Senior Essay

Senior essays are an opportunity for students to engage in independent, original economic research. Essays are not reviews of the literature, rather they are an examination of an hypothesis using the tools of economics. In particular, the essay must contain original research and/or analysis. They can be theoretical, empirical or computational. The senior essays that receive A’s and are awarded prizes are typically those that use economics tools (and, where appropriate, data) to offer fresh insights on questions. Topics are as diverse as recording and analyzing the behavior of black jack players, the effect of charter schools on student performance, the effect of China’s development on trade, the effect of the Fed on the stock market…. Examples of past essays are available on the department website (https://economics.yale.edu/undergraduate/senior-essays-nominated-prizes) and in the Undergraduate Registrar’s office. 

Please watch the following video for details on the essay writing process. See below for a guide written by thesis writers in the class of 2021.

There are no page requirements or formatting requirements for senior essays in economics. Advice regarding bibliographies, graphs, etc. should be given by your advisor. Generally, essays run about 30 pages.

Senior essays can be written in one or two semesters, with a 2-term essay being broader in scope. Grading of the essay takes into account whether the essays are 1-term or 2-term. Most economics majors do 2-term essays.

Senior essays can be done in one of several ways:

1-Term Essays

  • Enroll in Econ 491a in the fall of your senior year.
  • Expand a term paper from a fall-term seminar in your senior year
  • Please note that a 1-term essay cannot be done in the spring term of your senior year.

2-Term Essays

  • Enroll in Econ 491a and Econ 492b
  • Expand a term paper from a fall-term seminar and enroll in Econ 492b (depends on availability of seminar instructor; with permission of instructor and DUS only)

For the class of 2022

Fall 2021

  •  Attend a senior essay informational meeting. Dates/times/format to be announced.
     
  • Choose an advisor and a topic.  You should refer to the Potential Advisors webpage for help finding an advisor who is available and is appropriate for your topic.  If you have difficulty with finding an advisor, see the DUS or the TA for suggestions.  There are many economics faculty members who may be ideal advisors for your topic.  Students may also choose a campus economist from outside of the department. (Permission of the DUS required to choose a non-economist adviser.) In order to do an essay out of a fall seminar, you need the seminar professor to agree to be your advisor.

  • Submit a “Senior Essay Prospectus” on or before Monday, October 4, 2021 by 4:30 pm. The prospectus must be signed by your advisor. All students planning to write a senior essay must hand in a prospectus at this time. Failure to do so results in your not being permitted to write an essay.
     
  • Meet with your advisor regularly. It is the student’s responsibility to make sure that these regular meetings occur.
     
  • A student who wishes to change a 1-term essay to a 2-term essay must get permission from the advisor and the DUS prior to the Thanksgiving break. To convert, a student must have made satisfactory progress on the essay by that time. No conversions will be allowed after Thanksgiving.
     
  • Students enrolled in a 2-term essay must submit a written progress report to their advisor on Wednesday, November 10, 2021.
     
  • 1-term senior essays are due Wednesday, December 8, 2021 by 4:30 pm, and a final version must be submitted on or before Wednesday, April 6, 2022 by 4:30pmSubmit an electronic copy via email to Mr. Qazi Azam. Late essays will not be accepted (in either December or April) without a Dean’s note.
     
  • 2-term senior essays must be submitted on or before Wednesday, April 6, 2022 by 4:30pm. Submit an electronic copy via email to Mr. Qazi AzamLate essays will not be accepted without a Dean’s note.

1-Term Senior Essays Fall Deadline

For students doing a 1-term essay by enrolling in Econ 491a, essays are due to your advisor on Wednesday, December 8, 2021 in the fall term. The advisor will evaluate and grade the paper, which will be your grade for the course.

For students doing a 1-term essay out of a seminar, essays are also due to seminar instructors by Wednesday, December 8, 2021 in the fall term. The advisor will evaluate and grade the paper, but the essay grade will not appear on your transcript. The grade and evaluation will be used for determination of distinction and departmental prizes.

