The senior essay for economics majors is optional. However, the senior essay is required for consideration for Distinction in the Major. Most students who write a senior essay find it immensely rewarding and consider it one of their best experiences at Yale.
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.
See below for a guide written by thesis writers in the class of 2023.
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.
NOTE: Students must take two econometrics courses (or ECON 135 plus one econometrics course) in order to write a senior essay. The second econometrics course can be taken in the fall of senior year.
Senior essays can be 1-term or 2-term essays. The difference between a 1-term and a 2-term essay is that the 2-term essay is broader in scope and/or goes in greater depth. Most economics majors do 2-term essays.
Senior essays can be done in one of several ways:
Enroll in Econ 491a in the fall of your senior year.
Expand a term paper from a fall-term seminar in your senior year (depends on availability of seminar instructor)
Please note that a 1-term essay cannot be done in the spring term of your senior year.
Enroll in Econ 491a and Econ 492b
Expand a term paper from a fall-term seminar in your senior year and enroll in Econ 492b (depends on availability of seminar instructor for both semesters)
For the class of 2024
Enroll in Econ 491a (not necessary if you are doing a senior essay out of a fall seminar)
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 finding an advisor, see the ECON 491 instructor or the DUS 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 (for both semesters in the case of a 2-term essay).
Meet with your advisor regularly. It is the student’s responsibility to make sure that these regular meetings occur.
Submit a “Senior Essay Prospectus” on or before Monday, October 2, 2023 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. A late prospectus will not be accepted without a Dean’s note.
Students enrolled in a 2-term essay must submit a written progress report to their advisor on Wednesday, November 8, 2023. 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. Based on this report, your advisor will be asked to give you a temporary grade of satisfactory or not satisfactory for the fall term. This temporary grade will be replaced by the final grade on your senior essay in April.
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.
1-term senior essays are due to your advisor on Wednesday, December 6, 2023 by 4:30 pm. For students doing a 1-term essay by enrolling in Econ 491a, 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, 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. A final version of the 1-term senior essay must be submitted on or before Wednesday, April 3, 2024 by 4:30 pm via email to Shannon Preston, Economics Undergraduate Registrar, at firstname.lastname@example.org for grading by the outside anonymous reader. Late essays will not be accepted (in either December or April) without a Dean’s note. (Note: students doing the 1-term essay may continue to make additional revisions beyond the fall term before the April due date. 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.)
For students doing 2-term essays, enroll in Econ 492b.
2-term senior essays must be submitted on or before Wednesday, April 3, 2024 at 4:30 pm via email to Shannon Preston, Economics Undergraduate Registrar, at email@example.com. Late essays will not be accepted without a Dean’s note.
Advisor’s Reports with grades and comments and Reader’s Reports with grades and comments are usually available by the end of reading week in the Economics Undegraduate Registrar’s Office.
Guide and Testimonials from the Class of 2023
If you are reading this guide, this means (we hope) that you’re considering writing a senior essay
in economics! Writing an economics thesis is an incredibly fulfilling experience, and we hope that if you feel prepared, you write one! To help clarify the process and give advice, the Economics Peer Mentors from the 2022-2023 academic year have made an updated version of this guide from the Class of 2021 that was created by Alya Ahmed and Lara Varela Gajewski, with responses from the Class of 2023.
Best of luck,
Sarah Moon ‘23, Economics & Mathematics
Ayumi Sudo ‘23, Economics
Most seniors, including all seniors that responded to our survey, wrote a two-term thesis.
Seniors wrote essays on topics in:
Advisors were chosen from:
Herb Scarf RA and Tobin RA positions
Classes taken in junior year or in the fall semester senior seminars
Recommended by other professors/ECON 491 TA's
Econ thesis advisors are from:
Yale Economics Department
Yale School of Management
Yale School of Environment
Topics were inspired by:
Previously taken classes
Summer research work
Interesting data sets
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. Your senior essay will be graded by your advisor.
Calculation of Distinction
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.
Lecturer and TF office hours are by appointment only. Schedule a time on office hours sign-up sheet below.
Office Hours Sign-up Sheet
Lecturer and TF office hours are by appointment only. Schedule a time on this sign-up sheet (must be signed-in with Eli Apps to view and edit).
If you would like to request an appointment at a different time, please email the Lecturer or TF.
Senior Essay Prizes
Essays will also be read by an anonymous economics department faculty member. Only the advisor’s 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 two more outstanding senior essays and the Ellington Prize is awarded for one or more outstanding essays in the field of finance.