Matthew Fagerstrom

Matthew Fagerstrom

Doctoral Student, University of Pennsylvania


Doctor of Philosophy in Economics, University of Pennsylvania ’28-expected
Post-Baccalaureate Studies, University of Pennsylvania ’22
Master of Arts in Political Science, Villanova University ’20
Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Political Science, Villanova University ’19

Penn PhD student Matthew Fagerstrom has aspired to earn his doctorate in economics since his sophomore year at Villanova University studying economics and political science. “My interest,” he says, “is the intersection of comparative political economy and monetary policy.” Penn’s Post-Baccalaureate Studies program not only offered Matthew the math courses he needed to strengthen his doctoral program application but helped him decide that Penn was his top choice for earning his postgraduate degree.

Matthew first applied to doctoral programs in 2019 while wrapping up a master’s in political science. He admits the attempt was ambitious: “My math background was weak for a PhD applicant.” He was waitlisted at several schools, including Penn; then programs suspended admissions entirely due to COVID-19. Matthew, however, remained undeterred. “I said to myself, let me spend a couple of years really strengthening my application.”

Matthew first enrolled in graduate studies at the London School of Economics, but unfortunately had to withdraw after a year due to a medical issue. He returned to the Philadelphia area for treatment at Penn’s health system.

Though full-time study was on hold, Matthew leveraged his circumstances. “When the opportunities to work and study at Penn lined up, I was really excited for it,” he says. “I saw that Penn not only had really good research assistant positions I could apply to, but also made it easy for employees to take classes.”

Matthew was hired full time at Penn’s Wharton School as an economic research analyst. “Then, I was able to get into the Post-Baccalaureate Studies program and take courses I needed to really shore up my math background,” he says. In spring 2022 he enrolled in MATH 2410: Calculus Part IV, followed by MATH 3600: Advanced Calculus in the fall—a course, he notes, most economics doctoral programs consider a prerequisite.

 “For me, one of the highlights of the program was the quality of the graduate TAs,” Matthew shares, adding that Penn’s teaching assistants reflect the institution’s commitment to its graduate programs. “My TAs were not only hyper-competent and intelligent but also really friendly people,” he says. They provided Matthew with insights beyond course subject matter, giving him a feel for the rigors of graduate research as well as a glimpse into PhD student life at Penn. “They really helped with feeling like part of the community.”

When he reapplied to PhD programs for fall 2023, he says the experience at Penn helped him articulate his goals and expectations in his application essays. And when he was accepted to Penn and another top economics program, he says, “My time at Penn really tipped the scales for me. After both working and studying on campus, I really fell in love with Penn.”

Matthew started the doctoral program in economics at Penn in July. He will to continue to study macro-political economy and the relationship between wealth inequality and democracy. “I hope my research can shine some light on what sort of constitutions democratizing countries can write to ensure that they stay democratic in the long run and have a political structure that allows for equality of opportunity and an economic system that works for everyone.” His ultimate goal, he adds, is to teach.

Prospective post-bacc students considering an advanced degree can take a lesson from the future professor. “If you're interested in graduate study, but you're afraid you don't have the background you need, it's never too late to take those classes,” Matthew advises, speaking from his own experience. “If it takes two years to get ready, well, those two years are going to pass anyway, so you might as well get after it.”

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