Course Requirements

Students in the Ph.D. program are required to complete 40 credits of graduate course work, write a Ph.D. dissertation, and pass a final oral examination and a comprehensive exam.

For a student starting the Ph.D. program in the Fall semester without any course work deficiencies, the qualifier exam is taken the following June. The timing of the comprehensive exam varies from one student to another, but it is usually taken after a student has completed most of his or her course work.

Recommended Academic Plan

The Ph.D. program is designed so that a student can complete the program in 3½ years, assuming that the student enters the program with a master's degree, has no course work deficiencies, and completes program requirements in a timely manner. A possible schedule of courses, exams, and dissertation work for a student beginning the program in the Fall semester is as follows:

Fall Spring Summer
First Year

1. ECON 502 Micro Theory I (see note 1 below)

2. AEREC 527 Quantitative Methods

3. AEREC 510 Econometrics I

4. AEREC 590 Colloquium

1. ECON 521 or BA 597D Micro Theory II

2. AEREC 511 Econometrics II

3. AEREC 5xx Applied Welfare Econ and Policy

Take qualifier exam at end of Spring 1


Second Year

1. AEREC 5yy Applied MicroEconometrics

2. AEREC  Advanced Course (See note 2).

3.  Elective 

4. AEREC Advanced Workshop (1 cr) 

1. AEREC 5zz Applied Computational Econ

2. AEREC  Advanced Course

3. Elective

4. AEREC Advanced Workshop (1 cr)

Begin dissertation work

Third Year

1. AEREC Advanced Workshop (1 cr)

2.  Dissertation Research

Dissertation work

1.  Dissertation Research

Complete Comps by end of Spring 3

Fourth Year

Finish dissertation
Take final oral exam

Note 1:  Unless the student has already taken a rigorous Masters-level micro theory class, it is recommended to postpone ECON 502 until Fall 2 and take AEREC 597E in Fall 1 and BA 597D in Spring 1.  AEREC 597E would then count as an Elective in the student’s program. 

Note 2:  Students must take two of the following courses:

  •          AEREC 536 - Advanced Agribusiness and Consumer Economics
  •       AEREC 541 - Advanced Environmental and Natural Resource Economics
  •       AEREC 550 - Advanced Regional and International Development Economics

Qualifying exams are taken after the end of the Spring 1 semester.

Students are expected to complete Comprehensive Exams by the end of Spring 3.



In the Penn State system, courses with a number 400 or higher count toward graduate credit. Most courses are 3-credit courses.

  • AEREC 597E - Applied Microeconomic Theory (3 credits)
  • AEREC 527 - Quantitative Methods (3 credits)
  • AEREC 590 - Colloquium (1 credit)
  • AEREC 510 and AEREC 511 - Econometrics I and Econometrics II (3 credits each for a total of 6 credits)
    Note: An M.S. student may petition for suitable substitutes for these courses.
  • ECON 521 or BA 597D - Microeconomics Theory II (3 credits).
  • AEREC 597A - Applied Welfare Analysis Economics (3 credits.)
    Note: This course has a temporary name and number.
  • AEREC 597A - Applied Microeconometrics (3 credits).
    Note: This course has a temporary name and number.
  • AEREC 597B - Applied Computational Analysis (3 credits)
    Note: This course has a temporary name and number.
  • Two "Advanced" AEREC courses (6 credits). Two of the following three courses:
    • Advanced Agribusiness and Consumer Economics
    • Advanced Environmental and Natural Resource Economics
    • Advanced Regional and International Development Economics
  • Three 1-credit AEREC workshops (3 credits). Students can take any combination of 1-credit AEREC workshops.
  • 6 credits of electives at the 500 level, chosen in consultation with the student's academic advisor.
    • Cannot include readings or independent study courses (e.g., AEREC 496 or 596).

No course may be used to satisfy more than one requirement.

The course work requirements listed above apply to all students. Individual faculty may have additional course work expectations for their students. Each student is strongly encouraged to discuss course work expectations with his/her academic advisor, and to develop a plan of study early in the program in consultation with his/her academic adviser.

In some instances, a student may wish to substitute a different course for a required course when the two cover essentially equivalent material. In such cases, exceptions to the stated requirements may be granted by the AEREC Graduate Committee. Requests for course substitutions should be made in advance, i.e., before the substitute course is taken, unless there are extenuating circumstances.

A minimum grade-point average of 3.00 for work done at the University is required for doctoral candidacy, for admission to the comprehensive examination, the final oral examination, and for graduation.

After a Ph.D. candidate has passed the comprehensive examination and met the University’s two-semester full-time residence requirement, the student must continue to register continuously for each Fall and Spring semester (beginning with the first semester after both of the above requirements have been met) until the
Ph.D. thesis is accepted and approved by the doctoral committee. However, if a student has passed their final oral exam before the graduation semester starts, but after the submission deadline for the current semester, the student does not have to register for the graduation semester. For example, if a student passes their final oral exam in mid-August, which is too late for Summer graduation but before the Fall semester begins, the student would not have to register for Fall, even though that is when the student will officially graduate.

