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Frequently Asked Questions

Please read the answers to these frequently asked questions before you contact our offices with any queries.  If you still have remaining questions, please contact the Graduate Program Manager at

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Admissions Standards

I am trying to decide whether or not to apply to Northwestern. Would you be able to give me a idea of the minimum standards for admission?

Most successful applicants to our program have verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning GRE scores above the 90th percentile. Applicants receiving financial aid generally have verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning GRE scores above the 95th percentile. The score on the analytical writing section of the GRE should generally be above 5 on the 6-point scale. These scores do not represent rigid requirements, and many applicants with lower scores have been accepted and given financial aid because of other outstanding characteristics, such as superb reference letters or excellent performance as undergraduates. Foreign students must also meet the minimum required TOEFL/IELTS (see below).

If I e-mail you my resume, can you tell me if I am likely to be admitted to your program?

It is not possible to review potential applicants' records outside of the formal application procedure. To be considered for admission, a completed application along with the supporting documents is required. Please do not email the department with your resume unless requested.

How many applications do you receive each year, and how many applicants enter the program?

The program receives approximately 700 applications each year. Each year, the department's entering class is about 18 to 25 students.

Nature of our Program

I would like to seek a master's degree but not a Ph.D. May I apply to your program?

We do not offer a Master's Degree in Economics.

How many students do you have in the program?

Approximately 130.

Do you accept international students?

Full consideration is given to all applicants. We currently have students from 36 different countries in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australasia, and North and South America.

Do you offer a part-time Ph.D. program?

There is no part-time study available to applicants to the Department of Economics.

Can I undertake non-degree study at Northwestern?

Applicants who wish to apply for non-degree special student status with The Graduate School must meet the same admission requirements and deadlines that apply to regular applicants applying to the Ph.D. program in economics. These students are not eligible for financial aid or loans.

What are the departmental policies regarding dual-degree programs?

The University offers a joint J.D./Ph.D. program which is open to a small number of students who intend to pursue an academic career and whose teaching and research would be enriched by both a J.D. and a Ph.D. degree. The program is designed to allow students to complete both degrees more efficiently than they would through consecutive degree programs. Students must be admitted by both the Department of Economics and the Law School.

What is the attrition rate from your program?

Of the 230 students who entered our program during the past decade, 8% left the program during the course of the first year, usually for personal rather than academic reasons. Another 8% left after failing some or all of the qualifying examinations held at the end of the first year. Overall, about 70% of our entering students are awarded a Ph.D., with a typical time to completion of five to six years.

How and When to Apply

How do I apply?

Please read the Admissions section of this website. It provides information on application procedures and required forms and documentation.

Does the department review applications on a rolling basis?

No. Applicants are considered for admission to the fall term only.

What is the deadline for applying?

Applications and supporting materials must be submitted by January 2.

Can the application fee ever be waived?

The Graduate School will not consider an application unless accompanied by the appropriate fee. The sole exception is the Committee on Institutional Cooperation "FreeApp" program for underrepresented students who are U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Should I report my GRE and TOEFL/IELTS scores to The Graduate School directly?

Educational Testing Service (ETS), who manage the GRE and TOEFL tests, and IELTS are required to report their official test scores directly to the University. We recommend that you also upload a scan of your score report as part of your on-line application. Please be reminded however, these scores are not considered official unless they are reported directly to the University by ETS or IELTS.

What is the latest date that the GRE and TOEFL/IELTS can be taken without risking the score not meeting the deadline?

Applicants are strongly encouraged to register early for the GRE and TOEFL/IELTS as incomplete applications can cause a delay in giving full consideration to your application. The websites of these testing organizations show test dates and approximate score report dates. The applicant should plan to have the results of their tests available by the application deadline.


May I substitute some other exam such as the GMAT or LSAT for the verbal, quantitative, and analytic sections of the GRE?

You must take those three parts of the GRE. There are no exceptions.

The language requirement

What is the language requirement for international students?

Applicants from countries where the native language is not English must take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) administered by the Educational Testing Service, or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) examination unless they attended an English-speaking institution in an English-speaking country for all years of their undergraduate degree. If you are in any doubt as to whether your undergraduate degree exempts you from the TOEFL/IELTS, it is always advisable to take the test and submit the results with your supporting materials. If you do have to take the test, you must score a minimum of 600 on the paper-based TOEFL exam, 250 on the computer-based TOEFL exam, 100 on the Internet-based TOEFL, or a minimum overall score of 7.0 on the IELTS.  We accept MyBest Scores for the TOEFL iBT. The test must have been taken no more than two years before the intended date of entry (which means no more than 15 months prior to you application). This is a stricter requirement than that of The Graduate School and reflects the fact that successful graduate study in economics depends crucially on your ability to understand, read, write and speak English.

May I substitute some other similar test?

No exam may be substituted for the TOEFL/IELTS.

English is not my native language, but I have already attended a college in America or another English-speaking country. Do I have to take the TOEFL/IELTS exam?

You are only exempt from the TOEFL/IELTS if you attended an English-speaking institution in an English-speaking country for all years of your undergraduate degree. If you attended an institution in an English-speaking country for a graduate degree, but your undergraduate degree is from a non-English-speaking country or institution, the Department of Economics requires that you take the TOEFL/IELTS. This is a stricter requirement than that of The Graduate School and reflects the fact that successful graduate study in economics depends crucially on your ability to understand, read, write and speak English.

Are there any other language requirements?

Admission and first-year financial aid requires meeting the requirements described in FAQ #20. A common form of funding in second and subsequent years is as a teaching assistant. To be a teaching assistant, you must score 65 or greater on the Versant English Test which will be administered when you arrive at Northwestern. This test requires you to demonstrate your spoken English abilities. Students whose countries of origin are Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom or the United States are exempt from taking the Versant test.  If you score a 26 or higher (out of a possible 30) on the Speaking Section of the TOEFL Internet-based test you will also be exempt.

Recommendation Letters

Can letters of recommendation be submitted in hard copy?

No. People submitting reference letters on your behalf must submit their letters electronically through our application system.

Reapplication or deferment

Suppose that I apply and am not admitted. May I ask you to reconsider me next year? Do I have to repay the application fee?

The Graduate School does not maintain any documentation from previous applications. To reapply, you must submit an entirely new application and fee.

Suppose that I apply and am admitted but I want to delay my admission one year. May I receive a deferred admission? If I received financial aid, may this be deferred?

It is possible to defer admission by 12 months to the start of the Fall Quarter of the following year.  Students who wish to defer their admission must notify us in writing. Granting of permission to defer admission is subject to approval by the department and The Graduate School, and any funding arrangements are not guaranteed and are subject to renegotiation.


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