(Note: Students doing the 1-term essay may continue to make additional revisions beyond the fall term before submitting the 1-term essay on the April due date for grading by the outside anonymous reader. Please bear in mind however, that advisors of 1-term essays may have other commitments and are not obligated to advise you beyond the fall term.)

2-term Essay Fall Deadline

Progress Report for 2-Term Senior Essays due Wednesday, November 10, 2021.

For those writing two-term senior essays, a progress report is due to your advisor on Wednesday, November 10, 2021. This report should describe the work that has been done on the senior essay during the fall semester and as such will serve as the basis for the grade of satisfactory or unsatisfactory that the advisor must submit to the Registrar at the end of the fall semester.

While the exact nature of the progress report is left up to students and their advisors, the report should demonstrate that substantial progress has been made on the essay. It is expected that the nature of the progress report will vary considerably from individual to individual depending on the nature of the senior essay itself. For essays involving substantial data collection and statistical analysis, a description of the research question and the data that has been gathered for analysis may be appropriate. For others, a portion of the essay itself or a detailed outline describing the thesis question, existing literature, and planned method of analysis is suitable.

For students doing 2-term essays, your advisor will be asked to give you a temporary grade of satisfactory or not satisfactory for the fall term. This temporary grade for Econ 491a will be replaced by the final grade on your senior essay in April.

Spring 2022

  1. For students doing 2-term essays, enroll in Econ 492b.
  2. Submit your essay electronically to the Economics Undergraduate Registrar, on or before Wednesday, April 6, 2022 (4:30pm).
  3. Advisor’s Reports with grades and comments and Reader’s Reports with grades and comments are usually available by reading week.

Converting from a 1-term Senior Essay to a 2-term Senior Essay

Prior to the Thanksgiving break, with the permission of the advisor and the DUS, a student may convert a 1-term essay to a 2-term essay. No conversions will be permitted after Thanksgiving.

About the guide

Hi Juniors!

Congratulations on almost making it to senior year! If you are reading this guide, it means you may be considering doing an Economics thesis! The Economics Department Peer Mentors have compiled a few responses from seniors reflecting on their experiences in an attempt to clarify the process. Feel free to contact any person in this guide or any of us.

Best of luck,

Alya & Lara

Alya Ahmed’21, alya.ahmed@yale.edu, Economics & Math

Lara Varela Gajewski ’21, lara.varelagajewski@yale.edu, Economics & Art History

Some takeaways…
Topics were inspired by… Advisors were chosen from…

● Personal and childhood experiences
● Economics articles
● Conversations with family and friends
● Senior economics seminars
● Previous research experiences

● Herb Scarf RA and Tobin RA positions
● Junior / senior year seminars
● Professors suggested by the Econ 491 Instructor or TAs

There are many ways to plan your thesis timelines, including… Our seniors had this advice to give you…

● Doing half of it through a senior economics seminar in the fall
● Completing the bulk of it over winter break
● Working each day for a few hours
● Setting weekly goals
● Spending the first semester really honing in on your topic

● Meet with your advisor weekly to hold yourself accountable
● Do your thesis through a fall senior economics seminar
● Make it two terms so you can have enough time to properly research
● Econ 136 + previous research experiences is super helpful
● Use Economics Department resources including Econ 491/492 TAs + stats resources
● Make sure you are truly interested in your topic, and spend a lot of time clarifying exactly what you are doing
● WRITE AN ECONOMICS THESIS


Lauren Harris

B.A. Economics and Math
lauren.harris@yale.edu

  1. How did you choose your topic and advisor for your economics senior essay?

    I’m writing my thesis on female attrition from STEM occupations, and Professor Altonji is my advisor. My mother left the science field when I was born and hearing about her experiences has made me really invested in the topic. I was a Scarf RA last summer for Professor Altonji, and he does a lot of work with gender, so it made sense for me to write my thesis with him as my advisor.
     

  2. How is it going? Did you have a plan to manage it?
    It’s really exciting to finally be able to write about the work I’ve been doing, but it hasn’t been without its challenges. 
     
