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Stanford University

How this student rated the school
Educational QualityD- Faculty AccessibilityD-
Useful SchoolworkD+ Excess CompetitionD-
Academic SuccessD Creativity/ InnovationD-
Individual ValueC- University Resource UseD-
Campus Aesthetics/ BeautyA- FriendlinessC
Campus MaintenanceA- Social LifeD
Surrounding CityD- Extra CurricularsD
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He cares more about Safety than the average student.
Date: Nov 22 2003
Major: Economics (This Major's Salary over time)
Don't get short-changed. The Economics Department at Stanford does not focus on undergraduate teaching, and the subject might not be what you think it is. However, economics is still the largest undergraduate major at Stanford.

As an academic field, economics is extremely theoretical. If you want to get a PhD in economics, then you should probably major in economics as an undergraduate, or perhaps even mathematics. If you want to go into business but Stanford does not offer an undergraduate business degree, you may be better off in Industrial Engineering. Or, just major in anything, get a job after you graduate, and then go to business school. The economics major gives you very little.

My opinion is that the economics faculty and administration just do not know what to do with the hundreds of economics majors and students outside the major who take economics courses. Only about one percent of undergraduate economics majors are interested in going on to get a PhD in economics in order to teach and do research. This is the stuff economics professors devote their lives to, and it is really not their goal to help students who want to go into business. Most students want to get a consulting or investment banking job after graduation. Since this is Stanford, many want to work for start-ups too. The situation is much like the way professors in the biology department grudgingly handle the masses of pre-med students who strain their resources. However, I think the economics department handles the situation more poorly.

Advising is terrible, about as bad as advising in biological sciences. The department assigns advisors to students based on general preferences or requests. There are about two women among the faculty and I was assigned one of them since she worked on gender issues which I was interested in. I met with her once or twice and she seemed too tired and busy. Then, she decided to take a professorship elsewhere, without a word to her advisees. I finished the year without an advisor since it didn't make any difference whether I had one or not.

The economics faculty and administration are somewhat hostile to the fact that economics is the most popular double major at Stanford. A large fraction of economics majors are double majors. They recently raised the number of units required for the major, in part to make the major more difficult.

I had to take twelve classes in order to complete the major. This was before the unit requirement increase. I took the most challenging courses available, but was taught by a professor in the department only three times! Other times, I've been taught by visiting professors, lecturers, and often graduate student instructors. However, it turns out that this is not that bad a deal because the quality of instruction tends to be inversely related to the instructor's rank and title.

Specific Courses and Instructors

After being through the major, I have to say that it's pretty useless. The one and only useful class offered in the major is:

Economics 140: Introduction to Financial Economics

Take it with Alex Gould. He is a graduate student an an awesome lecturer. He teaches at the speed of light and it is impossible not to learn a lot. Before I took this class, I only had an inkling of what stocks are. In this course, you first learn general financial (mathematical) concepts like present value. Then you learn about the fixed income or bond market. Then, the stock market and all sorts of interesting theoretical stuff which is actually used in real life. The course is very mathematically oriented, but Gould is very good at explaining ideas conceptually and intuitively.

Coming in a close second is:

Economics 102: Introduction to Econometrics

Professor Rothwell will make you raise your eyebrows in disbelief the first day you walk into class. You will think to yourself, what a nut. By the second day, most students start to enjoy his somewhat off-putting humor, and get accustomed to the daily rantings and ravings about everything you should and should not do, things people do that are stupid, and life advice in general. There actually is a lot of insight behind his wisecracks.

Anyway, econometrics is a subject more for the theorist, but at the introductory level, it is quite useful knowledge. You will learn in great detail how to fit an ordinary least squares model to real data, and apply this skill in the final group project and paper. Of all the group projects I have done, I had the best group project experience in this course.

By the end of the course, you will also know more about Microsoft Excel that you thought there was to know in the areas of statistics and chart-making. One thing Professor Rothwell teaches well, as a side benefit, is how to make a good presentation. Take the class to find out!

I've seen both the inside view and the outside view of the economics major. Here are some stereotypes: The grading curve is based on an A- average. This is actually quite true, and is probably the largest contributor to Stanford's reputation for grade inflation. I've taken several courses where the instructors state that the mean grade will be a B+/A-. Other departments I've been in usually center the average at a B-.

From course surveys, most students spend about 0-10 hours per week outside of class per economics course. For courses in other departments I've been in, most students spend about 10-20 hours per week per course. I guess I'm giving the general impression that economics is an easy major.

I thought I wanted to get a PhD in economics and almost went for it, so at the time, economics seemed to be a useful major. Now that I've decided to do other things, the economics major seems pretty useless. I could just go read a book and learn more.

Economics and business are two different things. Someone I once had this discussion with said wittily: Economists see the world from a perfect theoretical perspective and define everything in relation to that theoretical equilibrium. In a perfectly competitive market, profits go to zero. Well, business is the process of taking advantage of the imperfections in the market. You want to make profits.

So, if you are pre-business, the best thing to do is to get real working experience, and major in anything you want. Something besides economics, either a humanities or engineering major, will be a good complement. Either writing skills or technical skills are extremely useful for careers in business.

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