Economics and Decision Sciences

Frequently Asked Questions about the Undergraduate Economics Major

The choice of a major is a critical decision to every prospective college and university student. For many prospective students, economics is an excellent choice. The study of economics is both challenging and financially rewarding. Moreover, job placement experts recognize economics as a flexible degree, suitable for the modern labor markets in which people can expect to change careers several times during their working lives. By choosing a flexible degree, students can avoid, or minimize, the necessity of extensive retraining for another career.

This is why it is often difficult to provide a simple answer to question: "What do economists do?" The answer is that economists can do many things and, because of this, can successfully pursue careers in many areas.

Here are our responses to some commonly asked questions by students who wonder whether economics is a good degree for them.

Why major in economics?

The choice of a degree is an important decision. Economics is an excellent choice. Economics applies the concepts and methodologies of the natural sciences and mathematics to problems in business, the social sciences and the humanities. A degree in economics has a series of advantages.

Flexible

With the major changes that have taken place in the world of work, the rapid changes in technology and globalization, it is not uncommon for individuals to make several career changes during their lives. Today's hot specialized degree has often become tomorrow's target for downsizing. Companies that were relatively unchallenged in the domestic market have suffered as a result of global competition. As a result, experts in career development recommend that one seriously consider a flexible degree such as economics.

Rewarding

Majors in economics receive average starting salaries that are in the upper range of salary offers made to majors with other business degrees and significantly above most majors in other areas of the liberal arts.

Challenging

Economics is a discipline in which you learn a unique way of thinking. This unique way of thinking is a primary reason that economics is also a flexible degree. Economic concepts have been applied to a number of different areas that would, at first, seem totally unrelated to economics. However, the concepts of economics are critical to finding solutions to problems in a wide variety of areas. See "Complementary Majors and Minors".

Rich in Skills
  • Analytical/Critical Thinking Skills
  • Quantitative Skills (Mathematical and Statistical Techniques)
  • Communication Skills (Written and Oral)
  • Computer Skills

Why major in economics at WIU?

Career Development Program

Each year, the Department reviews the placement literature, consults with alumni and employers, and reviews changes in recruiting with Occupational Information and Placement. Based on these reviews, the Career Development Program is revised to reflect the most current information about the job market. Every semester, majors are invited to attend a Career Development meeting to discuss these changes and discuss preparing for the job market. At these meetings, information is distributed regarding tutorial services, seminars on time management and study skills, resume and cover letter preparation, and the skills an economics major should be acquiring as an undergraduate. These meetings are recommended for freshmen and sophomores as well as junior and seniors.

Support in Completing Your Degree

While you will have a professional advisor, it sometimes occurs that special circumstances require additional assistance. When this happens, you are urged to contact the Chair of the Department of Economics. Working with the faculty of the Department, it is almost always possible to find a solution. Only very rarely is it impossible to find an academically sound solution to a scheduling problem. One of the reasons for developing the Career Development Program is to assist you in anticipating your course needs and providing information on alternative ways to meet a given career objective.

Quality Instructional Support

Three professors of economics have been selected as the Western Illinois University Faculty Lecturer. Since there are over 400 faculty eligible for this award, it is clear that the Department of Economics represents a center of excellence at WIU. The faculty in the Department of Economics have regularly received Faculty Excellence Awards, Professional Advancement Increments, and Professional Achievement Awards, all of which require the demonstration of superior teaching.

What are the career prospects for economics majors?

Careers in Economics

The Department of Economics has a number of resources designed to prepare students for careers in economics. We can also help point you in the right direction as you search externally for internships and jobs. Make sure that you pay close attention to the deadlines on any of these positions. We are pleased to report that in recent years several of our students have received internships from the State of Illinois. To get started in your search consider taking part in our Career Development Program.

Excellent Salaries: Starting and Mid-Career

Starting - data from national association of colleges and employers, 1997, reported the range of starting salaries was at the upper end of the ranges reported for business and liberal arts degrees. The highest starting salaries are above nearly all liberal arts degrees and comparable to the other traditional business degrees. Average starting salary - $31,300.

Mid-career - The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Quarterly for Summer 1996 reported median income for men age 30 and above with bachelors degrees. Those with a bachelors degree in economics ranked fifth among all bachelors degrees at ($50,360). Only graduates in engineering, mathematics, physics and pharmacy earned higher median incomes.

Number of Jobs Increasing

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook for January 1997 reported that employment opportunities for economics majors are expected to grow faster than average through the year 2005.

Economics is a Flexible Degree

This means that there are many career paths, rather than only one narrow path, available to economics majors. Placement experts are recommending that students consider flexibility in choosing a degree, given the fact that individuals change careers more frequently than in the past.

Does the economics degree offer flexibility?

In addition to salary and employment opportunities, job placement experts recommend that students consider the flexibility of an academic degree. In the past, one could expect to enter a career upon graduation from college and retire in the same career. This is no longer the case. Graduates can now expect to change careers several times during their working lives. By choosing a flexible degree, students can avoid, or minimize, the necessity of extensive retraining for another career. Job placement experts recognize economics as a flexible degree.

Advisory Tracks

For both BA and BB economics majors, there are "advisory tracks" for those who wish to develop additional background in a particular career area. While other "tracks" can be developed, the ones that have been formalized are:

Learn more about the advisory tracks in economics.

  • General business and economics
  • Pre-professional and law
  • Government and planning
  • International economics
  • Financial institutions
  • Agriculture
  • Advanced degree

Did You Know?

A number of majors or minors combine well with an economics degree. View a list of complementary majors and minors.