Information on the Economics Curriculum and Major


Follow this link for the latest overview of the economics major and a current list of courses with descriptions. 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).


The primary objectives of the economics major are to develop an understanding of how individuals, organizations and societies meet their material needs. The introductory courses present the fundamental principles of economics at a level that is useful for understanding a wide range of social and policy issues. The core theory courses provide a more rigorous grounding in the tools used in analyzing individual choice, the functioning of markets, and the behavior of output, employment, and inflation. The econometrics course familiarizes students with the methods used to analyze economic data, and equips them with the tools necessary to critique and conduct empirical research. The electives draw on the skills developed in the introductory and core courses to gain a richer understanding of specific aspects of economic behavior and public policy.

The economics major and business careers. The analytical and critical thinking skills taught in economics classes are useful for many careers, including business. The major is not designed to provide pre-professional training in business or management, however. Students from a wide variety of majors, including the sciences and humanities, have gone on to successful business careers. We therefore advise those interested in business to acquire a broad exposure to the arts, social science, and natural sciences, and to major in a subject that engages their interest even if that subject is something other than economics.

Planning for a possible economics major. Given the hierarchical structure of the economics major, students considering the economics major should try to start with ECON 110 during their first year. Since ECON 255 requires a prior statistics course (STAT 161, 201 or 202), prospective economics majors should complete the statistics requirement relatively early in their college careers. Since the 400-level electives typically require at least two of the intermediate core courses (ECON 251, 252, or 255), students are strongly encouraged to complete the core courses by the end of junior year. We prefer that the three intermediate core classes be taken at Williams, so students planning on studying abroad as juniors should aim to complete these courses before departure if possible.

Preparation for graduate school. Graduate study in economics requires considerably more mathematical training than that necessary for the economics major. We advise students who are considering pursuing a Ph.D. to take at a minimum MATH 150 or 151, MATH 209 or 309, MATH 250, and MATH 350. We also advise students to consider electives such as ECON 451, 471, 472, 474, 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.


Nine courses are required for the economics major. These are:

Introductory Courses

Economics 110 Principles of Microeconomics

Economics 120 Principles of Macroeconomics. Prerequisite: ECON 110

Passing the quantitative studies exam or the equivalent is a prerequisite for both classes. Both are suitable for non-majors. Courses numbered 200-299 will require one or both as prerequisites.

Core Courses

Economics 251 Price and Allocation Theory. Prerequisites: differential calculus (MATH 130 or equivalent) and ECON 110

Economics 252 Macroeconomics. Prerequisites: differential calculus (MATH 130 or equivalent), ECON 110 and ECON 120

Economics 255 Econometrics. Prerequisites: differential calculus (MATH 130 or equivalent) plus either STAT 161, 201 or 202. STAT 101 will also serve as a prerequisite, but only if taken prior to the fall of 2018. STAT 346 can be used to satisfy the ECON 255 major requirement, although not all upper-level electives and seminars accept STAT 346 as a prerequisite in lieu of ECON 255. Students with a double major in Statistics and Economics who choose to use STAT 346 to satisfy the ECON 255 requirement must take an additional ECON elective at any level. 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.

The three core classes may be taken in any order. All of the 300- and 400-level electives will require at least one of the core classes, and many of the 400-level seminars require ECON 255.

Elective Courses

Students must complete at least four economics electives in addition to the introductory and core classes listed above. At least two must be advanced electives numbered 300 to 398. At least one must be a seminar numbered 450-490. A second seminar may be taken in lieu of a 300-level elective. Enrollment preference for 400-level classes is given to seniors who have not already taken a seminar. Note that some of the advanced electives may have specific requirements beyond the core economics courses and MATH 130. With the permission of the instructor, undergraduates may enroll in 500-level graduate courses given by the Center for Development Economics. These courses can substitute for advanced electives numbered 300-398, unless otherwise noted in the course description.

AP, IB and A-level Exams

The ECON 110 requirement may be waived for students who earned a 5 on the microeconomics AP exam, and the ECON 120 requirement may be waived for those who received a 5 on the macroeconomics AP exam. Both the ECON 110 and 120 requirements may be waived for students who received an A on the A-level exam in economics or earned a 6 or 7 in the higher economics IB exam. A requirement may be waived for students who earned below a 5 on the microeconomics or macroeconomics AP exams or below a 6 on the higher economics IB exam after consultation with the department. In all cases, results from the department placement exam are taken into account in making the determination of whether a requirement will be waived.

Students who started at Williams prior to Fall 2020 will receive major credit for each course requirement that is waived 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 (if applicable), the three core classes, and four electives.

Students who start at Williams in Fall 2020 and following will receive advanced placement, but no reduction in the number of courses required for the major. Completion of a major in Economics requires nine semester courses. These would include the introductory course for which no advanced placement was granted (if applicable) and one additional elective at any level, or two additional electives at any level if both ECON 110 and 120 requirements are waived, the three core theory classes, and the 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.

Students may receive credit for college courses taken at other institutions, including those taken as part of a study abroad program. Most economics courses taken elsewhere will qualify for 200-level elective credit. Some may be able to count towards a specific departmental requirement, including the introductory or core courses, or qualify as a 300-level elective. In order to receive the appropriate credit, courses must be approved ahead of time by the Department’s Coordinator for Transfer/Study Abroad Credit. (The Department’s web site will indicate which faculty member is serving as the Coordinator.) General study away guidelines for Economics are posted at

Graduating with honors requires the completion of a substantial piece of independent research. Those with an economics GPA of at least 3.5 are encouraged to apply. In addition, because theses typically make use of empirical methods, those considering writing a thesis are strongly advised to complete Econ 255 before the end of junior year.

The honors program involves working closely with a faculty adviser on a subject related to the faculty member’s area of expertise. The first step in pursuing honors is therefore to develop a thesis proposal in consultation with a faculty adviser. The proposal is then submitted to the Department for approval.

The Department offers both a half-year and a full-year honors program:

The half-year program entails enrolling in a one-semester seminar plus a WSP class. Students may either enroll in ECON 491 in the fall semester and ECON 30 during winter study, or they may take ECON 30 during winter study and ECON 492 in the spring. Proposals for a fall semester thesis are due in May of the junior year, while those doing a spring thesis will submit their proposals in December of the senior year. Those choosing the half-year option often base their projects on research that had been initiated in an advanced elective or a seminar, although this is not a requirement.

The full-year program involves taking ECON 493 in the fall, ECON 31 during winter study, and ECON 494 in the spring. Proposals are due in May of the junior year.

Both programs require students to remain on campus during winter study.

Prospective honors students considering studying abroad during their junior year should plan to complete the core courses and at least one 300-level elective by the end of their sophomore year. They are also urged to begin their collaboration with their intended adviser prior to departure, and to consult with the Director of Research on the options for pursuing honors. (The Department’s web site will indicate which faculty member is serving as the Director of Research.)

Further details on the two routes, the application procedure and deadlines are contained in memos sent to economics majors in the spring and fall semesters. The information is also available on the Department’s web site.

In addition to completing the research project, the College Bulletin states that in order to graduate with honors, students must take at least one course in addition to the minimum number required for the major. Students in the full-year program may substitute ECON 493 for an upper-level elective (excluding those numbered 400-490). Students enrolled in the half-year program may not substitute ECON 491 or 492 for one of their electives.

Graduate courses given by the Center for Development Economics are open to undergraduates who have taken the prerequisites, although in most cases, permission of instructor is also required. Unless otherwise specified in the course description, these courses can substitute for electives numbered 300-398 in the major.