Matthew L.’s Answer
Hi Kolby. Great question. Economics is one of those majors that many people don't really understand. It's not as obvious as being an education major or an anthropology major, for instance.
Strictly speaking, economics is classified as a social science and is "concerned with the production, distribution and consumption of intangibles such as time and talent, and tangibles like housing, money, supplies, equipment and labor." Basically, economists analyze how a society uses things like money, people and other resources.
I've taken a lot of econ classes in under graduate and grad school, and from experience I can tell you it helps to be really good at math to be a great economist. These days, it also helps to be good at, or at least comfortable with computers and software. Much of the data you collect and analysis you do will be computer-based. Much of the data may be recorded and housed in databases, so if you understand how databases work you'll be way ahead of most of your classmates. You will be even more valuable if you are able to write computer code. One other thing I would suggest is getting very good at Excel. Lot of the data, financial modeling and other work you will do in college and after will be done in Excel.
One of the interesting things about getting a degree in econ is that there are many levels of education. How far you have to go (or want to go) will largely govern what type of job you get. Generally speaking, these are:
- Associate's or Bachelor's Degree (entry-level or one to two years of experience): Strategy Consultant, Research Analyst
- Master's Degree (four years of college plus 2 years of graduate school): Economist, Macro-Economic Quantitative Researcher, Instructor (Community College), Director of Research Analytics, Lead Economic Capital Modeling Analyst, Credit Risk Manager, Risk Analyst
- Doctoral Degree/PhD (typically 4 years undergrad and at least 3 years of post-undergrad study): Economist, Macro-Economic Quantitative Researcher, Professor, Consultant
What you ultimately want to do with the degree will dictate how long you have to be in school. The truth is, there are not a lot of pure economist jobs available for people with only an associates or bachelor's degree. In all likelihood, with a 2 or 4-year degree you will get a job doing consumer research or as an analyst or researcher. You won't be the person who brings all the data together and writes the final report on what the research means. If you want to teach economics at the college level, you will definitely need a Ph.D. or at least a master degree. Generally, business degrees require several economics courses. If you like high fiance (investment banking, private equity, venture capital, etc.), an econ degree will serve you well because many of those types of firms need economists to help translate complicated patterns and statistics into usable data.
Economics is a great degree to get if you plan to go on to graduate school and get an MBA, a masters, a Ph.D., or even a law degree. The good news is, if you get a low level job at a firm that employs economists, if the firm likes you or if it has educational benefits as part of the package, you can pursue a masters, MBA or Ph.D. while you are working. Investigate the firms that offer tuition assistance as part of their benefits program. State and the federal government employ a lot of economists too.
Some of my favorite economists are Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, Thomas Sowell and Mohamed El-Erian. If you want to learn about what economists do and what they think and write about, read anything by these people. I also like the way Paul Krugman writes, but he's not a very good economist (he's usually wrong about the important stuff even though they did give him a Noble Prize once).
Some of my friends from college who majored in economics went on to work for think tanks in Washington, DC, investment companies, consulting firms, government, private equity, and market research firms. Many of them also went to get graduate degrees in economics. One of them even got a Ph.D.
Before you major in econ, I would also suggest you get an internship (paid or unpaid) with a firm that employs one or more economists. You're not too far from Houston, but most cities will have consulting firms, investment banks, oil companies or marketing firms that have economists on staff. They love having unpaid (sometimes even paid) interns around. This is the best way to get a feel for what economists actually do on a daily basis.
Bottom line is, there are lots of jobs available to econ majors. However, if you want to work in finance, investment banking, teach college, or work for a think tank or major consulting firm, you'll likely need at least a masters or a Ph.D. Anything less than that and you'll probably wind up doing research and lower level work for the guys with the Ph.D.'s, masters and MBAs. If you know computers and have a degree in economics you'll be in really good shape to get the job you want. Good luck!
Matthew L. recommends the following next steps:
- Start reading things written by respected economists. Many of them (Thomas Sowell, Paul Krugman) write newspaper columns that are easy to find, they write well, and are easy to understand. Find and watch Youtube videos by smart economists like Mohamed El-Erian. You can usually find lectures by great econ professors at MIT, Harvard, University of Chicago, etc. Watch these.
- Take a lot of math and computer classes in school. The better you are at math and computers, the more marketable you will be once you get out of college. Work on math and computing skills outside school. Check out the Khan Academy or any other organization that offers free on-line courses in math, statistics, and computer coding.
- Get an internship with a company that employs one or more economists. Look at consulting firms, oil companies, big banks, and marketing firms. Ask to follow them around so you can find out what they really do on a daily basis. If you like it, great. If not, pick another major or find another area of business you like (there are hundreds and hundreds of business specialties).
- Start scoping out colleges (if you have not already done so) that have good economics/business departments. Get the best grades you can in high school so you can get into the best possible college. Get the best grades you can in college so you can get into the best grad school possible. Visit the colleges and meet the econ profs.
- Go to a local 4-year or community college now and ask to sit in on an econ class or two. They will usually let you. See if it seems interesting to you.