Good General Education Courses for Economics Majors

Many of us during our freshman year are always asked by our advisor, “Which general education classes would you like to plan to take?” We immediately reply, “I’m not sure.” Knowing what you want to take and what you should take are very important to any major. But in economics, we can tend to get farther and farther away from what will help round us and make us better at what we do. Because of this, I thought it would be good to write about what kind of general education courses would be good for economics majors to take.

Keep Your Career in Mind

I cannot stress this enough. I see so many people talking about how they want to work for the Federal Reserve System or for a large company and they don’t take any courses to help them other than inside their major. Look for everything that is applicable to your major and see how you can use it to help you.

NOTE: All university examples that I use for courses are going to be University of Oregon courses and standards.

Writing: More Than a Requirement

Every single economics major should know how to conduct research and write reports. Even if you don’t get a job that requires it, it’s still a good skill to have in the long run. I can’t think of a college that doesn’t require writing at some higher level, but I can promise you that most colleges don’t adequately prepare you for what you need. With this in mind, you should see if there’s a research focused writing course.

At the University of Oregon (UO), everybody is required to take WR 121 and either WR 122 or 123. WR 122 is focused on the development of arguments while WR 123 is focused on research and essays. As you might imagine by my section title, I would advise any economics major to take both courses. Part of economics is understanding arguments and writing style. If you can’t write a decent report, you’ll find yourself getting lower grades in economics courses that require it (like some people did in my international economics course). In addition to that, you need to know how to defend your research.

One last course that I highly recommend any economics major at the UO to take is WR 423: Advanced Composition. The description says, “Emphasis on critical thinking skills and rhetorical strategies for advanced written reasoning in different academic disciplines.” Remember how I just said that you need to defend your research? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told my economics peers why what I wrote made sense. Instead of just why, we need to explain how it makes sense. Courses like this help us better understand how to do that.

Math: Tools for Economics Majors

Depending on what you want to do, a minor in math might be a great idea. Even if you don’t go to graduate school, there are a lot of employers that would find you very attractive. The UO’s requirements for minoring in math aren’t too hard. Take a certain number of math credits (and pass them, of course) and take a certain number of upper-level math credits. Boom. Math minor.

Something that can become very tricky is figuring out what kind of math will help you in economics. Some people may say that you can’t get too much math for economics. However, I beg to differ. We tend to use a lot of algebra and calculus, but not really any geometry. So take extra courses in calculus and maybe even linear algebra. The tools you learn in these classes might seem like nonsense, but you’ll be happy to took them later.

I like to think of a minor in math as a metaphorical toolbox. Most mechanics have ratchets and sockets, but why only have the bare minimum? Why not have a diagnostic tool that tells you what’s wrong with your car? Maybe you’re going to want to have fancier ratchets and sockets that make your job easier. Be this metaphorical mechanic. I recommend asking an advisor in your economics department what you should do to develop your mathematical toolbox.

Arts and Letters: Invoking Creativity Helps Critical Thinking

Philosophy courses such as ethics and critical reasoning might not seem like good courses to take. But don’t be fooled! While you’ll get some critical reasoning in your writing courses, ethics and critical reasoning are deeper in thought and they satisfy some general education requirements. You become better at analyzing situations and problems, something that’s very important for any economics major. It’s also a good resume builder if you work in a larger company after college.

Visual and performing arts help you think better and broader. I prefer performing arts because I used to be a music major. But there’s just something to jazz improvisation that you just can’t get from looking at visual art. It helps you express your soul through sound and music. If you’re more of a visual art person, then don’t just take art history or anything like that. No, you’re going to be better off taking art courses where you use creativity and make something. Ceramics, photography, drawing, and painting are all great examples of this kind of creative art.

Philosophy and art help mold your mind into a better tool of creative thinking. So how does this help you as an economics major? As I mentioned earlier, you learn how to better analyze and solve problems. You learn to think outside the box and restrictions of mathematical rules. It also helps you become a better writer that can come up with quality content.

Science: Understanding the World Around You

Believe it or not, there are more science group satisfying courses than chemistry and natural science. You may find that some math courses satisfy the requirement as well as human physiology (nutrition, exercise as medicine, etc.), computer science, physics, and psychology. This is where you might want to take courses that you’re more interested in. However, I would suggest understanding how the brain works.

I suggest understanding how the brain works because you may better learn how to construct an argument that compels most people. You might also understand how creativity is invoked and how to increase creative thinking. Whatever your reason is, I definitely see a lot of benefit in learning about some psychology.

Social Science: Our Alma Mater

You may not have realized this, but economics is a social science. Instead of taking extra economics courses that may satisfy this requirement, I would suggest that you take political science. Political science is very useful because it explains how our government works, which is extremely important to know as an economics major. You can get deeper into the constitution and political ideologies of our nation.

Another reason why I highly recommend all economics majors taking political science is because economics, whether you like it or not, is a very political subject. You can’t get away from telling people that an increase in the price of labor drives the demand for labor down. You can’t hear someone talk about unemployment and GDP without telling them that there’s much more to the health of the economy than those two indicators. Learning more about our government and how it works only helps us more when we decide to become an economist later and start proposing policies to our state.

Bachelor of Arts vs Bachelor of Science: The Second Language Debate

You may or may not have already thought this through, but I advise you to think it through after reading what I have to say about it. The difference between a BA in economics and a BS in economics is the BA second language requirement. While some people say that you’re doing the math required for the BS anyway, I highly disagree with the statement that a BA in economics is only useful to those who already know a second language.

Think about your employer later. Will you eventually write something for them whether it be reports, columns, or whatever else they want? If so, you might like to know that it’s commonly said that the key to understanding your own language better is to learn another language. On top of this, there is more critical thinking that is developed through learning a second language.

Here’s my counter argument to the “you’re already taking the math for the BS:” You already took a second language in high school. If you liked it, why not continue in it? Who cares if your employer doesn’t have a need for Japanese? Do it for yourself. Besides, your employer would probably think you have more creative qualities if you had a BA just because of the creativity that most people understand comes from learning a second language.

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