Economics gives you a set of tools that can take you almost anywhere.
When you think “economics,” you might think of business, finance, banking… you know, the economy. But economics is bigger than that: it’s a way of studying human behaviour — and economists work in nearly every field you can think of.
“Economics is about trying to understand how the world works so we can recommend ways to make it better,” says Pierre Chausse, associate professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Waterloo.
If you’ve been thinking about pursuing an economics degree, read on for information and advice from Prof. Chausse and three recent grads from Waterloo’s Economics program.
Meet our alumni
Rosalie Wyonch (she/her) completed a B.A. in Mathematical Economics in 2014 and an M.A. in Economics at Waterloo in 2016, and now works as a senior policy analyst at the C.D. Howe Institute. “I went to Waterloo to study physics,” says Rosalie. “What I learned in my first year is that I quite enjoy learning about physics; I don’t enjoy doing physics. Turns out there’s a difference between those things!” Rosalie signed up for a wide range of courses to find a new path: “I chose economics because it was the best degree for the skills I had and the interests I wanted to learn about.” Rosalie wrote an honours paper on the economic rationality of selling drugs illegally: “That essay became a published paper, which led to hundreds of media interviews, consultations with the Senate of Canada, and directly consulting working on the tax policy when we ended marijuana prohibition. It was one of the most fun research papers I wrote, and it also turned out to be professionally quite useful. At Waterloo, unconventional research is more encouraged.”
Christina Salomone (she/her) earned a B.A. in Mathematical Economics with a Computer Science minor in 2022. “In high school when I took the Grade 12 Economics course I really got interested in economics, and I was also good at math,” says Christina. “I was attracted to Waterloo because their Mathematics faculty is well respected, as well as for the co-op option: being able to get work experience while doing my degree was important to me.” At a co-op placement with Telus, Christina built a sales reporting tool and discovered her love for analytics. Now, she’s pursuing a master’s degree in Management Analytics.
Natasha Kozak (she/her) is beginning a master’s degree in Economics at Waterloo after graduating with an Arts and Business degree in Economics/Political Science in 2022. “My high school didn’t offer any economics courses, and I, like many people, was not entirely sure what economics was entering university,” Natasha says. “I was attracted to Waterloo for the Arts and Business program. I took my first two economics courses, and I loved them. There’s something really nice about being able to apply observations about the world using math.” Natasha’s co-op work included a position as a macroeconomic analyst at the Ontario Ministry of Finance: “I was working on the budget that the people of Ontario read! My work was published in it. That was really rewarding.”
How do I know if an economics degree is right for me?
If you’re into math or science — and curious about why things are the way they are — economics might be for you, says Prof. Chausse. “Personally, I really liked physics and chemistry when I was a high school student,” he says. “But when I saw that we could also analyze individual behaviour with models, the same way we can analyze the trajectory of a projectile, I wanted to learn more about it.”
I was surprised by how many areas of economics there are. In high school I wasn’t aware that there would be electives in, say, natural resources, sports, and health. You can do a public policy specialization, econometrics, and finance… there are lots of different areas of focus.
Something that surprised me was the amount of context you gain — just watching the news. The interest rate report gets published — once you start studying economics you think, ‘Okay, I’ll start paying attention to that now.’ I was surprised at the amount of practical context I gained throughout the program.
In high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. Having a degree that has a lot of options meant that I didn’t actually have to figure it out until after. And co-op gives you the option to figure out a bunch of things during your degree.
What do economics majors do?
In an economics degree, you’ll learn how to study the behaviour of individuals and groups of individuals using math. You’ll learn about microeconomics — the behaviour of individuals and businesses — and macroeconomics — the study of larger economic issues such as GDP, inflation, or international trade. You can pursue special interests through courses like game theory, economics of sport, health economics, or labour economics, among many others. Waterloo economics students also have the option to write an Honours essay in their final year — which makes a great writing sample if you’re planning to apply to grad school.
