Professor Jeffrey Miron, Director of Undergraduate Studies
Economics is a social science that is at once broad in its subject matter and unified in its approach to understanding the social world. An economic analysis begins from the premise that individuals have goals and that they pursue those goals as best they can. Economics studies the behavior of social systems—such as markets, corporations, legislatures, and families—as the outcome of interactions through institutions between goal-directed individuals. Ultimately, economists make policy recommendations that they believe will make people better off.
Traditionally, economics has focused on understanding prices, competitive markets, and the interactions between markets. Important topics such as monopolies and antitrust, income inequality, economic growth, and the business cycle continue to be central areas of inquiry in economics. Recently, though, the subject matter of economics has broadened so that economists today address a remarkable variety of social science questions. Will school vouchers improve the quality of education? Do politicians manipulate the business cycle? What sort of legal regime best promotes economic development? Why do cities have ghettos? What can be done about grade inflation? Why do people procrastinate in saving for retirement—or in doing their homework?
Economics today is a scientific discipline. Bringing their particular perspective to the questions of social science, economists formulate theories and collect evidence to test these theories against alternative ideas. Doing economic research involves asking questions about the social world and addressing those questions with data and clear-headed logic, employing mathematical and statistical tools whenever possible to aid the analysis.
An undergraduate education in economics focuses on learning to analyze the world in terms of tradeoffs and incentives—that is, to think like an economist. Students concentrating in economics begin, ordinarily, in their freshman year, with Economics 10a and 10b, the introductory courses in economics. Because marginal conditions hold a central place among economists' analytical tools, prospective economics concentrators are required to complete math at the level of Math 1a. Students who have already met this requirement may choose to continue their study of mathematics in order to prepare for courses that assume familiarity with more advanced topics in mathematics or for graduate study in economics. Students hoping to graduate with honors must complete additional math courses; see the specific requirements below. Freshmen are also encouraged to take the required introductory statistics course. The ability to interpret quantitative data and to understand statistical arguments is essential to understanding the economy. Students who have not completed this requirement their freshman year are advised to fulfill it their sophomore year.
Concentrators ordinarily take four or five economics courses in their sophomore year. Two courses make up the intermediate theory sequence: one of 1010a or 1011a (Microeconomic Theory) and one of 1010b or 1011b (Macroeconomic Theory). These courses teach the analytical tools that economists use. The 1011 courses assume a more advanced background in mathematics than the 1010 courses. The third course taken in the sophomore year is Economics 970, the sophomore tutorial taught in small groups of eight to ten students. The sophomore tutorial is an intensive experience aimed at helping concentrators develop the ability to understand the nature of economics research, to discuss economic arguments both orally and in writing, and to start to carry out their own research. Finally, students are advised to fulfill the econometrics requirement (Economics 1123 or 1126) in the sophomore year. This helps students get the most out of their sophomore tutorials as they use the tools learned in econometrics.
Beyond these foundational courses, all concentrators are required to take three additional courses in the economics department. Students can pursue Honors either by writing a senior thesis or taking the non-thesis Advanced Course Track (ACT); see the specific requirements below. Honors candidates must also take the economics honors exam in the spring of their senior year.
In recent years, approximately 25 percent of economics concentrators have chosen to write a senior thesis. Senior thesis topics usually spring from a question of interest first raised in a field course. Students are therefore strongly advised to take courses before their senior year in areas in which they might want to write their theses.
Undergraduates are welcome in graduate courses and often do well in them. Because coverage of the professional literature is a primary objective of such courses, they are, as a rule, demanding and time-consuming for undergraduates.
A more complete description of the economics department and its requirements can be found in the handbook, Undergraduate Economics at Harvard: A Guide for Concentrators, available on our website.
Basic Requirements: 11 courses (44 credits)
- Math 1a (or, placement into Math 1b or higher, or an AP Calculus AB or BC score of 5). Students who place out of this course do not need to replace it with an additional course. This requirement applies to students entering in Fall 2010 onwards. Students in previous classes must have math preparation at the level of 1a but are not formally required to take 1a or place out of it. Math 1a must be taken for a letter grade.
- Economics 10a and 10b (formerly the full-year course Economics 10). Students may use Economics AP scores of 5, or A levels or IB scores of 7, to place out of either/both parts of Ec 10. However, they must replace each half of Ec 10 that is skipped with one course elective in Economics. Consult the economics concentrator guide or a concentration adviser for details.
- Economics 970: Sophomore Tutorial.
- Statistics 100, 104, or 110. Note: the first statistics class on your transcript will be the one counted for the economics concentration.
- Economics 1010a or 1011a.
- Economics 1010b or 1011b.
- Economics 1123 or 1126.
Three additional courses in economics that include:
- one course that satisfies the writing requirement (see item 5a).
one course that has Economics 1010a, 1010b, 1011a, or 1011b as a prerequisite.
Note: Some courses can be used to satisfy both requirements simultaneously. However, a total of three economics courses must still be taken.
- Sophomore Tutorial: Economics 970 is required, as mentioned in item 1c.
- Thesis: None required for the basic track.
- General Examination: None required for the basic track.
- Writing Requirement: A list of courses that satisfy the writing requirement is available from the Undergraduate Office and online.
- Pass/Fail: Concentrators may take up to two courses Pass/Fail, except for (i) those courses used to fulfill items 1a–g of the required courses, (ii) tutorials, and (iii) courses used to meet the writing requirement in item 1h.
