Best Undergraduate Schools for Economics: The Complete Guide

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Students of economics learn quantitative analysis and research techniques so that they can study the effects of human behavior and government policy upon the world. Economists investigate resource management, production methods, levels of output, and consumer decisions in order to analyze how these decisions affect market prices, quality of life, the environment, and more.

Economics majors may study a wide variety of subjects, including demand theory, cost theory, analysis of market structure, government regulation of business, inflation theory, unemployment, the determination of interest rates, and  financial flows between nations.

A Bachelor’s Degree in Economics can prepare you for a wide variety of careers. It’s relevant to banking, business, social service, government policy, charity work, and more. Possibilities include: 

  • Business consultant 
  • Investment analyst
  • Accountant
  • Financial manager
  • Market research analyst
  • Venture capital investor 
  • Statistical analyst
  • Actuary
  • Supply chain auditor
  • Insurance underwriter
  • Industry analyst 
  • Network analyst 
  • Consultant 
  • Educator 
  • Graduate student
  • Lawyer 
  • Paralegal

In this article, you’ll learn about ten of the best schools for students who plan to study economics. We’ve also included a list at the end of other excellent schools for you to consider. 

Carnegie Mellon University

This private university is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was founded in the year 1900. The Carnegie Mellon motto, “My heart is in the work,” comes from its founder Andrew Carnegie. 

Over 14,500 students attend Carnegie Mellon University each year. Roughly half of those students are pursuing their Bachelor’s degrees. 

The Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon offers the following programs:

  • BA in Economics
  • BS in Economics
  • BS in Economics and Politics
  • BS in Economics and Mathematical Sciences
  • BS in Economics and Statistics
  • Minor in Economics

All of these choices emphasize statistical analysis, economic models, and quantitative analysis. The freshman-year curricula for each of these options is similar; students generally decide which program of study to pursue after their first year.

Compared to the BA, the BS degree requires additional mathematics coursework, an advanced economics data analysis course, and six economics electives courses. Electives include Behavioral Economics, Benefit-Cost Analysis, Forecasting for Economics and Business, International Money, and Finance.

The BA offers more flexibility for students who wish to take related courses through other departments and explore economics through the lens of history, politics, philosophy, and/or psychology.

Tepper offers six potential areas of concentration:

  • Advanced Quantitative Methods
  • Global Change and Disruption 
  • Global Markets and Finance
  • Market Design and the Digital Economy
  • Policy and Social Impact
  • Strategy and Markets

Students research alongside faculty. Nine Nobel Prizes awarded for economic research were conducted at the Tepper School.

Cornell University

This Ivy League university is located in Ithaca, New York. Founded in 1865, Cornell has been coeducational (accepting both men and women) and nonsectarian (not associated with a particular religion) from the very beginning. Its motto, Any Person… Any Study, comes from its founder Ezra Cornell, who said,  “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.”

The 2,300-acre campus is often hailed as one of the most beautiful in the country. An excellent option for biology majors with an interest in botany, Cornell boasts botanic gardens that span 4,300 acres. It includes an herb garden, ponds, and a 150-acre arboretum.

There are roughly 24,000 students; 15,000 of these are undergraduates. Because its undergraduate population is much larger than other Ivy League schools, Cornell also offers a higher acceptance rate than its fellows; over ten percent of applicants are admitted.

Before applying for admission to the Economics Major, students must complete three courses: Introductory Microeconomics, Introductory Macroeconomics, and Introductory Calculus. 

Students of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations can choose to minor in Economics. Cornell also offers a Business major called Applied Economics and Management. Many Economics majors earn a second major in Math, Computer Science, Statistics, Psychology, or Government. Economics majors can choose to minor in Business. 

Duke University

This private research university was founded by Quakers and Methodists in 1838. In 1892, the school moved from its original location in Trinity to its current location in Durham, North Carolina. Its motto, Eruditio et Religio, means Knowledge and Faith.

The campus spans over 8,600 acres and boasts stunning gothic architecture constructed from multicolored, locally sourced stone. There are also Georgian-style buildings and a modern, glass-walled Environmental Hall.

There are over 16,000 students and approximately 6,500 undergraduates at any given time.

Duke’s Department of Economics offers three majors and two minors:

  • Bachelor of Science in Economics
  • Bachelor of Science in Economics with a Finance Concentration
  • Bachelor of Arts in Economics
  • Minor in Economics
  • Minor in Finance

Each of the majors requires three to four math courses and one statistics course. All Economics students take these core courses:

  • Economic Principles
  • Intermediate Microeconomics I
  • Intermediate Microeconomics II
  • Econometrics and Data Science
  • Intermediate Macroeconomics

Students then choose from elective courses that are grouped into four general fields: Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, History of Economics, and Finance.

