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Department of Economics

Undergraduate Economics

Choosing Courses

In planning a major, a student should seek breadth early in the career, building prerequisites for later courses, take courses in statistics and theory so as to be able to apply these skills to issues, and then take more advanced courses later in the program.

seek breadth
First, it is important to take courses in several departments where a student has some substantial interest. A student who takes introductory courses in three or four departments will be better informed in choosing a major, will have a fall-back position if one major proves to be unrewarding, and will have laid the ground work for considering a second major or a minor. Mathematics is useful for exploring economic theory, political science for economic policy, foreign languages for international perspective, psychology for insight into human behavior, and history for seeing economic phenomena in context.

build prerequisites
Second, take early the courses that are prerequisite to other required courses. Course requirements in the economics major and related programs are listed here.

One semester of calculus is essential for both the economics major and the related programs; two semesters of calculus are highly recommended and most economics majors take two or more semesters of calculus. Calculus is a prerequisite for Econ 150 Economic Statistics and for the intermediate theory courses, 231 and 232. Therefore, it is important to take calculus as early in the college career as possible. There is a sizable payoff to the second semester of calculus. Students who have completed it do, on average, one whole letter grade better in Econ 231 and 232, other things equal.
Study of mathematics has intellectual and career value, particularly for students who contemplate careers in finance and MBA programs. Completion of the full calculus sequence followed by courses in linear algebra and differential equations is essential before entering graduate study in economics. Many graduate programs expect applicants to have completed courses in advanced analysis like Math 259 and 260.

Mathematics is also important in mastering statistics. Statistical tools are the bread and butter of decision makers in every managerial role from human resources and production to marketing, finance, and accounting. Students in economics may begin the study of statistics with Econ 150, typically in sophomore year. Alternatively, students may complete Math 218, 218L, and 219. A third option is completion of Math 218, 218L, and Econ 253. Econ 253 will then count as an elective. Students who contemplate careers in economics, finance, or marketing should consider taking the Econ 253 Econometrics.

Econ 100 and 101 are prerequisite to nearly all of the courses in the Department and should be taken first. The intermediate theory courses are prerequisite to all of the courses numbered above 250.

Every major in economics must take at least three electives numbered above 250. Therefore, it is important to take the intermediate theory courses (231 and 232), before the senior year to allow time for more advanced electives. We also recommend that students take 231 before 232, however some students successfully take them simultaneously or in reverse order.

from core to application
Third, after the principles courses, consider taking a lower level applied course. The Department offers courses in several fields at an introductory level, that is, with numbers below 250, including labor markets, banking and financial institutions, and US economic history. An economics major may take one or two courses at this level before moving to electives with numbers above 250 but may choose from among electives numbered above 250.

The right time to take lower level electives is after completing 100 and 101. Courses numbered below 250 often use basic ideas in exploring an institutional setting, an experience that is helpful in studying the more advanced topics in the higher-level courses. It makes little sense to take a lower-level elective in a field after its upper-level counterpart.

from introduction to advanced
Finally, as one gains sophistication in the study of economics, it is appropriate to apply new skills in more advanced settings. The economics courses numbered above 250 generally require more independent work and use more difficult economic concepts building on the calculus, statistics and intermediate theory courses. Such courses are more appropriate for advanced students, primarily juniors and seniors. Economics majors must take at least three courses at this level; economics minors must take at least one.

The Department offers seminars in economic policy: Econ 256 for macroeconomic policy, Econ 257 for microeconomic policy, and Econ 280 sports economics. Other seminars may be offered as special topics. Majors should seek out a seminar in their senior year so as to have the opportunity to write on an original topic and to make oral presentations. Well-qualified students may take graduate courses with the permission of the Graduate School.