Why Study Economics?

Here you will find a detailed interview with the Economics' Department Chair, Lydia Ortega. Here she answers some of the most commonly asked questions regarding the Economics Department.

  • You are comfortable making decisions and being responsible for those decisions. Economics develops your ability to use theory, current trends and practices, and analytical skills towards problem solving and decision making.
  • Your decisions are based on objective and quantifiable reasoning. Hence, you are not scared witless when it comes to using mathematical and statistical analysis. Economics develops your ability to effectively examine, analyze, and interpret data.
  • You have an insatiable urge to understand and explain why things happen as they do. When you can think clearly about complex issues, you can write and speak clearly.
  • You have the self-assurance to engage in your favorite past time--asking questions. Economics develops your investigative skills.


Does a major in Economics require a lot of math?

Well, it requires less mathematics than a degree in engineering but we do require statistics in the B.A. program and calculus in the B.S. program. Our program emphasizes applied economics therefore, we do not do math for math sake. Calculus, statistics, and econometrics are used to help you understand economic models. Economics shows you how to make arguments and decisions based on positive analysis. Positive analysis examines the direction and magnitude of changes--it is quantifiable. The opposite of positive analysis is normative analysis. Normative analysis makes statements, arguments, and decisions based on an individual's opinion of what they think "should" happen. The problem is that everyone has an opinion about what should happen. Can you see why firms strongly demand individuals who can do positive analysis?


How do I know if a major in Economics is right for me?

The difficulty in answering this question is that you have to know yourself. The number one mistake students make in determining a career (and subsequently a major) is to focus on job titles. The job titles--manager, accountant, consultant--are useless. You need to focus on the everyday tasks that you like to do and those you abhor. For example, do you know yourself well enough to know that you would perish if you didn't interact with people? Then put "contact with people" as an essential characteristic. Now you can check job titles to see how much interaction-with-people occurs for accountants or computer specialists, etceteras. Use your experience in part-times jobs to assess how important features like autonomy, responsibility, flexibility, feedback, and variability are to your character.

A major in economics is not for everyone. The discipline is easier for someone who is comfortable with the idea that there is more than one right answer. Remember we teach you how to analyze complex problems; of course, there will be more than one right answer depending on the assumptions. Certain characteristics may indicate that you have a predisposition towards the study of economics. You should see an advisor in the Economics Department to discuss specific issues about your career goals and characteristics. Generally an economics major is right for you if you have the following predisposition.


Is Economics about stock markets?

Corporate finance is only one area of specialization in economics. Generally speaking, economics is a set of practical models applied to the study of individual and group choice. The models are used to examine choice in all forms of social interaction--including but not limited to family, business, political, criminal, and educational. Economics also examines the impact of various institutional rules/laws (e.g., different countries and time periods) on individual and group choices. In sum, economics provides one set of tools that you can use to analyze, explain, and predict human interaction in virtually any situation.


What degrees are available in Economics?

The Economics Department offers programs leading to the Bachelors of Arts, the Bachelors of Science and Masters degree (see the section on Undergrads or Graduates for details).


What are the Department's goals for Economics Majors?

Our overall objective is for students to be proficient in the understanding of and ability to apply economic models and concepts. Within this objective are several implicit goals. Proficiency with economic models and concepts develops student's ability to:

  • Systematically analyze human interaction
  • Solve complex problems
  • Think strategically about the intended and unintended consequences of actions.

These implicit goals are inherent in the broader objective--being proficient in understanding and applying economic models--because economic models are schematic knowledge. It is the development of schematic knowledge that leads to better problem solving and the ability to think strategically.


What skills do students learn that will help them get a job?

Using economic models students learn to make cost-benefit decisions, do scenario planning, and to do policy analysis based on empirical research. Ultimately, economic models help students think clearly about complex issues. Clear thinking is a prerequisite to clear writing and oral presentation. Economics helps develop the ability to organize thoughts and to write professionally for both technical and non-technical audiences. These are essential skills in any occupation. That's why a major in economics gives you flexibility. You can readily transfer these skills to different occupations when the need arises or your interests change. Plus, these are human capital skills that do not deteriorate over time (unlike human capital in computer science that has a shelf life of only a few months before it becomes obsolete).

A degree in economics will not guarantee you a job or a high salary. But data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the employers highly value these analytical skills. Firms can, for example, train you to do "marketing" their way but they cannot train you to do economic thinking. These are skills that you bring to the firm. The economics degree may not get you in the door to a new job but it develops the skills that move you up! The program is designed with sufficient elective units (approximately 24) to allow you to take a minor in a field that will "get you in the door." For more information on careers in economics see Careers.