What econ majors think of their major

by on October 20, 2008 at 6:50 am in Education | Permalink

David Colander and co. give us a whole paper on this topic:

This data suggests that the presence of an unrestricted-entry business program has a positive impact on the satisfaction levels of economics majors. When such programs exist, the economics major is not forced to balance both the goals of students who would rather be in business programs with the goals of students who would study economics either way; therefore the economics major can more easily suit all of its students’ demands.

There are many more tidbits, including the following:

Students generally considered the majors more difficult at liberal arts schools than at state schools. The difference is most pronounced in economics, considered hard by 25.4% of state school students compared to 40.2% of students at liberal arts schools. At research liberal arts school, the major was considered even harder; 44.2% of students considered the economics major hard.

p.7 warmed my heart and p.11 gives the main reason for becoming an economics major: "I did well in early courses, and found it interesting."  That Smithian explanation is more important than the quest for job opportunities.  The paper is here.  Hat tip to Pluralist Economics Review.

Martin October 20, 2008 at 7:53 am

I go to a research liberal arts school, and we all consider economics to be one of the hardest majors.

eccdogg October 20, 2008 at 8:49 am

I wonder if the difference between State schools and Liberal Arts in how hard they think Economics is has to do with the presence of an engineering program.

I went to a large State school with a large contingent of engineers (and majored in Econ). Sure Econ was tough compared to Communications or Sociology, but was much easier compared to the Electrical, Mechanical, Chemical Engineering and Math and Physics degrees some of my peers were getting.

Andrew October 20, 2008 at 9:23 am

We had a saying. Physical chemistry was the hardest course for people who didn’t have to take thermodynamics. Organic chemistry was the hardest for people who didn’t have to take PChem. We didn’t get past organic, probably because we were fed up with all the biology majors who were going to be doctors complaining about organic.

I think job opportunities trump interest. You can do interest on your own time and your own dime. College is an investment that demands a return. That is of course not going to be the popular opinion held by tenured professors and department heads. But, I think the point is to know that career and interest are different and not think you are investing in one when you are really investing in the other.

George October 20, 2008 at 10:02 am

“College is an investment that demands a return.” – Andrew

This is true, but hardly in the way you mean it. College is about investing in yourself. If the entire point of your existence is to get a job and work for forty years, then I understand your point of view. If you instead value yourself as more than just a means to an end, I have to question your reasoning.

As to the actual topic at hand, I have to wonder about the caliber of students who attend the different schools. Surely they are not the same, although I would be loath to say which schools attract students of a higher caliber. And let us not forget the variable of program difficulty. I’m certain that some of these “economics” programs are a joke compared to others.

I think these factors are more directly related to whether a major is considered “hard” than what kind of school one attends. Does anyone know if they controlled for these variables?

Noah Yetter October 20, 2008 at 10:47 am

I also chose economics because I found an introductory course very interesting. Of course I work in technology now, just like I did in college, but I don’t regret my choice. Also the lessons of economics are applicable to my daily work much more often than I would have expected.

Andrew October 20, 2008 at 11:59 am

The problem with an “easy” subject, or at least easier, is that more people can do it, and there is no way I could out-compete some of them.

So, if I “follow my passion” and get into economics, I imagine beating Tyler at his game. Thinking this possible would be foolish. However, there are things that I can do that some or most people cannot do at all. I don’t think such things are typically ensconced in traditional academic departments.

Do people really think that more students need to hear “follow your passion” than they need to hear “make sure you get value for your education investment dollars and time?” I think people really do need to get in touch with their true niche, but I think the traditional education system either cannot help or just does a lousy job.

DK October 20, 2008 at 12:39 pm

So, as the comments imply, why aren’t there econ courses and majors for more mathematically oriented students? At my undergrad (which shall remain anonymous but is the home of a famous new york times columnist and a famous helicopter pilot/bank rescuer), introductory math and physics were divided into tracks for future math and physics phd’s, future engineers, future doctors and architects, and “physics for poets”. Economics, oth, had only two tracks, basically for people with and without good linear algebra. So, by default, econ gained a lot of varsity athletes and lost a lot of potential future phd’s.

Robert Olson October 20, 2008 at 5:13 pm

Economics-Finance major here. I like the Econ major at my school because it’s within the business departments, so I can take econ classes along with marketing and management as opposed to Poli Sci and Gender Studies.

