Why study economics? A guide for community college students

This website is for community college students considering a major in economics. It provides information on:

For additional information consult the American Economic Association's website for an overview of the different skill sets acquired by students of economics and a list of list of colleges that offer four year degrees.

Economics grads explain what they do on the job

Videos prepared by Richard Croxdale, Austin Community College (TX)

Kevan describes her job forecasting economic development and her plans for law school

Rishi works at a tech start-up

Steven will teach high school economics
Matt works as an economist at General Motors

Ashley discusses her career in marketing and graduate school plans

Majoring in economics at a community college

Why earn an AA?

There are two reasons why students should earn the AA degree in economics.

  • Studies have shown that students that complete the AA degree complete the four year degree at a higher rate than those that don't
  • Those students who are unable to complete a bachelors degree due to either financial or personal reasons earn higher wages than those without an AA.

For evidence see this study

A typical core curriculum

In most community colleges, the introductory sequence--Microeconomics and Macroeconomics is the most important and perhaps the only courses you can take. (They are offered in different order at different colleges: micro then macro, macro then micro)

  • Mathematics is a skill that is required for the study and practice of economics. Calculus at some level is a requirement. Each college has different standards. If the discipline is located in the business school, sometimes Calculus for Business Students is required. Sometimes both Differential and Integral Calculus is required.
  • A Statistics class is also a useful course to take at the Community College level. Statistics will aid the understanding of Econometrics. It is essential to be aware of the requirement of the four year college into which you intend to transfer and take that specific sequence to avoid having to backtrack and take a different set of courses.
  • Beyond those specific courses, the standard core curriculum can be taken at the community college level. English, history, government, languages, and the sciences are required at all four year colleges. All are not only part of the core curriculum but useful in the comprehension of economics.

It is recommended that you investigate the degree plan of the four-year college to which you intend to transfer.

Here is a sample degree plan at the community college level.

What can I do with an economics major?

Careers in economics

Economic consulting

Economics graduates with good analytic and communication skills find employment with consulting firms. McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company, Accenture, Charles Rivers Associates, Mathematica Policy Research, and NERA Economic Consulting are examples. Analysts with consulting firms often work with data, develop models of specific markets, and provide testimony in public hearings and in lawsuits. Many graduates find that a few years experience with a consulting firm is a good lead into an MBA, law program, or graduate study in economics. Many consulting firms invite application for employment through their websites.

Corporate World

Although the economics major does not provide training for specific occupations, it provides the logical structure that pays off in understanding the big picture, the context for entering several fields in the corporate world. Its emphasis on logical thought and problem solving skills has universal value. Many employers seek to hire graduates with these skills.

Masters of Business Adminstration

Some economics majors aspire to earn Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees, typically expecting to complete a two-year program in a graduate business school. Leading MBA programs expect applicants to have had several years of significant business experience before enrolling.

The better MBA programs give some preference in admission to applicants with technical backgrounds including engineering, physics & math, and economics. Some areas of study in business like finance use a significant amount of mathematics. Undergraduate study in business then is not a primary or even necessarily a desirable path to an MBA. Of course, people who have developed their own successful businesses or enjoyed considerable success in other ways also tend to be attractive to MBA recruiters. The schools value success in many forms.

Students intent on careers as managers often seek a strong, general education. They want to learn effective communication skills, to develop habits of logical thought, and to practice their problem solving skills. Many undergraduate programs do this well; economics is often particularly effective.

In addition to careers as general managers and entrepreneurs, economics majors also often pursue careers in specific occupations common to the corporate world. Economics majors with the BA degree find jobs in the financial world, in marketing, and consulting. Some pursue one-year post baccalaureate programs for entry into a target career. The Master of Accountancy (MAc), for example, will launch an accounting career and go a long way toward completion of requirements for the Certified Public Accountant title.

Students who have a specific occupational goal will often do well in enrolling in a program of training specific for that occupation. For example, accounting majors readily get jobs as accountants on completing a BA. Finance majors have a good chance of being employed as financial analysts or budget officers. The broader horizons of the economics major are certainly not for everyone.

Government and non-profits

Governments at every level hire economists to manage and evaluate their operations. The Office of Personnel Management(OPM) of the Federal government provides information about Federal employment opportunities. Their USAJobs site lists thousands of openings of all kinds in many locations across the country. Search on "economist" to find information about specific current opportunities. There are often openings for economists with BA, MA, and PhD degrees.

Economists are valued in the Foreign Service and civil service in the State Department, and as analysts with the Central Intelligence Agency.

International agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGO's) of many kinds hire economists for a variety of roles. Additional languages, strong communication skills, experience with diverse cultures, and statistical skills are often important. The World Bank, for example, offers jobs for economists. The Bank has an internship program as well.

Economics and the Legal Profession

Many careers in law involve shaping economic decisions. Writing and interpreting contracts,

supporting mergers and acquisitions, dealing with the tax system, addressing disputes of workers, landlords, and vendors; all involve decisions with significant economic content and implications.

A recent analysis of scores on the LSAT test for law school admission reported for students who apply to at least one ABA accredited law school shows economic majors earned relatively high mean LSAT scores as shown in table 2. The LSAT score ranges from 120 to 180 with mean and median near 152. The first quartile is near 144 and the third quartile is near 157. The LSAT score along with undergraduate grade point average and the quality of the undergraduate college are important influences in the admissions decisions of competitive law schools. [Michael Nieswiadomy, "LSAT Scores of Economics Majors: The 2003-04 Class Update," Journal of Economic Education 37 #2, Spring 2006. Pp. 244-7. Available in JSTOR]

Table 2: Average LSAT Scores by Major, 2008-09.

Average LSAT Scores by Major
RankMajor FieldAverage ScoreNo. of Students
7Political Science15314,964
11Business Administration149.11,971
12Criminal Justice145.53,306

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Source: Michael Nieswiadomy, "LSAT Scores of Economics Majors: The 2008-09 Class Update," http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1430654

Among the eight disciplines with more than 3,000 students taking the LSAT, the 4,163 economics majors received the highest average score at 156.6 as shown in the table.

Earnings with an economics major

Payscale.com reports its survey of people with Baccalaureate degrees (and no more) who are employed full time, showing starting salaries (typically with two-years of experience) and mid-career annual earnings.

Here are selected occupations for the 2012-13 report.

Earnings by Major
College MajorStarting SalaryMid-career Salary
Chemical Engineering$67,500$111,000
Applied Mathematics$50,800$102,000
Political Science$40,300$74,700

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Source: http://www.payscale.com/college-salary-report-2013/majors-that-pay-you-back