The Best Undergraduate Courses and Personal Traits for a Career in Economics

The Courses & Software
You don’t need a specific undergraduate major to enter a master’s program in Economics. If your major isn't directly relevant to Econ, there are a handful of courses that will prepare you to hit the ground running in a graduate program. Josh Ballance ’12, a research associate with the Boston Federal Reserve who is attending Boston University Master’s in Statistics program, recommends getting your feet wet at the undergraduate level with Intro to Microeconomics and Macroeconomics, and having some knowledge of Calculus, Linear Algebra, and Calculus-based Statistics. If you want to take your expertise to the next level, Multi-variable Calculus is a tremendous help, which is usually the third course in an undergraduate Calculus sequence. According to Ballance, software knowledge is also a factor: “It’s an advantage to go beyond Excel and have a familiarity with at least one statistical analysis software application: Stata, SAS, R, and/or MatLab.”

Scott Lemons ’10, a Ph.D. candidate in Economics at the University of New Hampshire, also recommends a good grounding in social science courses such as Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology. “These courses help aspiring economists to understand context,” said Lemons, “by putting specific economic and statistical analysis into a broader human/global perspective.”

As you might imagine, a talent with numbers, equations, and all things technical is a good starting point. What surprises many people is that you’ll also need to use your intuitive, creative side.

The Personal Traits
As you might imagine, a talent with numbers, equations, and all things technical is a good starting point. What surprises many people is that you’ll also need to use your intuitive, creative side: “I’ve found that some of the best economists have the patience, stamina, and attention to detail required for deep research and analysis, yet are also able to ‘zoom out’ and put the work into a broader real-world context that a wider audience can understand,” said Lemons. “You’re often explaining findings to people who aren’t technically-inclined, so solid communication skills will be fundamental for your success” echoed Ballance.

Edinaldo Tebaldi, Ph.D., director of the graduate program in Applied Economics at Bryant University, says great economists have a healthy curiosity about the interplay between social issues and economic policy, and an interest in answering relevant socio-economic questions. This leads to an obvious requirement that can’t be overlooked for any career: finding joy and satisfaction in the work. You should be able to envision yourself enjoying the process of doing data analysis with statistical and mathematical tools, and stewarding your results to be understood by a broad audience.

A Great Bonus at Bryant: Collaborating with World-Class Faculty
Turning to Bryant University’s graduate program in particular, Josh Ballance said: “Students who are driven will be far more likely to succeed at an institution where they can take advantage of personal opportunities to collaborate with faculty in their areas of interest. Having a sense for what you want to do with the graduate degree is helpful, so you know which faculty members can usher you towards achieving your career goals. Bryant has a high-touch environment in which faculty are extremely accessible and inclined to work closely with students. If you have initiative, the professors are ready to support you academically and professionally in every way they can.”


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