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What to expect when studying an economics degree

Find out everything about studying economics abroad, from entry requirements to career opportunities and more!

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An economics degree is a perennially popular choice for international students. The subject offers a wide scope of academic enquiry with the potential to specialise in numerous related fields. From a career perspective a degree in economics is popular because of the range of work opportunities it provides for graduates in a number of sectors. We’ve taken an in depth look at what you’ll encounter when studying economics, what the subject involves and your potential career options if you choose to study economics.


What is economics?


Economics is the study and analysis of the distribution of resources. It encompasses many facets of human activity, from the exchange of goods for money to the rendering of services. Economics focuses on the interconnections that exist in a system of resource exchange and how humans interface with this. For example, when you but milk from a shop you’re connected to who produced the milk, the company that sells it, the price set by the store or government, the producer of the container and of course where you got the money to pay for it.


Economics is definitely for you if you’re interested in exploring this web of connections and it certainly extends much further than simply buying and selling goods. When studying economics you’ll understand the policies of governments, organisations, banking and even why you pay what you do for rent or university fees. British economist John Maynard Keynes once remarked that the world is ruled by little else than by economics itself.


Studying economics will give you a global perspective and is an often followed path by international students studying at universities around the world. In some cases economics is taken as a major subject in a business or commerce degree, or it can be taken as a full degree. You’ll pick up key skills that will help you enter a number of variable careers with an intimate understanding of the economic and financial elements thereof.


What are the entry requirements for an economics degree?


In order to apply for and study a degree in economics you’ll need to tick a few boxes. One of the non-negotiables is that you have a qualification that includes mathematics and a good mark associated with the subject. This would need to be the equivalent of a UK A-Level A (minimum B) or a good International Baccalaureate qualification (or equivalent) with maths for study in the USA. In addition, you will need to have taken a social sciences subject such as sociology, history or politics. This shows that you have the ability to undertake written and research based assignments. In addition, if you’ve taken statistics as well, that will definitely aid your cause


It’s also going to be important that you have evidence of English language proficiency. This may differ between countries and destinations but a general rule is that you will need to have an IELTS score (or equivalent) of 6.0 to 7.0 with no single band less than 5.5. In some instances you may be able to take a pathway course or a pre-sessional English course to help you meet the entry requirements.


What will I study in an economics degree?


Perhaps you have visions of trading on the stock market floor in New York or working out how you’ll save the world from a financial crash. While there are elements of these that you may cover, economics is a very broad discipline and it’s unlikely that you’ll be bored.


Naturally you will need to have a good ability to work with and understand numbers with a high level of mathematical literacy. You’ll be working with countless graphs, sets of figures and equations. Some of the subjects and modules you could find yourself studying include economic theory, statistics, economic mathematics, investment analysis, finance (corporate, investment and international), macroeconomics, and market analysis. That’s not all however, you’ll also tackle areas such as philosophy, politics, sociology and history. Economics can be offered as both a BA and BSc qualification, depending on the university.


Check out some of the best institutions in the UK for studying economics:



Studying economics also means you’ll likely have a combination of lectures, seminars, assignments and examinations. It is also possible that you will be involved in groupwork and collaborative projects. Your assessment for the course will be a combination of your coursework and examination results over a semester and year.


Then there’s labour economics, and econometrics. You’ll learn to know the difference between micro and macro, as well as orthodox and heterodox. For example, a module on the economics of business will not be the same as one on the economics of development. Economics certainly isn’t a one-track course.


You could also explore the different types of economics courses on offer at universities such as economics and management, business and economics, economics and marketing and so on. These programs focus on a particular area of economics which might be better suited to your career aspirations and interests.


What traits will I need to study economics?


In order to study economics you should be a person who can combine an analytical approach with an understanding of how economics operates within the wider world. It is about being open to new ideas, solutions and viewpoints that take into account numerous issues and opinions.  You may be surprised by how much you study in an economics degree and the variety of areas and disciplines you’ll consult.


At undergraduate level you will get a more overarching view of the various aspects of economics with a focus on related areas, such as mathematics and finance. As you possibly progress to an honour’s, master’s or PhD degree the level of complexity and specialised focus increases. You may find yourself as a specialist in financial markets, taxation or even investment banking.


Will where I choose to study economics make a difference?


The short answer is, it may. Not all institutions will adopt the identical approach to teaching economics. The university and country you choose to study in can play a role in what you learn and the lens through which view the operation of economics. As with any field there are spirited debates, new theories and disagreements. This is especially true of economics as it is inherently political by virtue of the fact it deals with the distribution of resources, which in turn relates to inequality and poverty.


You could find yourself in a program that seeks to develop solutions to inequality through the development of entrepreneurial and micro economic activity or perhaps you will be taught a more orthodox form of the science in line with mainstream thinking and consensus. Some course may give attention to alternate economics models such as Marxism, socialism or environmental economics.  


The point is that where you study will effect what you study, so it’s important to choose a university with a department where you interests are reflected, either by the academic staff or the module choices. It’s so important to do your research and talk to a university before you apply. Ask questions and find out what you can expect.


Why not take a look at some of the institutions offering economics in Canada:



What are the career options for an economics graduate?


Just as the subject of economics is broad and varied, so are the potential career options that are available. This could be everything from working at the World Bank to working in the not-for-profit charity sector. Much will depend on your interests, abilities and outlook.  Studying economics does give you a good chance of earning a decent salary, particularly as employers value the analytical and detail oriented skills graduates of economics can bring.


You will be well placed to provide solutions and problem solving skills. Additionally, you’ll be ideally prepared to take on some of the real-world issues you’ll encounter in the workplace.  What is a positive about having studied economics is the transferability of your skill set to numerous fields and industries. Having studied economics you may go on to work in a number of fields including:


  • Data analytics
  • Actuarial science
  • Risk management
  • Investment analysis
  • Statistics
  • Banking
  • Stockbroking
  • Auditing
  • Economic policy
  • Quantity surveying
  • Civil service


As an economics graduate in the UK you can expect to earn in the region of about GBP 23,000 to GBP 30,000 when starting out and this may increase to GBP 35,000 with a few more years of experience. If you work in the field for an extended period of time you may have the possibility of earning up to GBP 70,000 for more senior roles. In Canada you could expect to start out on a salary of about CAD 52,000 moving upwards to CAD 90,000 for senior roles. In the USA the starting salary for graduates sits at about USD 50,000 which can move upwards of UDS 80,000 for senior roles.


Now that you are armed with more knowledge of what to expect when studying an economics degree you may want to start looking for your perfect programme with our course matcher tool. Don’t forget to also check out our useful guides on matching your study and career path, developing entrepreneurial skills at university and the top rated universities in the world

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