The Major


An overview of the economics major and a current list of courses with descriptions is available here. Economics courses at Williams offer the advantages of a liberal arts college setting, including small class sizes and significant interaction between faculty and students. The department offers a wide variety of courses, including introductory classes designed to serve the needs of potential majors and non-majors alike, core courses in economic theory and econometrics, numerous lower-level and upper-level electives, tutorials, and senior seminars involving a significant research and writing component. The offering of electives is flexible and designed to serve the teaching and scholarly interests of faculty members as well as the interests of students. Department members are also encouraged to develop new courses. A number of department members teach in several inter-departmental programs in the College (Political Economy, Environmental Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, and several geographic Area Studies programs).

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I Major in Economics to Prepare for a Career in Business?
Economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources among competing ends. As a social science, it is devoted to developing a better understanding of many kinds of human interaction. It is important to stress that training in economics is not the same as training in business management. Businesses have specific goals of their own, including the making of profits, and professional training in business is about learning how to pursue those goals more effectively. This requires learning quite specialized techniques and skills that are not the proper focus of an undergraduate liberal arts education. Our undergraduate economics courses do not focus on these specialized business skills and techniques; therefore, students who major in economics or take many courses in it solely because they believe that it is the subject that is “closest to business” are likely to be frustrated and unhappy in their economics courses. We advise students to acquire a broad exposure to the arts, social sciences and natural sciences, and to major in the subject that most excites them and engages their interest rather than attempt to acquire extensive pre-professional training while undergraduates.

I’m an Economics Major considering Study Abroad. What do I have to do?
See the information provided here.

Can I Get Credit for Coursework Done Elsewhere?
Credit for AP, IB and A-level exams

  • The Econ 110 requirement will be waived for students who earned a 5 on the microeconomics AP exam, and the Econ 120 requirement will be waived for those who received a 5 on the macroeconomics AP exam. Students satisfying either criterion will receive major credit for the course and may complete the major with either eight or seven additional courses, depending on whether they place out of one or both introductory courses. These would include the introductory course for which no advanced placement was granted, the three core classes, and four electives.
  • Students who received an A on the A-level exam in economics or earned a 6 or 7 in the higher economics IB exam will receive credit for both Econ 110 and 120, and may complete the major with only seven additional courses. These would include the three core classes and four electives.
  • A score of 5 on the statistics AP exam, a 6 or a 7 on the statistics IB exam, or an A on the A-level statistics exam will satisfy the statistics prerequisites for ECON 255.

What Kind of Mathematical Skills Will I Need to Major in Economics?
Prospective majors please note that instructors in all sections of Economics 251, 252, and 255 feel free to use elementary calculus in assigned readings, lectures, problem sets, and examinations; therefore, Mathematics 103 or its equivalent is one of the required prerequisites for all of these courses. By elementary calculus is meant differentiation of single variable polynomial functions and conditions for a maximum or minimum; it does not include integration or multi-variable calculus. Instructors in advanced electives (courses numbered 350 and above) may also use elementary calculus in assigned readings, lectures, problem sets, and examinations.  Students are also reminded that some elective courses now have specific mathematics requirements beyond Math 103; see course descriptions.

Core courses
• Economics 251 Price and Allocation Theory. Prerequisites: MATH 103 and ECON 110
• Economics 252 Macroeconomics. Prerequisites: MATH 103, ECON 110 and ECON 120
• Economics 255 Econometrics. Prerequisites: MATH 103 plus either STAT 101 or 201. The combination of STAT 201 and 346 will satisfy the ECON 255 major requirement, although not all upper-level electives and seminars accept STAT 201/346 as a prerequisite in lieu of ECON 255. POEC 253 may not substitute for ECON 255 in fulfilling the major requirements, although some electives may accept POEC 253 as a prerequisite in lieu of ECON 255.

Graduate study in economics requires considerably more mathematical sophistication than it does at the undergraduate level. We advise students who are considering pursuing a Ph.D. to take at a minimum MATH 150 or 151, MATH 209, MATH 250, and MATH 350. We also advise students to consider electives such as ECON 451, 471, 472, or 475 that present advanced perspectives on contemporary economic theory or econometrics. As graduate schools look for evidence of research aptitude, we also encourage those interested in graduate school to pursue the Honors program.

How Do I Major with Honors?
See the information provided here.