Curriculum and Thesis

In their first and second years, PhD students are required to complete a series of core classes, coursework in their major and minor fields of study, and an advanced research methods course before proceeding to the thesis-writing stage.


In their first three semesters, students must satisfy the requirements in at least 12 of 14 half-semester core courses. The requirements can be met by earning a grade of B or better in the class or by passing a waiver exam.

Waiver exams are offered at the start of the semester in which the course is offered and graded on a pass-fail basis. Students who receive a grade of B- or below in a class can consult the course faculty to determine whether to take the waiver exam or re-take the course the following year. These requirements must all be satisfied before the end of the second year.

  • 14.121: Microeconomic Theory I
  • 14.122: Microeconomic Theory II
  • 14.123: Microeconomic Theory III
  • 14.124: Microeconomic Theory IV
  • 14.380: Statistical Methods in Economics
  • 14.381: Estimation and Inference for Linear Causal and Structural Models
  • 14.382*: Econometrics
  • 14.384*: Time Series Analysis
  • 14.385*: Nonlinear Econometric Analysis
  • 14.451: Dynamic Optimization Methods with Applications
  • 14.452: Economic Growth
  • 14.453: Economic Fluctuations
  • 14.454: Economic Crises

*Courses 14.382, 14.384, and 14.385 are each counted as two half-semester courses.

Most students will also take one or more field courses (depending on whether they are waiving core courses) during their first year. Feel free to ask your graduate research officer, field faculty, and advanced students for advice on how you structure your first-year coursework.

Second year students must also successfully complete the two-semester course 14.192: Advanced Research Methods and Communication. The course, which is graded on a pass-fail basis, guides students through the process of writing and presenting the required second-year research paper.

By the end of year two, PhD students must complete the requirements for two major fields in economics. This entails earning a B or better in two designated courses for each field. Some fields recommend additional coursework or papers for students intending to pursue research in the field.

Major fields must be declared by the Monday following the spring break of your second year. Your graduate registration officer must approve your field selections.

PhD students are also required to complete two minor fields, taking two courses in each field and earning a grade of B or better. Your graduate registration officer must approve your field selections.

Minor coursework is normally completed by the end of year two, but in some cases students can defer the completion of one field until after general exams. Students must consult with their graduate registration officer before making a deferment.

Options for minor fields include the eleven economics major fields, plus computation and statistics (from the interdisciplinary PhD in Economics and Statistics).

Students who wish to satisfy one of the minor field requirements by combining two courses from different fields–for example, environmental economics and industrial organization II–can petition the second-year graduate registration officer for permission.

At least one minor field should be from the department’s standard field list.

The fields in which the Department offers specialization and the subjects that will satisfy their designation as a minor field are given in the chart below. Some fields overlap so substantially that both cannot be taken by a student. In any event, the same subject cannot be counted towards more than a single minor field. Students must receive the approval of their Graduate Registration Officer for their designated major and minor fields.

  • Development
  • Econometrics
  • Finance
  • Industrial organization
  • International
  • Labor
  • Macroeconomics
  • Organizational
  • Political economy
  • Public finance
  • Theory
  • Computation and statistics (minor only)

Advanced Economic Theory

Minor: Any subset adding up to two full semesters from 14.125, 14.126, 14.127, 14.130, 14.137, 14.147, 14.160, 14.281 and Harvard Ec 2059. Major: At least two of 14.125, 14.126, 14.281, and Harvard Ec 2059. Recommended for major: 14.126, 14.281, and at least one of 14.125, 14.127, 14.130, 14.147, and Harvard Ec 2059.

Econometrics and Statistics

Minor: 14.382 in addition to one of 14.384 or 14.385. Major: Any one of 14.386, 14.387, 14.388 in addition to one of 14.384 or 14.385. Recommended for major: 14.384 and 14.385. *Dual PhD in Economics and Statistics has an additional requirement of 14.386.

Economic Development

Major and minor: 14.771 and 14.772 or 14.773


Minor: Any two of 14.416J, 14.440J, 14.441J, 14.442J, 14.448. Major: 14.416J and 14.441J

Industrial Organization

Minor: 14.271 and 14.272 or 14.273. Major: 14.271 and 14.272 or 14.273. Recommended for major: 14.271, 14.272, and 14.273.

International Economics

Major and minor: 14.581 and 14.582

Labor Economics

Major: 14.661 and 14.662A. Minor: Two subjects chosen from 14.193, 14.661, and 14.662

Monetary Economics

Major and minor: Two subjects chosen from 14.461, 14.462, and 14.463

Organizational Economics

Major and minor: 14.282 and one of 14.283-284, 14.441J, or an approved substitute

Political Economy

Major and minor: 14.770 and 14.773

Public Economics

Major and minor: 14.471 and 14.472

MIT requires doctoral candidates to complete an advanced course of study that includes general exams at its completion. Beginning in 2019-20, the Economics Department will operationalize this requirement to include successful completion of: the core and other required courses; course exams and other requirements of courses in each of a student’s two major and two minor fields; the written research paper and oral presentation components of 14.192. Students may present for the general exams while having one remaining minor field to complete. The faculty will review these components together with the candidate’s overall course record to determine whether students have passed the general exam requirement and can proceed to the thesis writing stage.


Math Camp begins on the second Monday in August.

Fall Semester

14.121/14.122 (Micro Theory I/II)
14.451/14.452 (Macro Theory I/II)
14.380/14.381 (Statistical Method in Economics & Applied Econometrics)
Field Course (major or minor)

Spring Semester

14.123/14.124 (Micro Theory III/IV)
14.453/14.454 (Macro Theory III/IV)
14.382 (Econometrics)
Field Course (major or minor)


Fall Semester

2-3 Field Courses
14.192 (Advanced Research and Communication)
14.384 or 14.385 (Advanced Econometrics)

Spring Semester

3 Field Courses
14.192 (Advanced Research and Communication)


Field workshop
Field lunch
Thesis writing


Upon satisfying the core and field requirements, PhD candidates embark on original research culminating in a completed dissertation. A PhD thesis normally consists of three research papers of publishable quality. The thesis must be approved by a student’s primary and secondary thesis advisors, and by an anonymous third reader. These three faculty members will be the candidate's thesis committee and are responsible for its acceptance. Collaborative work is acceptable and encouraged, but there must be at least one paper in the dissertation that is not co-authored with a faculty member.

Criteria for satisfactory progress

  • Meet regularly with their advisor
  • Participate consistently in their primary field advising lunch, their primary field workshop, and the third-year student research lunch
  • Complete their third-year paper
  • Participate in third-year meetings organized by the thesis graduate research officer

Students should present on their research in progress at least once in both the third-year student research lunches and their field advising lunch. Presentations provide opportunities for early and broad feedback on research ideas and the chance to develop oral presentation skills. Research ideas or early stage work in progress is encouraged and expected.

  • Meet regularly with their advisor
  • Participate consistently in their primary field advising lunch and their primary field workshop
  • Present at least once per year in their field advising lunch or field workshop. A presentation each semester in the field advising lunch is strongly recommended by most fields; consult your advisors for more information

Satisfactory progress toward a dissertation will be evaluated based on progress assessments by the student’s primary advisor, regular participation in the lunches and workshops, and field lunch or workshop presentations that show continued progress.