The Case For And Against The Economics Major
Having worked around career development centers in my “earlier life” I learned a great deal about what makes a college graduate more “marketable” to prospective employers. Quite often students are drawn to an Economics major or a business program depending on the school.
However, aside from Accounting and Information Systems, a specific undergraduate business major is not necessary at the start of most business careers. The Economics major can do quite nicely. In some ways it could be the better choice. Here’s why:
- Flexibility beyond a traditional business setting. An economics major who is comfortable with numbers can use their skills to analyze public policy or to deliver public services. Mastery of the required courses in accounting, micro (the firm) and macro (the economy) economic theory as well as first and second-year calculus and statistics can also be preparation for graduate programs in business, public administration and public policy. These core courses are part of all of these programs.
- Easier to double major. The school and major requirements at a business school make it very difficult for undergraduates to double major. Colleges of business as well as accredited business programs within a liberal arts school require a set of core courses beyond those mentioned above. These include Marketing Management, Corporate Finance, Organizational Behavior and Operations or Production Management. In addition, the accounting major requires its own set of courses towards professional certification. However, an Economics major usually requires only ten courses, including required courses and electives.
- The electives, or a second major, build your skill set. A double major in Economics with either Mathematics or Statistics is very attractive to employers who need a quantitative analyst who is curious about business. More and more business problems require deep dives into data as well as creative mathematical reasoning. A double major in Economics and an area study such as Asian Studies is good preparation for careers in foreign service or work in non-governmental organizations. A double major in Economics and Psychology can make a recent graduate with internship experience a very competitive candidate for jobs in consumer market research.
Then what are the downsides?
This depends on the college you choose as well as the selection of courses within the Economics major. A larger school will offer a broader selection of courses not only the business-related and highly quantitative disciplines within economics but also in areas such as economic theory, international economics and public policy. A smaller school will not offer as many classes, though the classes that you take will be smaller. It will be easier to learn the material in the early going and be better prepared for the more advanced courses later.
How you succeed depends on how well you choose the college that best fits the way that you learn. When I was in college I took large-lecture introductory micro and macro economics courses. I really struggled with the material, even when I asked for help. I chose to major in Political Science instead for this and other reasons. Had I gone to a smaller college I believe that I could have graduated with a double major in Economics and Political Science.
The downsides also depend on the career resources as well as the alumni base of the college. Economics is treated as a liberal arts major at many schools, although some put the major in the business school. In either case the faculty are often less involved in helping undergraduates to secure anything other than an academically-related research position or to gain admission to graduate school. Business faculty are more likely to have industry contacts.
The career center will likely own the internship program for the Economics major, though there are exceptions. Ohio Wesleyan University, for example, has the Bigelow-Reed House, a business and economics living-learning community, as well as the Woltemade Center for Economics, Business and Entrepreneurship. Success in the Economics major, as in any other major, depends in part on the college’s commitment to the major.