Before you can even think of going to grad school for economics, you’re going to need to take some classes. Here’s a short list of what you’ll need as a bare minimum:
- Intermediate Microeconomics/Macroeconomics
- Calculus I, II, (III if your school has a quarter system)
- Multi-Variable Calculus (or several variable calculus)
- Elementary Linear Algebra
- Real Analysis (often not required, but highly recommended)
Remember that you need more than a good GPA or GRE score. You should aim to do well in your math and economics classes. Don’t worry so much about work experience. Grad schools want to know that you’re able to understand the math behind what you’re doing more than the fact that you were at McDonalds or Target for three years. If you don’t do so well in your math classes, I have heard that a great GRE score can be helpful if you’ve done mostly well in your economics classes.
If your college or university offers classes in advanced microeconomics and/or advanced macroeconomics, you should take advanced microeconomics as a minimum. This is because you’re going to get a small taste of what grad school will be like. At the University of Oregon, these two classes that are offered to undergraduates are actually master’s degree classes that have undergraduates in them. Same with a lot of the 400-level topics classes.
There are a lot of classes you could take to help you in graduate school. In fact, there are so many that I couldn’t really give a list with too many details on it. Luckily, I can give some advice on a broader spectrum. First and foremost, you should take a look at the classes that can be counted as general eduation at your school. Once you’ve done this, think about what fields you would like to specialize in, assuming you get into grad school (you’re supposed to pick two). For myself, I’m into labor economics and international trade. So I would take labor economics (of course) and international trade (if your school has it; the University of Oregon offers this).
Math, Math, Math
If you absolutely hate math, you should learn to either love it or at least become a little interested in it. A friend of mine once told me to think of math as a metaphorical toolbox for your degree, in which your major is your house. Each math class you take adds tools to your toolbox, which helps you maintain your house better. If you’re bad at math, the good news is that math can be learned (since it’s technical and not necessarily so abstract).
A word of the wise: Either before or as you continue in your mathematical education, you should always be brushing up on what you previously learned. For example, if you’re about to take trigonometry, you should brush up on algebra. If you’re going to take calculus, brush up on trigonometry and algebra. Something I’ve heard from a friend of mine about real analysis was that he really wished he took it as an undergrad. Mainly, it was because the class teaches you an applied form of writing proofs, something you will have to do in grad school since there will be few numbers that aren’t coefficients.
No matter what it is that you’re going to be taking, which is likely to involve calculus of some kind, be sure to brush up the most on algebra. I say this because, most of the time, your teachers will assign problems on homework and exams that will require you to simplify the problem before you can try to solve it. Many calculus and economics teachers I’ve run into have told me that they’ve seen some of the most beautiful calculus being done on homework and exams, but it was the algebra that nearly cost students their grades in these classes. If you’re unsure where to start, you should check out the Khan Academy and find a free college textbook online in elementary algebra. The better you understand algebra, the easier calculus will become.
Master’s vs PhD
If you’re having trouble deciding on a master’s or a PhD program in economics, you should think about what you want to do. PhDs often go into teaching or research. Master’s degree holders either wind up doing some sort of research or going onto a PhD program (which they sometimes regret getting the master’s when they do this). You can teach with a master’s in economics, but it’s most likely going to be high school or community college. And believe me when I say that many community colleges don’t offer you more than part-time work with low pay.