Prospective Student FAQs

What are the strengths of the Mason economics program?

We are especially strong in public choice (the economics of government decision-making), law and economics, Austrian or “market process” economics, history of economic thought, and economic history.

How are admissions decisions made?

Both MA and PhD admissions decisions are based on GRE scores (optional for the MA application), grade point averages, letters of recommendation, and a written goals statement. Each completed application is evaluated in its entirety; we do not adhere to rigid numerical formulas to determine admissions.

The average incoming MA student has a GPA of 3.36 and GRE scores of 155 verbal and 154 quantitative. The average incoming PhD student has a GPA of 3.5 and GRE scores of 160 verbal and 158 quantitative. Students receiving funding typically score above these averages.

What are my chances of getting in?

Each year we aim for PhD and MA classes in the range of 25-35 people (these targets are not always met, however). In recent years, the number of MA applicants has been about twice that number and the number of PhD applicants about 6 times that number. Admissions decisions are made on the criteria mentioned above.

Do you take part-time students?

Most of our MA students are part-time. Approximately half of the entering PhD class is part-time. For this reason, most of our classes are held in the evening, with class times at 4:30-7:10 pm and 7:20-10:00 pm.

Part-time MA students should plan to take two classes per semester during the first year so that they can take the theory exams during the following summer. Part-time PhD students should plan to take two classes per semester at least one semester per year so that they can finish 48 credit hours and advance to candidacy within the 6 year time limit.

Sample part-time schedules

Which courses are available each year?

The most current fall and spring schedules are the best guides to expected course offerings in the future. The catalog is rather over-optimistic; it lists many courses that are taught only rarely.

What courses should I take in my first year?

A typical PhD first-year course of study would include two semesters each of micro and macro, and one semester each of Mathematical Economics and Econometrics. Part-time students will usually take less than this full load.

MA students should take two semesters of micro and one semester of macro (usually offered in the spring). It is recommended that MA students also take Mathematical Economics, which is usually offered in the fall. A full-time MA student should supplement the core and recommended coursework with one elective class per semester. The special topics are usually best suited for first-year MA electives.

PhD students must take the micro and macro classes held at the Main Campus; MA students must take those held at the Metro Campus. PhD or MA students who take any combination of the above courses do not need any further permission from the graduate studies office.

If I want a PhD, should I start with an MA?

Applicants to the PhD program are not required to have an MA prior to beginning our doctoral program. Our MA program is a self-contained course of study for students who are not planning to pursue the PhD program at George Mason University. Students who plan to pursue our PhD degree can earn an MA while pursuing the PhD and should apply directly to the doctoral program.

If I am denied to the PhD program, may I be considered for the MA?

An applicant can request to be considered for the MA in Economics program if denied admission to the PhD program. The applicant's application will be included with the other MA applications and will be judged against that pool of applicants. To exercise this option, you must email the Economics Graduate Studies Office at by March 1st.

How is the PhD program structured?

After the first year, students have the opportunity to take comprehensive exams in microeconomics and macroeconomics. These exams are given every August and January. Students who fail either exam twice must leave the PhD program, and may elect to transfer into the MA program. During the second year, students take the required coursework in each of two fields. After the second year, students take the field exams for the two fields that they have chosen. A student cannot flunk out of the program by failing field exams, but may be asked to pick a new field if the same exam is failed twice.

What fields of study are available for PhD students?

We currently have fields available in industrial organization, public choice, monetary economics, Austrian economics, experimental economics, law and economics, institutions and development, economic history, Smithian political economy, and economic sociology. Field exams are currently offered in each of these areas. Students also have the option of designing a field in which the student desires to secure professional competence that is not covered by one of our regular fields. 

How long does it take to finish a PhD program?

The program is designed so that a full-time student (9 hours a semester) takes 2 ½ years of class work and then writes a dissertation. Finishing in four years is entirely feasible, although many students take much longer.


Last updated: 09/26/2019