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Georgia Institute of Technology

Georgia Tech is a public research university located in Atlanta. Founded in 1885, its motto is Progress and Service. Although it’s close to downtown Atlanta, Georgia Tech has a sprawling campus with a fair amount of greenery. Over 15,000 undergraduates and 20,000 postgraduates attend this university each year.

The School of Economics at Georgia Tech offers the following degrees:

  • B.S. in Economics
  • B.S. in Global Economics and Modern Languages
  • B.S. in Economics and International Affairs
  • B.S./M.S. in Economics

They also offer four minors:

  • Economics 
  • Microeconomics of Strategic Analysis 
  • Energy Systems 
  • Summer Minor in Economics

Students choosing to major in Economics can choose from the following focus areas:

  • Development Economics
  • Health Economics and Data Analysis 
  • Industrial Organization
  • International Trade
  • Microeconomics of Strategic Analysis
  • Environmental Management and Energy Economics

Students who wish to earn a degree in Global Economics and Modern Languages can choose to study Chinese, French, German, Japanese, or Spanish. They can also choose to focus on Banking and Economics, Economic Development, or International Economics.

Harvard University

Harvard is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just a few miles from downtown Boston. It was established in the year 1636. Their faculty includes more Nobel laureates than any other school in the world. Their motto is simple: the Latin word Veritas, which means Truth. The campus hosts upwards of 20,000 students each year; fewer than 7,000 of these are undergraduates.

At Harvard, they use the word Concentration instead of major. All Economics Concentrators must take courses in introductory and intermediate economic theory as well as basic calculus. After these courses are complete, a Sophomore Tutorial focuses on helping students combine these concepts in order to do their own research. 

The Harvard Department of Economics takes a broad view of the subject. They investigate issues like the effects of school vouchers upon education, the effects of politicians upon the business cycle, grade inflation, and the effects of religiosity upon economic growth. 

Students are permitted to take certain courses from other departments and apply them towards their Economics Concentration. Options include Economists on Building a Better Society, Climate Policy, The Political Economy of Globalization, The Economic Impact of Immigration, Poverty and Development, and The Causes and Consequences of Inequality. 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university in Cambridge that hosts roughly 4,500 undergraduates each year. Founded in 1861, MIT is one of the most selective schools in the country. Its motto Mens et Manus means Mind and Hand. 

MIT occupies 166 acres along the Charles River. It operates according to a 4-1-4 academic calendar. The fours represent the two semesters, and the one represents the Independent Activities Period, a one-month term that occupies the month of January. 

The student-faculty ratio at MIT is three to one.

Students don’t declare a major when applying to MIT. They spend their first year undeclared before committing to a specific course of study. MIT’s General Institute Requirements include: 

  • Science Core (Biology, Chemistry, Calculus, and Physics)
  • Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) Requirement
  • Communication
  • Lab Requirement
  • Restricted Electives in Science and Technology (REST) Requirement
  • Physical Education Requirement (this includes a swim test)

MIT offers the following Bachelor of Science Degrees:

  • Computer Science, Economics, and Data Science
  • Economics
  • Mathematical Economics 

Students majoring in Economics must take the following courses:

  • Principles of Microeconomics
  • Principles of Macroeconomics
  • Intermediate Microeconomic Theory or
    Economic Applications of Game Theory or
    Networks or
    Strategy and Information or
    Market Design or
    Economics of Incentives
  • Intermediate Applied Macroeconomics 
  • Introduction to Statistical Methods in Economics
  • Econometric Data Science
  • Econ. Research & Communication 

Students must also take four elective Economics courses. Choices include Economics and E-Commerce, The Challenge of World Poverty, The Development of Medieval Economics, and Market Design. 

University of Michigan

This public research university was founded in Detroit in 1817; it eventually moved to the city of Ann Arbor, where its first classes were held in 1841. Nearly 30,000 undergraduates attend this university each year. Its motto is Artes, Scientia, Veritas: Art, Knowledge, Truth.

The campus is huge, with over 500 major buildings. It is divided by the Huron River and connected by bus services.

At the University of Michigan, students can choose to major or minor in Economics. Before declaring an Economics major, students must pass two introductory economics classes and a calculus course. Next, students take two courses in Core Economic Theory and at least two courses in Core Statistics and Econometrics. The rest of the course requirements are electives. Options include:

  • Economics of Crime
  • American Industries
  • Money and Banking
  • Public Finance
  • Crime, Economics and Public Policy
  • Law and Economics
  • Industrial Organization and Performance
  • Game Theory
  • Growth Theory
  • Financial Economics

You can find a complete course list here

University of Pennsylvania 

Founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1740, Penn predates the Declaration of Independence. This Ivy League school is located in Philadelphia. Its motto, Leges sine moribus vanae, means Laws Without Morals Are Useless.

