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Course and Curriculum FAQs

Find answers to common questions about economics courses, schedule-planning, requirements and more.

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Curriculum structure

I am an Economics major. In what order should I take courses?

  • You should take 201 first, then 202. 201 begins with a brief overview of microeconomics (fundamentals of how supply and demand interact to determine what is produced and how income is distributed), then turns to macroeconomics (the study of economy-wide problems such as inflation and unemployment). 202 assumes that you have already been introduced to microeconomics and begins with more advanced analyses of how households and firms behave; it covers no macroeconomics. Economics 201 and 202 must be completed before taking any 300-level courses.
  • Statistics 210 must be taken before Economics 281. (If you have AP statistics credit, or are required to take another statistics class for another major, or wish to take a higher level statistics class, you should consult the Director of Undergraduate Studies about substituting this for Statistics 210.) You might wish to take it along with Economics 201 or 202. Economics 281 should be completed as early as possible -- certainly before taking any 300-level field course. Students with a strong mathematical background can have Economics 281 waived by taking Economics 381-1,2 Econometrics. More information on this option can be found in our advice on econometrics options. We suggest that you talk with an Economics advisor before selecting the Economics 381-1,2 option.
  • Mathematics 220-1 is a prerequisite for Economics 310-1. (Alternatively, students can take Mathematics 218-1 and 218-2 Single-Variable Calculus with Precalculus in place of Mathematics 220-1.)
  • Economics 310-1 is a prerequisite for 310-2.
  • Economics 310-1 is usually a prerequisite for 311. Even when the instructor does not require it, it is advisable to complete 310-1 before taking 311, because theories of consumer and producer behavior developed in 310-1 are useful background for many topics in macroeconomics.

See a sample 4-year schedule for Economics majors.

Does my course have prerequisites?

Core introductory courses

  • 201: None
  • 202: 201

Core intermediate courses

  • 281: 201, 202, Math 220-1, Stat 210
  • 310-1: 201, 202, Math 220-1
  • 310-2: 201, 202, 310-1, Math 220-1
  • 311: 201, 202, Math 220-1

Field courses

  • 310-1 is standard for all field courses. Consequently 201, 202 and Math 220-1 are implicit prerequisites as they are prerequisites for 310-1.
  • 281 (or 381-1 or Math 386-1) is a prerequisite for nearly all field courses.
  • 310-2 is a prerequisite for all courses in industrial organization and public finance.
  • 311 is added where appropriate for courses with macroeconomic content.
  • Certain advanced courses also require additional mathematical preparation - Math 220-2 & 230-1.
  • Consult the Course Catalog for details by individual course.

How do I select a 300-level field course?

Sampling various areas and professors is a perfectly reasonable approach and is encouraged, but you can also benefit by selecting courses that address your interests and goals. For example, if you are concerned about international economic issues and developing nations, you will certainly want to include 361 International Trade, 362 International Finance and 326 Economics of Developing Countries in your program; and good choices for related courses would be those that study the history and politics of parts of the world that interest you. Or if you are considering a career in finance or banking, you will certainly want to take 308 Money and Banking and possibly 362 International Finance, 360-1 Corporate Finance, 360-2 Investments or 309 Public Finance. There are so many possible themes and variations that the best approach is to discuss your intellectual and career interests with a faculty adviser and together map out a program that particularly suits you.

While each student will create a unique program, the following general recommendations can be offered for four of the most common areas of interest:

  • Business or management concentration: 308, 323-1,2, 339, 349, 350, 355, 360-1,2, 361, 362, 380-1,2
  • Pre-law concentration: 309, 323-1,2, 340, 349, 350, 351, 371, 372, 373, 380-1,2
  • Public sector concentration: 307, 309, 323-1,2, 336, 341, 349, 350, 355, 359, 372, 373
  • International studies concentration: 308, 325, 326, 327, 361, 362

Econometrics Options

What is econometrics?

The vast majority of the work of economists combines economic theory with data to explain and predict actual events. Econometrics is the field of economics that studies how theory and data can be used to draw meaningful conclusions about outcomes of practical interest. In the real world, unlike the laboratory, many things change at the same time. For this reason, multivariate regression analysis is an important econometric tool. Econometric analysis is widely used by economics and other disciplines in a variety of setting, including public policy analysis and many business and finance applications. Consultants and financial analysts are expected to be able to understand, and conduct, regression analyses.

Which econometrics course should I take?

Learning about econometrics is a core requirement for a Major or Minor in Economics. The Economics Department has two different options you can choose for meeting this requirement. Which option you choose will depend on your level of interest in conducting applied analysis. If you are student in the Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences Program, this discussion is not applicable to you, as you will take an alternative econometrics program involving a three-quarter sequence of Math 385 and Math 386-1,2.

Most students take Economics 281 Introduction to Applied Econometrics. After taking this option, students should be able to understand (and critique) empirical results that are presented in a more advanced class. In addition you should be able to conduct straightforward regressions as part of a class problem set. If you complete Economics 281 and decide that you enjoy econometrics, you are encouraged to also take Economics 381-1,2 which count towards your field courses for a Major or Minor in Economics.

