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Overview of Economics

Economics studies human behavior in many settings. At the household level, economics investigates how a household allocates its income across goods, and how a household chooses how much to work, spend, and save. At the market level, economics investigates consumer decisions (what to buy and how much to spend); decisions firms make about their production methods and levels of output; and how these decisions jointly determine market prices, structure, and performance. At the aggregate level, economics investigates the determinants of growth and fluctuations of national income, the determinants of inflation and unemployment, the nature of trade and financial flows between nations, and how all of these are influenced by government monetary and fiscal policy.

At its heart, however, economics is more than a set of questions, but rather is a mode of thought, a set of precise analytical tools that can be used to study a wide variety of social science problems. Students are introduced to these tools in the core methodology courses of Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, and Econometrics. With these tools in hand, students are then able to study a wide variety of topics including labor-market outcomes, the role of the banking sector, the economics of developing countries, international trade, the role of the public sector and of the political process, economic history, and the study of health and education. In addition, students have the option for advanced methodological study in dynamic optimization, game theory, and econometrics.

"A Career in Economics is Much More Than You Think"

Much more than finance, banking, business and government, a degree in economics is useful to all individuals and can lead to many interesting career choices. These four diverse individuals offer their insights on how a background in economics can be a tool for solving very human problems.

Economics vs. Business

The field of Economics is often confused with the field of Business --- and although they are related in many ways, they are different areas of study.  At Cornell, students in the College of Arts & Sciences can major in Economics.  A Business major called Applied Economics and Management (AEM) is offered in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (in the Dyson School).

Consistent with the description above, the Economics major focuses on developing a set of analytical tools that can be applied to a broad range of problems.  As such, an Economics major opens doors to many different careers, with a broad curriculum not explicitly directed to providing skills specific to any one career.  In contrast, the Business/AEM major tends to focus on more business-specific skills --- accounting, marketing, finance, management, and human resources and organizational behavior. If you are interested in a career in business, Economics and Business/AEM are both excellent majors (a significant share of Economics majors indeed go into business careers, especially in finance and consulting). There is no clear sense in which one is better than the other, and we typically recommend that students choose the major that better fits their own personal intellectual interests. It should also be noted that the Economics major is housed in the Arts College and the Business/AEM major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, so college specific requirements to graduate will differ, and these should also be considered in finding the right program for you.

For Arts & Sciences students who are interested in both economics and business, you in fact have the option to complete an Economics major while simultaneously completing the university-wide Business minor.  For more information on the latter, see the University-Wide Business minor webpage.

Multiple Majors

Many Economics majors also complete additional majors in other subjects.  There are some majors that naturally complement (and perhaps even overlap with) an Economics major --- e.g., majors in Math, Computer Science, Statistics, Psychology, and Government.  However, it is quite common for students to complete a second major that is completely unrelated to Economics.

If you are considering pursuing multiple majors, please note that in some instances a single course can count toward multiple majors.   For instance, ECON 3370 could count toward both an Economics major and an Asian Studies major, or ECON 4020 could count toward both an Economics major and a Math major.

Course Instructors & Class Sizes

For all Economics classes, the primary instructor will be a Cornell faculty member or a visiting faculty member (i.e., a professor from another institution who is visiting for a semester or more).  In addition, many Economics classes also employ teaching assistants (TAs), who might conduct discussion sections and/or grade homework and exams.

Introductory Economics courses tend to be rather large, with lectures that average 400-450 students, and discussion sections that average 25-30 students.

Core methodology classes (Micro, Macro, Statistics, and Econometrics) have lectures that average 60-90 students and discussion sections that average 30-45 students.

Advanced economics electives vary in size, with many having 30-60 students, some having 60-90 students, and a few run well over 100 students.

Some electives are capped at 25 students to allow our majors to experience smaller classes.

Is Econ the Right Major for Me?

If you are a high school senior considering Cornell, or a prospective transfer from another college or university, take a look at the pages concerning our Economics major, course offerings, and opportunities for research to get an idea of what our undergraduate program can offer you.

Senior Survey

To provide a sense of what our majors do immediately after commencement, we conducted a survey in early May.  

