Econ Undergrad (India)

Last Updated: February 2019


Starters

B.A./B.A. (Hons.) Economics is a great choice and is one of the sought after courses these days, an option which opens up the world for you. If you wish to know what economics is all about, have a look at this page before you make up your mind. That said, if you liked economics in high school or if you keep thinking about various relationships and variables in society, this is just the thing for you. You are definitely going to have a good time.

The right mindset

However, if you think that after an undergraduate economics degree from India you would be highly employable and that you would start working as a professional right away, just hold your horses. Here is a reality check. A bachelors degree in economics is not going to give you an edge and you would be treated as just another social science/ liberal arts student, with just a bit more mathematical and statistical knowledge. To know more about exciting career options that an economics undergrad has, scroll down to the end of the page. If you join such a programme with the expectation of learning loads about how wealth is created and how resources are allocated (which is the bedrock of any society), then you will definitely be blown away.

You wouldn't know it all at the end

Even after having studied economics for three to four years in college, you wouldn't really know how an economy works (if anything, you might just get a little more confused)! Applying the theories to the Indian Economy course during your undergrad itself would be a huge challenge. This is because how a real economy works is a tad too complicated for college students to learn, and the objective of such a programme is to introduce you to the fundamentals. You would start getting closer to reality as you study further during your masters degree in graduate school.

You would surely have fun

The debates that arise out of the theories and logics of the economic principles would boggle you to the point that you would start questioning everything regarding how society works. Why does poverty exist? Why is India still a developing economy? What is money (no, seriously, what in the name of sweet Jesus is it)? Such questions would motivate you to search for their answers outside of your curriculum and that is exactly what makes everything worth the while.

What to expect

The principles courses include introductory microeconomics and macroeconomics (most of which would be a recapitulation of what you might have studied in high school if you had opted for economics then), statistical techniques for economics, and mathematical techniques for economics. The second year would comprise intermediate microeconomics (calculus driven) and macroeconomics (logic and theory driven), introductory econometrics (built on top of statistical theory), Indian Economy (the star!), public economics, and development economics (which is like the epitome of applied economic theory). Everything else would depend on what electives you choose. You can have a look at the syllabus defined by the UGC here or view it below:

UGC Econ Undergrad Syllabus.pdf

What not to expect

Do not expect a whole lot of applied work. Most of what you would learn in econometrics can be applied using software such as STATA, R, SAS, etc. Using these, you can get a taste of how data is utilized to make economic sense of the real world. But unfortunately, most universities and institutes in India (at the undergraduate level) de-emphasize this in favour of theory. However, if you choose to go for M.A. Economics later on, it is almost certain that you would get to lay your hands on these.

Eligibility

According to the UGC, any student (irrespective of whether they have studied economics in school) who has passed mathematics in the 12th Grade is eligible to apply for the Economics Honours programme in India. Each university/institute may have certain other eligibility criteria, but this is the basic one. Most places accept students on merit, while few hold entrance tests and/or interviews.

Where to apply

The best place would be a top-notch college at the University of Delhi (or any other college in the same university, since the detailed reading list remains the same for all). If Delhi is not an option for you, go for other Central Universities (but not State Universities). Some private institutes are also good.

You could consider applying to the following:


Suggestions for while you are pursuing the programme

While you are pursuing a bachelors degree in economics, apart from building your logical skills that would help you with theory of microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics, you also need to start learning how to work with data. You would surely need some prior knowledge of inferential statistics. The one paper during your programme that is the epitome of application of economics is econometrics. But not just the theory. You need to learn how to use it with actual data. You may not dirty your hands with command-based software yet, but should surely play around with spreadsheets software like MS Excel (or LibreOffice Calc). Here is an excellent guide on how to do econometrics using spreadsheets. You could have a look at my post in case you need a jorgon-less and intuitive introduction to econometrics.


What next

You can have a look at my post on Quora regarding what career options are available after pursuing economics at the undergraduate level. These are also explained below. As a snapshot, one can join a corporate, a FinTech or social startup, become an economic journalist, pursue MA Economics or MBA, or choose an entirely different stream.

  • Join a corporate - You could join a consultancy/corporate as a Junior Data/Research Analyst, though you would not really be applying economic principles as much as you would statistical ones. These tend to get monotonous after a year or so, and growth gets stymied (simply because you do not have the formal education required to step up the ladder; remember, you have majored in economics principles, not statistics). Besides, convincing the recruiter regarding why they should hire you rather than a statistics fresher is a challenge in the first place.
  • Join a Startup - You could join the following kinds at entry-level jobs (Associate) since one at a startup would be relatively easier to crack:
    • FinTech Startups - Financial Technology startups are popping up all across the country. They experiment in the space of finance with innovations such as e-wallets, peer-to-peer lending, and costless money transactions (like BHIM UPI). Here, your role would be more general in that you would learn almost all functions, and your work would not be limited to finance alone. Core economics is something you would not be concerned with here. Like the above, growth gets stymied unless you go for professional certifications like CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst), with which you can reach the managerial level at NBFC’s (Non-Banking Financial Companies). Later on, you could go for an MBA (preferably in Finance), and join at better positions.
    • Social Startups - Such startups marry technology with social development. An example is LetsEndorse. They need people form the social sciences to be able to work with partner development organisations like NGO’s, and to carry out surveys and statistical analysis. As above, you would be carrying out almost all tasks (like handling social media and creating text/image/video content) including administrative ones. The growth path may not be exactly in the direction of economics, but a year or two’s worth of experience would definitely be useful for further studies in most streams. If you tend to like the development landscape, you could go for an M.A. in economics/sociology/development, and later join an NGO at better positions (explained below).
  • Become an Economic Journalist - A flair for writing along with an Economics degree can take you places in the field of economic journalism. Basically, the job would involve studying and analyzing economic phenomena world over and thereby drawing insights and inferences and have your ideas published in periodicals and magazines. An example would be Qrius (formerly The Indian Economist).
  • M.A. in Economics - The most advisable thing to do would be to go for a masters degree in economics. Here you would not only learn about the context in which you had studied what you did in college, but would also learn how to apply most of them to the real world, using both data as well as theory. You can refer to this page for a list of graduate schools in India that provide this degree. Whatever work you do after this would involve research, whether you join a corporate, a government organisation, an institute, or an NGO. For more details on M.A. Economics, click here.
  • MBA - One of the most sought after streams is management, for it brings economics together with other disciplines like commerce and business. Be warned, life at a B-School (especially the top ones like IIMs and ISB) is going to be hell, for you wouldn’t get even a second to yourself. That said, if your passion lies in business and management, go for it. I don’t have much of an idea of the growth path here, but given that almost every second urban Indian is getting an MBA degree, some of them would surely be answering such questions on Quora which you could look up!
  • Choose a different stream altogether - If you realize that you do not wish to continue with economics, it would be advisable to go for work experience for a year or two in the area of your liking. It could be anything from business to sales to music, you name it. Given that most entry level jobs (except the performing arts) are fine with undergrad degrees, you should be able to land one. It would certainly require you being unemployed frictionally. But since you would be reorienting your entire career, this is a trade-off you must be ready for. Once you have had first hand experience in the area of your choice, then charting out your growth path should be easier.