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.

Please note: The Department of Economics Orientation Information Fall 2020 hand-out can be found here.

Please note: Fall 2020 - First year students and transfer students who do not have an economics advisor but have questions about economics should contact the economics first year advising representative, Professor Brian Baisa, bbaisa@amherst.edu.

Information for Transfer Students

Transfer Credit: Students who transfer to Amherst and wish to receive credit towards the major requirements for previous work must obtain written permission from the Department Chair.

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

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. **Covid-19 NOTE: For F20 ECON 111 waiting lists will be maintained by faculty. You should contact the faculty teaching the section you want to enroll in directly.**  Note that there is no guarantee a spot will open up.

The Structure of Economics 111/111E

For Fall 2020, Economics 111 will be taught in multiple sections. Each section covers similar material but meets on its own schedule.  Students may need to be flexible on scheduling in order to enroll in Economics 111. All sections will prepare students for the next steps in the Economics major.

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.  Please note that there is no guarantee a spot will open up.  To register for Econ 111, you should register for one of the four sections plus one of the discussion sections corresponding to that lecture.


Available ECON 111 Sections for Fall 2020
ECON 111-01 LEC TTh 1:30-2:50 DIS Wed 2:10-3:00 ECON 111F-01
ECON 111-02 LEC TTh 3:50-5:10 DIS Wed 4:00-4:50 ECON 111F-02
ECON 111-03 LEC MW 12:30-1:50 DIS Th 1:30-2:20 ECON 111F-03

ECON 111-04

 

LEC TTh 3:50-5:10

Online

DIS Fri 11:20-12:10

DIS Fri 1:00-1:50

In person

ECON 111F-04

ECON 111F-05

ECON 111-05

 

LEC TTh 10:10-11:30

Online

DIS Fri 9:00-9:50

DIS Fri 10:00-10:50

In person

ECON 111F-06

ECON 111F-07

*ECON 111E will not be taught AY 20-21


Exemptions to the Introductory Course in Economics

Students who display sufficient knowledge of elementary economics may have the option of placing 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. The F20 Economics Proficiency Exam will be available on Moodle from 8AM Monday, August 24 through 11PM Tuesday, August 25. In that time period you can select your own 90-minute window to take the exam. Please review the information on this Google Form and submit your name if you want to be enrolled to take the exam.
  • Please note: A second Proficiency Exam may be administered after August 25th if there is demand. The Google Form above remains open if you decide to take the exam after the 24th-25th.
  • 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 place out still opt to take Economics 111/111E.)

Fall 2020 Proficiency Exam schedule
Monday, August 24 Online at 8AM EST
Tuesday, August 25 Offline at 11PM EST

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

The Core. All majors must complete the sequence of core theory courses in microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics: ECON 300 or 301, 330 or 331, and 360 or 361. We would like to provide some guidance regarding the core sequence. First, to ensure appropriate preparation, students must attain a grade of B or better in ECON 111/111E or a grade of B- or better in an elective (numbered 200-290) before taking a core theory course. Entering students who place out of ECON 111/111E may register for a core course with consent of the instructor. Second, these courses can be taken in any order, but it is recommended that a student take either ECON 300/301 or 330/331 before enrolling in ECON 360/361. Third, it is not generally advisable to take more than one of the core theory courses in a given semester. Fourth, students should make every effort to complete the sequence of core theory courses by the end of the Junior year, or at the very latest by the end of the 7th semester (usually the fall semester of senior year). Failure to do so jeopardizes a student’s chances of graduating with an economics major. Only in truly exceptional circumstances will exceptions be made to this rule. Fifth, a student who receives a grade of F in a core theory course must retake that core theory course. A student who receives a grade of D in a core theory course may not count that course towards the major and must take ECON 390 (a special topics course focusing on that area of core theory) and receive a grade of C- or better in that special topics course. Sixth, the core theory courses must be completed at Amherst. In cases where there is compelling pedagogical rationale, a student may be permitted to substitute one or two non-Amherst courses for the core courses.  Such exceptions require a discussion with the Economics major advisorFollowing the discussion, exceptions may be requested by written petition to the Department. Requests will be considered only if the request is submitted prior to initiating the course work. 

The current economics courses can be found at our courses webpage.

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: **Covid-19 NOTE: For F20 all declarations will be handled remotely. Please fill out and submit this Google Form with required documents to begin the declaration process** 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.
Please check the Economics Student Handbook or drop by the Economics Department Office (Converse Hall 306) if you have any remaining questions.