Class 12 Board examination results are out, University of Delhi has started releasing its cut-offs, and there is a cacophony of students and parents all around, in a dilemma about which college to apply for and what career path to undertake. In all this hullabaloo of marks, entrances, cut-offs, shortlists and waitlists, the anxiety about choosing the right course, after taking all aspects into account - interest, future prospects, institution - is palpable. Whichever stream or combination of subjects you may have opted for in school, there are a plethora of career paths today for you to choose from.
A course that disproportionately makes the newspaper headlines at this time of the year is “Economics Honours”. This rigorous undergraduate programme in Economics is offered under various names in India and across the rest of the world. These include B.A. (Honours) Economics, or B.A. Economics (Honours), but also B.Sc. (Honours) Economics in many instances. It is important to note that the difference in nomenclature primarily reflects the age-old debate about whether economics is an art or a science, and is therefore something you should not read too much into it at this stage.
Contrary to popular perception, Economics Honours is a great fit for both students from any stream – science, humanities or commerce, subject to the student having strong mathematical / analytical ability, and a genuine interest in Economics. And this is borne out by the fact that the lucrative careers and Master’s options that present themselves upon completing a programme in Economics do actually attract students from across high school streams.
In this guide, we’ll take you through the entire course comprehensively, touching aspects like why to opt for it, what modules it covers, careers in economics after pursuing B.A. Economics, and more related topics.
B.A. Economics – An overview
As described in another article on this blog, Economics is a vast subject, which can broadly be understood as the study of the different markets that comprise an economy, how agents (or buyers and sellers) in these markets interact by optimally using their scarce resources, and ultimately how the sum of these markets (i.e. the economy) functions. The goods and services include everything around us, from onions, mobile phones and new houses to labour, money and foreign exchange, while the agents include households, firms, banks and governments. By understanding how the sum of these markets, or the economy, functions, one can understand and influence the movement of very important economic parameters, such as national income, standards of living, inflation and unemployment. This is what a B.A. Economics programme aims to achieve.
Knowledge of Economics beautifully complements many other subject areas, ranging from sociology, psychology, political science, geography, history and international relations, to law, mathematics, statistics, finance, business and management. This makes B.A. Economics a ripe base for interdisciplinary study, i.e. to combine with one of the above subjects, by double-majoring, or majoring and minoring, or pursuing a dual degree or dual specialisations.
B.A. Economics: What will you study?
While the exact course structure might differ from one university to another, introductory and then intermediate microeconomics and macroeconomics, mathematics, statistics and econometrics are the mandatory subjects that a B.A. Economics programme will have across universities. These will form the majority of one’s first two years of study in a 3-year B.A. Economics (Honors) programme, or most of the second and third years of study in a 4-year programme where the first year is comprised mainly of General Education courses which are of a basic level and are discipline-agnostic.
In the second and third year of study, most reputed colleges and institutions also offer students the opportunity to choose electives from a range of specialisations within Economics, such as international economics, monetary economics, further mathematics, development economics, behavioral economics and public policy, or in related fields such as Finance, Management, Business, Accounting or even Data Science. Eventually, one may find that the structure of a B.Sc. programme in a tad bit more quantitative than that of its B.A. counterpart, but as mentioned before, this is a nuance you can afford to gloss over at this stage.
B.A. Economics: Eligibility & Admission Process
Students who want to pursue graduation in economics must have completed Class 12, in any stream, from a recognised Indian or international Board, e.g. CBSE, ICSE, State Boards, International Baccalaureate (IB) or Cambridge (A Levels).
Several prominent economics colleges in India offer admission to the Economics Honours course solely on the academic merit of the student in the Class 12 Board examinations, and release cut-offs and allocate seats in the month of June/July based on this criteria. Other eminent colleges rely on entrance tests, personal interviews, or a mix of both.
Most top colleges and programmes in India, as well as overseas, will require students to have studied Mathematics up to Class 12, since knowledge of Calculus and Statistics comes in very handy when pursuing undergraduate studies in economics.
Higher education in Economics is, for the most part, quite mathematical, or analytical, or quantitative. This becomes progressively truer as one studies the subject further, and as the problems that one is trying to understand and solve become more complex. So if you don’t enjoy Mathematics, it could safely be said that you would struggle to really make a mark as a core economist.
Nevertheless, if you love Economics, you may still choose to pursue it at the UG level, but it may be more realistic to then expect to branch out into less quantitative areas of Economics at the postgraduate level, or pursue related disciplines which are less mathematical, such as Management, Business, International Relations or Politics. Alternatively, at the UG level itself, you could choose to do a dual degree, say in Economics and Management, as this would involve substantially less mathematics than if you were to specialise in Economics alone.
B.A. Economics: Syllabus and Course Description
Essentially, the economics syllabus includes the following subjects.
In the first year of the programme -
Mathematical Methods of Economics
General Elective Courses
The core courses in the first year of B.A. Economics curriculum explore the subject matter of economics, throw some light on the functioning of markets, demand and supply, consumption and income changes, and other basic concepts in microeconomics and macroeconomics that form the foundation of economics as a discipline. Students also learn to apply mathematical techniques to economic theory.
In the second year of the programme -
Statistical Methods of Economics
General Elective Courses
The core courses in the second year of bachelors of economics impart insights on the behaviour of consumers as well as producers/firms in different market settings, and also introduce students to formal modelling of a macro-economy. Most programmes also introduce econometrics in this year, which leads to a lot of work with data as students apply statistics to the economics they are learning.
