The Graduate Program

The department has a long and distinguished tradition dating back to the pioneering work of John Bates Clark, Wesley Clair Mitchell, Harold Hotelling and William Vickrey. This tradition is kept alive by a strong, research-oriented faculty and student body whose interests range from pure theory to a variety of applied subjects.

The department is closely associated with faculty in the Graduate School of Business and the School of International and Public Affairs.

Graduate education in economics at Columbia provides rigorous training and encourages students to do original and innovative work. All students learn to use the basic economic tools and master two specialized fields or one in-depth field. Faculty-student weekly workshops play a key role, providing a forum for new ideas and a free exchange and an opportunity for keeping abreast of the most current issues and research in the field. Workshops are offered in Macro/Monetary Economics, Econometrics, Labor/Applied Micro, International Economics, Economic Theory, Industrial Organization and Strategy and Development/Environment. Students also participate in weekly colloquia and present their own research. Colloquia are offered in Micro Theory, Applied Micro, Macro, International Trade, Industrial Organization, and Econometrics.

Degree Requirements for the Ph.D.

1. Certifying Exams

You must pass the certifying examinations in microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics by the end of the second year. The examinations are taken in May of your first year.

If you fail or receive a marginal pass on any examination, you must take a second examination. On the second examination, there are only two grades: pass or fail. The second examinations are held in September of your second year.

If you fail any of these exams a second time, you are not permitted to continue in the program.

2. Basic Courses

You must a receive a grade of B- or better in the following required courses:

  • G6211 Microeconomic analysis I
  • G6212 Microeconomic analysis II
  • G6215 Macroeconomic analysis I
  • G6216 Macroeconomic analysis II
  • G6411 Econometrics I
  • G6412 Econometrics II
  • G6413 Macroeconometrics or G6414 Microeconometrics
  • G6410 Mathematical methods for economists
  • G6930 Perspectives

You must take all these courses in your first year, except for either G6413 or G6414, which you take in your second year.

You may petition the DGS to substitute a field course (see section 3 below) in lieu of Perspectives.  If you do so, the field requirement rules will apply--in particular, you will have to get a grade of B or better. 

If you do not receive a grade of B- or better in any one of these courses, you must retake it the following year.  If you still do not receive a grade of B- or better, you are not permitted to continue in the program.

3. Fields

You must select two fields during your second year. A list of fields and the required courses for each field will be available in the summer before your second year. You may not use the same course to satisfy more than one requirement.

Individually-designed field: In lieu of one of the fields designated by the department, you may petition to take an individually-designed field. An individually-designed field consists of 3 courses, not all of which need to be offered by the Department. In order to take an individually-designed field, you must petition the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) no later than two weeks before the semester starts, and receive DGS approval.

A petition should set out the courses in the field, and explain how these courses will further your education and how they fit together. Approval is solely at the discretion of the DGS. The DGS may approve an individually-designed field in which some (but not all) courses are taken during your third year. Generally, this will occur when a faculty member is on leave and no one else is teaching the material you will need.

Generally, an individually-designed field should be an intellectually coherent set of courses that will provide you with a set of research skills to tackle some important problems. These skills should not be available in any of the regular fields being offered that year.

Pass Requirements: You must take at least 5 field courses for credit in your second year. However, the DGS may waive this requirement if you are taking an individually-designed field with courses in your third year. The DGS may also waive this requirement if you took a field course for credit in your first year. Successful completion of any field requires a grade of B or better in all required courses in the field. If you do not receive this grade or better in any required field course, you must retake that course in the following year, and receive a grade of B or better. If that course is not offered in the following year, you must take a substitute course designated by the DGS, and receive a grade of B or better.

In addition to courses, you must pass a field exam in each field you have selected.

Field exams are given after the end of the spring semester of your second year. If you do not pass a field exam, you may retake it once.

You will not be permitted to continue in the program unless you have fulfilled all field requirements by the end of your third year.

4. Colloquium Requirements

You must enroll in and attend a colloquium in your second year, and must make at least one presentation in that colloquium.