    I had an idea of when I needed to finish my analysis because I have to clear my results for disclosure review (since I’m working on a secure server). That plan has since been disrupted (because I found an error in my code after I had already exported everything), but at this point I’m focusing on writing up the new results I have as they are cleared. Luckily, it was a small fix, and the experience I had from exporting and formatting the results the first time meant I could correct the problem quite quickly.
     
  3. Do you have any advice to juniors thinking about theses?

    I would recommend any class taught by Professor Fair. You learn how to write an economics paper by analyzing papers on different topics, and you get to practice by writing a few short ones yourself. I think the scariest thing about writing an economics paper is the feeling of not knowing if you’re doing the right thing, and I’m glad I got to get over that feeling in a lower-stakes setting.

Naasey Kanko Arthur

B.A. Economics and Math
naasey.kankoarthur@yale.edu

  1. What is your thesis topic and how did you choose it and your advisor?

    My senior essay studies the heterogeneous impacts of transport network improvements on income for men and women in Ghana. In my junior spring, I took Economics of Space taught by Professor Costas Arkolakis mostly because I wanted to learn to use GIS. In the class, I found the models about trade and migration beautiful and informative but wondered about the cultural and social constraints to mobility not captured in them. I then knew I wanted to pursue something related to them with Professor Arkolakis. I initially thought I would end up studying something along the lines of social networks and migration choices but there was a pretty extensive literature on that. I randomly chanced upon this article and switched my topic to gender-specific migration costs.
     

  2. How is it going? Did you have a plan to manage it?

    I have done a lot but still have a lot to do. I find the work exciting but not as seamless as I thought. Data in the real world is imperfect and I have tried to make careful choices in my analysis. I had a plan over the break that took more time than I anticipated but I am continuously revising the plan!
     

  3. Do you have any advice to juniors thinking about doing theses?

    i. Set your own deadlines. The prospectus is the only departmental deadline before submission so it is helpful to set timelines for yourself. Even after the prospectus is submitted, feel free to write a more thorough (could be on a completely different topic!) that outlines your idea and tasks. It helps to refer back to this. Related to this is sending memos or presentations to your advisor to be discussed during meetings. Again, this makes the writing process a lot easier and makes communication easier too!

    ii. Take a field class that seems interesting to you in your junior or early on in your senior year. Reading through some of the literature can give you ideas. It also helps with building a relationship with a potential advisor. I also advise taking an additional econometrics class like Empirical Microeconomics or Applied Microeconometrics to expose you to different econometric techniques with projects in which you can code and implement these techniques.

    iii. Ideas can be found anywhere: books, news articles, social media, etc. You can also explore how different disciplines approach subjects interesting to you. It may be interesting to apply economic models and methodology to these questions!

    iv. The StatLab is pretty helpful for any coding or stats questions!

Kaley Pillinger

BA. Economics
B.A./M.A. History
 
  1. How did you choose your topic and advisor for your economics senior essay?
    The topic is one that I’ve been curious about for a while - I’m writing about the effect of megadevelopments in the United States on their local community. (1) What is their effect? Is it gentrifying? Is there an income augmentation for original residents? (2) What is the dispersion of that effect? i.e. how far does that effect spread throughout the city? I’m from New York City and watching Hudson Yards go up over the past decade was probably the original spark. I was very lucky that I took a seminar with the professor who became my thesis advisor, Stephen Roach, my junior spring. Professor Roach dedicated enormous amounts of time and energy to his students during the course and I learned so much from working on my paper for that course (about the comparable roles of real estate in Japan’s Lost Decade and New York during the Fiscal Crisis), so it was a no-brainer to ask him to advise me for my thesis. I couldn’t be happier he agreed!
     
  2. Does the economics thesis relate to your history thesis? If yes, have you felt that the connection has benefited your experience? If no, are you glad that you kept them distinct?
    connection has benefited your experience? If no, are you glad that you kept them distinct? In the broadest sense, the two are related: I’m writing both about uses of urban space and the power of real estate, and my History thesis is set in New York City in the 1990s, only across town and a decade before one of my case studies for my Economics thesis. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what we think about when we think about urban planning (i.e. lots of uses of the word “think”!). Beyond that, the two theses are completely different. My History thesis is about the Giuliani auctions of community gardens in the East Village of Manhattan in 1999; my Economics thesis uses GIS and R to analyze the effects of 5 different megadevelopment sites in the continental US.
     
