Consider a Major in Economics


Frequently asked questions:
• Is economics about stock markets?
• How do I know if a major in economics is right for me?
• What skills do students learn that will help them get a job?
• Does a major in economics require a lot of math?
• What are the department’s goals for economics majors?

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, and educational. Economics also examines the impact of various institutional customs and laws on individual and group choice. In sum, economics provides a set of tools you can use to analyze, explain, and predict human interaction in virtually any situation.

How do I know if a major in economics is right for me?
The difficulty in answering this question is that you first have to know yourself. The number one mistake students make in determining a career (and subsequently a major) is to focus on job titles. Job titles such as, Manager, Accountant, Consultant, are useless when it comes to considering a major. Focus instead on the characteristics of everyday tasks that you like with those you abhor. Generally, an economics major is right for you if you have these predispositions:

• You are comfortable making and being responsible for decisions. Economics develops your ability to use theory, current trends and practices, and data towards decision making.
• Your decisions are based on objective and quantifiable reasoning. Hence, you are not intimidated by 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. Economics develops your ability to think clearly about complex issues and to thereby, write and speak clearly about these issues.

What skills do students learn that will help them get a job?
Using economic models, students learn to make cost-benefit decisions, perform scenario planning, and analyze policy 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. Quantitative, analytic, and communication skills are essential in any occupation. That’s why a major in economics give you flexibility. Over the course of your working life, 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. These skills are one of the reasons why economics majors score higher on the LSAT than any other major.

A degree in economics will not guarantee you a job or a high salary, but data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that employers highly value analytical skills. Firms can train you to “do marketing” their way, but they can’t train you for economic thinking. Our program is designed with sufficient elective units (approx. 24) to encourage you to minor in a field which will help “get you in the door”, your degree in economics will help “move you up” in your chosen field. The Economics Department can recommend programs of study for students with career interests in business, public policy, law, and data analysis.

Does a major in economics require a lot of math?
Our program emphasizes applied economics and requires four units of statistics in the B.A. program plus one semester of calculus in the B.S. program. Statistics, calculus, and econometrics are used to help you understand economic models. Using these tools, 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. It takes positive analysis to understand what is and to make predictions of what will be.

What are the department’s goals for economics majors?
The Department has two overall objectives for our majors. The first is for students to be proficient in the understanding of and ability to apply practical economic models and concepts with several goals, these goals are implicit in the overall objective because economic models are a form of schematic knowledge. Learning economics can help you become an expert problem solver, proficiency with economic models and concepts develops the ability to:

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

The second objective is to create an environment in which students enjoy the experience of learning and faculty members who enjoy teaching. College can be one of the best and most intellectually exiting times of your life; we are honored to be a part of it and to contribute to the enjoyment of learning. Faculty members will debate topics with you, sometimes over a beer via the Barstool Economists group. We offer several distinguished invited speakers to provide intriguing lectures at our Saurman Provocative Lecture and Friday Afternoon Workshop Series. Many students enjoy our program so much, that they return for a Master’s degree. Alumni have created an active listserve group consisting of current students, alumni, graduate students, and faculty from SJSU and other universities and the conversation continues on the economics of any topic. The enjoyment in learning continues well after graduation!