Course Policies for the Economics Major
Course Policy Overview
Economics courses fall into four broad categories:
- introductory courses in microeconomics and macroeconomics
- core (intermediate) courses in microeconomics and macroeconomics
- core courses in statistics and econometrics, and
- advanced economics electives.
In this section, you’ll find information relevant to each of these categories, and also our recommendations for Math courses to complement your Economics major.
Intro and Core Micro and Macro
ECON 1110 & 1120: Introductory Microeconomics & Macroeconomics
These courses are meant to provide a broad introduction to the field of Economics, and to familiarize students with the language of Economics. These courses are large (350-450 students). Students from all over the university take them for a variety of reasons: as a preparation for the Economics major, as a preparation for other majors at Cornell (AEM, PAM, ILR, and several others), and as merely an elective course. Both ECON 1110 and 1120 are taught during Cornell’s summer and winter sessions in small setting classes. Students interested in this option should consult Cornell’s School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions.
ECON 3030 & 3040: Intermediate Microeconomics & Macroeconomics
These courses cover the core economic methodologies of microeconomics and macroeconomics that will be used in advanced economics electives. They require and build upon the material taught in ECON 1110 and ECON 1120, and they also require MATH 1110. Class sizes are typically 75-90 students, and the vast majority are Economics majors. ECON 3030 and 3040 are sometimes (but not always) taught during Cornell’s summer sessions in small setting classes. Students interested in this option should consult Cornell’s School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions.
Economics majors should complete their introductory & core courses in microeconomics and macroeconomics as early as possible.
The basic structure of the Economics major is that you first learn core methodologies in these courses, and then you use these methodologies in your advanced economics electives. Hence, the earlier you learn the methodologies, the more flexibility you’ll have in taking your advanced economics electives.
Sequencing & Prerequisites
ECON 1110 & ECON 1120 can be taken in either order, and neither has a prerequisite. They can even be taken at the same time, although you may want to check prelim schedules since they often fall on the same day. Although many students receive placement credit or transfer credit for one or both of these courses (see Policy for Intro Course Credit), students majoring in Economics are urged to forego the credits for at least one of the AP courses and take ECON 1110 or ECON 1120 in order to evaluate preparation.
ECON 3030 & ECON 3040 can also be taken in either order. They can be taken at the same time, but we recommend taking them sequentially (in either order) so that you are able to devote sufficient attention to each one. The prerequisites for each course are ECON 1110, ECON 1120, and MATH 1110. It is, in principle possible to take one of these courses without the other Intro course (i.e., to take ECON 3030 after having taken only ECON 1110 and MATH 1110, or to take ECON 3040 after having taken only ECON 1120 and MATH 1110), but to do so you must get permission from the instructor of the intermediate course.
Credit for ECON 1110 & ECON 1120
There are many ways to get credit for ECON 1110 & ECON 1120, including placement credit (see Policy for Intro Course Credit). Although many students arrive at Cornell with placement credit for ECON 1110 and/or ECON 1120, students planning further study in Economics are urged to forego the credits for at least one of the AP courses and take ECON 1110 or ECON 1120 in order to evaluate their prior preparation. Credit for these courses must show up on your Cornell transcript if you intend to be an Economics major.
Core Stats and Econometrics
We offer two sequences that cover Statistics & Econometrics:
- ECON 3110 & ECON 3120
- ECON 3130 & ECON 3140
The two sequences cover roughly the same set of topics, and they use the same statistical computing packages. However, ECON 3110-3120 will provide a more applied treatment, while Econ 3130-3140 will provide a more advanced/theoretical treatment. (Note that ECON 3130-3140 requires MATH 1120.) Many students should choose the more applied treatment (ECON 3110-3120). However, students with stronger mathematical backgrounds, and especially students who plan to pursue graduate study in economics, should take the more advanced/theoretical treatment (ECON 3130-3140).
In terms of advanced electives, either sequence can serve as a prerequisite—i.e., for any advanced elective that requires statistics, either ECON 3110 or ECON 3130 will suffice, and for any advanced elective that requires econometrics, either ECON 3120 or ECON 3140 will suffice.
Two other points to note
First, ECON 3130-3140 is taught only as a Fall-Spring sequence—i.e., ECON 3130 is only taught in the Fall, and ECON 3140 is only taught in the Spring. In contrast, ECON 3110-3120 can be taken Fall-Spring or Spring-Fall—i.e., ECON 3110 is taught in both the Fall and Spring, and ECON 3120 is also taught in both the Fall and Spring. It is also fine to have a gap between these courses—e.g., you could take ECON 3110 in Fall 2021 and then ECON 3120 in Fall 2022.
Second, it can be ok to switch from one sequence to the other. If you start with ECON 3130 for your statistics course, it is always ok to switch to ECON 3120 for your econometrics course. However, if you start with ECON 3110 for you statistics course, you will not be permitted to switch to ECON 3140 for your econometrics course—because the material taught in ECON 3130 is more advanced than the material taught in ECON 3110, and ECON 3140 assumes knowledge of this more advanced material. However, switches in this direction can be made for exceptional cases with permission from the instructor of ECON 3140.
