Matthew Olckers Economist by day; graffiti nerd by night.

Tips for applying to the PSE

I am teaching assistant for an M1 microeconomics course at Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne. My students are now in the same position I was two years ago – faced with the prospect of applying to M2 programs. One avenue is the Paris School of Economics, which offers the APE, and PPD programs. I completed ETE, which has since been swallowed up by APE. A few of my students have asked for advice on applying to the PSE, so I decided to collect my tips into a blog post. These views are my own, and are not endorsed by the PSE.

Firstly, I feel unqualified to give tips on applying to the APE, and PPD programs. I was rejected from both programs. Lucky for me, I managed to get into ETE, and progress to a PhD at PSE. I am very grateful for how things turned out. I met my supervisors through ETE, and it would have been unlikely that I would have met them had I been accepted to APE, or PPD. This story brings me to my first tip. The best program for most students may not be the best program for you. Think carefully about what really fascinates you, and choose professors rather than programs. There are many other M2 programs besides APE, and PPD. Don’t get fixated on the PSE.

PSE is a research focussed institution. Think about the professors’ incentives. It is likely that they are searching for students who would like to continue to a PhD, and might even be their junior co-authors in the future. It is very difficult to pick out who will be successful researchers, but at a minimum, you need to show an interest in research.

The coursework at PSE is technically demanding. Many of the current students could comfortably complete a degree in mathematics. You need to show that you have excelled in technical courses in the past to prove that you can keep up with the pace.

You will need reference letters for the application. Since you have only been in Paris for a year, it is unlikely that you have connected with many professors. However, I don’t think getting a reference letter from a PhD student is a good idea. It sends a bad signal. The most meaningful reference letters will rank you relative to your class. Pick a course where you placed within the top 10 percent of the class, and approach that professor for a reference letter. The other reference letters could come from your undergraduate professors.

When I was in your position, I wrote to a recent PPD student for advice. Here are some of his best tips:

  • If you propose a research interest, you must show advanced understanding of the topic, and your research ideas should be cutting-edge.
  • You should be confident with econometrics, and theory.
  • Reference letters should preferably be from recognized academics who can vouch for your ability in economics. (The fact that you are a nice person is irrelevant.)
  • The competition is super tough, and there are only a few places going directly into M2. Keep in mind that it is a bit like a lottery when there are far more applicants than places.

That is all I can think of for now. Good luck with the applications. Remember, the results are 99 percent out of your control. It’s a relief when you accept that.