So, you’ve decided that you want to study an undergraduate degree in economics? Knowing which university to choose or where to get the most suitable degree to set you up for a successful career in Economics would be your next step, right?

Fortunately, South Africa has a wide range of degrees and universities to get graduates prepared for the professional field of economics. But there are quite a number of considerations when choosing the correct university for you, and knowing the types of degrees and various universities in South Africa can make this task slightly easier.

Economics is the study of scarcity and how we as humans make decisions to utilise and allocate resources in such a way that we get the most out of it. Aspiring economics graduates have to strike the perfect balance between the cost and the quality of their studies. You'll have to evaluate what resources you have available and how you can best maximise them by selecting a university or degree program to best suit your needs.

Hopefully we can help you by giving you an overview on the best degree options on offer, right here on the southern tip of Africa.

Get your Degree
South Africa dominates the Top 10 list of best universities in Africa - Image by Parker Jarnigan on Unsplash

Study Economics in South Africa

The top universities to study economics according to the QS World University rankings include names like Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) or Stanford University. An international qualification or to study abroad is however, sadly, beyond reach for most students in Africa due to the excessive costs involved.

Luckily the majority of top 10 African universities are South African and four of South Africa’s universities were also listed on the QS World University rankings. Similar to the fancy and expensive international degrees, the South African universities have carefully constructed their syllabuses to include all the necessary courses to equip students with the required skills to enter a highly competitive job-market.

Here are some other ways in which you can benefit by studying in South Africa:

  • With quality faculty at a fraction of the cost to other international economic graduate programs, South African universities can provide a certification that’s not only value, but also valuable. The favourable interest rates also make this one of the best options for students from neighbouring African countries.
  • South Africa offers diversity like no other. You’ll be able to learn from a variety of cultures and become an active economic and social contributor to our rainbow nation.
  • The South African Government focuses and invests heavily in education and they understand how higher education can address historical inequalities and economic transformation. For this reason, South Africans can benefit from highly subsidised study programmes, incentives and scholarships.
  • As one of the newest members of BRICS, South Africa is a major contributor to economic perspective by developing countries. It might not sound important, but should you choose to specialise in economics, it’s ideal to give you varied perspectives and arguments that contribute to the global economic platform.
  • South Africa is breathtakingly beautiful. With universities in each of the 9 provinces, you can study close to home or venture into provinces with beaches, forests or buzzing commercial activity.
Table mountain
The University of Cape Town is ideal if you want to study in on of the most beautiful cities in the world - Image by Thomas Bennie on Unsplash

General Types of Degrees

Will the core focus of your degree be economics, or will you opt for a combined degree where you double major in something like economics and business?

Your choice of career will be one of the main drivers in deciding which degree suits you best. South African Universities generally have three types of degrees geared specifically towards a career in economics.

Bachelor of Commerce in Economics (BCom)

One of the most popular study programs in economics is the undergraduate degree with a focus on business and commerce. Graduates with a BCom can enter a wide range of commerce-related careers from marketing to financial services, information technology and manufacturing to only mention a few.

It’s a great degree if you have a general interest in business and a degree in business economics allows you to specialise by choosing an economics major. If you are still a bit uncertain about majoring in economics, you can study a generic BCom for the first year.

All first year BCom curriculums generally have microeconomics and macroeconomics as subjects and you’ll quickly get an idea on whether you would like to learn more about things like international trade, GDP or demand and supply.

A BCom Degree takes three years of full time study and because of its focus on commerce you’ll require Matric exemption with Mathematics and English included.

Business Degree
A Bachelors degree in Business and Economics will open-up great possibilities in the world of business.  You will also be able to enter other related fields in the private sector - Image by Bruce Mars on Unsplash

Bachelor’s in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (BA)

A BA PPE is a great alternative bachelor’s degree in economics, especially if you have an interest in behavioural economics, social or humanitarian aspects related to economic problems. Some universities offer highly regarded arts degrees that will equip graduates with the in-depth knowledge and analytical skills to develop sensitive, innovative and rational political and economic arguments.

