Economics combines maths, science (until the late 19th century it was actually viewed as a branch of political science) and social theory to analyse the distribution of things like wealth, services and goods (not to mention how those things are consumed and produced).
What A-Levels do you need?
It’s not so much economics that really floats those admissions tutors’ boats, but maths (it’s such a big part of economics that many unis will want you to show you have a strong foundation in it). If you’re smart enough to be aiming for the likes of
Durham University’s Economics BA, for instance, you’ll need a grade A in maths and a whopping A*AA overall. Of course, not all unis ask for such steep grades (and not all of them require maths); the University of Leicester wants ABB for its Economics BA, while Dundee want straight Bs for their 4-year Economics MA.
What are your study options?
As a subject, economics is split into two main branches: macroeconomics and microeconomics. While microeconomics refers to individual companies and their places within a specific market, macroeconomics is the study of how all these markets interact with one another as a whole, both on a domestic and global scale. These will be covered early on in your course to give you a core understanding, and then the majority of degrees will offer more specialist modules in your second and third years – from international economics to econometrics, global forecasting and law.
Most universities will actively encourage you to gain hands-on industry experience through a placement year, which will normally take place between your second and final year (making your course four years long, instead of three). Doing a placement will help you to apply the knowledge you’ve learned in a practical environment, as well as giving you some valuable experience to talk about on your CV!
As well as having a pure course in economics, most universities will also offer the subject as part of a joint or combined honours programme with other related subjects such as business, law, journalism or politics. Courses like this will be assessed through a mixture of written assignments and examinations.
Why study Economics?
Economics often appeals to students with a strong grasp of mathematics – particularly those who are also fascinated by the social sciences. If you have an interest in understanding how we distribute our resources and the moral, legal and financial implications this can have upon different social groups, then economics may be your ideal programme of study.
Studying economics will also give you strong career prospects and a good chance of earning a decent salary (always an added bonus).
After your degree...
One of the great things about having an economics degree under your belt is that there are a wide range of career options available to you. Economics graduates work in a wide range of roles – from investment, finance and banking to marketing, politics and advertising. These careers attract graduates of a very high calibre and, while competitive, have the potential to also be very lucrative. If you’ve got a creative or entrepreneurial flair, you may also be interested in setting up your own company – economics will equip you with all the skills you need (and this is an avenue many graduates end up exploring).
Another option is to continue your education by doing a postgraduate course. You could re-train as a lawyer or a journalist, for instance, or you could gain a further specialism in economics by staying on to do a master’s degree.
Q & A with an Economics graduate
Alex Albrecht studied Economics and Finance at Queen Mary, University of London...
Why did you choose to study economics at university?
Maths was always my strength at school but when it came to choosing a degree I wanted to do something that was more than just numbers. I took economics at A level and found the use of models and their interpretation really interesting, so for me it felt like the natural choice.
What was the most enjoyable aspect of your course?
I think I actually found the third year of my course the most enjoyable as I had the chance to explore the areas I found most interesting in greater depth. There were also more chances to apply what we were learning to realistic situations, which really helped me put all the pieces together.
What was the least enjoyable aspect of your course?
I had one particular unit that wasn't very enjoyable. It was an econometrics unit which was all taught as pure theory without any real detail of how it was meant to be applied in the real world. Despite my love of maths, I just couldn't get my head around pages of formulas without any understanding of their purpose.
How do you think an economics degree might help graduates seeking employment?
I think what's good about economics is that it builds really useful skills for potential employers without forcing you down a specific career path. You get the numerical skills, but there's also the researching, and trying to pick out key pieces of information from longer documents. You find there's a lot of reasoning to be done and you have to build strong cases for your interpretations of the information you've got. I think it's a very rounded skill set overall.
How did the course prepare you for your job?
I would not have my job without the experience I gained during my degree. So in that sense it was very useful, but I still feel universities could do more to prepare graduates for the real world. I think more of the theoretical concepts taught should be applied to real world problems that could have many different solutions. I also think there could be more discussion around careers options, as whilst at uni I really had no idea there were so many potential uses for what I'd learnt. I've actually ended up in a media agency and I never even knew my sort of role existed until I was approached by a recruiter!
But my course did give me the econometrics skills I needed as well as exposure to team work and regular presenting. For me, I think it was the project work that gave me the best foundations for where I am now as I had a chance to get to grip with all the concepts I'd learnt and apply them to a real problem.
What would you like to go on to do in your career in the future?
I don't have an exact career plan for the future. What I do know is that I want to continue to enjoy what I do, keep learning and keep being challenged by whatever role I'm in. There's a good progression path in my company which I hope to follow, but if life gives me a different turn, then I'm up for that challenge too.