Department of Economics

Preparing for graduate and professional programs after the economics major

We’d like to tell you that when you graduate from Union College in economics, you’ll have learned everything you will ever need to know in your life. Alas, there are some career paths you might want to follow that will require further study after you finish your courses here. Your ability to get into graduate programs (study programs that require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree before starting the program) and professional programs (ones that prepare you for a specific career) can depend on what courses you took in college, since most graduate and professional programs expect applicants to have particular knowledge or skills when they start the program. On this page we’ll discuss a number of programs that Union economics majors are often interested in, and give suggestions about what courses (both in economics and outside it) you might want to take while at Union to prepare you for them.

We’ll focus on seven particular types of programs:

  1. Ph.D. in economics
  2. Master’s in business administration or management science (business school)
  3. Master’s in finance or mathematical finance
  4. Master’s in accounting
  5. Master’s in data analytics or data science
  6. Master’s in teaching
  7. JD (law school)

These aren’t the only kinds of graduate and professional programs that economics majors are interested in; there are many more. If you’re interested in a different program, talk to your academic advisor or to Professor Stephen Schmidt, the department’s graduate study advisor.

When you are deciding whether to pursue an advanced degree, or looking for a specific program, it is smart to look at the jobs that graduates of those programs have taken on completing the program. Many programs make such information available. This is the best information about the kinds of jobs that a program will prepare you to do, so apply to programs that are sending their graduates (at least some of them) to the kinds of jobs and careers you are looking for.

  • Ph.D. in economics

    A Ph.D. in economics prepares you to do economic research. Many people who get a Ph.D. in economics become economics professors, although many work in other industries that require original economic analysis; some in banking and finance, some in consulting, and some in government (either in places like the Fed, or in regulatory agencies). Ph.D. programs in economics require extensive preparation in mathematics, and also like applicants to have research experience in their undergraduate programs.

    On mathematics: The top programs will want you to have real analysis, linear algebra, and differential equations, taught in the mathematics department. Probability theory is good too but not as important as the other three. Real analysis is taught in Math 336. To take that, you first need to take Math 340, linear algebra (or Math 332, abstract algebra, but you need the linear algebra so take that one) and Math 199. Math 199 requires calculus through at least Math 115. You can get differential equations in either Math 234 or Math 130, and probability theory is Math 128. By the time you’ve taken all these courses, you have a math minor and/or nearly all of an ID major, and you should consider these options as well as a double major with math. (If you don’t want to be, at least, a math minor, then you don’t want to do a Ph.D. in economics either.) Lower-ranked programs will not expect the real analysis course and would be OK with Math 140 instead of Math 340; however, the more extensive your math preparation is, the better quality Ph.D. program you can get into, so it’s in your interest to aim as high as you can.

    On research experience: You’ll get this in senior thesis, of course. It is also a good idea to do summer research with an economics professor (or possibly a math professor) to add to your research experience (and of course that will be good preparation for thesis as well). If you can arrange it, work experience at an organization that does economic research, such as one of the Federal Reserve banks, either in summers or between college and graduate school, can also be very helpful. There is an organization of research universities called PREDOC which maintains a list of work opportunities in economic research that are good opportunities for Ph.D. preparation; that list is on the PREDOC website.

  • Master’s in business administration or management science (business school)

    A degree in business administration (MBA) or management science prepares you to work in administration and management in the business world, and are useful in nearly every industry. MBA programs greatly value workplace experience in admissions, though they don’t strictly require it. Many people work for several years after college before going to an MBA program in order to develop and demonstrate non-academic skills. Master’s of management science programs are fairly similar to MBA programs, though they tend to focus more on theory of management than on practical skills; they tend to be more academic and less vocational. They are less likely to expect applicants to have significant work experience prior to applying. There are generally no specific course requirements for admission to MBA programs; many management science programs also do not have specific requirements, but some do, including as much as a bachelor’s degree in economics (or business, but that’s not relevant at Union). Both types of programs will expect students to demonstrate quantitative skills, so having calculus and statistics courses can be helpful. Courses in economics, finance, and accounting can also be useful but are not necessary. Most economics majors will get all the quantitative coursework they need in the major, though taking an extra math or statistics course if you have the interest is not a bad idea. For more, see this April 2022 article from US News, or this Wikipedia page on the master’s in management science and how it compares to an MBA.

  • Master’s in finance or mathematical finance

    A master’s in finance allows you to do analytical work in financial management. In contrast to MBA programs, programs that offer a master’s in finance are highly quantitative, though usually not quite as much as Ph.D. programs. Programs will require background in microeconomics and macroeconomics (Economics 241 and 242 cover this) and additional coursework in finance and accounting is useful; you may want to consider taking one or two courses in these areas through Clarkson. Strong programs will also have prerequisites that might include courses in probability, statistics, linear algebra, multivariate calculus, numerical analysis, and differential equations. Relevant courses at Union include Math 115, Math 117, Math 127, Math 128, Math 130, Math 140, and courses at higher levels on the same topics. Computer science courses and programming skills are also desirable, and work experience in finance, from either internships or work between college and graduate school, is also helpful. For more, see this article from the website.

  • Master’s in accounting

    A master’s in accounting prepares you to work as a professional accountant. It is a common step for people who want to become CPAs (certified public accountants) but is not required to become a CPA, though much of the material on the CPA exam will be taught in an MAcc program. MAcc programs require undergraduate preparation in a number of subjects, which may include statistics, accounting, finance, and mathematics. Economics majors will get the required statistics and math in the major. You should definitely take Accounting 100, you should probably take at least one finance course in the economics department, and depending on which school you are applying to, you may want to take additional accounting and finance courses through Clarkson. For more, see this page at

  • Master’s in data analytics or data science

    A master’s in data analytics or data science prepares you to do quantitative analysis of data in business settings. While most students interested in this area find job opportunities without a graduate degree, some students find it worthwhile to pursue further education in data science. Masters in data analytics/data science have proliferated in recent years so you will have lots of options. Formal requirements vary across programs, and some have few requirements beyond an undergraduate degree, but preparation in mathematics, such as probability and statistics or linear algebra, and in computer science, particularly being able to program in R, Python, or similar languages, will be helpful, as will courses that count for Union’s data analytics minor. For more information, see this page from

  • Master’s in teaching

    A master’s in teaching prepares you to become a teacher in schools from kindergarten through high school. Being a teacher generally requires state certification, and an MAT is a common part of certification. If you want to teach in primary education (up to 6th grade) then college preparation doesn’t matter too much, but if you want to teach in secondary education, particularly high school, then you need extensive preparation in the subject you intend to teach (e.g. math, economics, history, English, technology, even business which may, like the MAcc, require courses from Clarkson’s business program).

  • JD (law school)

    A J.D. degree is a prerequisite for working as a lawyer. Law schools generally don’t require any particular major or courses. You should plan to take courses (in any department) that will strengthen your analytical, reading, and writing skills. For excellent advice on preparing for law school at Union, visit Union’s pre-law website.