The Economics Major

Economics studies how individuals, organizations, and governments pursue their goals, and helps us understand the efficiency and equity consequences of those decisions and interactions.  The study of economics is much broader than what you might think!  We do study markets, inflation, and the macroeconomy, but we also study health, migration, irrationality, history, unemployment, and game theory. We look forward to sharing our passion for economics with you.

If you are interested in economics, you should start with Economics 111/111E and then move on to a mix of core theory and electives classes.  The three core courses cover the core substantive material of economics in microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics.  In contrast, elective classes delve deeply into particular subject areas, such as industrial organization, environmental economics, economic history, or the economics of globalization.  You will get the most out of your economics studies if you are learning the core and also delving deeply into particular areas at the same time.  It is not essential that you take the core prior to starting electives, nor is it essential that you take the core in any particular order (though it is usually best start with micro or macro.)  After 111, try to take a mix of electives and core courses.

The Economics Student Handbook, the Catalog, and Advising

We encourage interested students to peruse the Economics Student Handbook and the department’s information in the Course Catalog.  Both are available online or in hard copy (you can pick up a paper copy of the Economics Student Handbook in the department office).   This page provides only the basics!  If you need further details, look in the Catalog and the Handbook, or come ask us in the Economics Department Office (Converse 306). 

If you declare a major in economics, you will be matched up with a departmental advisor who can help you navigate the economics curriculum in the best way possible for you.  This personal advising relationship is important!  If you plan to declare the economics major, you should do so in sophomore year, or at the very latest in early junior year so that we can work together to design your optimal course of study.  While this page provides a good deal of helpful information, it is no substitute for that personal advising relationship.

The Structure of the Economics Major

The economics major consists of a total of nine full-semester courses in economics, including:

  • An Introduction to Economics (111/111E)
  • Three core theory courses in Microeconomics (300 or 301), Macroeconomics (330 or 331), and Econometrics (360 or 361)
  • At least five other courses in economics, usually three or four electives numbered 200-290 and one or two electives numbered 400-490

There are also additional major requirements, which include:

  • In order to declare the economics major, a student must have earned at least a B in Economics 111/111E or at least a B- in a 200-level economics elective offered at Amherst College.
  • At least one of the electives must be an upper level elective (numbered 400-490).
  • Mathematics 111 or equivalent is also required.
  • Honors students must take a total of ten economics courses.  Two of these courses must be upper level electives, which does not include the thesis seminar in the fall of senior year.

The Introductory Course in Economics

Economics 111/111E is taught in separate sections of about 20-30 students each.  Each section covers the same material but meets on its own schedule.  (The “green section,” denoted with an “E” for environmental, pays particular attention to the economics of the environment and is recommended for students interested in environmental studies.)  Students should work with their advisor to choose a section that fits well into their schedule.  Each section of Econ 111 has only a limited number of spots; if a section is closed, you should choose another section that still has space.  If you decide to try to wait for a spot to open up in a closed section, you should get on the waiting list maintained in the Economics Department Office.  Note that there is no guarantee a spot will open up.

Students who display sufficient knowledge of elementary economics may have the option of passing out of Economics 111/111E if they wish.  We generally recommend that students pursuing this strategy start with a 200-level economics elective.  Students have several options for exhibiting sufficient proficiency in elementary economics:

  • Proficiency Examination in Economics: pass the exam given by the department. (Contact the Department for details.)
  • Advanced Placement Exam: a grade of 4 or 5 on both the micro and macro portions of the AP Exam.
  • International Baccalaureate: a grade of 6 or 7 on the higher level International Baccalaureate.
  • A-levels: grade of "A" on the A Levels.

If the College does not have a record of your successful completion of one of the alternative options, please provide documentation to the Department.  (Please note that many students who might be able to pass out still opt to take Economics 111/111E.) 

Elective Courses in Economics: 200-level and 400-level

There are many elective courses offered in economics, covering a wide variety of subject areas.  The typical economics major will take five or six economics electives.  The offerings change from year to year depending on the interests of students and faculty. 

The elective courses numbered in the 200s are colloquially called “lower-level electives.”  These courses require only Economics 111/111E as a prerequisite and are most appropriate for students relatively early in their study of economics.  They tend to be slightly larger lecture-based classes with 20 to 50 students. 

The elective courses numbered in the 400s are colloquially called “upper-level electives.”  These courses are generally smaller and more intense, require one or more of the core theory courses as prerequisites, and are appropriate for students further along in their study of economics.  They tend to be slightly smaller discussion-based classes with 15 to 30 students.

Core Courses: 300-level

All economics majors must complete the sequence of three 300-level core theory courses covering the three core areas of economics: microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics.  In order to register for a core theory course or to declare the economics major, a student must have earned at least a B in Economics 111/111E or at least a B- in a 200-level Amherst College economics elective.

Microeconomics addresses the behavior of individuals and firms, developing theories to understand how these actors make decisions in a variety of market situations.  Macroeconomics takes a more top-down approach, studying the behavior of the economy as a whole, through analysis of aggregate supply and demand, growth, inflation, and unemployment.  Econometrics completes the economist’s basic toolbox, developing statistical and mathematical tools to test economic hypotheses using empirical data.  Each core course is offered in a regular version and an advanced version; the advanced versions require additional mathematical preparation.

Finally, a few key items

The Faculty of the Department of Economics would like to remind all students of the following:

  • Economics Student Handbook: The Handbook contains important information about the major.  If you plan to major in economics, you should read the Handbook carefully.
  • Major Declarations: If you plan to major in economics, you should declare the major as soon as you have made that decision.  The economics major should be declared by the end of junior year (even for those who are double majoring!)
  • The Core: The three core courses should be finished by the end of junior year, or by the end of the fall semester of senior year at the latest.  Failure to do so jeopardizes your chances of graduating with an economics major.