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PIs might care about your coursework for two reasons. First, they want you to be adequately prepared for the work you’ll do as an RA. Second, they may want to help place you into a PhD program, so they may check whether you have taken coursework that will make you a competitive applicant.

Generally, it’s good to have some experience in economics and coding. Having an understanding of the economics literature can be a big plus, especially in your/your PIs’ areas of interest. It’s also okay (and even good) to be lopsided. For instance, exceptional background in coding or statistics can compensate for having less economics coursework.

It’s helpful if you are able to demonstrate strong performance, or improvement over time, in your coursework. But if you had a bad grade, a bad semester, or a bad year because of something specific (like a health/mental health crisis, a global pandemic, a death in the family, etc.) or just because, don’t let that deter you from applying! Instead, it may be a good idea to explain in your cover letter or on your transcript why your outlying grades don’t represent your academic potential.

All that being said, what follows are the classes we have found to be important in our RA work, grad school applications, and personal research.

  • Economics: introductory course(s), basic statistics or econometrics
  • Economics: intermediate microeconomics and/or macroeconomics

  • Mathematics: statistics, linear algebra, multivariable calculus

  • Computer science: introductory course(s) in principles of programming


  • Economics: advanced or graduate-level microeconomics and/or macroeconomics, advanced or graduate-level econometrics, senior thesis, upper-level research seminars/electives in the fields you’re interested in

  • Mathematics: real analysis, differential equations, probability theory, mathematical statistics

  • Computer science: courses that teach you about database management, algorithm design, run-time efficiency, and machine learning