Most of the majors here seem pretty happy with it, though, from my brief experience in the job world so far, economics offers…nothing. Without the finance major, I really think I’d be up a creek.

Difficulty…pretty simple. Most of the mathematics tops out at algebra, so 8th graders could take these classes and theoretically pass. The concepts aren’t much tougher, either: I’ve aced all of my economics classes while putting in comparatively little effort (except econometrics, which was almost entirely about multi-variable linear regression).

Anonymous October 20, 2008 at 5:53 pm

pure math and physics considerably harder than econ @ university of chicago. econ definitely not easy though, but pure math is a whole new level.

fish on a bicycle October 20, 2008 at 6:08 pm

Do people really think that more students need to hear “follow your passion”

The problem is not the advice itself methinks, but that what it means to a 21 year old is not the same as it will mean after a person is 35 or so. (Most 21 year olds I know are passionate about the most boring things….)

And most people don’t “follow their passion” anyway, they ride a favorite hobby horse (see Tristram Shandy).

For good advice for high school students, I believe Paul Graham wins with his advice to basically follow your curiosity, deal with hard problems, and stay upwind in “What You’ll Wish You’d Known”

http://www.paulgraham.com/hs.html

torris187 October 20, 2008 at 6:33 pm

Economics graduate from a state school here. I got a BA in Economics from a state school and I’m in the Master’s program for Economics at a state school. I can say that Economics is a lot harder the further you go. After your first two years of Economics it takes on a whole new level, a much more mathmatical level. Once you get to Econometric classes/ Money and Banking/ advanced monetary theory, you really need calculas 2 or beyond and a bunch of statistics classes to operate effeciently.

If one is going for a simple undergraduate degree, it’s not challenging at all. However, if you decide to take your education to the next level, it is not just memorization of a few principal ideas, you actually have to prove your theories mathmatically and empirically.

At my school we have 2 Economic’s programs, one for liberal arts and one for business, I think the business one is much harder, but that’s just my opinion.

sean October 20, 2008 at 8:37 pm

well you went to U of C. I go to a crappy state school which requires little math for my Econ degree.

My opinion of econ degree: i love love love the subject but the degree seems worthless. All other business related degrees seemed to actual focus on something practical. I on the other hand can decompose a price change and explain the relative elasticity of demand.

Other majors have skills that can be applied. I can tell you what the classicals said, the Keynesians said, the monetarists said; but I can’t tell you who is right.

I think the biggest problem is stopping at the intermediates. If they had the micro/macro principles, intermediates, than two more advanced classes, i would feel like i am getting so scammed.

Accounting majors are equipped with the tools to audit etc.

I can talk about the marginal rate of substitution within a 2 good world. LOL!

Senlin October 21, 2008 at 12:12 am

I graduated from Yale and took enough econ courses to major in it, but was disinclined to write the senior thesis of 30 pages. (By comparison, 50 pages of history was a walk). I did not know or really need calculus. I took some pretty rugged courses from some pretty famous professors and did just fine. It has been a tremendous background in my profession (law) and in following political issues. Fast forward 30 years: one child at Yale and one at Virginia, both encouraged by me to take econ, both honors calculus students in high school. Each reported that introductory econ was a nightmare course designed to “flush out” students who did not have PhD aptitudes and aspirations. What was happening? I delved deeper. It appears that the economics faculty at each school (and most universities today) are trying to “up their creds” in academia — to get more prestige. They can’t be bothered teaching “tomorrow’s leaders” about price theory, market dynamics, world trade, Edgeworth Boxes or, heaven forfend, supply and demand. Is it any wonder our political and media nomenclatura are so dumb about markets, microeconomics, the role of government, taxes, trade, monetary policy, etc.? I will wager that not 15 out of 100 Senators could properly identify how prices are determined in a free market.

torris187 October 21, 2008 at 1:55 pm

A degree in Economics is not worthless, it is actually one of the better business degress. I think Business management is the less diserable by employers nowadays. A good MA degree in economics will land you a job in many markets, you just won’t get the label as “Economist” you will most likely get a more specialized title. I have done 2 internships with international institutions and they place an extremely high value on any degree that deals with quantitative anaylsis, and the only business degree they place above economics is International Business relations. However, a BA in Economics isn’t worth all that much, it’s kind of like a BA in medicine or Law, you really need to go to the next level to get it truly valued.

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