However, students contemplating writing an honors thesis or who have a strong mathematical or statistical background or who intend to undertake graduate work in economics may proceed directly to Economics 381-1,2 Econometrics. After taking this option, students should be able to fully understand empirical papers that use standard methods. You should be able to assemble data sets and conduct and troubleshoot regressions in an independently written paper, such as a senior thesis. Economics 381-1,2 does not have a prerequisite of Economics 281, and should be regarded as an alternative to Economics 281. Students completing Economics 381-1 will have the Economics 281 core requirement waived for a Major or Minor in Economics.

The prerequisites for Economics 381-1,2 are more extensive than those for Economics 281, and this option should only be considered by students with a strong mathematical or statistical background. (See more for detailed list of prerequisites below.)

What are the prerequisites for my econometrics course?

Prerequisites for Option A - Economics 281

Math 220-1 Single-Variable Differential Calculus

Statistics 210 Introduction to Probability and Statistics or an equivalent

Economics 201 Introduction to Macroeconomics
Economics 202 Introduction to Microeconomics

Prerequisites for Option B - Economics 381-1

Math 220-1 Single-Variable Differential Calculus
Math 220-2 Single-Variable Integral Calculus
Math 226 Sequences and Series
Math 230-1 Multivariable Differential Calculus
Math 230-2 Multivariable Integral Calculus
Math 240 Linear Algebra or Gen_Eng 205-1 Engineering Analysis I

Math 314 Probability and Statistics for Econometrics or an equivalent (*)

Economics 201 Introduction to Macroeconomics
Economics 202 Introduction to Microeconomics
Economics 310-1 Microeconomics I
Economics 310-2 Microeconomics II (recommended for both 381-1 and 381-2)
Economics 311 Macroeconomics (recommended for both 381-1 and 381-2)

(*) Two courses in probability and statistics, one drawn from List A and one drawn from List B, would be regarded as the equivalent to Math 314:

List A

List B

Statistics 320-1 Statistical Methods and Theories
Math 310-1 Probability and Stochastic Processes
Math 311-1 MENU: Probability and Stochastic Processes
IEMS 202 Probability
EECS 302 Probabilistic Systems and Random Signals
Chem Eng 312 Probability and Statistics for Chemical Engineering

Statistics 320-2 Statistical Methods and Theories"Can be taken concurrently with 381-1"

IEMS 303 Statistics


BME ENG 220 Introduction to Biomedical Statistics (satisfies both List A and List B)
Statistics 383 Probability and Statistics for ISP (satisfies both List A and List B)

Either Statistics 210 Introductory Statistics for Social Sciences or Math 314 Probability and Statistics for Econometrics satisfy the related course requirement in statistics for the Economics Major.

We encourage you to speak with an Economics Department Advisor or any of the instructors who teach econometrics courses to determine which option is best for you. Whatever option you choose, we recommend that you complete your study or econometrics as early as possible in your study of economics, preferably in your sophomore year.

Math Requirements

How much mathematics do I need to know? How much should I take?

While only Math 220-1 Single-Variable Differential Calculus is required, students are strongly advised to continue to study of the calculus through Mathematics 220-2 and 230-1 and to do so early in their studies. Some 300-level field courses have Mathematics 220-2 and 230-1 as prerequisites, and a good knowledge of the calculus is required to read much of the scholarly literature in the fields of economics and business. Also, a basic knowledge of calculus and statistics is increasingly important for graduate study in business.

Students contemplating graduate study in economics or finance should take additional courses in mathematics, at least Math 300 Foundations of Higher Mathematics, or better yet the 320 or (with the permission of the Math Department) 321 Real Analysis sequences. Other particularly useful math classes include 226 Sequences and Series, 230-2 Multivariable Integral Calculus; 240 Linear Algebra; 250 Elementary Differential Equations, 310-1,2,3 Probability and Stochastic Processes, and 368 Introduction to Optimization

I studied calculus in high school or received AP credit for Math. What am I required to take?

Students who received AP credit for Math 220-1 fulfill the Economics Department's calculus requirement. In addition, students who did not receive AP credit for Math 220-1, but on the basis of some high school training in calculus, began their study of calculus at Northwestern with Math 220-2 or Math 230-1 satisfy the calculus requirement provided that they receive a grade of C- or higher in 220-2 or 230-1.

Related Courses

Can I count Economics 249 as related courses?

No.  Economics 249 Business Strategy is designed for non-majors. Majors should not take this course, but should take Economics 349 Industrial Economics,  which covers the same material at a higher level. 

Can my related courses also be used to satisfy WCAS distribution requirements?

Yes, if they are on the list of WCAS-approved courses to meet distribution requirements.

I am a double major in one of the departments whose courses count toward the related-course requirement. May I count courses in my other major as related courses for my economics major?


Independent Study

What is an independent study?

Independent study (Economics 399) provides an opportunity to work closely with a faculty member on a topic of mutual interest. Independent study is usually open only to majors who have completed the core courses. The purpose of an independent study should be (a) to investigate topics not covered by regular courses in the curriculum, or (b) to explore the subject matter of regular courses in greater depth, or (c) to conduct an independent research project.

How do I arrange an independent study?

Before approaching a faculty member to request an independent study, you should prepare a proposal that indicates the topic, describes your preparation for pursuing the topic, lists tentative readings that you expect to cover, and describes the nature of written work you plan to complete. With regard to preparation, you should have taken all of the courses that provide background for the topic you have chosen. For example, if you want to do research on the impact of taxation on the distribution of income, you should have taken Economics 309 Elements of Public Finance. The better prepared you are and the more carefully worked out is your proposal, the more likely you are to find a sponsoring faculty member.

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