Take Statistics & Econometrics Early
Ideally, you should take core statistics & econometrics as early as you reasonably can. The basic structure of the Economics major is that you first learn core methodologies, and then you use these methodologies in your advanced economics electives. Hence, the earlier you learn the methodologies, the more flexibility you’ll have in taking your advanced economics electives. Moreover, while many advanced economics electives do not require econometrics, empirical research is discussed, and you’ll better understand that research if you have already taken econometrics.
Other Statistics Courses
There are many statistics courses taught at Cornell, and students sometimes ask whether those courses can be used in place of ECON 3110 or ECON 3130. This section describes our current policies on alternative statistics courses.
We strongly encourage all Econ majors to take ECON 3110 or ECON 3130, and not one of the other statistics courses on campus. ECON 3110 and ECON 3130 directly prepare you for our econometrics courses in a way that the other statistics courses do not, and they are also much more focused on economics examples. We typically expect that students would take an alternative statistics course only if they inadvertently took that course before realizing that they wanted to major in economics.
In fact, there are two separate questions with regard to alternative statistics courses. The first question is whether an alternative statistics course can serve as a prerequisite for one of our econometrics courses (ECON 3120 or ECON 3140). The second question is, if an alternative statistics course can serve as a prerequisite for an econometrics course, can it also count toward the Economics major.
In general, the answer to the second question will be NO. While the topics in other statistics courses may be similar to the topics in our courses, our courses use many more economics examples. Hence, we do NOT permit those courses to count toward the Economics major. The only exception is if a student takes both MATH 4710 and MATH 4720 (see below).
The answer to the first question varies depending on the level of mathematical rigor in the other statistics courses—in particular, based on our assessment of how well those courses prepare you for our econometrics courses.
Policies for specific courses
- MATH 4710 & MATH 4720: If a student takes both MATH 4710 and MATH 4720, this combination of courses can count fully in place of ECON 3130. Hence, this combination can serve as a prerequisite for either ECON 3120 or ECON 3140, and this combination can be counted as one course toward the Economics major.
- MATH 4710: If a student takes MATH 4710 (and not MATH 4720), this course can serve as a prerequisite for either ECON 3120 or ECON 3140, but it cannot be counted toward the Economics major.
- STSCI 3080/BTRY 3080/ILRST 3080: This course can serve as a prerequisite for either ECON 3120 or ECON 3140, but it cannot be counted toward the Economics major.
- ORIE 3500: This course can serve as a prerequisite for ECON 3120. It might also serve as a prerequisite for ECON 3140, but only with excellent performance and with explicit special permission from the instructor of ECON 3140. This course cannot be counted toward the Economics major.
- PAM 2101: This course can serve as a prerequisite for ECON 3120 as long as you receive a grade of B or better. This course cannot serve as a prerequisite for ECON 3140, and it cannot be counted toward the Economics major.
- ENGRD 2700: This course can serve as a prerequisite for ECON 3120, but it cannot be counted toward the Economics major. In addition, it cannot serve as a prerequisite for ECON 3140.
- BRTY 3010/NTRES 3130/STSCI 2200: This course can serve as a prerequisite for ECON 3120, but it cannot be counted toward the Economics major. In addition, it cannot serve as a prerequisite for ECON 3140.
- Other courses: None of the courses in the group below can serve as a prerequisite for either ECON 3120 or ECON 3140, and thus none of these courses can be counted toward the Economics major: PAM 2100, SOC 3010, AEM 2100, STSCI 2100/ILRST 2100
After completing your introductory and core courses, your remaining economics courses will consist of a series of advanced Economics electives. We offer a broad range of electives, and in general students have the freedom to design a set of courses that best matches their interests. However, there are a few restrictions, which are described below.
3000-Level Advanced Electives vs. 4000-Level Advanced Electives:
The advanced Economics electives are categorized as electives that require core courses vs. electives that do not require core courses --- in other words, they are categorized by whether they require at least one of the core methodology courses in Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, and Econometrics. The course numbers reflect these categories --- courses numbered 3150-3999 do not require any core courses, and courses numbered 4000-4989 require at least one core course.
An Economics major requires six advanced Economics electives. Of these, at least three must be 4000-level electives.
Courses numbered 4900-4989 are small seminar courses. These courses require at least one of the core methodology courses in Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, and Econometrics. These courses are capped at 25 students and involve a substantial writing component.
Students who complete the year-long honors program (ECON 4990 & ECON 4991) can count this as one of their 12 major courses. This will NOT count as a 4000-level elective.
Courses taught by other departments can be counted toward the Economics major only if they are cross-listed with Economics (meaning they have an Econ course number). In particular, please note that business courses—accounting, marketing, and so forth—cannot be counted toward the Economics major.
Undergraduate Economics majors can take graduate-level Economics courses, but only with the permission of the instructor and your advisor. Graduate courses generally require a very strong math background—at least through multivariable calculus and in some cases real analysis—and a lot more work than a 3000-level or 4000-level Economics course.
Please note that Independent Study courses (ECON 4999) can never be counted toward the Economics major.
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 the Math Department's Advanced Placement for Calculus page.)
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.