Question: Dear Dean, I am a rising junior at UC Berkeley studying math and economics and I am interested in pursuing a master's in economics after graduation. If I have had a bad semester (getting two Bs in math courses) but am able to compensate for this by doing very well throughout my junior year, will I still have good chances in getting accepted to top master's programs in economics?
Don't you just love it that, with high school not far back in your rear view mirror, you're already stressing over applications again? :-( Well,, try not to ... at least not TOO much. A couple of B’s will not automatically knock you out of contention for any economics graduate program (especially when those B’s aren’t in your upper-level econ classes) BUT, at the most sought-after institutions, your “competition” will include many students who never got a grade below an A or A-. So, in order to stay in the running, you need to present not only strong grades (in addition to those B’s you mentioned) but also high scores on whatever standardized test is required, glowing recommendations, and some “extra” accomplishments in your field such as research, publications, internships, etc. .
Admission committees typically look at grades first and test scores second. But, even if these are great, without some other “Wow Factor,” it can be tough to get good news from the “top master’s programs” because—just as with undergraduate applications—many candidates do look similar “on paper.” So, if your GPA is not going to be the best in the bunch, then your “extras” need to pack a bigger punch.
Since you have two more years of college ahead of you, you have time to get involved in endeavors outside of the classroom that will strengthen your grad-school application and turn some heads in admission-committee meetings.