Full-time students are expected to complete all requirements for the PhD degree within five years of entering the program. (The maximum time allowed by the graduate school is six years.) The schedule of required courses below is centered on this expectation. Failure to make timely and satisfactory progress toward the degree may result in loss of financial assistance or dismissal from the program.

Course Requirements

  1. Prior to beginning the program, students must demonstrate an acceptable degree of competence in differential and integral calculus and optimization techniques. This requirement is in addition to prerequisite coursework required to apply to the program. Such competence is normally demonstrated by taking ECON 7800, an intensive, three-week preparatory course offered in August each year. You must pass this course with a grade of B- or better. No credit is offered for this course but it is required prior to the first year in the program. Once admitted and matriculated, you will automatically be enrolled in this course and information will be sent to you regarding preparation, date, time, and location.

    Other methods by which the required competence may be demonstrated are:

    1. A letter from the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) confirming that the student has had sufficient mathematical preparation in prior studies.
    2. Passing the final examination in ECON 7800 at a level of B- without taking the course.
    3. Passing a course which is substantially equivalent to Econ 7800 at another accredited graduate institution.

    Students who fail the examination in ECON 7800 must enter into extensive consultation with the DGS.

  2. There are seven core courses (18 credits) in the PhD program; ECON 7010, 7020, 7030, 7040, 7818, and 7828. See coursework section, below, for course names. Course requirements beyond the core courses include:
    1. Seven elective courses (21 credits) at the 8000 level. Basic fields of specialization are econometrics, economic development, economic history, industrial organization, international trade and finance, labor and human resources, natural resources and environmental economics, and public economics. Ordinarily, a student would take two elective courses in a basic field of specialization in preparation for a dissertation.
    2. 6 credit hours in a research colloquium.
    3. At least 30 hours of dissertation credit.
    4. A total of at least 75 credits.
  3. At least four of the core courses must be taken on the Boulder campus. It is most advantageous to take all core courses at UCB, particularly theory since these courses form the basis of your preliminary exams. Courses transferred for credit must be approved by the DGS. After entry into the PhD program, all remaining courses must be taken on the Boulder campus.
  4. All courses for PhD credit taken on the Boulder campus must be passed with a grade of B- or better. A student who receives a grade of C+ or lower in a core course must retake that course in the following academic year.
  5. No more than 12 hours of credit (exclusive of dissertation hours) from a single faculty member may be counted toward PhD requirements. Independent study is allowed only to satisfy elective requirements. No more than 6 credit hours of independent study may be applied to the PhD degree and no more than 3 credit hours of independent study may be taken from a single faculty member.
  6. In consultation with the DGS, students may choose to take up to two graduate offerings in other departments as elective courses.

Years One and Two

Coursework—First Year
Fall semester:
  • 7010 Microeconomic Theory 1
  • 7020 Macroeconomic Theory 1
  • 7818 Mathematical Statistics for Economists
Spring semester:
  • 7030 Microeconomic Theory 2
  • 7040 Macroeconomic Theory 2
  • 7828 Econometrics

Coursework—Second Year
Fall semester:
  • Elective Course
  • Elective Course
  • Elective Course
Spring semester:
  • Elective Course
  • Elective Course
  • Elective Course

Year Three

Coursework in the third year includes (a) ECON 8209 (Fall) and 8219 (Spring), which constitute the third-year research colloquium, (b) any remaining elective course(s), and (c) dissertation research, if practicable. Ideally, you will complete your comprehensive exam at the end of year three.

Years Four and Five

Coursework in the fourth and fifth years consists of relevant dissertation credit hours. Ideally, you will conduct your proposal defense at the end of year four.

Overall Course Requirements

Total required credits for the PhD include 21 credits core coursework, 18 elective credits, 6 credits in research methods and 30 dissertation research credits, making the overall total minimum credit requirement 75.

Additional PhD Degree Requirements

Grade Point Average (GPA) Requirement

University of Colorado Graduate School policy states that a student must have at least a 3.0 overall GPA to receive a graduate degree.  When a student’s cumulate GPA falls below 3.00, he/she will be placed on academic probation.  The student has two semesters in which to raise the cumulative GPA to 3.00 or above.  See Section 5 of the Graduate School Rules.

Preliminary Examinations

Written preliminary examinations in microeconomic theory, macroeconomic theory, statistics and econometrics must be taken in August following the successful completion of related courses in the first year. An examination attempted and failed must be taken again and passed in the next examination period. A second failure will result in dismissal from the program, subject to appeal under extraordinary circumstances to the GCRC. In no case are attempts beyond the third granted.

