While the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that demand for economists will grow only 6 percent by 2020 -- and states there will be “stiff competition” for jobs -- students at top Ivy League schools are flocking to this “dismal science” because most Ivy League schools don't allow their students to major in business at the undergraduate level, so economics is thought to be the best preparation for a lucrative career on Wall Street.
B.S. vs. B.A.
Both the Bachelor of Science and the Bachelor of Arts are typical four-year college degrees requiring anywhere from 120 to 180 course credit hours, depending on what college you attend. The key difference between the two is that the B.S. requires more courses within the major -- anywhere from 40 to 90 -- while the B.A. requires more general education courses, including foreign language and fine arts. The B.S. also typically requires a greater percentage of advanced courses at the 300 or 400 level within the major.
Advantages of a B.S.
Because the B.S. requires more advanced study within the field of economics, it gives students the chance to develop a deep knowledge of the field as well as specialized practical skills, which can provide a real advantage for students hoping to transition immediately into business or finance following college. In fact, the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business advocates the B.S. in economics just for this reason: “At Wharton you will learn how to apply business methods and economic theory to real-world problems.” Wharton’s B.S. in economics allows students to focus in finance, marketing or management, and Forbes has observed that most Fortune 500 CEOs begin their careers in finance.
Advantages of a B.A.
The B.A. offers the kind of broad education that business schools typically value in MBA candidates, and these broader education demands make it easier for students to double major. Since most businesses these days are driven by technology, a second major in computer science or engineering could significantly improve the B.A. candidate’s expertise and profile for future career prospects. A second major in statistics or applied math might also be helpful. Additionally, because of the economy’s increasing globalization, a second major or minor in a critical foreign language, such as Chinese, Arabic or Spanish, would be an asset.
If you are going to an Ivy League school, a high-ranking liberal arts college or a reputable business school such as Southern Methodist University or the University of Indiana, a B.S. is probably a good move because the reputation of the school’s curriculum and students will help you move directly into a desirable position after college.
However, if the school where you’re studying economics has an average academic reputation, it would advisable to double major in a more challenging subject such as computer science to give yourself an edge on the job market. Nationwide, business-related majors are viewed as being the least academically rigorous. Meanwhile, if you hope to become a true professional economist in academia or government, you will face very stiff competition, and the rigor of a second degree can only help.
- BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook: Economists
- New York Magazine: Why College Students Are Flocking to Economics
- The New York Times: Out of Harvard, and Into Finance
- CalPoly: BA/BS, Difference Between Degrees
- Wharton Undergraduate: BS Versus BA
- Forbes: The Path to Becoming a Fortune 500 CEO
- The Wall Street Journal: What Business Schools Want
- The New York Times: The Default Major - Skating Through B-School
- Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images