In the third year of the programme -
Discipline Elective Courses
The students pursuing economics honours have the choice to opt for 4 electives in their third year of study. They have an option to choose from two groups that include the following subjects:
Money and Financial Markets
Economic History of India
Difference between B.A Economics, B.A. Business Economics and B.Sc. Economics
It is important to discuss the choice between BA and BSc Honours programmes in Economics. Here, a crucial factor is to understand that this distinction comes to a large extent from the age-old debate around whether Economics is an Art or a Science. Often, the underlying programme is the same, but the final degree award may be different, with some universities awarding a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree while others award a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree. For example, the University of Cambridge and University of Delhi award a BA (Hons) degree, while the London School of Economics (LSE) and University of Calcutta award a BSc (Hons) degree.
The real difference, if any, lies in a detailed examination of the curriculum at a university, irrespective of the nomenclature of the degree awarded by it. It is true that on occasion, a BSc (Hons) Economics degree programme takes a somewhat more rigorous, or quantitative, approach to learn Economics, compared with a BA (Hons) programme.
B.A. Economics, the most common undergraduate degree in economics offered by Indian universities, focuses on both qualitative and quantitative modules in economics. It’s more theoretical and emphasises on the core fundamentals of economics.
This is very similar to the B.A. Economics course, with the primary difference lying in the B.Sc programme’s approach to the curriculum. Compared to other economics courses, this can often be more quantitative and considers economics as a science. The curriculum is also generally more application-oriented and the focus is on inculcating practical knowledge in the students.
B.A. Business Economics
This programme combines the business and economics modules to create a multidisciplinary course that trains students in the application of economic theories as well as concepts of business. It includes subjects like organisational behaviour, financial management, business communication, and more. By virtue of being multidisciplinary, this is less rigorous in both areas – business and economics – than standalone programmes in either discipline, and can therefore not be considered a direct substitute to either.
Top Colleges to Study B.A. Economics
According to the QS University Rankings 2019, 18 of the world’s top 20 institutions for economics are located in the US or the UK. In the US, the top names include Harvard, MIT and Stanford, while LSE, Oxford and Cambridge wear the crown in the UK. What this means is that an undergraduate education in Economics from these institutions truly helps one stand out among the crowd, by equipping students with deep, application-oriented learning and an ability to apply these to diagnose and attempt to solve complex real-world problems. This intensive training allows them to gain a head-start with respect to their careers, providing them with a competitive edge while applying for jobs as well as higher studies.
Sharing the space with the US and UK in the top 50 list are Singapore, Canada, continental Europe and Australia. In India, some of the most prominent colleges offering economics courses at the undergraduate level include University of Delhi, University of Calcutta, IIT Bombay and the University of Mumbai. However, while the admission process for these Indian institutes is competitive to a flaw, none of these stands a global presence in comparison with the top US and UK colleges. An interesting alternative is offered by the Indian School of Business & Finance, New Delhi, a Teaching Institution of The London School of Economics and Political Science, where students can pursue LSE’s undergraduate economics programme from India.
Higher Studies After B.A. Economics
While some students prefer to enter the workforce straight after undergraduate study, there is a significant number that opts to pursue advanced courses in economics, at the postgraduate and doctoral level. B.A. Economics undergraduate degree can be your passport to an array of related Master’s programmes, the most obvious being M.A. Economics or MSc Economics. Even apart from Economics itself, aspirants can opt to pursue relevant postgraduate programmes including Business Administration (MBA), Finance, Management, International Relations, Political Science or Public Policy. While the MBA is a great platform from which to launch/re-launch one’s career in the corporate sector, other Master’s programmes emphasise on developing more specialised knowledge and exposing students to research in the chosen field.
Career Options After B.A Economics
A career in Economics is extremely lucrative in today’s economic scenario. The interdisciplinary nature of the subject, compounded with its rigour, opens a plethora of doors for an Economics graduate in areas spanning from public policy and development, to data science and marketing. Let’s take a look at the scope of careers after pursuing B.A. Economics.
1. Actuarial Science
An emerging career amongst economics graduates, actuarial science utilises mathematical and statistical knowledge. Actuaries, as the professionals in the field are called, work in the insurance and finance domain to as analysts. Economics students are increasingly favouring the role due to the quantitative analytical skillset it demands, an expertise that they are trained in extensively.
2. Indian Economic Services (IES)
Indian Economic Services (IES) remains an attractive career choice for economics graduates. Economics students aspiring for civil services generally take this exam to enter the government sector and work in policy making and implementation of the government’s economic initiatives.
3. Development sector
Students inclined towards the development sector also have the option to work with various prominent non-governmental organisations on rural development in multiple areas like health, education, environment, livelihoods, etc. They can either work on improving the public policy or on the efficient implementation of the existing schemes in affiliation with NGOs and foundations.
A degree in economics coupled with an MBA opens up doors in various domains of management, including sales and marketing, public relations, human resource management, operations, etc.
Due to their ability to understand critical behavioural insights and make data-driven decisions, economic graduates are highly sought-after by corporates in consulting roles in various domains, including marketing, supply chain, production, market research, and more. Consultants help businesses conduct their operations in a more efficient way by doing extensive research on the industry and market they operate in.
Economics and finance are highly interconnected disciplines. Hence, economics graduates often find themselves in finance-centric roles as well as pursuing higher studies in the finance domain. It’s common for an economics graduate to pursue his/her postgraduation in finance, be it MSc or MBA. Investment banking, corporate banking, wealth management, equity analyst - these are but a few roles that economics graduates can seek in the finance domain.
B.A. Economics is a highly sought-after course for students after Class 12, and one that offers a plethora of opportunities in terms of career options and higher studies. It provides the student with pragmatic knowledge and the ability to solve complex problems. Some of the most renowned and successful personalities, in all spheres of life and industry, possess a background of undergraduate education in Economics. You could be one of them in a few years from now!