English Language Competency

Competency in the English language in all forms of expression is
essential for progress in graduate study and is required by the Graduate School. The required standards of competency are as follows:

  • Reading. The student must be capable of reading and comprehending key intermediate-level economic concepts and analytic arguments presented in English.
  • Writing. The student must be capable of presenting a unified, comprehensible written test which demonstrates ability to utilize key intermediate-level economic concepts in English. The presentation must reflect correct use of contemporary English grammar, spelling, punctuation, and paragraphing.
  • Speaking. The student must be capable of orally presenting a unified, comprehensible economic argument which demonstrates ability to utilize key intermediate-level economic concepts in English. The presentation must reflect accurate word choice, appropriate use of key economic vocabulary and concepts, and ability to present a logical argument in contemporary English language.

The AEREC Graduate Committee assesses each entering student’s English language competency as part of the admissions process. The Graduate Committee may require an entering Ph.D. student to take an exam to better determine his/her English language competency. The exam is administered by the AEREC Exam Committee. If a student fails the exam, the Exam Committee will present a remediation plan to the student and the AEREC Graduate Committee. This remediation plan may require the student to take appropriate courses or instruction. Upon completion of the recommended remediation plan, the student will be required to retake the English competency exam. If the student fails the retake exam, she or he will be dropped from the Ph.D. program.

Qualifier (Candidacy) Exam

The qualifier exam is the AEREC program’s doctoral candidacy exam, and
is administered by the AEREC Exam Committee. The qualifier exam is offered each year during the second half of May or the first half of June. The qualifier exam is typically taken at the end of the student’s first year in the Ph.D. program. It must be taken no later than 18 months after entering the Ph.D. program. Any student who does not wish to take the qualifier exam at the end of their first year must receive written approval from the AEREC Exam Committee. In no case will a student be permitted to wait beyond the end of the third semester, excluding summer.

Successful completion of the qualifier exam admits the student to candidacy. Students whose native language is not English must also meet the English language competency requirements described above to be admitted to candidacy. The qualifier exam is designed to determine if students understand the theoretical and quantitative tools needed to enter the applied portion of their course work and to successfully complete their Ph.D. dissertation.

The qualifier exam consists of two sections, one covering microeconomics and the other covering econometrics and other basic quantitative methods. Each section is given one of the following grades: (a) Pass with Distinction; (b) Pass; (c) Marginal Pass; (d) Marginal Fail; or (e) Fail. Results of the exam are reported to the Graduate Staff Assistant. She will then file the paperwork to send to the Graduate School.

The qualifier exam requires students to demonstrate: (1) a Ph.D. level understanding of major concepts and theories in microeconomics and in econometrics and quantitative methods; (2) the ability to solve structured problems in microeconomics and in econometrics and quantitative methods; and (3) the ability to explain the
meaning and implications of their solutions in clearly written English prose. Competency in mathematics, as used in Ph.D. level courses in microeconomics, econometrics and quantitative methods is necessary in order to pass the exam. However, the exam is not a mathematics test, and students will be graded on the criteria listed above.

Students who receive a grade of marginal pass or higher from at least two-thirds of the committee on a given section of the exam have passed that section and are not required to retake that section regardless of the grade on the other section.

If a student fails any section, he or she has the following re-examination option:
A written exam may be taken within three months on the failed section. If the second written is failed, the student may have an oral within two weeks.

The AEREC Exam Committee schedules the exams and makes the final decision concerning whether or not a student passes. If a student fails to pass the exam by the end of the process, he or she will be dropped from the AEREC Ph.D. program.

Comprehensive Examination

The AEREC Ph.D. student must take a comprehensive examination
administered and graded by the student’s doctoral committee. The timing of this examination is at the convenience of the student and the committee that administers it. However, since the exam is comprehensive, it is recommended that it be given after the student has completed most of his or her course work. The content of the exam is determined by the student’s doctoral committee, but usually focuses on the
student’s dissertation proposal and related course work.

NOTE: Student notifies Department Graduate Staff Assistant of Comprehensive Exam date and time. She will then fill out the paperwork and submit to the Graduate School - two weeks prior to the exam date. The examination is scheduled and announced officially by the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services upon recommendation of the department or program head. Two weeks’ notice is required by the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services for scheduling this examination. Your candidacy exam, and your doctoral committee appointment form must have already been filed with the Graduate School prior to scheduling of your comprehensive exam. This policy is the same for both the AEREC and Rural Sociology program.

Final Oral Examination

Paperwork is filed for the Final Oral Exam in the same manner as for the
Comprehensive Exam - two weeks’ prior to the exam date. Upon completion of the student’s doctoral thesis, a final oral examination is scheduled. The exam is administered by the student’s doctoral committee. This exam is open to the public and is typically related to the student’s dissertation research.