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Why Study Economics at a British University?

FAQs about studying economics at a British university answered by Steve Martin

Head of Sixth Form at Kellett School, Hong Kong and ex Head of Sixth Form at St Christopher's School, Bahrain

Why study economics at a British university?

In essence, economics is the study of people and their behaviour. It is a discipline that seeks to explain why people make the decisions that they do and how this impacts on issues such as development, inequality, globalisation, business management and public policy. The subject draws together knowledge and skills from a wide range of subjects including mathematics, psychology, politics, geography, history and sociology. By choosing to study economics at a British university you will develop excellent communication, problem-solving and analytical skills that are in huge demand from top global firms. By studying economics at university, you will become equipped to understand some of the most important issues facing humanity in the 21st Century.

Which other disciplines combine well with economics?

You’ll often find joint courses in economics and geography, economics and politics and economics and history. Whilst all economics degrees have a quantitative component (making maths important of course), it’s vital that economists have a strong understanding of socio-political context. Combining economics with other disciplines will give you a broader view and will enable you to develop the analytical skills that are required when pursuing a career in economics. Many of the strongest and most competitive courses in the UK combine politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) for this very reason; the ability to approach issues from multiple perspectives is particularly important when considering economic policy on a macro scale.

What would be good Sixth Form subject choices for someone looking to study economics at a British university?

Whilst it’s not completely essential for all universities, it would be very sensible to take A Level Mathematics. Without a background in maths, you’ll find a university course in economics much more challenging. Additionally, by not taking Mathematics A level you will be a less competitive candidate and, for some universities, you will not meet the pre-requisites for applying. Subjects like history, geography and modern languages also combine well with economics as they give you the opportunity to learn how to process, analyse and synthesise quantitative and qualitative sources and data.

Do you have to be good at maths to study economics?

Whilst there is no getting away from the need for a good mathematical understanding of some concepts in economics, it is possible to select courses that have less of a maths focus than others. Generally speaking, and this isn’t always true, BSc degrees tend to have more advanced mathematical content whereas BA degrees tend to have more of a focus on the wider socio-political elements of economic theory and application of policy. However, the only way to be sure that the course is right for you is to spend time meticulously researching your course choices. Make sure you create a spreadsheet that summarises the course content for every year of the course, not just Year 1. Remember though, that an understanding of quantitative methods is essential for all degree level courses in economics so if maths really isn’t your thing you may be better looking at courses in Business Management.

Which extracurricular activities do universities like to see on an application?

Universities like to see a broad range of extracurricular activities to show that you have something to contribute to university life beyond the academics. It’s important to have a good mix of things that you do outside the classroom ranging from activities which are focussed on economics (like talks, essay competitions, stock market simulations, Young Enterprise, Model United Nations) to those which are more holistic such as involvement in sports, music, art and drama. Universities will want you to be able to demonstrate the skills that you’ve learned from working with others. Universities value students with leadership and teamwork skills and those who show initiative and creativity. Overall, you’re aiming to develop a strong, appropriate academic profile and an irresistible personal profile.

What to include in your personal statement?

Think of your personal statement as a motivation statement. You need to show the admissions tutor why you are the best candidate for their course. What has inspired you to pursue economics as a degree? What have you enjoyed about your A Level course? Make sure you give specific examples. How do your other A Level subjects complement your understanding of economics? What have you read or watched online to show that you have a broader interest beyond the curriculum, what online courses have you done? What clubs and societies have you been involved in and what skills have you developed as a result? Ultimately, you need to convince the admissions tutor that economics is your “thing” and that you’d be an excellent candidate and would contribute a lot to your chosen course and university.

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