How to Choose a Major: Business vs. Economics

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Choosing a major can feel overwhelming. For many students, it’s the first step on their path to a career. For some, there is the desire to fulfill external expectations, while others stress over what ripple effects their decision will have down the road. 

 

If you’re considering business or economics, the good news is that both majors can lead to a successful career in a variety of fields—including business, finance, accounting, and many more. 

 

You may also like this YouTube video version of this post:

 

Overview of Business vs. Economics

 

The coursework taken by a business major tends to feel more interdisciplinary than that of an economics major. Business majors share many foundational, introductory classes with economics majors, but their coursework will feature more classes in the humanities along with general business courses that build easily applicable skills like management, marketing, and finance.


Economics majors focus more on big-picture ideas and theories, such as how markets work and how decisions affect markets, as well as how to analyze and explain data. Economics majors are typically very math-centric and STEM-heavy, and feature courses such as Statistical Theory and Applied Mathematics.


Because of the overlapping content of the two majors, some schools house both business and economics in the same school or department. Other colleges and universities have taken it even a step further, combing the two majors into a single course of study, such as the:

 

 

Business and Economics Career Paths

 

A major in either business or economics doesn’t limit career options—the fields are similar and a degree in either will not limit the pursuit of a career in one field or the other. However, there are some common positions shared by graduates of these fields.

 

The benefits of a business degree are easy for students to see, as the skills they learn in school make them well-suited to fill in-demand jobs in a variety of fields like marketing, sales, and project management. Because an economics major doesn’t seem as utilitarian as a business major, its career path can seem a bit more blurry, but their math skills make them great candidates for jobs in accounting, financial and risk analysis, and statistics. 

 

High School: Preparing for a Business or Econ Major

 

High school presents an excellent opportunity to build the skills and knowledge base needed to pursue either a business or economics degree. 

 

Business 

 

Students with an interest in majoring in business in college should take any business-related courses their high school offers—these typically include introductory classes in management, marketing, entrepreneurship, and personal finance. 

 

Participation in business-minded clubs like DECA and FBLA show colleges your interest in the field while developing leadership skills and building a network of like-minded peers. Service or volunteer projects with a business focus—such as starting a company or creating a non-profit—are great ways to gain real-world experience while demonstrating interest in the business world. 

 

See our post on more extracurricular activities for business-minded high schoolers.

 

Economics  

 

Students with an interest in economics should consider classes like AP or IB Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, Statistics, and Calculus in high school. Because business and economics are adjacent fields, the extracurricular activities for high schoolers looking to enter them are very similar—DECA, FBLA, and business-focused service and volunteer projects are all great ways to build your college profile. 

 

Students planning on pursuing an economics degree will also want to explore more math-focused extracurricular activities—such as participating in a Math Olympiad or serving as treasurer in a club—to prepare for the rigorous coursework ahead. See our blog post on extracurriculars for students interested in math for more ideas.

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Best Colleges for Business and Economics Majors


Below is a list of the ten best schools for business and economics majors in the U.S. Simply click the school to learn more about its majors, cost, and admissions standards. 

 

You can also see your chances of acceptance using CollegeVine’s free chancing calculator. It takes into account a variety of factors like GPA, standardized test scores, and extracurricular activities to provide students an accurate assessment of their odds of admission at over 500 colleges. 

 

Best Colleges for Business Majors

 

  1. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton School)
  2. Cornell University
  3. California Institute of Technology
  4. Washington University in St. Louis
  5. Carnegie Mellon University
  6. Brown University
  7. University of Notre Dame
  8. Georgetown University
  9. University of Virginia (main campus)
  10. University of Michigan–Ann Arbor

 

Best Colleges for Economics Majors

 

  1. University of Chicago
  2. MIT
  3. Harvard University
  4. Stanford University
  5. Princeton University
  6. Yale University
  7. California Institute of Technology
  8. University of California–Berkeley
  9. Dartmouth College
  10. Williams College

 

What to Expect in College: Business vs. Economics

 

Business and Economics majors may share introductory classes, but as students progress in their college careers, the two majors will diverge. 

 

Business Majors 

 

Business majors begin their college career taking foundational classes such as:

 

  • Accounting 
  • Business Administration
  • Business Communication 
  • Human Resources Management
  • Intro to Marketing
  • Intro to Economics
  • Management and Organization 

 

As they progress, the coursework becomes more focused—allowing students to follow their interests in “general business” or funnel into a concentration, like: 

 

  • Ecommerce
  • Entrepreneurship 
  • Finance
  • Health Care Management
  • Marketing
  • Management
  • Real Estate 

 

Extracurricular activities and internships (especially those in a field of concentration) can help business students develop in-demand skills and make themselves more appealing to future employers or MBA programs. The Future Business Leaders of America and Business Professionals of America are two well-respected clubs with reputations for cultivating leaders in the business community. 

