Why you or your students should apply for the Masters of Science in International and Development Economics (IDEC) at the University of San Francisco (USFCA)
The quick version
This is a great program for smart, hard-working students who want to build up their quantitative skills and core economics knowledge for an international career, but don’t want to do a PhD or who need more preparation to be competitive for a good Phd program.
The long version
In fall of 2017 I moved from the Political Science Department at University of California, Berkeley, to a new home at the University of San Francisco. I wrote this to spread the word about our Masters of Science (MS) in International and Development Economics. As far as I can tell there is no other program that fills exactly the same niche.
The key features of the program are its international orientation, strong empirical econometric training, flexible prerequisites (for students with less quantitative background), significant independent research requirement, and high quality faculty mentorship.
As I see it, there are two kinds of people who should apply—aspiring practitioners and aspiring academics. The first includes students looking to start an internationally oriented career in policy or finance focused on poor and middle-income countries. The second consists of students who would like to pursue a PhD in economics, political science, public policy, or other quantitative social sciences, but who would like to strengthen their application by acquiring skills in econometrics and completing a significant piece of independent research. Of course, many students may still be interested in both—this program will give them an opportunity to figure out which they really want.
International orientation: Almost all of our faculty are primarily involved in research on developing countries. Research interests include development policy and program evaluation (Bruce Wydick, Elizabeth Katz), environmental economics (Jesse Anttila-Hughes, Yaniv Stopnitzky), gender and female empowerment (Alessandra Cassar, Elizabeth Katz, Yaniv Stopnitzky) microfinance and saving (Alessandra Cassar), networks and social capital (Alessandra Cassar), human rights (Jesse Anttila-Hughes), international macroeconomics and finance (Suparna Chakraborty, Peter Lorentzen), foreign direct investment (Suparna Chakraborty, Peter Lorentzen), East Asian economies (Man-Lui Lau, Peter Lorentzen), political economy of development (Peter Lorentzen), monetary policy (Libo Xu) and energy economics (Libo Xu).
Econometric training: The program is quantitatively intense. All students take a semester of mathematical methods and at least three semesters of econometrics, as well as gaining a mastery of core economic theories and familiarity with the big issues and current research frontier in their area of specialization. This differentiates it from most master’s degrees in policy, which take an interdisciplinary approach and consequently expect much less from students on the quantitative side. Quantitative skills are usually the biggest hole in the skill set of most aspiring academics and policy practitioners, and the hardest to acquire outside of an academic context. Ability to handle a dataset is also a skill that is immediately valuable in almost any organization, helping students get that crucial first job that will create further opportunities of all kinds.
Some of our faculty’s methodological specialties include field research methods (Elizabeth Katz, Yaniv Stopnitzky, Bruce Wydick), laboratory and field experiments (Alessandra Cassar), large secondary data sets (Jesse Anttila-Hughes, Yaniv Stopnitzky), econometrics of program evaluation (Bruce Wydick), and applied game theory (Peter Lorentzen).
Flexible prerequisites: This program has a flexible structure that makes it suitable even for student who did not major in economics as undergraduates. While most students have some exposure to introductory economics, statistics, and calculus, and more background means you can advance more rapidly to the graduate-level classes and research, the most important thing is to be ready to work hard when you get here. Students who do not have any economics background but are willing to work REALLY hard can enroll in the 6-week Summer Start program to complete these requirements before fall semester begins.
Independent research requirement: Most economics masters programs do not have a serious independent research requirement. Our students start designing a research project in spring of their first year, spend summer in the field or analyzing data while completing an internship, and then continue to work on the project their entire second year.
Mentorship: Our program gives Masters students a very high level of attention from a group of faculty who are all actively engaged in research. Unlike PhD-granting programs, training and mentoring Masters students is our first priority and primary measure of success. This also enables us to write strong, well-informed letters of reference for students going on to a PhD.
Alumni network: The program has developed a strong alumni network since its founding in the early 2000s. Alumni have gone to work for a variety of development and policy analysis organizations, including the World Bank, the UN, USAID, the US State Department, Compassion International, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Poverty Action Lab (JPAL), Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the Rand Corporation. Graduates have also gone on to PhD programs at institutions including UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, Boston University, University of Houston, and Claremont Graduate College. In the private sector, graduates have joined Facebook, Salesforce, Google, and Apple.
For students interested in East Asia: Half of the program’s full-time faculty have done research on the region. Four of the program’s full-time faculty speak Chinese. Around the university a large number of faculty are engaged in research on China, including but not limited to faculty involved with the Center for Asia Pacific Studies and participants in the China Business Studies Initiative.
Gender balance: 50% of tenured faculty in our department are women, including the current chair, as are about 60% of the program’s graduate students.
STEM designation: Our program is a STEM program. This means that foreign students are eligible to work in the US for three years after graduation under the OPT visa program.
Application deadline: Admissions are conducted on a rolling basis. Applications for the Summer Start must be received by January 15. In order to be considered for financial aid, applications must be received by March 1st.
NOTE: This program is not the same as the Masters of Arts in Economics at the University of San Francisco, although most of the faculty teach courses for both programs. That program has a stronger emphasis on theory and does not include a research requirement.