14 Feb

Why Choose an Economics Degree?

There are many hard-working, intellectually curious students who often face, what appears to them at the time, a life-defining decision. What subject should they study at university? For some the decision is simple, if you want to become a doctor, dentist, mathematician then the answer is straight forward.

But what if you are undecided, have wide spanning interests and don’t fully know what you want to do after university? Given you have to decide at the young age of 17/18, it is very likely you don’t have a very well defined career and life plan. Those that do are definitely in the minority.

Allow us to help you consider your options and present why we think an economics degree is an excellent choice to keep your options open. It is however by no means the “best” option, as such an option simply doesn’t exist.

Once we’ve convinced you, feel free to learn more about how to write a strong economics personal statement and consider if our consultancy and mentorship program is right for you.

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Choice One – Passion vs. Commerciality

If you are strong in mathematics and related fields (statistics and physics) as well as in literature and related fields (languages, history, politics) then you’ll likely face the fortunate dilemma of choice. Or to be more accurate, choices.

The first of these choices will be how to balance your interest/passion with commercial practicalities. Fundamentally, what is the aim of going to university, should you prioritise your passion and choose ancient history, Latin, art etc. where the employment options are naturally more limited and less commercial than subjects seen as stronger, more rigorous and more in demand – mathematics, engineering, computer science, economics, physics etc..

For those that choose passion subjects, we are not here to convince you otherwise. We’re sure you’ve carefully considered your life options, your personal preferences etc. when making your decision. However, our view and general position would be to maintain some separation between passion and university choice. Ultimately, you will be incurring at least £35k+ in fees over the three years, will be subject to exams and, to us, it makes more sense for the decision to be made through a more commercial lens – what return am I getting for my time and investment.

This is not to say the decision is purely commercial and one picks a subject they are terrible at or cannot stand, you would of course still need to enjoy the subject. This is also not to say studying art for example has no commercial or practical outcome, there will be many counterexamples we’re sure that disprove the point, however we’re speaking in generalities. One can always take art, history and languages as a hobby in any case.

Choice Two – To Math or Not to Math

So with that out of the way, our recommendation to the general student is to see going to university as an investment of time and capital and pick a subject they enjoy and that has commercial potential, even if it is not the subject they are most passionate about.

The next question is then what are your options amongst the more commercially friendly subjects. We will list them below noting this isn’t a fully exhaustive list:

  • Mathematics
  • Natural Sciences – Physics, Chemistry, Biology
  • Engineering
  • Computer Science
  • Economics (and Finance)
  • Law

You’ll note that all of them, with the exception of law, require some degree of mathematical competence. As such, if you either completely hate mathematics (the language of nature and the universe) or aren’t keen on it, your options simplify considerably. Law is the field where you can get away with perhaps not needing to know basic addition (gross exaggeration). Chemistry and Biology come next where you do need to be comfortable with mathematics but not highly proficient. The rest all require higher level mathematics.

Choice Three – Which Subject

What if you are strong in mathematics, what is your best choice then? See below our high level thoughts on each subject:

  • Mathematics – only go down this route if you truly live and breathe mathematics and you are top in your school/region. In our view, this is one of the most rigorous and difficult subjects and, unless you want to pursue a career in academia or a highly mathematical field such as machine learning, aeronautics etc. there isn’t much of a point choosing pure mathematics.
  • Physics – this for many people is the perfect marriage between passion, rigour and commerciality. As A-levels students will know physics is essentially applied mathematics but in a much more thematic way. You don’t learn 50 different trigonometric identifies and differentiation /integration methods for no practical reason, rather you apply these concepts to understand nature and the universe. Of course, we are biased, but if we hadn’t studied economics, we would have chosen physics.
  • Engineering – If physics is mathematics applied to learn about nature and the universe (why it’s called a natural science), then engineering is mathematics and physics applied to what we may consider more practical matters such as the design, building and maintaining of structures, machines, systems, and processes used in the modern human world. Whilst physics looks to understand natural phenomena through theoretical models, engineering applies physics to solve human problems and find practical solutions to life’s challenges. To use an example, physics explain the concept of gravity, thrust, friction etc. and engineering then, working with the concepts physics has discovered, invents aeroplanes.
  • Computer Science – a far more modern subject compared to the rest on the list but one that, in some ways, is a combination of mathematics and engineering, however, to a very specific subject – computers of course. Similar to mathematics, computer science relies on logical thinking, problem-solving, and the development of algorithms. Discrete mathematics, in particular, plays a significant role in computer science, with concepts like set theory, graph theory, and combinatorics being commonly used. If engineering is an applied discipline that involves designing, building, and maintaining systems that are generally physical structures or machines, then in computer science you can think of the inventions more as computer hardware, software, and networks.

Whilst all of the above subjects will provide graduates strong employment options, which don’t necessarily have to be in the exact same domain as the subject itself, they all lack any relation to what are known as the humanities or social sciences. Thinking back to the first choice many students find themselves making – passion vs. commerciality. What if there was a way to retain the mathematical/problem-solving skills the above subjects provide but also not give up other incredibly interesting topics discussed in politics, anthropology, philosophy such as:

  • Why is there poverty and what can be done about it?
  • Why are there economic cycles of growth and recessions, can we predict when they will occur?
  • Why are some countries more developed than others, why are some growing faster than others?
  • What is the stock market and what are shares?

As students graduate and start making their way through adult life, the above questions and more common real-world business, political, economic topics become increasingly relevant. Your knowledge of abstract mathematics, quantum mechanics may serve you well in your niche career, but ultimately in life these broader real-world questions play an ever increasing and important role.

An economics degree offers the unison of the “hard” sciences and the humanities/social science related topics mentioned above. It is a multidisciplinary field that uses complex mathematical and statistical techniques applied to real-world political, historical, geographical issues amongst many other topics. It is also a field that keeps ones career options open – for those that want to go into politics, think tanks, NGOs, they can do so, others can go into investment banking and finance, and lastly, those that want to pursue a career in academia can branch off into many subfields.

To learn more about what it’s like studying for an economics degree at university, please refer to our simplified economics student guidebook found here.