Why Study Economics? is a website that encourages students from all educational backgrounds to study economics as their first degree. It also provides information to teachers and parents.
Where can students study economics? Over 95 departments across the UK offer an Economics degree. Some of these are straight (‘single’) Economics degrees. Normally they are simply called Economics, but sometimes they are more specialist, e.g. Agricultural Economics or Business Economics. Other degrees combine Economics with another subject (‘joint degrees’). The titles of these joint degrees includes: Economics and Management; Economics and Finance; Economics and Philosophy; Economics and Accounting; Economics and Business; Economics and History; and Economics and Politics.
What will economics students do at university? Most economics students will experience a generic first year at university which builds a solid foundation. The most important modules for a first-year economics student are Introductory Microeconomics, Introductory Macroeconomics and Quantitative Methods for Economics (statistics/mathematics). The concepts taught in these three modules will be used throughout an economics undergraduate degree. In their second, and particularly third, year at university, economics students will have a number of optional units. Students will be able to specialise in Development Economics, Managerial Economics, Labour Economics, Monetary Economics and so on. If students are on a joint degree they will have modules in their other subject in all three years, some of which will be compulsory. Students on either single or joint economics degrees may also be able to do an optional module in another subject area such as a modern language.
“Until studying a course like economics not a lot of people are aware of how the world works, including industries, businesses and governments. You realise that it’s very important to be educated in this type of thing even if it gets to the stage where you become annoyed with family and friends for moaning about taxes!”
The workload at university is generally heavier than at A-level. Students can expect around 10 – 15 hours of contact time a week, consisting of a mixture of lectures and tutorials/seminars/workshops. In addition to this, students will be expected to put in a minimum of 20 hours per week of independent study. The number of contact hours will normally fall between years one, two and three but the amount of independent study will rise (at least it should do!).
Why do students enjoy economics? Economics is the perfect combination of numbers and words, problems and essays, calculations and interpretations. It is both an art and a science subject. Students have the opportunity to build models which give insights into the real world, and then to critique these models on the basis of their assumptions. There is rarely a right answer in economics but any argument put forward must be backed up by quantitative evidence. Students ultimately enjoy economics because it allows them to employ and develop analytical and evaluative skills.
“My decision to pursue an Economics degree has been the single most valuable investment I have made to date. It sharpened my ability to critically assess information, deliver disciplined and well structured arguments and become a more confident team player.”
What do students need to have studied to read economics at university?
Some universities have A-level Maths as a prerequisite for their economics degrees. Even if it is not required, A-level Maths is still very useful for university level economics, especially those degrees with a heavy number of quantitative modules. Those institutions that do not require A-level Maths still require a good GCSE in Maths. Furthermore, some universities may look more favourably on candidates with other quantitative subjects, such as Physics or Accounting. No university requires students to have studied A-level Economics, but it helps if they have. Aside from the subjects studied, students should only choose to read economics at university: if they enjoy keeping up with current affairs; if they are comfortable working with numbers; and if they are willing to write a number of essays.
But how can a student, who has never studied economics before, prepare for their degree? One way is through work experience, especially when this involves handling money or making any form of economic choice. Reading economic articles in newspapers and/or subscribing to The Economist will give students an edge over their peers when it comes to writing their first essay. Students could also read a couple of the books on their course’s reading list, particularly those that give lots of background information (e.g. “Fool’s Gold” by Gillian Tett). Alternatively, a lot of the popular economics literature, such as the Undercover Economist or Freakonomics, will show students that economics can be used to explain virtually any phenomena.
“Economics places a key role in all aspects of life and is an important subject worth knowing more about.”
To get an idea of the level of maths involved in their economic modules, students should have a flick through a first year textbook and have a go at some of the problems set. Finally, students should brush up on their statistics either by going back to their notes or, if they did not study maths, by working through some problems in an A-level statistics textbook. Statistics is vital for students to understand econometrics, a technique used by many authors in a number of economic journals.
And what can students do after an Economics degree? Economics graduates are well equipped, having analytical and problem-solving skills, numerical and computer skills, as well as the ability to work well either alone or within a team. All of these skills are very transferable allowing economics graduates to branch into anything from investment banking and financial services, business and public-sector management and research, to working with charities, teaching or the media. There is little restriction on what students can do afterwards.
“By the end of the degree you emerge as a student who can read as well as a law graduate, compute as well as an accountant, and analyse data as well as a statistician.”
And of course there is money. Economics graduates typically earn £4000 more than the average graduate in their first position.