What if I'm not great at "real math"?

Ask an Economist

I received my undergraduate degree in economics, with a hard focus on higher level and more mathematics. I did well with most everything up to advanced mathematics and real numerical analysis. I struggled greatly with those, much more than the others - and I'm not sure if I learned them well at all. So, with that kind of experience, should I consider applying to PhD programs in economics or calling it off, as all of my advisers told me "If you can't handle this, you won't make it to Christmas in a PhD program"?


You are correct that modern economics requires a high degree of facility with mathematics, including probability and statistics.  The requirements for mathematical proficiency will vary somewhat from program to program.  That said, economics also requires an interest in and keen eye for the world around us, important policy problems and human behavior.  I hope that the requirement to achieve a level of mathematical proficiency would not put you off of further study of economics, if you find these uses of economic reasoning interesting and appealing.

If you are considering specific Ph.D. programs I would suggest getting in touch with faculty at those programs to learn more about specific expectations.  There are certainly opportunities to learn the mathematical tools, and they can seem less formidable when they are presented in the context of their application to specific problems and questions.

Answered by:
Dr. Joshua Rosenbloom
Department Chair
Last updated on October 5, 2018