This Mistake Stops 84% of Economics Students From Getting a Better Job
For years, I have seen economics students making a huge mistake with their major. It's hurting their chances at getting a better job. Last week, I was reminded of this mistake when I saw some bear cubs.
It's Thursday morning, and my five kids, my wife, and I have arrived at a farm. While the farm grows some food, it's main purpose is a public attraction. It has pony rides and a small (slow) train ride. In the Fall it does a corn maze, and at other points of the year it puts on educational shows. But the biggest event every Spring is Baby Animal Days. It's a huge attraction because (1) it coincides with the school district's Spring Break and (2) they bring in baby animals that you can hold and pet. I was there for one reason: bears.
The bear cubs are the biggest attraction every year. The cubs are the only animal you are not allowed to pet, but they make up for it by being the cutest attraction. The five bears wander their pen and spontaneously wrestle each other. It's so sad you can't pet them...until you see that they already have massive claws and teeth that would be happy to try your five-digit snack.
So why did this remind me of my economics students?
Since the cubs are so popular, the line can get long. So as soon as we enter the farm, we speed walk to the bears. Like any good theme park, the cubs are located at the very back (and, of course, the food trucks are right next to them). Our kids keep looking at the animals we are passing, asking if we can stop. "No! We want to get to the bears!" I say. Our pursuit pays off: when we arrive, there is no line, and we enjoy the cubs without any pressure to leave.
After our time there, we return to the attractions at the front. I cannot believe the lines I'm seeing. The lines for seeing calves and piglets are fairly long. But the line for the train ride shocks me the most: hundreds of people are waiting for the small (really slow) ride. The train is there all year long! If we go there today, there will be no line and we can ride it all we want. But if we go there today, there will also be no cubs. So which one should we prioritize?
For economics students, the bear cubs are your econometrics class. The majority of students are waiting too long to take econometrics, getting distracted by all of the courses on the way there. This is not entirely the students' fault. Like with the bear cubs, economics departments put econometrics way at the back of the major, seeing it as the culminating experience.
But econometrics is where most of the marketable skills are learned. You want those skills before you look for jobs. More importantly, you want to learn them early so you can have time to practice them. Your first econometrics class is like when Hagrid shows up at your house and says, "You're a wizard." Then taking an applied econometrics class (or field courses that use econometrics) is when you go to Hogwarts and learn how to use the magic.
I worry that some economics majors are missing out on great jobs because they wait too long to take econometrics. Clearly, if you want a data-centered job, you need that econometrics class. But even if you're looking for a different career, usually econometrics is where you're doing your most original work in the major. When you interview for a job, you're much more interesting if you can say, "In my econometrics class, I analyzed the relationship between Pokémon card characteristics and prices. I found this interesting result that higher HP cards are worth less, but not for the reason you think." That's such an interesting story to tell in an interview! It shows initiative, it shows skills! But you don’t get those stories if you’re spending all of your time on Slutsky equations.
Don't get stuck in the attractions at the front. Make sure to get into econometrics as soon as possible and reap the benefits through the rest of your college experience.
That’s great advice especially the use of analogy to make the point. It would be interesting to hear the psychology of why students postpone econometrics. Is it partly that more math confident students self select into engineering? Is it branding? If econometrics was relabeled “intro data analytics” would enrollments jump?