Yes you. You look like you clicked on this article looking to get a better sense of what studying Economics at the University of California, Berkeley is like!
First of all, congratulations! You have made a truly wonderful choice in pursuing an education in Economics! While the word “Economics” has been increasingly used as a convenient scapegoat that exists to be pointed at when talking heads need to blame something for something else, I truly believe that there is no more rewarding (or interesting!) field of study than Economics! And no better place to learn it than at the beautiful University of California, Berkeley!
But who am I to be making such bold claims? Well hi! My name is Jeff, and I’m currently a Junior studying CS and Economics (self plug, but if you enjoy this article do please check out my previous article “CS@Cal”, published on 6/13), and I hail from Boise Idaho, but have spent the majority of my life bumbling about between continents and countries all across the world. Applying to Cal as an economics major was quite the leap of faith for me! Despite having taken some Econ classes in High school, I had really no idea what studying economics really entailed, what skills this major would impart in me, and – most importantly – if I would enjoy it!
Economics is quite a unique field, not quite a STEM major yet not quite a humanities subject, as only a major that attempts to assign a numerical number to all of human behaviour can be. While not as math heavy as some classes can be, a fair amount of economics could quite simply be described as “applied statistics.” There’s this pretty excellent math joke that says that what higher level math really teaches you is ancient Greek, and boy does that feel true in Economics. The greatest pain of my semester of macroeconomics was squinting pathetically at lecture slides trying to decipher if a certain squiggle is a Kappa or a K (which, spoiler alert, look pretty much identical), and drawing the ugliest lowercase Zeta known to man (sorry Professor Hawkins!). But! I digress.
At the end of the day, I believe economics to be a widely applicable and incredibly useful field of study, one that not only applies itself very well to a career in finance or business, but also lays terrific groundwork and a strong academic foundation for a future in law or politics. The skills emphasized in an economics education in Berkeley (statistics, data analysis, reasoning and critical thinking) also lend themselves well to other fields, and indeed economics is a popular double major or simultaneous degree with a lot of other courses offered in Berkeley. I personally find that studying something that provides you with technical know-how and skills (like CS!), while combining it with a pseudo-humanities field such as economics, could provide you with a best-of-both-worlds education that not only gives you the tools to make a difference in society, but also gently nudges you towards where these tools might be best utilized. Market efficiency!
Okay okay, but Jeff I hear you ask, how exactly do I study Economics at Cal? What classes do I need to take? Could you please stop talking about Greek letters?
Right away! In order to declare the Economics major, potential students would need to complete the following prerequisite courses, and maintain a 3.0 GPA across all of them. These are:
- An introductory Economics course
- Parts A and B of a Calculus course
- A Statistics requirement
Students actually have quite a few options when it comes to what specific courses they could choose to take to fulfil these requirements, and as such I’ve left the required course section to be deliberately quite vague. For specifics on what classes count towards each specific requirement, I strongly recommend checking out the economics course website, as you could very easily tailor your lower division courses to suit your needs as a student. For instance, while statistics requirements could be fulfilled by a course such as STAT 20, some students choosing to double major in data science might find the combination of DATA 8 + CS 88 to be more in line with their interests, and those classes also combine to fulfil the statistics requirement for Econ! Again, please do check out the course website for much more information about classes and declaration requirements!
Let’s talk about some specific courses that you might encounter in your time as an Econ student at Cal! For a lot of people, the first Economics class you will encounter is
~ ECON 1 / ECON 2 ~
Econ 1 and 2 are fundamentally quite similar courses that cover identical material, but with the caveat that Econ 2 has an additional hour of lecture per week, which allows it to go into greater depth on some topics. While there isn’t really a significant difference between the classes, Econ 2 is taught by David and Christina Romer, a true economics power couple whose models and formulas you will definitely encounter later on in your studies (particularly in Macroeconomics), which could be a plus. However, Econ 2 is not offered every semester, and Econ 1 (which I took!) is more than an adequate class for any aspiring economist. It is taught by Professor Campbell who is genuinely delightful and lectures with passion and heart (and the occasional moderately funny joke). Again, specifics on what these courses cover can be found on the economics website.
The next steps for most economics students would be the Macroeconomics and Microeconomics courses, namely:
~ ECON 100A/100B , 101A/101B ~
While the specifics of each course can be found on the website, do note that these classes cover roughly the same content and material, however the 101 series is noted for being more math-heavy, with a much stronger emphasis on Calculus compared to the 100 series. Taking a 100 class or a 101 class covers the exact same requirement, and one is not necessarily preferred over the other, so students have the free reign to choose whatever format they feel better suits their learning style. You are also able to take one of each! These classes form the basis of a large part of higher division econ that you are likely to take in your latter two years, and are some of the most interesting classes I’ve taken at Berkeley! On a whole, these classes are largely based on weekly problem sets and exams, and as such it is vitally important to understand the lecture material and practice on discussion problems and past exams.
Lastly, students would have to complete an Econometrics class, as well as their statistics and calculus requirements. For incoming freshman and transfer students, be sure to check if your AP test scores or transfer credits would get you out of some required classes! For instance, a 5 on AP Calc BC would get you out of both calculus A and B requirements, and some students find it fun (“fun”) to start on Math 53 (multivariable calculus) rather than retake some early math requirements. For students interested in double majoring, also note that some classes can double as requirements for other fields! For instance, the 100/101 series in Economics also fulfil a upper division requirement in Computer Science!
I hope this has been a helpful, short introduction to some of the key classes and an overview of the Economics major through your first two years in Berkeley! Feel free to check out the Econ department website for more information on specific classes, as well as upper-division requirements and declaration policies. If you have specific questions for me, do feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org! I’m more than happy to answer any question under the sun. Good luck everyone!