What Economics Majors Should Know About Graduate School

This post is for college students who are interested in economics and thinking about graduate school.  There's an article aimed at the academic economics profession that you will find insightful.  Dave Collander and KimMarie McGoldrick have written The Economics Major and Liberal Education.  Here's a key section:

Instead of serving to strengthen liberal education by providing
depth in one area, the undergraduate major has become more vocational.
Viewed as preparation for graduate school, the disciplinary major
channels passion for learning to a small group of future researchers
and professors. Providing a liberal education and instilling a passion
for learning in undergraduate students who do not wish to go on to
graduate school is a secondary goal of teaching, and it is incorporated
only to the degree that it fits the needs of the departmental major.

the power bases for individual disciplines have been reinforced by
faculty training and institutional structures, the power base for
general education has shrunk. And as disciplinary majors have become
more deeply entrenched, the disconnect between the major and the goals
of liberal education has widened. The result is that often students
with generalist interests are not provided with the catalyst for
further learning and engagement, despite continual attempts by colleges
and universities to achieve that end.


… those who are most passionate about undergraduate teaching are unlikely
to make it into a top graduate program in economics. In part, this is
because the training offered by top graduate programs is unattractive
to these potential graduate students. But even more, it is because
these are not the type of students that graduate programs are looking
for; training students to be good teachers is not what graduate
programs in economics see as their goal. In lower-ranked graduate
programs, the focus on training researchers as opposed to teachers is
less pronounced, but it still exists—in part, because these programs
are staffed by graduates of the top programs.

The take-away is advice I've been giving for years: go to graduate school in economics only if you really, really, really cannot imagine doing anything but economics, and you will be forever regretful if you don't get a Ph.D.  If you are simply thinking that it will help your job chances, go directly into the workforce.