What advice do you have for an economics student who wants to make it but is a bit lost?

Ask an Economist

I'm 18 and I'm taking a degree in economics in Portugal. I'm in my first semester and apart from Microeconomics I, Introduction to Management, and Math we're not studying anything very helpful nor interesting.

I came to economics not knowing anything about the job. I had an economics class in high school and I enjoyed it, and since I don't have any real passion or am very good at any other thing, I decided to follow it and entered one of the best universities in the country. I'm not the best student, nor the most hardworking (although I try to be more productive). I'm failing Calculus I right now, but I'm excelling in Microeconomics I. It's not that I'm bad at math, I actually got a good score on my final exam in high school, but I tend to perform badly in math/calculus evaluations even though I usually knew more than my friends/colleagues and helped them with homework and that stuff. What I'm trying to say is that I'm good at and like microeconomics and am average at math (haven't studied macro yet).

I've tried to understand what an economist does, and what I got from it was analyzing graphs and writing about them (?). I'm a bit lost on the topic. I like it, I find it interesting, I just need some direction.

Now to the final and most important topic, I wanted to ask, as an economics student, what should I do outside of my basic studies? Should I learn how to code? Learn about politics? Do I need to read any specific books? I know in a certain way degrees are losing value, and it's more about what we do outside of our professional/academic life, and I really need to improve that area. I want to leave Portugal after my studies because, even though I love my country and culture, salaries and quality of life aren't the best, and I know for that I need a good curriculum and abilities.

In conclusion, what advice do you have for an economics student who wants to make it but is a bit lost and in crucial need of direction?


You have asked several important questions. As with many areas of advanced study, getting a full understanding of economics requires some time and the effort of building solid foundations, and sometimes it's hard to see where these early studies are leading. Having a good idea of where you are going can help you when you encounter challenges along the way.

Fundamentally, economics is the study of how individuals and societies make choices about how they use scarce resources to meet human needs. There are a vast number of different topics encompassed in this simple description. For example, economists think about how best to incentivize vaccine development to ensure rapid and safe solutions to problems like the current COVID-19 pandemic, as well as what kinds of monetary policies and government programs will best mitigate the effects of the pandemic on employment and production. Economists also study educational investments, the operation of labor markets, and many other subjects. 

Advanced work in economics can get highly technical, and requires a solid grasp of mathematics as well as probability and statistics. At the same time, it requires a curiosity about the world, how things are organized, and a willingness to investigate and ask questions.

Graphs are a tool economists use to understand the world, but they are not the central focus of economics. It might help if you read some general books that help to show you why economists do what they do. Steve Leavit's "Freakonomics" books are one possible entry point. Another good and approachable book to start with is "Naked Economics," by Charles Wheelen. You should also ask some of your professors what excites them about economics and see what they recommend.

Answered by:
Dr. Joshua Rosenbloom
Department Chair
Last updated on January 11, 2021