 

Another way to build leadership and your resume is to join an on-campus club or volunteer with a well-known organization—it’s even more beneficial if you’re in a position of influence or working in a business-minded role, such as helping the local soup kitchen with their finances. 

 

Economics Majors

 

Economics majors will spend their first few years in college building the foundational skills needed to tackle the more exacting coursework they’ll encounter as they progress through college. Introductory courses include:

 

  • Accounting
  • Applied Economics
  • Macroeconomics
  • Math 
  • Microeconomics
  • Statistics

 

As students advance, they’re exposed to more focused and specific coursework like: 

 

  • Corporate Finance
  • Economics of Inequality and Discrimination
  • Economics of Social Policy
  • Financial Institutions and Markets
  • Government Regulation of Industry
  • Mathematical Models in Finance 
  • Urban Economics

 

Internships are an excellent way for economics majors to gain firsthand experience with the material they’re learning in the classroom—fields such as finance, wealth and asset management, accounting, and policy advising can pave the way to a post-college career or to admission in an advanced degree program. Participation in an on-campus economics club or an honor society—such as Omicron Delta Epsilon, an international honor society in the field of economics—are great ways to further explore the field and build networks of peers with similar interests and aspirations.  

 

Business vs. Economics College Graduates

 

The primary difference between business and economics college graduates is that business degree holders generally leave with a tangible skill in their concentration. For example, a student who focused on entrepreneurship as an undergraduate has learned the skills needed to start and run a new business, while a student who concentrated on marketing has the skills required to work in a company’s marketing department. Economics degree holders have spent more time developing mathematical and quantitative skills, which make them ideal for positions like business and financial analysts, investment and retail bankers, and market researchers. 

 

After College: Business vs. Econ 


A major isn’t predictive of a career; consequently, both business and economics majors have the potential to work in any number of fields after completing their undergraduate degrees. A number of undergraduates will also continue their schooling, going on to earn an MBA or graduate degree. 

 

Business Majors 


The broad base of knowledge learned while earning a business degree makes business majors versatile candidates in the job market as they’re able to fill a wide variety of positions. Concentrations and internships help set students on the path to a particular field of interest but are not limiting. Common jobs held by candidates graduating with a business degree include:

 

  • Accountant
  • Account manager 
  • Business analyst
  • Marketing manager
  • Organizational manager
  • Sales manager 
  • Sales representative
  • Social media manager

 

Many students will go onto an MBA program—either directly after college or after some time in the workplace. MBAs make candidates more competitive in crowded job markets, build professional networks, and can provide access to more senior and higher-paying positions. As further proof that a college major doesn’t limit your career options, in 2015, 94.4% of MBA applicants considered changing the industry they work in.

 

Economics Majors 

 

Candidates graduating with an economics degree might not have the same industry-specific skills as their business major counterparts, but their quantitative, analytical, and critical thinking skills make them leading candidates for a number of positions in the business world, such as: 

 

  • Accountant
  • Business consultant 
  • Economist
  • Day trader
  • Investment banker
  • Market analyst
  • Researcher
  • Retail banker
  • Risk management 

 

Much like graduates with a business degree, some graduates of undergraduate economics programs continue on to pursue an advanced degree—especially those hoping for a career in academia, economic policy creation and advising, and economic writing. 


Business vs. Economics Majors in the Job Market 


The job market for students graduating with an economics degree is smaller than that for those graduating with a business degree. However, while the scope of work is smaller, there is generally less competition for work and higher salaries thanks to the specialized skills possessed by economics majors. Conversely, business majors are competing with graduates from other programs like English, communications, and even economics for more general business positions.  

 

Networking 


There is some truth to the old saying, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” The connections made through college impact your job search as much as the program you participated in and the grades you earned. Internships, job fairs, professors, and on-campus organizations like pre-professional Greek life can all expand your professional network and open otherwise closed doors. 

 

Secondary Schooling 

 

While many business and economics degree-holders will go on to an MBA or advanced degree program, others will choose more industry-specific training as a way to further their careers and earn higher salaries. Some professional certifications commonly earned by undergraduate business school graduates include:

 

  • APICS Certified Supply Chain Professional certification (CSCP)
  • Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP)
  • HubSpot Inbound Marketing
  • Professional Certificate in Team Leadership
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)
  • Salesforce certification
  • HubSpot Inbound Marketing

 

Economics degree holders commonly pursue additional financial certifications like:

 

  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
  • Certified Fund Specialist (CFS)
  • Chartered Market Technician (CMT)

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Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.

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