In many classes your professors encourage research in any area you’re interested in, because economics is just the study of scarcity of resources, and resources are scarce everywhere. So that was another opportunity I took — the ability to examine sustainability through a couple different lenses. I’m a bit of an environmentalist and being able to use the knowledge gained in my program to advance those efforts is important to me.
"I was really involved in the school community. I was president of the Economics Society for two years — that was an important part of my undergrad. They put on networking and academic events — study groups, alumni panels, interviews, excel workshops, stock competitions, investing workshops." — Christina, (she/her)
"The nature of the degree meant that a lot of my classmates took completely different electives or minors. We found our different experiences helped us to bring in other perspectives. Because at the end of the day, economics is really a way of thinking, with mathematical models and theory to back it up." — Rosalie, (she/her)
What jobs can I get with an economics degree?
Economics grads find work in a wide range of fields and industries. Governments at all levels hire economists — not only the Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Canada, but also Labour, Agriculture, Foreign Affairs, Health, and more. “Commercial bank or investment firms often look for candidates with an economics degree even for non-economist jobs, not because finance and economics are the same, but because the of skills you’ve acquired,” says Prof. Chausse. And the growing field of data analysis means those skills are in demand just about everywhere. Waterloo economics grads have the option of taking co-op, which lets you test out different fields and roles, build professional contacts, and graduate with experience already on your résumé.
I tried to get experience in different types of industry to see what suited me the best. I worked at Scotiabank, RBC, for the federal government in cybersecurity, and at Telus.
Job titles for economics grads might include:
- Agricultural economist
- Construction economist
- Credit analyst
- Business analyst
- Data Scientist
- Environmental researcher
- Financial analyst
- Heath economist
- Policy analyst
- Public utilities economist
- Product research consultant
- Research analyst
"In my first co-op term I worked as a macroeconomist at the Ministry of Finance. We were macro modeling, calculating GDP — these were all things I had learned in class that were directly applicable to my job. I loved my experience so much I stayed in the public sector. I worked in analysis at the Ministry of Labour, and I worked at Ontario Lottery and Gaming, and found my niche in research and analysis. All the places I worked invited me back when I graduated. There’s such great opportunity in co-op." — Natasha, (she/her)
"There’s more out there for this degree than you think there is. A lot of people think of economics as leading to finance or banking or consulting in government. I can say that there are economists everywhere, studying all sorts of things. It really is a set of theoretical tools to explain how human society works. When you think about it in those terms, the possibilities for what you might do with the degree are very, very broad. As someone who feels passionate about economics and has zero interest in finance or banking, I would recommend people think beyond what the title might imply." — Rosalie, (she/her)
What about higher education after an economics degree?
Economics is one field where it’s an advantage to have a graduate degree — most researchers will likely have an M.A., notes Prof. Chausse. Your graduate degree could be in economics, data science, or statistics; you could get an MBA or a CPA.
Econ is so versatile, and it can be so applicable to so many different industries. You could apply to an econ master’s, an MBA, a master’s in public policy — there are so many options for further education.
"I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and — this is a very economics answer — the research shows that a master’s degree has a positive return on investment. So given that I could do a master’s degree in eight months, it had co-op — it really seemed like the best thing I could be doing with my time. And on the other end of it, I can say it was, because doing that degree landed me in a spot professionally that would have taken me much longer than a year to get to in the private sector." — Rosalie, (she/her)
"I was inspired by people in my field. Where I worked in the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Labour, everyone was an economist, and everyone was so intelligent. I loved that you knew how your managers got there. They could look at a piece of analysis and take it apart in two seconds. I thought, ‘I need to achieve this level of knowledge!'" — Natasha, (she/her)
If pursuing an Economics degree sounds like a good fit for you, learn more about Economics →
My advice is: stay open-minded. You’re going to have a lot of experiences and opportunities, and you may not know where they’ll take you, but they will end up enhancing your university experience a lot more than you think they will.