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Math Recommendations

Required Math for the Economics Major

The only Math course required for the Economics major is MATH 1110, which covers differential calculus. Successful completion of this course (which means a grade of C or better) is required for admission to the Economics major, and it is a prerequisite for the core Economics courses—ECON 3030, ECON 3040, ECON 3110, ECON 3120, ECON 3130, and ECON 3140 (note that ECON 3130 and ECON 3140 also require MATH 1120 which covers integral calculus).

For admission to the Economics major, credit for MATH 1110 must appear on your Cornell transcript. There are many ways to get credit for MATH 1110, including placement credit (see Advanced Placement Credit for Calculus).

Recommended Math for the Economics Major

Economics courses frequently use math techniques at a level beyond MATH 1110. Statistics and econometrics classes use material from integral calculus (MATH 1120), and core microeconomics, core macroeconomics, and many advanced electives use material from multivariable calculus (MATH 2130 or MATH 2220). These math courses are not typically required for economics courses, and, professors often try to teach any additional mathematical techniques that are needed. Therefore, if you do not enjoy taking math courses, you can probably survive the Economics major having only taken MATH 1110. That said, if you are really averse to using math, the Economics major is not a good choice for you.

Even though we do not require it, taking additional math courses beyond MATH 1110 can be very beneficial, both for your economics coursework at Cornell (you will understand the material better) and for your life after Cornell (math is a broadly applicable skill). We recommend that Economics majors take math at least through a multivariable calculus course. This requires two or three more math courses beyond MATH 1110 because all multivariable calculus courses require MATH 1120 (integral calculus).

There are two paths our majors commonly take after taking MATH 1120:

  • MATH 2210 and MATH 2220: This two-course sequence covers both linear algebra (MATH 2210) and multivariable calculus (MATH 2220). Linear algebra is a valuable skill that can be useful for econometrics and advanced theory courses, and it is also necessary if you want to consider graduate work in economics (see below). MATH 2210 and MATH 2220 is the main sequence on linear algebra and multivariable calculus taken by most Math majors.
  • MATH 2130: MATH 2130 is a “terminal” course in the sense that it is a course on multivariable calculus designed for students who do not intend to go much further in math. In principle, MATH 2130 is the multivariable calculus course that is most tightly connected to the multivariable calculus used in undergraduate economics (with a focus on applications of the math). If you are primarily taking math courses to help get the most out of the Economics major, this course may be right for you.

Another option to consider for those students not wanting to take on MATH 2210 and MATH 2220, but who would like to learn some linear algebra along with multivariable calculus, is to take both MATH 2130 and MATH 2310. MATH 2310 is a linear algebra course that emphasizes practical applications more than MATH 2210. Like MATH 2130, MATH 2310 is a “terminal” course.

Math Preparation for Economics Graduate Programs

If you are considering graduate school in Economics, you need to take even more math. Economics research makes heavy use of mathematics, and economics Ph.D. programs assume students enter the program with a strong mathematics background. When Ph.D. programs review applications for admission, one of the biggest concerns is a student’s mathematical preparation for graduate work in economics.

In preparation for economics graduate work, at a minimum, you should complete (1) MATH 1110, (2) MATH 1120, (3) a course on linear algebra, (4) a course on multivariable calculus, and (5) a course on analysis. The first four courses are discussed in the section above. For analysis, there are two main options:

  • MATH 3110: Analysis involves reading and eventually constructing formal mathematical proofs. Indeed, perhaps the main benefit of taking analysis is to gain experience in constructing formal mathematical proofs. MATH 3110 is the analysis course designed for students who begin the course with a limited background/comfort level in reading formal proofs.
  • MATH 4130: MATH 4130 is an honors version of analysis, designed for students who begin the course with experience and comfort reading formal mathematical proofs. This course has the advantage of permitting you to take the next course in analysis, which is MATH 4140.

Beyond analysis, we encourage you to take one or more additional math courses (and you will be even more competitive if you double major in math).  There are many paths that you could take, depending on your interests:

  • Advanced analysis: MATH 4140.
  • Differential equations and dynamical systems: MATH 3230 and MATH 4200.
  • Advanced linear algebra: MATH 4310 (Note: Unlike for analysis, the honors version of advanced linear algebra (MATH 4330) is much harder than MATH 4310.)
  • Stochastic processes: MATH 4740.

You might also consider taking courses in Operations Research and Information Engineering (ORIE) in the College of Engineering. This department offers numerous courses on optimization (for example, ORIE 3300, ORIE 3310, and ORIE 4320), as well as courses on game theory (for example, ORIE 4350).

Before taking any advanced math course, it is a good idea to obtain a copy of the syllabus and show it to your Economics advisor or the Director of Undergraduate Studies to make sure that it contains material that is useful for economics. Even a course which has covered useful material in the past, may cease to be useful if it is taught by a different professor with different interests. As with any subject at Cornell, the content of upper level math courses is heavily dependent on the individual professor’s interests and expertise.    

Other Thoughts on Math Courses

For students who are interested in the Economics major but who are worried about their mathematical background as they enter Cornell, please note that there is significant academic support for both MATH 1110 and MATH 1120. You can enroll in one of the Academic Support Courses provided by the Cornell Learning Strategies Center (MATH 1011 to support MATH 1110, and MATH 1012 to support MATH 1120). In addition, you can use the services and resources of the Cornell Mathematics Support Center.

Please note that the Math Department strongly discourages students from taking two courses at the same time from the calculus (differential, integral, and multivariable) and linear algebra group, especially if one course is a prerequisite for the other. The temptation to double up in an effort to get to advanced Math courses more quickly can often lead to poor grades in one or both courses and an unnecessarily stressful semester. If you feel that you must take two of these courses at the same time, please speak with the Math Director of Undergraduate Studies to assess whether this is in any way possible.

Some students arrive at Cornell with placement credit for MATH 1110, but nonetheless worry that they might not have the comfort level with calculus necessary for the core Economics courses. For such students, if you want to solidify your basic calculus, you can forgo your placement credit and take MATH 1110. Alternatively, you could enroll in MATH 1120 during your freshman year, and learning this new material can help reinforce the material that you learned prior to coming to Cornell. Finally, you can take our self-test, "Math for Intermediate Economics".  If you can successfully solve most of the problems, you should be ready for the core courses. 

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