Business vs. economics: What is the difference?


Many students talk about an interest in business as a career, and they immediately assume that a business degree is the way to go. For some, a business degree might be the appropriate academic path.  For others, it is important to explore a major that sparks his or her intellectual curiosity and will prepare the student for a career in the business world without committing specifically to an undergraduate business degree.  One of the questions that students often ask is, “What is the difference between a business degree and an economics degree?” While you can pursue any degree and find yourself on the path to a “business” career, we wanted to give our freshman and sophomore readers a better perspective on the two majors.

Often the confusion students have between pursuing an economics vs. a business degree is due to the lack of understanding of what an economics degree can entail.  Sometimes the confusion can be ascribed to the fact that some students feel that they have to major in business in order to be well prepared to work in the business world.  We wanted to outline both areas of study to give you a better understanding of what each field has to offer a prospective college student.


According to the US Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, economists conduct research, prepare reports, or formulate plans to aid in solution of economic problems arising from production and distribution of goods and services. Economists collect and process economic and statistical data using econometric and sampling techniques. Economics majors study economic models and theories to analyze how business activities can be complicated by factors such as taxes, interest rates, inflation, labor disagreements, and even the weather. Economics explores the wealth of nations, its origins in production and exchange, its allocation among competing uses, its distribution among individuals, and its accumulation or decline. Many issues of national and international policy are considered. Economics majors learn about economic theory, economic systems such as capitalism, and mathematical methods.

The field is also great training for law, and it also will prepare graduates for the business world. Too many students become concerned with the “utility” of the field if they are not interested in becoming an economics professor or a teacher.  When one considers the courses within the economics departments and the math emphasis, one quickly understands this is a terrific field of study to pursue. Courses include Econometrics and Data Analysis, Economics of American History, Labor Economics and Welfare Policy, International Monetary Trade Policy, Financial Markets and Economics of (Japan, China, etc).


Colleges that offer Business as a major offer a wide range of programs: accounting, finance, operations, marketing, communications, information systems and sports management are some of the vast programs offered.  Business majors study the buying, selling, and producing of goods, as well as business organization and accounting. They learn how to use the basic principles and techniques of business in a variety of workplaces.

Within the programs of study at various schools, there can be a wide range of areas where you can focus your interests.  Entrepreneurial studies, hotel management, hospitality studies, international finance, fashion merchandising and real estate management are just some of the more focused degrees students can pursue. 

A business degree can be a great credential to have, especially if you target a skill set that companies are seeking. Accounting, finance and information systems tend to be three areas where the quantitative skill sets are appealing to employers. Calculus is becoming more important at the more competitive undergraduate business programs, so a strong quantitative skill is important in many business programs as well.

Do I need to have a business degree to enter the business world?

Both programs of study are great for students to pursue provided that you have an interest in what you are learning; however, you do not need to receive business degree to be successful in the business world.  Companies are looking for bright, articulate and motivated individuals that come to corporate America with many different academic backgrounds. A specific business degree discipline might help, but some companies might want to have a student with a strong quantitative skill set or outstanding writing skills that might come from an economics or liberal arts degree background. 

Unless a company is looking for a specific credential within a degree program – database engineering credentials, a CPA or specific software mastery, companies will teach you the job and train you based on their institutional policies and expectations. Also, for some students interested in an MBA as part of the graduate experience, getting an undergraduate degree in business might be somewhat repetitive. Ultimately, you should look at the details of the business programs at the colleges that interest you to insure the program offerings are broad in scope but have the specific and unique features that meet your undergraduate business degree expectations.
With an open mind and a plan to explore your interests in high school, you’ll be prepared to head down the business or economics path.

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