What is Economics?
Economics is the study of those phenomena most closely related to the way that society decides what goods and services to produce, how to produce them and for whom. As such Economics covers an extraordinarily diverse range of topics, addressing such questions as:
- How do households allocate their own resources between different needs and wants?
- How do firms decide what to produce and what factors affect the price of the things they sell?
- How does international trade affect an economy?
- What is economic growth and what factors influence a country’s rate of growth?
- Why do countries tend to experience economic cycles, with periods of rapid growth usually being followed by periods of low or negative growth?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of a market economy and under what circumstances should governments intervene in markets?
These, and many other questions, form the subject matter of Economics.
Why Study Economics?
For many people the appeal of Economics lies in the fact that the issues it studies play such an important role in almost every aspect of life, with just about every local, national and international event having both Economic causes and consequences. Thus to study Economics is to study the workings of contemporary society, with new and unexpected phenomena emerging all the time.
A second source of the subject’s appeal is nicely captured in the following quotation from the Cambridge Economist John Maynard Keynes, who famously wrote that an Economist must “…be mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher—in some degree. He must understand symbols and speak in words…” Such is the breadth of the field that Economists must draw on a wide range of different disciplines (including not just Maths, History and Philosophy, but also Statistics, Politics, Geography and others). Thus Economics exposes students to many different forms of intellectual enquiry and, in turn, demands a variety of skills; students may find themselves writing an essay on the role of informal lending in developing economies one day, while having to solve a set of maths problems the following day and to assess various claims using a statistical model of the economy the day after.
In terms of careers, an Economics degree is usually considered to open many doors and to close very few. Our own recent graduates have gone on to work in a range of different sectors, including academia, finance, the Civil Service, teaching, NGOs and many others.
Who Can Study Economics?
Both Arts and Science subjects provide a suitable school background to Economics at University and there is not one, ideal, combination of subjects you should be studying. While most students have taken Economics at school, this is not a requirement and those without Economics are at no disadvantage. The only prerequisite is a strong background in Maths, meaning that you must be taking at least A2 Maths (or its equivalent). If you can take Further Maths we would recommend you do so and, if you have the choice, we would recommend you specialise in statistics rather than mechanics.
The Cambridge Course
Economics at Cambridge is a three-year course (called the Economics Tripos) that provides students with an unparalleled introduction to the subject. The first year of the course (Part I) consists of five compulsory papers in Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Quantitative Methods in Economics, Political and Sociological aspects of Economics and British Economic History. The second year (Part IIA) consists of three compulsory papers in Microeconomics, Macroeconomics and Econometrics, plus one optional paper chosen from Economic Development, Modern Societies, Mathematics for Economists and Statisticians or Labour Economics. The third year (Part IIB) consists of two compulsory papers in Microeconomics and Macroeconomics, two papers chosen from a wide range of options, and a compulsory dissertation. The website of the Faculty of Economics provides more detail on all aspects of the Economics Tripos, including a reading list for prospective applicants.
In Cambridge, Economics is not studied jointly with other subjects (such as a foreign language). However in a very small number of cases it is sometimes possible to combine two different courses by switching from one course to another after the first or second year; for example students occasionally read Part 1 and Part 2A Economics and then switch into Management Studies in their third year. Applicants who are considering this should discuss the possibilities with the Admissions Tutor before applying.
Studying Economics at Clare
All Economics undergraduates at Cambridge follow the same course regardless of their College, so why should you choose to study Economics at Clare? Part of the reason, of course, may be nothing to do with the subject itself: Clare is a beautiful College with a rich intellectual history, located in the heart of Cambridge, close to both the Faculty of Economics and the University Library. But you should also bear in mind that while all Economics undergraduates follow the same course, your education will differ between Colleges because each individual College is responsible for organising your supervision teaching, a crucial part of the Cambridge teaching system.
At Clare we pride ourselves on the quality of our supervision teaching, drawing on both the expertise of our own Economics Fellows as well as that of Economists located in other Cambridge Colleges and departments. We believe that supervisions are the key to ensuring our students get the most out of the Economics Tripos and that our efforts in securing the highest quality supervision teaching are an important factor in our excellent exam results.
There are currently four teaching Fellows in Economics at Clare. Prof Giancarlo Corsetti works on topics within International Economics and Open Economy Macroeconomics. Dr Phil Faulkner, who is Director of Studies for Part I and Part IIA Economics, works on a variety of philosophical issues in Economics and primarily teaches microeconomic theory. Dr Flavio Toxvaerd, whose research includes issues within industrial economics, regulation, corporate finance and game theory, teaches microeconomics and related topics. Dr Melvyn Weeks, Director of Studies for Part IIB Economics, is an econometrician who works on a range of applied and theoretical topics and who teaches statistics and econometrics.
Clare has a long tradition of excellence in Economics, with former Fellows of the College including Brian Reddaway, the first Economics Fellow of the College and a pupil of John Maynard Keynes, Martin Weale, currently Director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, and Robin Matthews, formerly Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge and Master of the College. The College is also extremely active in promoting the subject, most notably hosting the annual Clare Distinguished Lecture in Economics and Public Policy, which this year was given by Adair Turner (Chairman of the Financial Services Authority) and in recent years has been given by Jean-Claude Trichet (President of the European Central Bank), Mohan Munasinghe (Vice Chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize) and Professor Joseph Stiglitz (Colombia University, former Chief Economist at the World Bank, 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics). Clare also has an active student-run Economics society that regularly arranges events such as talks and dinners.
Applying to Clare – What Are We Looking For?
We aim to admit 5-6 students each year to read Economics and our goal is to admit the most talented students, irrespective of background, with the potential to achieve first class results. We therefore welcome applications from students with an outstanding academic record, who combine a keen interest in the workings of society with a talent for mathematics, logical analysis and the ability to express themselves clearly.
Applying to Clare – Interviews and Selection
Our selection decisions are based on a number of factors. Your academic record is, of course, extremely important, but we also consider your school reference, your personal statement and, particularly, your performance at interview. Students applying to Clare will usually have two subject interviews, each lasting approximately 25 minutes, during which we will explore in detail your knowledge of, and interest in, Economics. Please note, however, that given the large number of well qualified applicants to read Economics at Cambridge, successful candidates will typically have an average of about 90% or above in their AS modules, including a strong performance in Maths and Economics (if taken). Exceptional individual circumstances will be taken into consideration, but candidates not meeting this level of achievement (or equivalent) may not be interviewed.
For successful applicants a typical offer is A*AA at A2 level or 7,7,6 (40+ overall) or the equivalent in other educational systems. Students from the EU or overseas should consult the University Admissions Website for further information.