Are you planning to pursue a career in economics?

To enter the job market you might have to study an undergraduate degree at university in economics. But, did you know that you can also become an economist if you do a double major in business and economics or get your business degree from a business school?

Deciding what to study is an important step in setting yourself up for the future and luckily there are multiple economic programmes, graduate schools and study paths to help you realise your dream of getting an economics degree.

The most popular question that admission counsellors get around the prerequisites for an economics student is ‘can I study economics without maths’? A lot of economics programmes require a good mark in mathematics at school level and the competitive nature of getting into one of the top universities might leave you discouraged and confused.

Chin-up, future economics graduate. In this article we’ll explore the education requirements for economic and business undergraduate studies and explain how you can get a bachelor’s degree in economics, even without mathematics or accounting.

Career in Business and Economics
Studying a business degree with a major in Economics will open up a wide range of career choices for you - Image by Jonathan Francisca on Unsplash

The Importance of Mathematics and English

The study of economics is the social science of how people make decisions in the face of scarcity. The fact that economic study is concerned with human behaviour might make you think that a proficiency in mathematics is completely unnecessary, but if you research a bit more around the workings of it you’ll see how variables like labour, production output, financial measures or GDP are important in economic analysis and forecasting.

So why do you need mathematics if you want to study economics?

Economic theory and arguments sometimes make use of complex mathematical models.

If you choose to take electives like quantitative economics or mathematical economics, you’ll thus require those mathematics courses as part of the degree requirements.

Tertiary institutions want to set you up for success and therefore a lot of the more prestigious universities require that you have more than just a basic numerical competency. Their prerequisites ensure that their students have the ability to engage with mathematics in such a way that they can master economic data to become economic graduates who understand complex forecasting models, quantitative methods and econometric structures.

Being good at problem-solving, having the ability to critically analyse data while creatively applying mathematical thinking are however, not the only qualities that will make you a good economist. Economics courses deal a lot with socio-economic aspects and political challenges as well.

Their study of fiscal policy, human behaviour, education, health care and other factors that drive economic behaviour thus make it imperative for economists to communicate effectively. Most colleges and universities therefore require that students have a basic understanding of the English language which will not only make their studies more pleasurable, but also allow them to confidently enter the job-market and actively contribute as they express themselves in economic debates.

Maths and Economics
Proficiency in mathematics will make it easier for students to grasp complex econometric models - Image by Raeng on Unsplash

Studying Economics at a University

If you want to attend a prestigious university, you’ll require a Universities South Africa Exemption (USAf) to get accepted into the department of economics. For South African matriculants this means passing your National Senior certificate (NSC) with full university exemption. This is, however, only the start.

Every tertiary institution, college or university, has its own set of admission requirements for each qualification. Unfortunately, if you plan to study a Bachelor of Commerce in Economics (BCom), having basic mathematical literacy won’t be enough to get you into places like the University of Pretoria (UP) or Stellenbosch University. You’ll need a B mark for both English and Mathematics to join a bachelor’s degree programme and more specialised programmes like a degree in Econometrics, requires a minimum of 70-79% in Maths.

Fortunately, most universities, including The University of Cape Town (UCT) won’t require accountancy, economics or any business studies at school level. We do, however, recommend that you first research the specialisation in Economics you would like to follow before deciding the appropriate course of study.

UCT has a great programme to address the disparities that resulted from the historical schooling system which predominantly affected those from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, usually with a mother tongue other than English or Afrikaans. Students who fit into this category can apply for the university's specialised academic development programmes.

What You Can Do if You Don’t Have Maths?

An alternative route to get your degree in economics is the Bachelor of Arts in Economics (BA).  This degree is less focused on the mathematical electives in economics and more around the social disciplines influencing human and economic behaviour. The great thing about this route is you don’t require mathematics and it is generally easier to get admitted into a BA programme at universities.