Students who have failed any of the core courses are ineligible to take the preliminary examination in the area of failure. These students must retake the failed course(s) in the following year and attempt the relevant preliminary examination in the first scheduled examination period thereafter.

Students must pass all preliminary examinations within two-and-one-half (2½) years of beginning the PhD program. Those who fail to do so must exit the program.

Students must pass all three preliminary exams if they plan to continue into the doctoral phase of the program. If they elect to withdraw from the program with only a masters’ degree, they must have completed all required coursework (as described in the “Masters Degree” section, below), passed at least two of three preliminary exams and have a GPA of at least 3.0.

Students are not eligible to become a graduate part-time instructor (GPTI) until they have passed all three preliminary exams and attained a masters’ degree or equivalent (as described in the “Graduate Part-Time Instructor” section, below) 

MA Degree

An MA degree will be awarded to students who have successfully completed all core courses in the PhD program, completed 30 hours of graduate credit, have a GPA of at least 3.0, and pass at least two of three of the PhD preliminary examinations.

Students must pass all three preliminary exams if they plan to continue into the doctoral phase of the program.

Third-Year Research Colloquium (Research Methods)

Each third-year student is required to register for 3 credit hours per semester in the research colloquium, which will meet weekly under the direction of a faculty member. The purpose of the colloquium is to provide students the opportunity and guidance to complete the required third-year paper and to facilitate progress toward the dissertation stage. Meetings in the Fall semester allow preliminary discussions of the research and lectures in research methodology, data sources, and the like. In the spring semester each student presents work in progress in the colloquium. In April or May of the third year each student must present a final version of the research paper in a departmental seminar series. Ideally, this presentation constitutes the oral comprehensive exam.

Under some circumstances, students may delay taking this colloquium until the fourth year with the approval of the DGS.

Comprehensive Examination

Students must take an oral comprehensive examination before admission to PhD candidacy. This examination may occur either at the time of the student’s research methods/colloquium presentation in ECON 8219 (most commonly) or at a later date and will encompass the materials in the presentation and all relevant course work completed by the candidate. At least two faculty members from the student’s basic dissertation committee, as well as three additional faculty members, must certify the acceptability of the performance on the oral examination. Students who fail this comprehensive examination will be given a second chance during the following semester. For those students for whom the presentation in ECON 8219 does not serve as the oral comprehensive examination, a separate oral examination must be scheduled before admission to candidacy.

Admission to Candidacy and Dissertation Coursework

Students are formally admitted to Candidacy for the PhD degree after passing all preliminary and comprehensive examinations and earning four semesters of residency. After admission to Candidacy, they must register each Fall and Spring semester for dissertation credit (ECON 8999) until attaining the degree; the accumulated credit for the thesis (dissertation research coursework) must total at least 30 semester hours. At least 20 dissertation research hours must be completed after admission to candidacy.

Dissertation Proposal (Proposal Defense)

By January 1 of the academic year following the research colloquium, each student should work with their main faculty advisor to plan an oral dissertation proposal (a.k.a. proposal defense). An acceptable proposal must include (a) a statement of purpose and a justification for the importance of the work; (b) a full literature review and a statement of how this research will contribute to the literature; and (c) a detailed description of the methodologies to be used and of the data bases, if appropriate. By the end of the Spring term in the fourth year, students should be ready to present the proposal before a faculty committee and/or in an open seminar.

A successful proposal defense will result in a letter from the basic committee to the candidate indicating that successful completion of the planned research will constitute an acceptable dissertation. The proposal defense must occur no later than mid November of the year in which the student enters the job market. Ideally, this is in year five.

Dissertation Committee

Ordinarily, within three months of the dissertation proposal presentation, students, in consultation with their dissertation supervisor, determine remaining members of the full dissertation committee. A full dissertation committee consists of at least four faculty members from the economics department and one member from outside the department. Ideally, the outside member is outside the field of economics.

PhD Final Exam (Final Defense)

A student must prepare a written dissertation and successfully pass an oral examination (final defense) before a dissertation committee and other interested persons on its content before receiving the degree.


Students are expected to defend and complete their final dissertation by the end of their fifth academic year. The PhD Program Manager provides details on submission of the dissertation and arrangements for the oral defense. After the defense, minor changes are agreed upon between candidate and supervisor. If major changes arise, the candidate and supervisor will consult with the DGS on a future course of action.

Residence and Overall Credit Requirements

The minimum residence requirement for the PhD degree is six semesters of scholarly work beyond the bachelor’s degree, with satisfactory completion of at least 75 total credit hours as outlined above.

Yearly Review

Each Spring the DGS and Department’s Graduate Curriculum Committee meets to review the progress of each student in the PhD program. The regulations herein serve as a standard of minimal acceptable progress.