Out of 223 December 2017, May 2018, and August 2018 graduates, 176 responded to the survey (78.9% of the graduating class). Of these respondents, 77.8% said they were employed or obtaining further schooling.  Here is the breakdown by the type of employment and type of further schooling:

  • 27.7% in Finance
  • 16.8% in Consulting
  • 21.2% in Banking
  • 6.6% in Another Business Field
  • 1.5% in Government or Military
  • 13.1% are Attending Graduate School
  • 4.4% are Attending Law School
  • 2.2% are Attending Medical School
  • 6.5% stated “Other”

Of the students attending graduate school, some of the degrees they will pursue include:

  • Ph.D. in Economics
  • Doctor of Medicine
  • Juris Doctorate
  • Ph.D. in Molecular Microbiology and Microbial Pathogenesis
  • Ph.D. in Computer Science
  • Master of Global Affairs
  • Master of Quantitative Finance
  • Master of Arts, East Asian Studies
  • Master of Engineering, Computer Science
  • Master of Economics
  • Master of Environmental Change and Management
  • Master of Professional Studies in Applied Statistics
  • Master of Public Administration
  • Master of Science in Public Policy and Data Analytics

Of the students attending graduate school, some of the institutions they will attend include:

  • Cornell University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Monk School, University of Toronto
  • National University of Singapore
  • Oxford University
  • Penn State University
  • Princeton University
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Texas at Austin 
  • University of Tokyo
  • University of Washington in St. Louis
  • UW-Madison

Of the students who are employed, some of the companies and organizations they will be working for include:

  • Abercrombie & Fitch, Business Analyst
  • Abt Associates, Social and Economic Policy Division, Washington D.C.
  • Albright Stonebridge Group, China Practice, Washington D.C.
  • Aligne Wealth Management
  • Analysis Group
  • Analysis Group
  • Bank of America
  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch
  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Public Finance Investment Banking
  • Bank of Hawaii
  • Barclays - Investment Banking Division
  • Barclays Emerging Markets Credit Trading
  • Barron International Group; Investment Banking; New York City
  • Bates White in Washington DC for economics consulting
  • Bellwether Asset Management
  • Belvedere Trading LLC, Chicago, IL, Derivatives Trader
  • Berenberg Bank - International Graduate Program
  • BlackRock Gloval Allocation Fund in Princeton, NJ
  • Bloomberg - Sales and Analytics
  • Cantor Fitzgerald - NYC
  • Capital Group Companies, Equity Research Associate
  • Capital One
  • Capital One Commercial Banking
  • Capital One Commercial Rotational Program
  • Central Bank of Malaysia
  • D. E. Shaw & Co., New York City
  • Debt Capital Markets at Barclays Capital
  • Deloitte
  • Deloitte Advisory, New York City
  • Deloitte Strategy & Operations, New York City
  • Deutsche Bank - Global Transaction Banking
  • E&J Gallo Winery
  • EAB
  • Eastdil Secured
  • Ernst & Young: Strategy Consulting - NYC
  • Ernst & Young: Financial Services Office, Business Advisor Program
  • Evercore Partners - Restructuring
  • EY
  • EY, National Advisory
  • Fitch Ratings - Asset Back Securities, New York, New York
  • GAP, Rotational Management Program
  • Goldman Sachs
  • Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Fixed Income, NYC
  • Goldman Sachs- Asset management, NYC
  • Goldman Sachs, Investment Banking, NYC
  • Goldman Sachs, Investment Banking, NYC
  • Goldman Sachs, Real Estate Finance
  • Guggenheim Securities Equity Research in New York City
  • Hamilton Lane
  • HSBC
  • ScribeAmerica
  • IBM Global Business Services - NYC
  • IBM Summit Program, Consultative Selling
  • ICF
  • Investment Technology Group
  • JP Morgan - CIB Risk
  • JP Morgan Corporate Client Banking Financial Institutions Group
  • JP Morgan NYC
  • Komodo Health
  • Korn Ferry Hay Group
  • Lazard, Capital Markets and Capital Structure Group
  • Leerink Partners, Investment Banking Division
  • Lone Star Value Management. Research Analyst
  • Macy's, Finance
  • Management Consulting Company
  • Morgan Stanley
  • Morgan Stanley, Investment Banking Division
  • NERA Economic Consulting
  • Nomura Investment Banking
  • PNC Bank - Asset and Liability Management in Pittsburgh
  • PwC
  • PwC Advisory, NYC
  • RBC Capital Markets - NYC
  • Regions Bank- Debt Product Organization
  • S&P Global Ratings
  • Samsung Electronics America / Marketing Division / New York, NY
  • SC Johnson, Brand Management, Chicago, IL
  • SEI
  • Square, Software Engineering, San Francisco
  • Starfish capital LLC
  • The Brattle Group (Economic Consulting)
  • UBS
  • UBS Financial Services
  • United States Marine Corps
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Chicago, Fama-Miller Finance Research Center
  • Vanguard - Investment Management Development Program in Malvern, PA
  • Vidmob - NYC
  • Wellesley College Investment Office - Wellesley, MA
  • Wells Fargo Commercial Banking
  • Westfield Century City- Finance Department