What is Economics?
Economics is the study of the allocation of resources, that is, how, why and to what effect market and non-market institutions (such as governments) distribute goods and services. Economics purports to be a scientific discipline meaning that it uses abstract mathematical models to capture the essential features of more complex real world processes and tests the validity of these models against available economic data. Studying economics is therefore about developing problem-solving skills, including mathematical and statistical techniques as well as more general analytical skills.
Although the behavior of individuals is important, economics also addresses the collective behavior of businesses and industries, governments and countries, and the globe as a whole.
Microeconomics starts by thinking about how individuals and firms make decisions. Macroeconomics considers aggregate outcomes. The two points of view are essential in understanding most economic phenomena.
BSc Economics vs. BA Economics
Students studying on a BSc Economics degree course will learn pure mathematics and statistical theory and techniques for application in economic theory. Consequently, universities offering BSc Economics programmes expect candidates to offer Mathematics to A2 level (or equivalent). Exceptions to this include UEA and Lancaster, as they only offer BSc Economics.
Most leading redbrick universities now offer BSc Economics programmes, considered to be of more worth and academic satisfaction than the BA. However bear in mind it does not make a difference to employers in the UK, but can give you slight edge internationally.
Cambridge BA Economics, Exeter BA Economics, Durham BA Economics and any Oxford Economics-related BAs are still very quantitative - it is the tradition of these universities that all Oxford, Cambridge and Durham degrees are BAs (even Mathematics and science), whilst it is only tradition for all Exeter undergraduates course in economics to be named a BA. Other universities give opportunities to study quantitative modules in BA Economics degree programmes, such as Nottingham. The title BA at times can mean flexibility while at other times it can mean a more qualitative and essay based Economics programme. So look out for this.
The use of mathematical methods has become increasingly more important in economics, allowing a more rigorous analysis of economic theory and permitting the precise formulation of abstract economic situations. This has led to a greater development in the field, progressing economic theory. In fact, econometrics is the study of testing economic theory using data statistical methods such as hypothesis testing. Interestingly, the mathematical tools used in physics and economics are becoming increasingly similar, partially due to the work of Paul Samuelson (1915 – 2009). For instance, many mathematical descriptions formulated in physics are now being applied to economics, leading to the formulation of a new branch of economics known as Econophysics.
Students studying on a BA Economics degree course may use some mathematics, but to a much lesser extent than those on a BSc Economics programme. Often universities will only demand GCSE Mathematics (a B or above) for this programme. BA Economics involves a lot more discursive arguments and essays, and involves greater amounts of qualitative study, sometimes possibly in related social science fields. There is less competition for entry onto this course than on BSc Economics.
BSc Economics tends to offer a wider range of career opportunities, as the quantitative element is especially appealing to jobs in the financial services industry requiring an affinity for numeracy, or even quantitative ability. Careers in quantitative finance, such as investment banking, prefer BSc Economics graduates (or Oxbridge and Durham BAs) because of the mathematics and statistics they have learnt, which is not only a key aspect of the job, but demonstrates rigorous and analytical thinking. However it is important to note that if one seeks extrememly quantitative financial careers, one would be more suited studying Mathematics at university. Besides investment banking, other common graduate destinations in the finance field includes Accounting (e.g. Big4) and Actuary. A masters or Phd is required for Economist positions in national or international organisations like the IMF and OECD.
Universities offering Economics
Due to the popularity of the subject amongst students, its career prospects and its increasing importance in today's world, the majority of universities in the UK offer degree programmes in Economics or subsdiary degree programmes with an Economics component. For a complete list of all universities that offer Economics, refer to the UCAS database.
It would also be wise to refer to the online prospectuses of universities, to see which courses you would enjoy or which university you would like to study at. Reputable universities, known as the big 5, include Cambridge, London School of Economics, University College London, The University of Warwick, Oxford.
Joint-honours Economics courses
There are two-types of joint-honours courses. If the course title is 'Mathematics and Economics', then you will spend half of your time studying Mathematics, and the other half studying Economics. Here, both subjects have an equal weighting in your degree. However, if the course title is 'Mathematics with Economics', then three-quarters of your time will be spent learning Mathematics, and the other quarter will be spent studying Economics. Here, the Economics has only a subsidiary weighting to your final degree mark.
The nature of Economics is such that it can be combined with several different subjects, because of its multidisciplinary nature. Different universities offer different subject combinations - the joint-honours courses available and which universities offer them can be found on the UCAS database.
The most popular combinations include:
- Economic history
- Foreign Language
- Social Policy
- Economic Psychology (at UEA from 2010)
Economics is one of the most competitive courses, so the top five courses (Cambridge, LSE, UCL, Warwick and Oxford) will look for an excellent academic record. This includes good GCSEs (A*s and As) and good AS results and A Level predictions (all As) in at least three 'traditional' subjects. However many applicants to the top five will offer four or more strong subjects, applicants with only three subjects are at a disadvantage here.