The University of Pennsylvania has over 10,000 undergraduate students. Its campus includes a 24-acre park and a 300-acre urban forest with over 6,500 trees. Its library system consists of 15 buildings and over seven million books.

The Economics Department at the University of Pennsylvania offers two majors (Economics and Mathematical Economics) and two different minor programs (Economics and Economics Policy).

Econ majors must complete two calculus courses and six Economics courses:

  • Introduction to Microeconomics
  • Introduction to Macroeconomics
  • Microeconomic Theory
  • Macroeconomic Theory
  • Statistics for Economists
  • Introduction to Econometrics

Students then choose four elective courses, which are grouped into these categories:

  • Econometrics
  • Empirical Microeconomics
  • Macroeconomics
  • Microeconomics / Game Theory
  • International and Development Economics

Unique course offerings include Economics of Family, Social Choice Theory, Decision Making, and Economics of Education.  

Stanford University 

Stanford is located in central California. Founded in 1885, Stanford was one of the first universities to offer a nonsectarian education to both men and women. Their motto, Die Luft der Freiheit weht, means ‘The wind of freedom blows’. 

Stanford offers a choice of 40 academic departments for undergraduates, all located on a single sprawling campus. Its buildings were modeled after California’s Spanish missions; they have sandstone walls and red tile roofs. Stanford is close to San Francisco, beaches, mountains, and state parks filled with redwood trees. 

There are upwards of 16,000 students at any given time, with around 7,000 undergraduate students. Admission is highly competitive. Stanford has a student-to-faculty ratio of five to one. 

First-year students are assigned a Stanford Newcomer Guide (SNG) to help them transition to college life. Stanford encourages students to declare a major their first year and change majors later if it’s not a good fit. 

Stanford Economics majors must complete six core Econ classes, five field courses, and four electives. Options include:

  • Principles of Economics
  • Understanding the Welfare System
  • Experimental Economics
  • Navigating Financial Crises in the Modern Global Economy
  • Energy, the Environment, and the Economy
  • Causes and Consequences of the Rise in Inequality
  • Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy
  • Media Markets and Social Good
  • Economic Development, Microfinance, and Social Networks
  • Economics of Health and Medical Care
  • Family and Society

All Stanford students must fulfill a senior project requirement. 

Yale University

This private research university was founded in 1701 as the Collegiate School and renamed Yale College in 1718. Chartered by the Connecticut Colony, Yale is located in New Haven. Its motto Lux et veritas means Light and Truth. 

Twelve thousand students attend Yale each year; roughly 4,700 of those students are undergraduates. The campus spans over one thousand acres; the main campus occupies 260 acres in downtown New Haven. Many of its striking buildings were constructed in the Collegiate Gothic architecture style in the early twentieth century. Much of the rest of the campus alternates between red-brick buildings and green courtyards. 

Yale’s approach to economics goes beyond conventional topics like macroeconomics and finance. At Yale, econ students study a wide range of topics. Examples include:

  • The effect of crime on urban residential patterns
  • How international trade affects the environment 
  • The effect of charter schools on student performance
  • How charities can raise more money
  • Which interventions help underfunded communities prosper 
  • The impacts of national health reform
  • Gender and racial wage gaps 

Economics courses include Game Theory, Economics of Uncertainty and Information, Central Banking, The Global Financial Crisis, Social Issues in America, and Economic Analysis of Law. You can find a complete list here.

At Yale, the introductory economics courses have no prerequisites, but students must take calculus before moving on to higher-level coursework. One in three economics majors also major in another subject. Yale also offers a degree in Ethics, Politics and Economics. Yale offers a wide range of research opportunities to its econ students, as well as internship and employment opportunities. 

Other Excellent Schools For Economics

The schools above are some of the most prestigious in the nation, but there are so many other excellent options to consider. Look into these schools as you go about your research: 

  • Brandeis University 
  • Brown University
  • Claremont McKenna College 
  • Columbia University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Georgetown University 
  • The Ohio State University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Michigan State University
  • New York University
  • Northwestern University
  • Pomona College
  • Princeton University 
  • Rice University 
  • Saint Louis University 
  • Texas A&M University 
  • University of Arizona
  • University of California Berkeley 
  • University of Chicago 
  • University of Delaware
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Southern California 
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Virginia
  • University of Wisconsin 
  • Vanderbilt University 
  • Washington & Lee University 
  • William & Mary

Conclusion: The Best Schools For Economics

Finding the right college isn’t just about rankings or prestige. It’s about finding an environment that meets your needs and suits your strengths. You’ll need to consider location and finances too. 

If the process of deciding which colleges to apply to feels overwhelming, click the link below for college application help. Our team of trained professionals can create a list of schools tailored to you and help you apply.

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