Advice for Economics Undergraduates
Economics bloggers have posted a lot of advice for graduate students and young faculty, but not much for undergraduate students interested in economics. I’m something of an undergraduate expert – now heading into year five, I’ve studied at two different universities on two different continents: the University of Toronto and the University of Edinburgh.
This advice is written with a younger me in mind. I’m thinking of students who are motivated and looking for a challenge, but perhaps not quite sure where they want to end up.
1. Take more math
In high school, I enjoyed and excelled in math. But when I decided to pursue social science in university, I figured a bit of statistics was all I could make time for. In first year, I wanted to take Linear Algebra as an elective, but I held off. Now I know that a few tough quantitative courses look great on your transcript, even if you’re a history major. I should have had more confidence in my unusual interests – as it happens, a late switch to economics means that I do need that linear algebra course, so four years later, I’m picking it up over the summer.
2. Be interdisciplinary
If you go on to graduate school, studying outside your discipline will be nearly impossible. That’s too bad, because the best academics often draw on more than one area. This is your chance. Pick up some intro classes in political science, sociology, biology, or psychology; you’ll experience a different world view, and one day that background might make you a more innovative economist.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask
Don’t be afraid to ask professors to waive prerequisites or make room for you in a full course. At some universities and in some departments, profs are happy to make exceptions for bright, motivated students interested in their work. In later years, don’t be afraid to ask a favourite professor to do a reading course or independent study project with you. Don’t be afraid to ask counselling or psych services for help if you’re overwhelmed. Unless you’re rude, you won’t end up any worse off.
4. Talk to your professors
One day, you will need references from these people. Make sure they remember you. Approach them at the end of class or during office hours with an insightful question or a relevant magazine article. Ask for further reading on something that interests you. Good professors wish they could spend less time answering stupid questions (“Will this be on the test?”) and more time chatting about ideas with their students.
5. Switch majors (if you want to)
An extra year might feel like a long time right now, but over your lifetime, it’s nothing. Program switching can be taken too far – eventually you do want to pack up and graduate – but in moderation, it’s a small price to pay for a degree you can actually use. Don’t assume that scholarships and bursaries can’t be extended – it doesn’t hurt to ask.
6. Make time for other things
If you go to graduate school, you won’t have time for most extracurriculars. Again, this is your chance. University is about more than linear algebra. Take some time to build social networks and explore your interests.
Now it’s your turn. What have I missed?