Frequently Asked Questions About PRGS

What's the value of PRGS?

How is it different from other graduate schools?

Where does the Pardee RAND Graduate School get its name from?

What is the core curriculum?

The program seems to put a lot of emphasis on quantitative techniques. What if I'm not very quantitatively-oriented.

What if I do have a strong quantitative orientation?

It appears that the majority of PRGS students already had an advanced degree before they applied. Is this required?

I've already finished a year (or several years) of graduate coursework in economics (or statistics or policy analysis, or I have a prior degree in these fields). Will I be able to get credit for my work?

How does the Research Fellowship work, and how does it relate to OJT?

What if a student works more than the minimum number of weeks in a given year?

What are PRGS dissertations like?

How long does it typically take to complete the Ph.D.?

What percentage of PRGS students successfully completes their Ph.D.s?

What jobs do graduates take?

What's the intellectual atmosphere?

What does the admissions committee look for?

What about diversity?

How can I find out more?

What's the value of PRGS?

At PRGS, students gather the theoretical and applied skills that enable them to tackle the hard issues—poverty, national security, justice, health, education, the environment, and more. It's a place to cross the boundaries of disciplines and of sectors (public, private, non-profit)—a place to be intellectually adventurous. And perhaps most importantly, it provides students a chance to make a difference—and maybe even to change the world.

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How is it different from other graduate schools?

From the start, students are treated as valued colleagues by RAND's eight hundred plus veteran researchers. This is quite different from many graduate schools. One student contrasted the university where she got her master's degree with PRGS: "The faculty there treats you like a problem they have to face. Like one of 'Them'. Here, you're one of 'Us'." There's an almost family-like feeling to the first year, in particular, as entering students share in the same core coursework and become familiar with RAND's unique research environment. In subsequent years, students disperse throughout the RAND building, and the core curriculum is over, so there is a somewhat less intense atmosphere. But the bond developed in the first year, with other students and with the PRGS staff and faculty, persists.

Then there's on-the-job training, or OJT. Students begin OJT and become part of interdisciplinary teams along with senior RAND researchers. Most students work on more than one project. By the time they complete their dissertations, it is common for students to have

  • prepared research proposals;
  • worked with clients designing research;
  • taught classes;
  • employed advanced computational systems and packages;
  • played key roles in writing technical reports;
  • carried out technical reports;
  • presented polished briefings to clients in the public and private sectors and at the local, national, and international levels; and
  • had their work published.

All of this is accomplished while students engage in coursework and undertake a doctoral dissertation.

At PRGS, the Ph.D. is a truly interdisciplinary endeavor. Students work with experts and master problem-solving techniques from different disciplines. They learn to apply analytical tools from economics, statistics, operations research, and econometrics. Unlike many disciplinary Ph.D. programs, students develop and apply analytic skills from the start—both in the classroom and in OJT. They learn by doing, and come to quickly understand the uses and the misuses of analysis.

Because PRGS is small, we can experiment with the curriculum. We have five-week modules as well as quarter-length courses. We have courses that straddle disciplines and bring into the classroom some of the most intriguing, cross-cutting issues. (See our course menu.) There's a final difference: jobs. PRGS graduates are in high demand, and in many sectors. Over the last four years, about a third of graduates have taken jobs in research, about a third in private industry, and about a third in government and non-profit organizations. Multiple offers are the rule, and these come from academia, business, government, and non-profits. (See information on the placement of PRGS graduates.)

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Where does the Pardee RAND Graduate School get its name from?

The official name of the school is the Frederick S. Pardee RAND Graduate School. We call it PRGS for short. PRGS was founded in 1970 as one of eight graduate programs created to train future leaders in the public and private sectors in policy analysis. Known initially as the RAND Graduate Institute, then the RAND Graduate School, PRGS took its present name in 2004 to honor the vision and contributions of Frederick S. Pardee, a former RAND researcher and philanthropist.

Read more about Fred Pardee in a section of this 2005 alumni newsletter.

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What is the core curriculum?

The core curriculum consists of 12 courses that provide students with a foundation in the research techniques used in policy analysis. The courses are:

  • Empirical Analysis (4 courses) – These courses cover probability and statistics, regression analysis, operations research, and econometrics
  • Economics (2.5 courses) – This sequence provides a background in microeconomic theory that is used in policy analysis, as well as the basics of macroeconomics. The main topics include consumer theory, theory of the firm, partial equilibrium analysis, game theory, market power, principal-agent analysis, decision making over time, mechanism design, market equilibrium and market failure.
  • Cost-Benefit and Decision Analysis (1 course equivalent) – an introduction to the quantitative tools used to assist decision makers with complex problems of choice in uncertain situations.
  • Social and Behavioral Sciences (2 courses) These courses provide students with an understanding of the key analytic frameworks used in the social sciences and an overview of social scientific research methods.
  • Policy Analysis (2.5 courses) The policy analysis sequence comprises three courses. The first course introduces students to the field, and emphasizes the policy analysis framework and various "tricks of the trade." The second course uses a series of case studies to illustrate how policy analysis tools can be used to generate insight into a range of difficult public policy issues and problems. Finally, the third course takes an institutional perspective and offers students a chance to learn how to be effective in governmental and other organizations by better understanding the constraints actors in those environments face.

