Admission To Graduate Study

With leading researchers in economic theory, econometrics, international economics, and macroeconomics, the Economics Department at Penn State is an outstanding department (faculty areas of interest may be found here).  A consequence is that students who receive a Ph.D. from Penn State and whose doctoral research is excellent have access to positions at leading academic and research institutions. Our recent placement record confirms this.  In the past decade, some of our Ph.D. students have obtained tenure track positions at Harvard, MIT, NYU, Cornell, in business schools at Chicago, Carnegie Mellon, and Toronto.  Our recent placements may be found here.

Although most highly ranked departments have good placement records, there are some special reasons you should consider Penn State.  The faculty is very accessible to graduate students and placement of graduate students is a priority for the department. 

Penn State is located in a pleasant rural setting in the geographic center of Pennsylvania.  Although it is in a small town, it is not isolated intellectually. There is an active program of visiting speakers in 5 separate workshops. In addition, the department hosts conferences. There is a twice yearly joint Penn State-Cornell conference at which graduate students make about half the presentations. In recent years, Penn State has hosted the Midwest Math Econ and International Trade Conference, and several conferences on special topics.

Grad School Policy Statement

  1. Applicants may apply for admission to only one program at a time.
  2. For admission to the Graduate School, an applicant must hold either (1) a bachelor's degree from a U.S. regionally accredited institution or (2) a postsecondary degree that is equivalent to a U.S. baccalaureate degree earned from an officially recognized degree-granting international institution.
  3. Ordinarily, an entering student must have completed in a satisfactory manner a minimum of course work in designated areas, the specific courses and amount of work depending upon the intended field of advanced study.
  4. Admission is granted jointly by the Graduate School and the graduate program in which the student plans to study. The establishment of standards by which applicants are admitted is the responsibility of the graduate program. Individual program requirements for admission are included in the Graduate Bulletin.
  5. Although the Graduate School has no fixed minimum grade-point requirement for admission, an applicant is generally expected to maintain a junior-senior grade-point average of at least 2.50 on Penn State’s grading scale of A (4.00) to D (1.00). Individual graduate programs often establish higher grade-point average requirements and use other criteria to judge candidates for admission.
  6. In exceptional cases, graduate programs may also approve admission by reason of special backgrounds, abilities, and interests.


Applicants should obtain application deadlines by contacting the individual graduate program. Because the admission process is time consuming, applications should be submitted as early as possible.

Further Information

GCAC-305 Admission Requirements for International Students


Should You Apply to Penn State?

Last year (for admission in fall 2019), the program received approximately 500 applications. We granted admission to 103 applicants, 63 of whom with full funding.  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 2019, 25 students enrolled, 20 of whom with full funding.
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. 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


  1. International applicants must hold either (1) a bachelor's degree from a U.S. regionally accredited institution or (2) a postsecondary degree that is equivalent to a U.S. baccalaureate degree earned from an officially recognized degree-granting international institution.
    1. International applicants must submit official or attested university records, with certified translations if the records are not in English. Notarized copies are not sufficient.
  2. The language of instruction at Penn State is English. 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. Individual graduate programs of study may require higher scores for admission.
    1. TOEFL:
      1. Internet-based test (iBT) - a total score of 80 with a 19 on the speaking section for the internet-based test (iBT).
        1. Applicants with iBT speaking scores between 15 and 18 may be considered for provisional admission, with Graduate School approval, which requires completion of specified remedial English courses ESL 114G (American Oral English for Academic Purposes) and/or ESL 116G (ESL/Composition for Academic Disciplines) and attainment of a grade of B or higher within the first semester of enrollment.
      2. Paper-based test (taken prior to July 2017) – the minimum acceptable score is 550.
      3. Paper-based test (taken July 2017 or later) – a combined total of the 3 sections evaluated must be 60 or greater.
    2. IELTS: The minimum acceptable composite score for the IELTS Academic Test is 6.5.
    3. International applicants who have received a baccalaureate or a graduate degree in a country in which standard English is the predominant language and from a college/university/institution at which the language of instruction is English are exempt from the TOEFL/IELTS requirement. Countries that meet this qualification are listed in GCAC-305 Procedures.


  • Institution code: 2660
  • Department code: 84

Minimum Requirements for Admission (by Country)

For Admission Eligibility by Country, please visit the Graduate School link.

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).

Frequently Asked Questions

Based on the enclosed grades and GRE scores, can you assess my chances of admission to the Ph.D. program?

We take many factors into consideration when making admission decisions—grades, GRE scores, background in economics and math, letters of recommendation, research experience, etc.  In  addition, the quality of the overall applicant pool matters. Thus, as a matter of policy, we do not assess an applicant’s chances in advance.

How do I apply for financial aid?

You only need to indicate this in GRADS, our online application system. 

Can I apply for admission to the M.A. program in Economics?

For information regarding our MA Program, click here.

Can I submit GMAT scores instead of GRE scores?

No, you must submit GRE scores. 

Can I submit old GRE scores?

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-3. 

Do I need to submit a TOEFL/IELTS score?

All international applicants whose native language is not English must show proficiency in English by submitting either a TOEFL score or an IELTS score. 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. 

Do I need a degree in Economics to apply?

While most of our students have a degree in Economics, this is not a requirement. We have had students with backgrounds in math, physics and engineering. 

Can I submit letters of recommendations in paper form?

We strongly advise that letters of recommendation be uploaded electronically. This ensures that the letters do not get misplaced, are authentic and that they remain confidential.

How and When to Apply

The application process is as follows:

  1. You should first consult the Graduate School website which has information about the process, the documentation you will need, application fees etc.: FAQ's

  2. You can then apply online via GRADS, the Graduate School Admissions site: Graduate Admission Application

  3. All supporting documentation should also be electronically uploaded on to the Graduate Admission Application.
  4. If you are not a US citizen or a US permanent resident, DISA will contact you with a set of instructions and a link so that you can enter your immigration information and/or upload your financial documentation directly into your electronic file once you have notified the Department that you have accepted your offer of Admission. Please note that this electronic form cannot be created or pre-completed until you have accepted your offer of admission.

    If you are applying for financial aid, your completed application for the following fall should reach us by January 15. Decisions are communicated by early March. Responses to our offers must be received by April 15.

    If you are not applying for financial aid, the deadline is April 30 and decisions are communicated by the middle of May.

    Information on the new MA in Economics program is available here

Additional Resources

Guidebook to Taking the TOEFL Exam:

Resources for Taking the GRE:

Navigating the Graduate Exams Guide:

Graduate Programs and Student Resources: