Econ Undergrad (India)

Last Updated: Nov 2021


Starters

B.A./B.A. (Hons.)/B.Sc. Economics is a great choice and is one of the sought after academic programmes 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 relationships among various social variables, 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. Most economics undergraduate programmes in India just introduce you to the theory side of things rather than the application aspects. Chances are that you would be treated as just another social science/ liberal arts student, with just a bit more mathematical and statistical knowledge. In order to have an edge and to be employable, you would need to join a good quality economics undergraduate programme that spans 4 years and has a heavy focus on a research component (more details on this below). 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.


At the end, you may not know it all

Even after having studied economics for three to four years in college, you would probably still not 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 understand, and the objective of such a programme is to just introduce you to the fundamentals. You would start getting closer to reality as you study further during your masters and doctoral degrees in graduate school.


You would surely have fun

The debates that arise out of the theories and logic 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. If you have joined a 4-year programme (more on this below), your final year would be devoted to your research project.

You can have a look at the guidelines for the structure of an economics undergrad programme as defined by the UGC here or view it below (this is only an indication of what the programme may look like; for details please see the programme structure of each school separately on their respective websites):

UGC Econ Undergrad Syllabus.pdf

What NOT to expect

Unless you have joined a 4-year programme, do not expect a whole lot of applied work. Most of what you would learn in econometrics can be applied using programming languages such as R and Python. 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 teaching 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. That said, you will definitely learn applied work if you join a 4-year programme in economics.


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 an 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 conduct entrance tests and/or interviews.


Where to apply

An economics undergrad programme in India can span for either 4 years or 3 years. The 4-year programmes are supposedly modeled on the academic structure followed in the US while the 3-year ones mostly follow the system in the UK. You should aim for the former if you are serious about economics and would like to study it further at the PhD level (admission to most good-quality PhD programmes requires at least 4 years of study before applying). A 3-year programme is more common in India and can get you places if you couple it with a masters degree in economics.


4-Year Economics Undergrad Programmes in India for students with a Science background at the Class 12 level (Note: the following 2 programmes require you to study Physics and Chemistry in the 1st Year):


4-Year Economics Undergrad Programmes in India for students with a Science/Non-Science background at the Class 12 level:


3-Year Economics Undergrad Programmes in India for students with a Science/Non-Science background at the Class 12 level:


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 (don't worry about this part if you have joined a 4-year programme). 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 necessarily drench your hands in command-based software yet (although you can and probably should), 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 jargon-less and intuitive introduction to econometrics.

If your academic programme or college/university allow you to opt electives from the computer science department, I would highly recommend learning R and Python; however, try to stay away from proprietary languages like STATA and MATLAB. The use of programming languages for economic analysis (whether econometric or computational) is becoming indispensable by the day. One can't stress it enough.


What next

As a snapshot, one can join a consultancy/corporation, a FinTech or social startup, become an economic journalist, pursue MA Economics, PhD Economics, or MBA.

  • Join the corporate world - You could join a consultancy/corporation as a Junior Data/Research Analyst, though you would not really be applying economic principles as much as you would statistical or econometric ones. If your undergrad programme had a heavy focus on research or econometric application, you have a bright future in the world of consultancy. You can easily go up the ladder by pursuing a PhD in economics, which also opens up the world of academia for you. On the other hand, if your undergrad programme was more focused on theory, these jobs 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./M.Sc. in Economics - If you pursued a 3-year economics undergrad programme, 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.

  • Ph.D. Economics - If you pursued a 4-year economics undergrad programme and if you are extremely serious about this academic discipline, the best way forward would be to pursue a PhD in economics from either the US or from select institutes in India.

  • 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 have a look at!