  3. Have you found any best practices while juggling two projects? Either for the juggling specifically or just for writing a senior essay generally?
    The biggest piece of advice I can give is to be super particular about your organization from the beginning. You’re going to be working on this for a whole year and you might want to look at something you thought about three months ago - you want to know where that is.

    Re: juggling. This may be just me, but I like to focus on one at a time. I spent a couple of months putting much more energy into one thesis and then switched. I found that since there were so many pieces (whether data sources or archives) for each project, it was easier to let my brain just think about one at any given moment.

    There was one point for my Economics thesis when I got so in the weeds of my data that I was worried I’d forget where I left off. For those couple of weeks I sent myself emails every night detailing what I did and what was still on my plate.

    On and off, I’ve also used the app Toggl to keep track of the time I spend on each thesis. Sometimes you feel like you’re not getting anywhere with either project and then I’d recommend just saying “I’m going to do three concentrated hours of this today and no matter what I accomplish I will stop after that.” Toggl can also help you keep track of how you’re balancing your time between different theses.

    Beyond that, my work strategy is definitely one of breaking up work, making lists and setting goals. For example, I always write an outline that is almost as long as the paper itself and from there it’s really easy to write. Writing a whole essay feels really scary, but writing just the outline feels much less scary, and putting that research into words with a thorough skeleton of what you’ll say also feels much less scary. I’m the type of person who needs a few hours at a time to work, so I’ll set aside whole days and set a goal for what I want to finish during that day, whether it’s a certain amount of research/writing or a time goal.

 

Senior essays are not intended to be reviews of the literature, rather they are an examination of a particular issue using the tools of economics. In particular, the essay must contain original research or/and analysis. They can be theoretical, empirical or computational. The senior essays that receive A’s and are awarded prizes are typically those that use economics tools (and, where appropriate, data) to offer fresh insights on questions. Topics are as diverse as recording and analyzing the behavior of black jack players, the effect of charter schools on student performance, the effect of China’s development on trade, the effect of the Fed on the stock market…. Examples of past essays are available on the Senior Essays Nominated for Prizes page .

There are no page requirements or formatting requirements for senior essays in economics. Advice regarding bibliographies, graphs, etc. should be given by your advisor. Generally essays run about 30 pages.

Economics 491 counts as a 400 level, senior requirement course. Economics 492 counts as an elective.

Students writing a one-semester essay out of Economics 491 will receive a letter grade at the end of the fall semester based on the quality of their senior thesis. Students writing a one-semester essay out of a senior seminar will only receive a grade for the seminar on their transcript. They will not see their senior essay grade on their transcript, but it will be recorded by the department for distinction purposes. Students writing a two-semester essay by taking 491 and 492, will receive a temporary 491 grade (Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory) at the end of the fall semester. That grade will be replaced by a letter grade given for 491 and 492 based on the quality of the senior essay. Students who write a two-semester essay by taking a seminar and then 492 will receive a grade based on the requirements of the seminar in the fall. In the spring they will receive a grade for 492 based on the quality of the senior essay. Grades are assigned by the student’s advisor.

To qualify for distinction, a senior must receive a grade of A or A- from their advisor on the senior essay and have 3/4 of their economics grades be A’s or A-’s. For the purpose of distinction economics grades include related course credit, but do not include introductory microeconomics, introductory macroeconomics, the math requirement nor courses taken outside of Yale.

Essays will also be read by an anonymous economics department faculty member. Only the advisors grade will appear on the transcript. However, both the advisor and the anonymous readers must nominate an essay for that essay to move on to the awards committee. Three or more prizes for outstanding senior essays are awarded each year by the economics undergraduate prize committee. The Charles Heber Dickerman Memorial Prize is awarded for the best senior essay; the Ronald Meltzer/Cornelia Awdziewicz Economic Award is awarded for one or more outstanding senior essays and the Ellington Prize is awarded for one or more outstanding essays in the field of finance.