These courses are taught by distinguished researchers. The emphasis is on how to apply research techniques appropriately. One PRGS student had been a TA in statistics at a leading graduate school. "In my statistics class there, we didn't look at much data. At RAND I realized why. Real data are messy. You don't always have nice normal distributions. There are outliers, missing data points, errors, heteroskedasticity, and on and on. The statisticians here teach us the theory, and then they say, 'Here's what you really do.' Much of what the PRGS faculty pass on to us comes from real experience, and you can't get that out of a book."

Beyond the required courses are electives that vary from year to year. Some are methodological. Some deal with particular sectors such as health, education, national security, and criminal justice. Others deal with issues and themes that cut across traditional policy areas and across the public-private divide. (For more information, see the Course Requirements page.)

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The program seems to put a lot of emphasis on quantitative techniques. What if I'm not very quantitatively-oriented?

It is entirely possible to succeed at PRGS even if you haven't previously majored in math or statistics. However, you do need a lot of quantitative ability and a strong desire to master advanced problem-solving tools. Most entering students have already completed coursework in calculus, and some statistics and economics. Given these, PRGS will provide the additional background you need. In the fall of the first year, PRGS offers a fairly fast-paced course in multivariate calculus and linear algebra that will get you ready for the core curriculum in analytical methods, economics, statistics, and econometrics.

If you have not completed the coursework mentioned above, you should probably make plans to take these courses before you apply. If you are not currently a student, you may want to check out the course offerings at any community colleges and university extension programs in your area.

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What if I do have a very strong quantitative orientation?

You can fly as high as you want here. PRGS offers a wide range of courses in advanced analytic methods. Additionally, you can design your own independent studies with RAND staff members, not only with the faculty but with any of the more than eight hundred RAND Ph.D.-level researchers who may share your interests.

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It appears that the majority of PRGS students already had an advanced degree before they applied. Is this required?

No. Every PRGS class includes students who are coming directly from undergraduate programs, and we would be delighted to see more.

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I've already finished a year (or several years) of graduate course doctoral work in economics (or statistics, or policy analysis, or I have a prior degree in these fields). Will I be able to get credit for my work?

In general, we do not offer credit for graduate courses completed at other institutions, and actively discourage students from attempting to "place out" of a required course. It turns out that some very well-prepared students found that they were able to learn a tremendous amount from the core courses, as they often present RAND staff's understanding of how to best apply the tools of economics, statistics, and policy analysis to policy problems. For example, before coming to PRGS, one student was a junior faculty member who had taught microeconomics at the graduate level. She nonetheless chose not to apply for an exemption from the Microeconomics II and III, and she learned a lot from using the computer program, Mathematica, and from its practical applications. Here's a quote from something she sent to her home university:

"Before arriving at PRGS I already had seven years of microeconomics coursework behind me from previous degrees. I thought I had paid my dues to the study of microeconomics. Looking back, it is clear to me that my previous economics background had provided me with the skills to be a good theoretician but not with the hands-on skills I needed to be a good analyst or practicing economist. PRGS classes take you beyond the theory.  We are encouraged to experiment with independent modeling, to explore extensions of and alternatives to the economic theory we learned. I was so excited when I realized that I could take the models that had been taught to me over so many years and apply them in a meaningful manner. Other universities tend to present microeconomics as a set of abstract models which, at best, are applied to meaningless textbook scenarios.  The applications given to us at PRGS made me realize what a powerful analytic tool microeconomics can be in studying real policy problems."

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How does the Research Fellowship work, and how does it relate to OJT?

The PRGS research fellowship is akin to a work-study program, where on-the-job training (OJT) on RAND research projects enables students to earn full research fellowships, including tuition, health care, and a stipend based on OJT. Some students bring outside sources of support as well, and they are of course more than welcome to do so.

The program's basic research fellowship for the first year in 2011-12 is $50,000 (taxable). Tuition of $25,000 is deducted from this fellowship.

OJT has both educational and financial advantages. Educationally, OJT enables learning-by-doing with experienced mentors, as students do research on RAND projects. Financially, OJT is a form of work-study that pays for the student's doctoral studies. This is why we call it a research fellowship.

