minimum acceptable score for the TOEFL is 550 for the paper-based test, 213 for the computer-based test, or a total score of 80 with a 19 on the speaking section for the Internet-based test (IBT). Applicants with IBT speaking scores between 15 and 18 may be considered for provisional admission, which requires an institutional test of English proficiency upon first enrollment and, if necessary, remedial course work.

Find out more about the TOEFL scoring.
View the TOEFL video click here. 

  • Institution code: 2660
  • Department code: 84

The minimum acceptable score for the IELTS is 6.5.

International applicants who have received a bachelor's or a master's degree from a college/university in any of the following countries are exempt from the TOEFL/IELTS requirement: Australia, Belize, British Caribbean and British West Indies, Canada (except Quebec), England, Guyana, Republic of Ireland, Liberia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the United States, and Wales.

Letters of recommendation

We place considerable weight on, and require, three (3) letters of recommendation. Letters should be from people who know you well and who are familiar with graduate programs in Economics at leading universities. The most valuable letters are from people who can credibly compare you to others who have succeeded in such programs.

Your answers to the application questions and other written work

Highly successful Ph.D. students in Economics display a wide variety of research skills, including creativity. The questions we ask on the application are intended to elicit information about those skills. Also, if you have completed a paper that displays such skills, upload it via the GRADS online application system (see below).