If you don’t have mathematics or the matric marks required for a BCom, a BA in Economics is a great way to prepare you for the job market as an economist.

The admission requirements are less rigorous, even though it’s still competitive, and during the course of study you’ll develop a solid background in economics while also focusing on political science and philosophy.

Graduate students will acquire all the analytical tools to assess economic policy and political economy, while also learning how to provide perspectives around moral issues influencing us in political and economic contexts.

Economics is after all a social science and a Bachelor of Arts in economics will allow you to contribute to economics-based discussions around government regulation, fiscal policy and how it will influence economic growth.

At most universities this is also a three-year full-time degree and for basic admission you have to be proficient in English with full university exemption.

Economics and poverty
Studying a more political and philosophical degree in economics, like a BA, can help you to address the social issues and economical disparities we have in the world - Image by Bill Wegener on unsplash

Bachelor of Science in Economics or Econometrics (BSc Econ.)

One of the lesser-known degrees is the economics degree that’s offered by the faculty of science at some universities. This three to four-year degree are for those students interested in how applied mathematics, economics and statistics can be used in econometric modelling.

It requires a solid understanding of mathematics, and statistics becomes an imperative part of the curriculum. This is on the complete opposite spectrum of a BA degree and it is thus useful to speak to admission counsellors to assess whether these more scientific angles around economic analysis would suit you.

Like most degrees in South Africa it will allow you to specialise in specific areas as economist, management consultant or econometrician. Econometricians require a strong aptitude and background in quantitative skills and are generally employed by the private sector in the finance sector or research areas.

Similar to the BA and BCom programs you require a national senior certificate with admission to university studies, but the minimum admission requirements are a bit more strict with and average minimum mark of 65% on your NCS, minimum 50% marks on your language and some universities require up to 70% for Maths or Physics.

A science degree in Economics focusses heavily on the usage of statistical and mathematical modelling to forecast economic behaviour - Photo by from Pexels

Some of the Best Universities in South Africa

To become an economics graduate at one of the prestige universities in South Africa can be challenging, and most prospective students won’t be able to study at their first choice of university. Start your search by looking online into the various degrees, economics schools and economic programmes you can apply for and ensure you apply to more than one.

You can access a list of the 26 public universities in South Africa here, but here is a list of some specialisations or degree types to get your started:

  • Bachelor in Agricultural Economics (North-West University)
  • Bachelor in Economics and Mathematical Statistics (Stellenbosch University)
  • Bachelor in Commerce and Economics (University of South Africa)
  • Bachelors in Transport Economics (University of Stellenbosch)
  • BSc in Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness Management (University of Pretoria)
  • BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (University of Cape Town)
  • B.Sc. Economic Science (University of the Witwatersrand)

There are multiple formal degrees to study and the department of economics will be able to give you guidance and clarity on the course of study to make the best choice for you.

Career and study counselling
Schools and universities have academic and career counsellors to help you make the best choices towards your dream career - Image by National cancer institute on Unsplash

Some universities, like Unisa and other colleges, also have alternative short programmes and courses to help you get the required marks and subjects to continue study towards the degree of your choice.

It might be worth studying for one additional year if this will influence your future career.

It will also help to speak to someone who is currently doing their master’s degree in economics. Professional Economics tutors can give you some basic background on what Economics is, the various areas of specialisation and whether Economics at university will help you to pursue your career goals.

Universities also have open days you can attend. Research when the university you are interested in will have their next one and ensure you are there to check it out. You can directly consult with the department of economics or an academic advisor on the graduate degree you consider, the coursework or electives and majors to choose from.

A degree might not guarantee a job immediately, but it will most certainly increase your chances by placing you in the top bracket of the workforce. Good luck with your research and we hope that you can follow your dream in becoming the next big economist in Africa.

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