A Level Economics is not a stated requirement for any university in the UK. However, it is advisable that you do study it if you intend to apply for the top courses as many other applicants will have taken it. Cambridge has noted that A-Level Economics is 'preferable' which is an indicator that admissions tutors at the top five are receptive to it. If Economics is not offered at your 6th Form/college then it will help your application if this is mentioned in your reference.
For the top twenty courses in the country, A-level Maths is usually a requirement (although there are a few exceptions, see uni websites).
A-Level Further Maths is helpful if you are applying for the top five courses and you may be at a great disadvantage if you do not offer it in your application as many other applicants will have it. Again if Further Maths is not offered at your school then it would help if this was mentioned in your reference.
For more specific information on academic requirements for Economics, you should look at the websites of the universities you are interested in. nts If you want guidance on what 5 universities to select on UCAS then check out The Econ Uni Application Guide
Undergraduate Economics University League Table
There is also The Alternative Economics League Table TAELT which is available exclusively on TSR. It groups universities in terms of how competitive they are to get into by considering:
i)their typical grade offer
ii)the average UCAS points of it's Economics students.
Then for each university it gives lots of useful information such as:
i) which course require specific A-levels
ii) Which courses are in Extra this year.
Useful Information for Applicants (**some information is either outdated or incorrect - I've corrected some of it, but not all**)
|Course||TAELT 2010||Times 2009||Typical Offer (2013)||Maths Requirement||Notes|
|Cambridge||3||1||A*AA||A* in Maths||Interview. Offers may differ by college. A level Econ 'desirable', A level Further Maths 'useful'|
|Oxford||2||3||A*AA||Maths||Economics & Management. TSA. Interview. Offers may differ by college. A level Maths now 'essential'.|
|LSE||1||2||A*AA||A* in Maths||Further Maths at any level 'highly preferred' (if your school offers it)|
|UCL||4||4||A*AAe||A* in Maths||E in fourth AS Level|
|Warwick||5||5||A*AAB - A*AAa||A in Maths||A in fourth AS Level. B in fourth A2.|
|Durham||6||6||A*AA||A in A-level Maths||A level Maths preferred|
|Nottingham||7||8||A*AA-A*ABB||GCSE A||A level Maths preferred|
|Bristol||8||9||A*AA-ABB||AAAA-AAAB in C1, C2, C3 and C4||Only 40 places, not a good back up option.|
|Bath||9||15||A*AA||A||A Level Econ strongly preferred. Option to do 4 year course with 1 year placement.|
UCAS Form & Personal Statement
The personal statement is a chance for you to show the admissions tutor that you have the commitment and interest to study economics for three years. You should think about your personal statement over the summer and perhaps produce a draft version. When you return to school make sure you ask your teachers to read it and see what they have to say (however some teachers are not very good at giving PS advice, do not trust them!), keep on redrafting and improving your personal statement until you are happy with it.
You should keep a sophisticated (but not pretentious) style, make sure spelling, grammar and punctuation are correct, be concise and insightful, do not write about irrelevant details.
For the top five courses, extra curricular activities are not very important, your academic interest in economics and the economics course are much more relevant to the admissions tutor.
For one ex PS Helper's personal views on how to do an economics PS, check out Any Questions on how to do a good Economics Personal Statement?
Economics is one of the most popular degree choices in the UK and thus experiences a high level of competition not only at Oxbridge and LSE but also at several other top courses. Meeting the grades requirement for a top course is usually not enough to secure an offer so it is advisable that you do not be over optimistic in your choices if you do not want to risk five rejections.
Although the table below shows that some courses are less competitive in terms of applicants per place, this does not mean that it is easier to get into because the quality of applicants is not taken into account.
|Course||/ Applications /||/ Places /||/ Applicants per place|
(data collected from university prospectus and from emailing admission tutors)
The course structure varies across all universities, but there will be compulsory units in mathematics, statistics, economic theory (microeconomics and macroeconomics), as well as applied economics.
Life as an Economics Student
Graduate Destinations and Career Prospects
For many candidates a degree in economics is the starting place for a career in IB (Investment Banking) or other financial sectors. An economics degree will be viewed very highly by any company and can pave the way into most types of careers.
Another profession economics students head into is working as an Economist. Some firms prefer their employees to hold a masters degree, although this depends on the employer. Many Economists join the Government Economic Service, which is the UK’s largest recruiter of Economists. To get a sense of other careers open to you as an economics student you can look at the Economist Jobs available.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is A-level Economics essential for university?
No is the basic answer, economics A level may help you but for many universities it is not required. To find out which universities do require it or have it as a recommended subject you will have to visit their websites or look in prospectuses. Maths is the key subject for economics at the top universities, again each universities entry requierment will vary so check prospectuses and websites.