There are both educational and financial requirements regarding OJT, and they differ. Educationally, the PRGS Ph.D. requirement is at least 300 days of OJT over the student's time at PRGS.

Financially, the PRGS research fellowship is based on 155 days (the equivalent of 31 five-day weeks) of OJT per year.

In practice, however, students work fewer than 155 days the first year of residence, when they are heavily involved in their coursework. Then, in years two through five (if they are here that long), they work the full 155 days each year.

Specifically, in the first year, to earn their full research fellowships, students perform a minimum of 60 days or the equivalent of 12 weeks of OJT. This works out to one day a week or so during the first two quarters, perhaps a little more than that in the third quarter, and full-time research during the summer, with three weeks off. (Here as in subsequent years, a student may choose to perform fewer than the minimum amount of OJT, but then the research fellowship is reduced accordingly.)

In the second year and afterward, to earn their full research fellowships students work a minimum of 155 days (31 weeks). Most students combine their OJT at this point with a dissertation, and in this case students can do full-time OJT if they wish, with the permission of the Dean (full time at RAND is 236 days). The dollar amount of their research fellowships rises accordingly.

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What if a student works more than the minimum number of weeks in a given year?

In the first year, a student who works more than the minimum number of days still receives the same amount of fellowship dollars but the number of required OJT days in the following year is reduced.

In year two and thereafter working more than the minimum number of days translates into higher fellowship earnings.

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What are PRGS dissertations like?

You can see some of the topics students work on elsewhere on this site. (See PRGS Dissertations.) These are Ph.D. dissertations, with all that implies. The PRGS doctoral dissertation is a contribution to knowledge, with the distinctive feature that it aims to solve problems with new policies. There is a dissertation committee of at least three members, at least two of whom are PRGS faculty. It is recommended that the students choose one specialist for their committee from outside the PRGS faculty.

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How long does it typically take to complete the Ph.D.?

We expect that the typical student will be able to complete the program in four years. Some students may be able to complete the program in as quickly as three years, and some require more than four years to finish.

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What percentage of PRGS students successfully completes their Ph.D.s?

Since 2000, just over 75 percent of entering students successfully completed the program. This is comparable to the completion rate at top universities.

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What jobs do graduates take?

Graduates pursue careers in academic and research institution settings, public service and private industry. According to a recent poll of alumni, PRGS graduates were employed as follows:

  • Research Institutes – 26%
  • Academia – 33%
  • Government – 19%
  • Private Sector – 16%
  • Non-profit – 6%

(See information on placement of PRGS graduates.)

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What is the intellectual atmosphere like?

RAND prides itself on quality and independence. Elsewhere on the site you'll find descriptions of the RAND culture. (See information on the RAND research environment.) Suffice it to say that you're free to think big, think creatively, and think rigorously.

Some research organizations have an ideological flavor. RAND does not. It is not that RAND is at the center of the political spectrum, rather that it prides itself in being above (or beyond?) any such spectrum. Both students and faculty are diverse in their politics, but they put objectivity before ideology. When clients ask RAND to do research, they can help determine the questions investigated but never the answers obtained.

In fact, RAND often redefines the questions our clients and partners bring to us. This is what our sponsors—public, private, and non-profit institutions, or mixtures of them—come to demand: creativity as well as rigor. This does not at all mean that RAND researchers are insensitive to the realities their clients face. RAND embraces the real world. The bottom line is objective, high quality research that makes a difference.

RAND also appreciates the value in bringing lots of points of view, lots of diverse ideas and perspectives to bear on a problem. We use them, analyze them, bounce them around, and see what happens. Research results are rigorously vetted and refereed, and then they are published.

How does this compare with universities? Probably the research is more practical, more interdisciplinary, and more adventurous, all at the same time. The work is less theoretical, and more aimed to a greater extent at problem solving. And the highest intellectual standards burn brightly here, as well.

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What does the admissions committee look for?

The mission of the admissions committee is to select students on the basis of intellectual power and creativity, coupled with interest in multiple disciplines and a commitment to confronting and helping to resolve domestic and global policy challenges. They look for many kinds of evidence of passion and dedication. They look carefully at candidates' ambitions and ideals, and of course at what candidates have done and have written. The best way to get an idea of what's being sought is to have a look at the student profiles.

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What about diversity?

PRGS seeks and celebrates diversity. For a discussion, please see this statement on the educational benefits of diversity. At PRGS more than at most other graduate schools, learning is a collective activity. The great diversity you see among PRGS students contributes immensely to the educational experience.

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How can I find out more?

After you explore the website, if you want to talk to us or e-mail us, please do. And, of course, feel free to check out current student profiles and to send them e-mail with any questions you might have. We also hold live and online information sessions. For more information, visit the Admissions page.

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