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Department of Economics

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Why Study Economics?

Economics is the study of how people deploy resources to meet human needs. Economists are interested in incentives and prices, earnings and employment, investments and trade among many things. The American Economic Association website below gives more information about the study of economics. The Getting Started page explains how to enroll in a program in economics. The Choosing Courses page gives advice about when to take which courses.

Why Economics?

Students choose to major in economics for two strong reasons. They want deeper understanding of economic phenomena and they enjoy the rigorous reasoning. A weak reason for majoring in economics is for the sake of career. Career prospects are brighter with academic success. Success is more likely when a student chooses a major where the subject matter is interesting and the required skills match a student's abilities.

Choice of undergraduate major has only a modest association with ultimate career. Some of the faculty in this Department majored in physics, mathematics, and engineering as undergraduates. One need not major in economics in order to become a professional economist.

A majority of Vanderbilt's economics majors enter professional schools within a few years of graduation. About two-thirds expect MBAs, and a quarter expect law degrees. Other students find employment in a wide variety of industries. Some also go to medical and dental schools, to graduate study in public policy, religion, and other fields as well as graduate study in economics. Success in the economics major is good preparation for a variety of careers.

Studying economics will develop habits of careful thought, the application of mathematics, and practice in clear writing. Economists engage the world of current affairs. Studying economics includes learning to use statistics and to read critically. Economics majors are interesting people both because of their skills and because they can explain why economic phenomena occur and how economic performance might improve.

» What is college economics?—AEA website


Getting Started

Your first contact in the Department should be with Susan Beyler in Calhoun 415, the Staff Assistant to the Director of Undergraduate Studies. She provides information about major requirements and course offerings, assists in declaring a major, and assigns faculty advisors. For more information, see Professor Getz, Director of Undergraduate Studies, in 406 Calhoun.

Every student who majors in economics or who chooses a related minor has an individual faculty advisor. Advisors give counsel about the programs, advice on course selection, and help with academic difficulties. The Department assigns advisors to students when they declare their major or other program. The Director of the Honors Program advises prospective honors candidates. Advisors are available during their office hours or by appointment. Advisors expect students to be familiar with this website.

Bring the Declaration of Major form or the Declaration of Minor Form to 415 Calhoun and ask for a faculty advisor.


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.