There are several issues to take into consideration when making the choice to apply to graduate programs in Economics. Knowing both what you want to accomplish and what the graduate schools expect from their applicants are key ingredients to successful pursuit of admission to a well-regarded program. The questions discussed here are just a beginning point. If you remain interested in the possibility of graduate school after you read through them, then you should send an email to Dr. Erin Moody, Director of Undergraduate Studies in Economics (emoody [at] econ [dot] umd [dot] edu) and request an appointment to get individualized advice.
Two other sources of information on the various aspects of graduate study in Economics can be found at www.econphd.net and https://www.aeaweb.org/resources/students/grad-prep.
What career path do you want to pursue when you finish the graduate program? The answer to this question can range from "professor" at a college or university to "chief economics officer" at a major corporation to "economist" at a policy-oriented research facility or government agency. Each type of position has its own unique requirements for what you study in graduate school; some positions require a thorough grounding in theoretical analysis, while others look for advanced training in empirical methods. For some positions, a PhD is a must, while others will accept and may even prefer a master's degree in Economics. Thus, having a target for where you want to go after graduate school is useful for deciding what type of graduate program to choose. Even if you are not searching for a job now, you should still read carefully through the information provided by the American Economics Association and the National Association for Business Economics on careers, to help you decide which training program best fit your goals.
What undergraduate course of study best prepares you for graduate study in economics?
Students planning to pursue graduate study in Economics should prepare themselves analytically by focusing on theory, statistics, and mathematics in their undergraduate curriculum. All prospective economics graduate students, regardless of intended career path after graduate school, should take ECON 422 and ECON 423, the two semester undergraduate sequence in econometrics. ECON424 (Computer Methods in Economics) would also be good background, especially for students who plan to pursue a master's degree in applied economics rather than a more theoretically-based program.
In general, you should take as much math as possible since graduate study in Economics is becoming increasingly mathematical, particularly at the highest ranked universities. Different programs are appropriate for different students, but at a minimum you should plan on taking: MATH 140 (Calculus I); MATH141 (Calculus II); MATH240 (Linear Algebra); MATH241 (Calculus III); MATH246 (Differential Equations), and Analysis/Advanced Calculus (Math sequence that includes MATH310, MATH410, and MATH411). This is less important if you are planning on pursuing only a master's program but would still be helpful. To get into and then succeed in the best-regarded PhD programs, you will need to earn As in these courses and also in Introduction to Probability Theory (STAT410) and Introduction to Statistical Theory (STAT420).
The Economics Honors Program is also an excellent sequence for graduate school preparation. If you are thinking about applying to graduate school, make sure you register for at least one course taught by a tenured or tenure-track professor, as letters of recommendation will carry considerably more weight with graduate admissions committees than letters written by lecturers or graduate teaching assistants. You will likely need three letters of recommendation, and you want them to be as strong as possible.
What schools have good graduate programs in economics?
If you define "good" as highly ranked in terms of academic measures of success, then check out the links provided at www.vanderbilt.edu/AEA/gradstudents/Rankings.htm.
Generally speaking, graduates from the most highly ranked programs have the best job options when they finish. However, rankings are only one of the variables that matter. The features that constitute a "good" program for you may be quite different than for other students, so you should seek out advice from your professors, from people who have jobs to which you aspire, and from people who know you well.