Second-year papers: You must write a paper for a colloquium in spring semester of your second year, and that paper must be judged satisfactory. This paper may not be co-authored. With permission of the DGS, you may fulfill this requirement in a field course rather than a colloquium.

Yearly colloquium presentations: You must enroll in and participate in a colloquium in your third, fourth, and fifth years, also. You must make an appropriate presentation in each semester. This presentation may be co-authored. With the permission of colloquium faculty, you may substitute a presentation in a regular department workshop, lunch, or breakfast for presentation in a colloquium.

Third-year papers: You must complete a satisfactory third-year paper in the spring semester of your third year. This paper may be co-authored. A student who does not complete a satisfactory third-year paper will not be eligible to work as an RA, or to receive summer support in the summer following the third year.

You are strongly encouraged to attend department workshops as well as colloquia.

5. Dissertation Requirements

Sponsors: Before the end of the spring semester of your second year, you must have named a sponsor, and that faculty member must have agreed to be your sponsor. It is acceptable to change a sponsor in the course of your research. After you have named a sponsor, you should invite that sponsor to all of your colloquium presentations.

If your sponsor is not a member of the Economics Department, you must receive prior approval from the DGS and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. You must also designate a faculty member within the department as co-sponsor, and that faculty member must agree in writing to be co-sponsor. If you change sponsors, you must inform the DGS within two weeks of the change. Your sponsor must read your second year paper and report on it to the DGS.

Committee: You must complete a dissertation, and defend it before a committee of five faculty members. At least three members of this committee must be faculty of the Department, and either one or two must come from outside the Department. You should invite all faculty members you are working with to all of your colloquium presentations.

Co-authoring: At least a third of your dissertation must be your sole-authored work. For instance, if your dissertation consists of three papers, at most two of them may be co-authored. Co-authored work may be part of more than one dissertation paper written by two students, for instance, may appear in each of their dissertations. In any co-authored paper, your contribution must be at least as great as that of any other co-author. No more than a third of your dissertation may be co-authored work with a Columbia University faculty member.

Additional rules about dissertations may be found here.

You must complete the dissertation within seven years from the date you enter the program. You are strongly encouraged to complete the dissertation within five years.

6. Teaching Requirements

Students are expected to participate in the Department's instructional activities during their second, third, and fourth years. You may be excused from this requirement for particular semesters because you have other responsibilities either to the department or to outside funders. However, you must participate in the instructional activities of the Department for at least two semesters during your first four years. You will gain exposure to teaching as assistants to faculty, as section leaders in lecture courses, or as instructors. Before participating in any of these capacities, you must attend the training sessions sponsored by the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

When you are a teaching assistant, you are expected to live in the New York consolidated metropolitan area for the entire semester. You cannot be a teaching assistant in absentia.

7. Miscellaneous Requirements

You must register for at least six consecutive Residence Units.

If you have a student visa and hold a Columbia fellowship, you cannot work more than 20 hours a week. Other students may not work more than 25 hours a week. Being a teaching assistant or a research assistant counts as 15 hours a week. If you are a fifth year student with a dissertation fellowship, you cannot hold any other position.

8. Master Degrees

Masters degree: The department plans to launch the stand-alone masters program beginning Fall 2015.  For information regarding that program, follow this link.

Masters of Arts (MA) degree: To receive the MA degree en route to the PhD, you must complete 30 points of graduate credit. Generally the required courses carry 4 credits, except Mathematical Methods, and other courses carry 3 credits. You must achieve a grade of B or better in at least 6 courses. You must complete at least two residence units. Generally the MA degree can be completed in two years. You must have an MA degree to be eligible for the PhD degree.

Masters of Philosophy (M.Phil.) degree: To receive the MPhil degree, you must complete the certifying exams, the basic courses, and the field requirements. You must also have fulfilled the colloquium requirements for second and third year students, except for completing a third-year paper (see the subsection on third-year papers under section 4 above). You must also have registered for at least six residence units. Generally the MPhil degree can be completed in three years. You must have an MPhil degree to be eligible for the PhD degree.

9. Rules of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

You must comply with the rules of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.