Michelle Potter-Bacon, Holland Hall 317

Economics is the study of how people and organizations make decisions, how they interact with each other, and how institutions and policies can be designed to improve people’s lives. The ambition of those who study economics is to understand the world around them both as it is and as it ought to be. The basic principles of economics are applied to a wide range of social and political challenges that confront us today. These include international trade, environmental protection, health care, international development, domestic taxes, Federal Reserve policies, labor outsourcing, and the regulation of business.

The Department of Economics seeks to create an inclusive and diverse teaching and learning community that provides students with varied opportunities for acquiring the necessary knowledge, analytical skills, and judgment to prepare them for personal and professional growth and for confident and responsible leadership in a rapidly changing world.

The department encourages students:

  1. To learn about the economic, commercial, and governmental institutions that serve the American and international communities
  2. To be competent in economic and statistical analysis
  3. To be cognizant of historical, global, and moral perspectives on economic and business issues.

Overview of the Majors in Economics and Quantitative Economics

The department offers students two majors in the field of economics: (1) Economics and (2) Quantitative Economics. Either major is appropriate for all students, though students considering graduate study in economics or finance, or those considering careers in economic research, finance, banking, or regulatory affairs are encouraged to consider the major in Quantitative Economics. The Quantitative Economics major requires a higher level of foundational mathematics (linear algebra) and that a student complete two courses that include quantitative research in economics, either advanced mathematical modeling or econometric analysis. However, a student who decides to not complete the higher-level math course or the quantitative research components will still easily complete the requirements for the Economics major. The detailed requirements for both majors are shown on the "Requirements" tab.

The economics curriculum at St. Olaf includes theory, applications, institutional studies, and quantitative analysis. Where possible, economics courses also explore historical developments and ethical concerns.

The department offers areas of emphasis for its majors who desire more focused study in finance, management, and international economics analysis and policy. The department also supports several programs available to students regardless of major: an interdisciplinary concentration in business and management studies, international and study away courses, and internship opportunities.

The economics major serves as excellent preparation for careers in a wide variety of fields, including economic analysis, banking, accounting, consulting, health administration, finance, business management, teaching, and international affairs. The major also provides a solid foundation for students wishing to pursue graduate studies in economics, business, public policy, and law.


See Academic Honors.

The criteria and guidelines for Distinction in Economics and for Distinction in Quantitative Economics can be found through the Economics Department web page.

Special Programs

Areas of Emphasis

Areas of emphasis provide the opportunity for economics and quantitative economics majors to pursue a more extensive and focused program of study beyond the normal major requirements. Courses completed for areas of emphasis are in addition to those completed to fulfill requirements for the major, except that ECON 384 Econometrics: Cross-Sectional and Panel Data or ECON 385 Econometrics: Time Series and Forecasting may fulfill a core requirement (when paired with STAT 272) and also count towards an area of emphasis. Otherwise, courses taken to fulfill requirements for an area of emphasis may not also fulfill requirements for either of the majors.

Please see Requirements for more information.

Concentrations and Interdepartmental Programs

The Economics Department participates in international studies programs and encourages its majors to take advantage of study in other countries. The department also participates in several interdisciplinary majors and concentrations, including Asian studies, business and management studies, Latin American studies, statistics, environmental studies, gender and sexuality studies, and the social studies education major.

Recommendation for Graduate Study

Students considering graduate work in economics (either Ph.D. or M.A.) are advised to complete the major in quantitative economics, if possible, and to take additional courses in economic analysis, mathematics, and statistics beyond those required for the major. We also recommend that students pursue a significant research experience in economics. Within the major, we recommend that students take additional level III economic analysis courses, one of which should be either Econometrics: Cross-Sectional and Panel Data (ECON 384) or Econometrics: Time Series and Forecasting (ECON 385). We recommend that students choosing the major in economics complete Elementary Linear Algebra (MATH 220) prior to taking ECON 384 or ECON 385 when practical. The following courses in mathematics, listed in order of importance, are recommended: Multivariable Calculus (MATH 226)Real Analysis I (MATH 244)and Differential Equations I (MATH 230). A concentration in Statistics and Data Science is helpful, but the most useful statistics courses for graduate study are Statistics 2 (STAT 272) and Advanced Statistical Modeling (STAT 316). A significant research experience gained through participation in a research practicum, Directed Undergraduate Research (ECON 396), the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (CIR), or a statistically related CURI project is also recommended. Finally, the American Economic Association provides additional information for undergraduate students interested in graduate work in economics here.