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October 14, 2019

New Business Econ Specialization Betters UChicago Economics Program

Rather than undermining the Economics Department's traditional theoretical emphasis, the new Business Economics specialization supplements it, better preparing students for careers in industry.

In June of 2018, John List, a professor in the economics department, introduced a new specialization to the major: business economics. The introduction of this new track, with its highly preprofessional emphasis, marks a shift from the Department’s traditional focus on theory, offering students a plethora of finance courses that tend to focus on industry over theoretical questions.

Many criticize this track as yet another move on the University’s part to become more preprofessional, deemphasizing UChicago’s hallmark theoretical education. Moreover, critics believe that the business specialization, in particular, is not up to par with the intensity of UChicago’s academics.

However, I argue that rather than undermining UChicago’s theoretical economics curriculum, this track supplements it, offering undergraduate students the opportunity to reap the benefits of both UChicago’s traditional academic experience while also gaining key preprofessional resources. The introduction of this business specialization actually improves the economics curriculum at UChicago, as previously, the major was lacking for students interested in pursuing careers in industry rather than academia. Theory-based lectures lack the emphasis on social elements, such as networking and communication skills, that many business classes drill into students. Additionally, the business economics specialization allows students to take classes like Competitive Strategy and Corporation Finance, courses with direct skills that can be applied in consulting or investing jobs. Ultimately, through the new preprofessional business specialization, economics majors can now leave UChicago prepared for whatever future path they choose, whether that is in industry or academia.

Indeed, the introduction of the business specialization in the economics major is long overdue, as students at UChicago should not have to wait until graduate school to attain the resources of a school like Booth. The reality is that scores of UChicago students pursue occupational industry work for years before considering attending business school. By enabling undergraduate students to access Booth resources, the business specialization gives UChicago students an education that will strongly benefit their professional pursuits. A number of Booth resources are available to students in the business economics track. These students can now access some Booth classes, such as Financial Statement Analysis and Behavioral Economics. Students in the business economics track are even required to take at least three courses at Booth for their electives.

The reduced quantitative requirements of the new track have been another area of concern for the specialization’s critics, as business economics students have to take significantly less math. These students need not take any math beyond Elementary Functions and Calculus II and are able to opt out of UChicago’s classic Economics 200 sequence, a long-standing pillar of the economics department at The College, which strongly emphasizes quantitative skills.

While it is true that the business economics track certainly has less of a quantitative emphasis, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing—indeed, many students chose to study economics at the University of Chicago for a variety of reasons entirely unrelated to sharpening their quantitative skills. Indeed, many students interested in pursuing non-quantitative aspects of finance, marketing, and consulting, have praised the new business economics program. Kyra Hill, a second-year business economics major in the College, notes, “I’ve always wanted to work in business but not as quantitatively.”

The introduction of the business economics track demonstrates that UChicago can integrate a preprofessional option for students in fields outside academia. The introduction of these tracks in no way harms the existing robust theoretical education that UChicago provides, but supplements it, offering students interested in pursuing careers in industry a range of preprofessional experiences to equip them to work in the real world. As UChicago continues to launch new preprofessional programs, like the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, which was recently introduced, critics should look to the promise of the business economics program.

Brinda Rao is a second-year in the College. 

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