Deciding Where to Go
There are many rankings each weighting measures of department quality differently. I think the starting point is to ask:
1. What are my interests?
2. How sure am I that I don't want to study something else?
If you're certain you want to study macro it makes the decision much simpler. However, most students change their mind dramatically once in graduate school. Going somewhere with intellectual resources in diverse fields of economics is risk averse.
You will probably find new interests wherever you go. One thing to consider is what kind of attention will you be getting from faculty. This hasn't been discussed in great detail but I think it's paramount.
*The score is just the ratio of top-economists per cohort individual multiplied by 100. Yale, NYU, Harvard, Brown, Princeton, Columbia, Berkeley, UPenn, Stanford, etc.
I would then go to the overall rankings. Students tend to sort themselves in descending order of quality mirroring the trend of the rankings. I think they are recently commonly ranked as follows:
The ranking becomes increasingly indistinct. Of course, I would suggest Wharton is very good. But it's a new program with risks.
With this, look at who places recently. Does Yale place better than Princeton in the past years? If so, it's likely that Yale's value-added is higher than Princeton because Princeton likely attracts ex-ante better students.
Also a school might have a lot of variation among it's fields in placement. Are the students graduating in your field from that school placing well? I found, for instance, that Princeton's Labor students hadn't placed at a top-25 department in two decades. Most of their exciting placements were in macro. This is relevant because the macro placements are not predictive of your placement as a labor student.
Overall placements are not as relevant as recent placements. Many departments that were world class and produced great economists have declined quickly (Rochester, Oxford) while other schools have invested heavily in building excellent economics department more recently (WashingtonU in St. Louis, Columbia). Look at the most recent placements because the first order approximation is bad when inferring far from the mean observation.
The last thing to consider is the potential quality of advising. It doesn't matter where you go, it matters who your advisers are and how much they invest in you. Having a respected adviser who thinks you are bright is worth a lot. It's hard to observe before attending a school your access to the best advisers, but consider it.
Keywords: Where, graduate school, Andrew Johnston, Andrew, Johnston, economics, applied economics, economist, microeconomics, empirics, empirical economics, Wharton