- Joint Concentrations: The economics department does not participate in joint concentrations.
- Theory review: Starting in Fall 2014, concentrators must demonstrate their command of the basic tools of economic analysis by receiving a grade of B- or higher in both Economics 1010a/1011a and Economics 1010b/1011b. (Prior to Fall 2014, the requirement was an average grade of B-/C+ or higher across the two courses. Please see a concentration advisor for questions on Economics 1010/1011ab taken prior to Fall 2014.) Students who receive below a B- in 1010a/1011a must either register for 975a or take an extra economics elective with 1010a/1011a as a prerequisite. Those who receive below a B- in 1010b/1011b must register for 975b or take an extra economics elective with 1010b/1011b as a prerequisite. The Economics 975ab courses involve retaking the corresponding intermediate theory course. In all cases, students must receive a grade of B- or higher in the make-up course. Concentrators will not receive a degree in economics until this requirement is met. Economics 975ab does not satisfy any Economics electives required in item 1h; however, it will it be factored into the Economics GPA of students pursuing honors.
Requirements for Honors Eligibility: 15 courses (60 credits)
Required courses: Same as Basic Requirements, plus:
- Math 1b and one of Math 18, Math 21a, Applied Math 21a. Students who place out of Math 1b on the Harvard Math Placement Exam do not need to replace it with an additional course.
- For Thesis Track honors: Economics 985 (two terms) or 990 (two terms) and completion of a thesis.
- For Advanced Course Track (ACT) honors: Two additional courses. See item 5a of this section.
Tutorials (All letter-graded): Same as Basic Requirements, plus:
- Thesis Tutorial: As discussed in 1b, Thesis Track honors candidates must enroll in Economics 985 (two terms) or Economics 990 (two terms) during their final two terms. Economics 990 is generally for students who are completing their theses in the fall term.
- Thesis: Required for a recommendation for High or Highest Honors in Field. See item 5a of this section.
- General Examination: In the spring term of their senior year, all honors candidates must take a general examination covering microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics.
Other information: Same as Basic Requirements, plus:
In order to be considered for an honors recommendation in Economics, a student has two options:
- Thesis Track: To be considered for a High or Highest Honors recommendation in Economics, a student must complete a thesis, in addition to the requirements specified above.
- Advanced Course Track: To be considered for an Honors recommendation in Economics, a student can pursue the ACT, which is the non-thesis honors option. The requirements are discussed above. As discussed in 1b, two additional courses in economics are required (beyond the three courses that are required under item 1h in the Basic Requirements). Within this total of five courses, the student must satisfy the Basic Requirements item 1h plus an additional course that has Economics 1010a, 1010b, 1011a, or 1011b as a prerequisite and an additional course that satisfies the writing requirement.
- A document explaining the Department of Economics honors calculations is available on our website.
- In order to be considered for an honors recommendation in Economics, a student has two options:
Students interested in economics are encouraged to visit the Economics Undergraduate Advising Office, located on the first floor of Littauer Center, for information and advice about economics courses and the economics concentration. The office is headed by Jeffrey Miron—the Director of Undergraduate Studies—five concentration advisors, and the Undergraduate Program Coordinator. Concentration advisors are available in the Economics Undergraduate Advising Office (Littauer 109-116) on a walk-in basis, from 10am to 4pm, Monday through Friday during the semester; they are happy to respond to any student questions or concerns. Concentration advisors can sign plans of study, study cards, add/drop forms, and advise/approve courses for concentrators from study abroad. More importantly, they can explain department requirements, discuss students’ academic and research interests, offer advice on course choices, and discuss future plans, such as job possibilities or graduate or professional school.
Each concentrator has an assigned advisor based on their residential House. Students will hear from their concentration advisor periodically, to inform them of office hours, important deadlines, meetings, and requirements. Students may, at any time, contact their concentration advisor for help or for information. Students are also welcome to seek advice from any of the advisors during walk-in advising office hours.
For up-to-date information on economics advising, please see the Economics Department website.
The Economics Department permits study abroad for a term or an academic year. It is generally best for students to study abroad during their junior year. Students may earn concentration credit for one course taken while abroad. Students may postpone Economics 970 (Sophomore Tutorial) if they choose to go abroad during their sophomore year.
After choosing a university and obtaining College approval for planned courses from the Office of International Education, students should make an appointment with their concentration advisor and bring course syllabi to the meeting to have the required pre-departure questionnaire approved and signed. The advisor will grant credit toward fulfilling economics concentration requirements for appropriate courses (although some students choose not to fulfill economics concentration requirements while abroad). To count for concentration credit, a course must be primarily economic in content and methodology and roughly equivalent in difficulty to a Harvard Economics Department course. Courses with an intermediate theory prerequisite may count toward the theory prerequisite requirement. Students who write a paper longer than 15 pages for a course should submit the graded paper to their concentration adviser, who may grant writing requirement credit for the course if the paper has substantial economic content.
HOW TO FIND OUT MORE
More information is available on our website. To declare economics, please (1) submit your declaration on my.harvard.edu and then (2) bring a completed copy of the Economics Declaration and Plan of Study form to a concentration advisor for approval. A more complete description of the economics department and its requirements can be found in the handbook, Undergraduate Economics at Harvard: A Guide for Concentrators.
Number of Concentrators as of December
* Economics does not participate in joint concentrations.