These programmes will still expose you to the fundamentals you require to become a successful economist. Conducting research, analytical skills and communications will be imperative in your career and they not only cover those, but also ensure you have the knowledge around the key economic principles like microeconomics and macroeconomics. The University of Witwatersrand (Wits) have both a BA and BCom programme to follow if you are interested in studying in the economically thriving city of Johannesburg.


University Degree
If you are set on studying at a university, we recommend you contact the academic advisor at the university of interest. They’ll provide you with detailed information on the minimum requirements and how to start your application - Image by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

An Alternative Path Towards Your Degree

Maybe high school wasn’t for you and you got a mark below 50% in English or you didn’t pass your senior certificate with university exemption? Fear not, your dream to get a qualification in economics can still become a reality with colleges and universities offering a great alternative course of study.

The University of South Africa (UNISA), like most colleges across South Africa, offers amazing bridging courses to ensure you attain the university exemption you require. UNISA has a range of higher certificates or diplomas in the college of economic and management sciences which will allow you to apply for graduate programmes or a formal economics degree once completed, even without the original grade-mark required in Maths or English.

UNISA is also a great option if you would like to work while studying. Their distance learning approach means you can study at you own pace and continue to live with family or friends while you maintain a full-time job. This is really useful, especially if you cannot afford full-time studies at this stage or want to gain work-experience while studying.

Choosing the correct path of study will depend on your own personal and unique circumstances - Image by James Wheeler on Pexels

Preparing for Your Application

Establish Your Interest in Economics

How keen is your interest in economics? Start with online research to answer questions like what economics is or listen on the radio to learn how economic indicators and economics data are used to explain economic problems.

You can also try and contact an economist, professor or current student of economics for their take on your career ambitions around economics, but be sure you prepare all your questions beforehand to make the most of your time with them.

If you plan to study a bachelor’s in economics, or even plan to continue towards a master’s degree in economics, it’s better to start researching economic concepts like microeconomic theory, international economics or supply and demand as soon as possible. You’ll soon discover whether these fuel your interest in economics or not.

It’s a Degree, Not Yet a Career

Most formal degrees allow graduates to transition to alternative, relevant specialisations and with a degree you'll have multiple career options to go for. Business and Commerce degrees are great if you have a plan to end up in a business career, while studies in social sciences or economic studies through the department of humanities lends itself to completely different choices.

A career counsellor and job portals will be able to give you career options in economics and you’ll soon discover whether a bachelor’s in business with an economics major would suffice.

Check If You Meet the Requirements

Have a foundational idea of what you would like to study, which university or college offers those economic courses and what their minimum requirements are. You might still be able to change your high school subjects and if you are almost done with secondary school you can work on a plan to supplement your studies with certifications to achieve the minimum requirements.

Do Financial Planning, but Don’t Let it Hold You Back

Studying can be expensive, but luckily most banks and universities have financial aid and student loans to help students along the way. Full-time studies allow you to tap into the expertise of lecturers and you will be able to focus fully on your studies, while correspondence universities are generally cheaper.

Money should, however, not limit your access to quality education and with the help of a great tutor you can get the same professional support to pass your exams with flying colours.

Many Experienced People Are Willing to Help

Career guidance and counselling is offered by most schools, universities or tertiary institutions. Knowing that you want to study economics is the start and they’ll help you craft an appropriate study plan.

A Math or English tutor on Superprof will be able to help you achieve the required marks, while an Economics tutor could discuss career options and give you the inside scoop on their personal experience.

Don't forget about the university admissions counsellor who will be qualified and able to guide you on the most suitable and achievable route towards your economics degree.

Professionals willing to help
You can speak to a practising Economist to learn what a career in economics would be like - Image by Gustavo Fring on Pexels

The study of Economics will continue to inform and guide individuals, companies and countries in their everyday commercial and social ventures.

The routes towards your professional qualification in economics is almost as varied as the field of economics itself and we truly hope you can discover the best way for you to follow your dream.

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Writer and qualified yoga instructor, who is passionate about health and well-being.