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What Can I Do With a Major in Economics?

What Can I Do With a Major in Economics?

Individuals with training in economics are well prepared for a variety of careers. In most cases, the rigor and precision of technical training in economics will give the graduate a competitive advantage. In virtually all fields, the ability to write clearly and convincingly is a major asset. Majors are strongly urged to take courses that will develop their writing skills both within and outside the economics department.

Perhaps the most important aspect of planning an economics major involves keeping a number of options open. Specifically, flexibility depends on your having taken the basic courses early in the major. Economics 220 (formerly 190), 250 and 253 should all be taken as early as possible. In addition, we recommend Math 111 (Calc. I), taken early for economics majors. For certain career paths, additional math is a necessity, typically through Linear Algebra, and taking it would certainly add to your options in this respect.

Career Paths Related to Economics

Professional Economist

To be considered a professional economist, students must go on to graduate training leading to the M.A. or (more likely) the Ph.D. Economists are employed in academia, business and government, but their basic training almost always involves graduate school in economics. If a student is contemplating graduate school in economics, she should check the catalogs of a variety of schools to determine their entrance requirements and she should see her adviser right away. The adviser will nearly always recommend more math. You are advised to master the material in ECO 255 and 240 as well as MTH 111, 112, 211, 212, 280 (formerly 225) and 281 (formerly 243). Aside from these suggestions, no other courses specifically must be taken, although you might take a number of more advanced, somewhat technical, courses to see if you enjoy doing what economists do.

Graduate Business School (M.B.A.)

Individuals contemplating administrative or business careers should seriously consider obtaining advanced training in business. In virtually all instances your employment opportunities will be enhanced if you do this.

Preparation for business school includes attention to economic theory, as well as to mathematics and statistics. You should plan to take calculus early in your career, and while it is somewhat less essential than for those pursuing a doctorate, taking math through linear algebra and econometrics is helpful. Taking "business type" courses such as accounting and finance may certainly help inform you about some of the subjects you will take up in business school and the things you might be dealing with in a business career. Although an accounting course is offered at Smith (ACC 223), it does not count toward the course requirement for the major.

Business schools vary among themselves. Some are quite quantitative, and/or theory oriented, others less so. Note, however, that if you choose a course of study that avoids quantitative studies and math, you tend to reduce your options, while if you do stress these areas, you can still go to a nontechnical business school if you wish.

Finally, note that an M.B.A. is useful training for many nonbusiness jobs, such as administrative positions in nonprofit institutions (e.g., health, the arts, government). It will therefore often be a prelude to many of the careers listed below.

Public Policy (Master of Public Policy)

Public Policy Programs are generally similar to business school programs, but with a greater emphasis on roles of government, the economy and on the tools of public policy analysis. As with MBA programs, there is a range of emphasis on quantitative content.

Law (J.D. or L.L.B.)

Especially useful for law school are courses developing analytical skills (theory). There is less emphasis on specific quantitative skills, although law training is becoming increasingly quantitative at the best schools. Courses in government regulation, law and labor law might be of special interest, but are in no sense an absolute requirement. Some accounting could be useful to you. Courses dealing with government or the sociology of crime might be useful adjuncts.

Labor Relations (M.A.)

A general major with attention to the labor and industrial relations courses—both in the economics department and in other departments (e.g., sociology and history)—is the best preparation for these programs.

Governmental (Federal)

In Washington, you will find opportunities for employment with both the Legislative and Executive branches of the government. Openings in the offices of senators and congressmen are not frequent, but they do exist. The greater number of possibilities occur within the various congressional committees. Those committees from the House of Representatives that hire a good number of economists include: Ways and Means, Education and Labor, Banking and Currency, Interstate and Foreign Commerce, Appropriations, Agriculture; and these from the Senate: Finance, Labor and Public Welfare, Banking and Currency, Interstate and Foreign Commerce, Appropriations, Agriculture and Forestry. Executive departments that hire economists, some of them in fairly large numbers, include (but are not limited to): the Departments of State, Treasury, Labor, Health, Education, and Welfare, Commerce, Agriculture, Defense.

Other agencies and arms of the Executive branch of government that hire economists are: the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Trade Commission, and the other regulatory commissions such as the C.A.B., L.C.C., F.C.C., F.P.C., the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Central Intelligence Agency, Council of Economic Advisers, International Cooperation Administration. Field courses depend on the agency or office you are concerned with (e.g., money and macro for the Federal Reserve System), but in every case you should have a strong grounding in quantitative and writing skills. Much of your work is likely to involve research and report preparation, in which these skills will be essential.

Governmental (State and Local)

Many of the comments described in the federal government fields hold here as well. State and local governments have many different offices and agencies.

Quantitative and writing skills are again of primary importance. In addition, courses in the regional or urban economics area, and in public finance, would be a plus.

Secondary Education

An economics major can be certified to teach social science at the high school level with a few additional courses, including a practicum in education. Check the education department section in the Smith College catalogue for courses.

International Organizations

These include the U.N., O.E.C.D., L.L.O., World Bank, L.M.F., and many, many others. Important courses include international trade and finance and economic development, as well as a good preparation in quantitative skills. Other courses in specific areas of interest (labor, agriculture, comparative systems, area studies) can also be helpful.

Private Business

Here the possibilities are so widespread that enumeration is impossible. Preparation would be similar to that for those going on to graduate business school, except that somewhat more attention should be given to immediately marketable skills. Even so, most businesses are looking for bright, trainable people who have exhibited the capacity for hard work, regardless of the particular courses they have taken.

Private Research and Consulting

A number of firms employ people to undertake economic research. They include Data Resources, Charles River Associates, RAND, and many others.

Courses in regional and urban, public finance, land use, and econometrics are useful since many of these firms' contracts fall in these areas.

Other Fields

There are many fields in which some undergraduate economics training is useful, including medicine and public health, environmental studies, social work and international relations.