The undergraduate degree in economics emphasizes knowledge and awareness of:

  • the conditions for efficiency in free market production and exchange;
  • contemporary theories concerning economic growth, inflation, unemployment, distribution of income, and international environment;
  • specialized fields of economics, such as international economics and finance, natural resources and environment, the economics of gender and discrimination, and public economics;
  • the descriptive statistics commonly used by economists; and
  • the institutional characteristics of the U.S. economy, and how these differ from those in other economies.

In addition, students completing the degree in economics are expected to acquire the ability and skills to:

  • apply the tools of microeconomic theory to reach sound conclusions for simple economic problems;
  • follow arguments concerning macroeconomic theory, to distinguish between sound and fallacious reasoning, and understand how differences in policy prescription may arise;
  • perform statistical analysis such as multiple regression and understand similar analyses performed by others; and
  • communicate economic reasoning in writing, understand similar writing by others, and appreciate the diversity of views that may reasonably exist about economic problems.

Course code for this program is ECON. 

Bachelor's Degree Program(s)

Bachelor’s Degree in Economics

Students must complete the general requirements of the College of Arts and Sciences and the required courses listed below with total credits required for the major of 38-44.

Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours

Economics (total 32-33) 

  • ECON 2010 Principles of Microeconomics and ECON 2020 Principles of Macroeconomics—8
  • ECON 3070 Intermediate Microeconomic Theory and ECON 3080 Intermediate Macroeconomic Theory—6
  • ECON 3818 Introduction to Statistics with Computer Applications—4
  • ECON 4818 Introduction to Econometrics, ECON 4848 Applied Econometrics, or ECON 4858 Financial Econometrics—3
  • Electives in 4000-level ECON courses—12

 Math (total 6-10) 

  • ECON 1078 Math Tools for Economists 1 and ECON 1088 Math Tools for Economists—6
  • MATH 1071 Finite Mathematics and MATH 1081 Calculus for Social Science/Business—6
  • MATH 1150 Precalculus and MATH 1300 Analytic Geometry and Calculus—9
  • Mathematics at or above the level of MATH 1300 (or APPM 1350) plus any one mathematics course above the level of MATH 1300 (MATH 2380 Probability and Statistics courses not applicable)—6-10

Students who enter the program with just an approved, equivalent calculus course but not ECON 1078, MATH 1071, MATH 1150, or other finite-leve/precalculus equivalent must either complete MATH 2300 Calculus 2 (or APPM 1360) for their second required math course or a second quantitative economics course (ECON 4070, 4808, 4818, 4838, 4848, or 4858).

Note that ECON 4818, 4848, amd 4858 cannot be used to simultaneously meet this requirement and the major's requirement for ECON 4818, 4848, and 4858.

Note: Transfer students majoring in economics must complete at least 12 credit hours of upper-division economics courses at CU-Boulder. 

Graduating in Four Years

Consult the “Four-Year Guarantee Requirements” for information on eligibility. The concept of “adequate progress” as it is used here only refers to maintaining eligibility for the four-year guarantee; it is not a requirement for the major. To maintain adequate progress in economics, students should meet the following requirements:

  • Declare economics as a major by the beginning of the second semester.
  • Complete ECON 2010 and 2020 and all mathematics requirements by the end of the fourth semester.
  • Complete ECON 3070, 3080, and 3818, as well as 4818, 4848, or 4858 by the end of the sixth semester.
  • Complete at least 12 credit hours of additional upper-division economics credit by the end of the eighth semester.

Economics Honors Program

The honors program in economics provides an opportunity for highly motivated majors to undertake individualized research and to graduate with honors (cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude) in economics. Economics majors with senior standing and both economics and overall GPAs of 3.40 or better are eligible to participate. Participants enroll in the economics honors seminars, which provide instruction in research methodology essential to the preparation of the honors thesis. Students interested in the economics honors program should contact the departmental honors advisor during their junior year.

Minor Program

A minor is offered in economics. Declaration of a minor is open to any student enrolled at CU-Boulder, regardless of college or school. Completion of the minor requires a total of 20 credit hours in economics.

Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours

  • ECON 2010 Principles of Microeconomics and ECON 2020 Principles of Macroeconomics—8 
  • ECON 3070  Intermediate Microeconomic Theory and ECON 3080 Intermediate Macroeconomic Theory—6
  • Electives in upper-division ECON courses—6
    NOTE: Students must complete at least one 4000-level course as an upper-division elective. ECON 3818 and equivalent substitutes and not allowed to count as an upper-division elective.

All course work applied to the minor must be completed with a grade of C- or better. No pass/fail work may be applied. The GPA for all minor degree course work must equal 2.00 or higher.

Students will be allowed to apply no more than 9 credit hours, including 6 upper-division credit hours, of transfer work toward a minor. If transferred course work includes replacements for ECON 2010 or ECON 2020 that are fewer than a combined 7 credits for both courses, an additional upper-division elective will be added to the requirements for a minor.

Students may elect to take the 3000-level ECON courses that are designed for non-economics majors (e.g., ECON 3403, 3535, 3545, and 3784).

ECON 3070, 3080, and all 4000-level ECON courses require a prerequisite of Calculus 1. Students may take the following courses to meet this prerequisite: ECON 1088; OR MATH 1081; OR MATH 1300; or APPM 1350.

Students pursuing an individually structured major or who are pursuing a major in distributed studies will not be eligible to earn a minor in economics.

Areas of Emphasis

Special Emphasis Options

The Economics Department offers four tracks for students who have a relatively high GPA and want to focus their upper-division course work in a specific area of interest. Interested students must have completed at least 6 hours of economics course work at CU in order to declare the special emphasis. Students must have completed two out of three intermediate-level courses (ECON 3070, 3080, and/or 3818) with a minimum of 3.00 GPA in these courses, and must also have a minimum of 3.00 GPA in economics course work at CU by the time of declaration and completion of the special emphasis. Requirements are listed on the economics website at

Business Emphasis 

The business emphasis is designed for students interested in sampling the business core courses. This option allows students to supplement their economics major with core business skills in areas of accounting, finance, marketing, and management. This option may be of interest to students planning careers in business or intending to pursue graduate studies in business.

International Emphasis 

The international emphasis is designed for students who have an interest in courses with an international perspective both within economics and outside the department. Courses in international trade and finance are combined with selections of international courses in related social science disciplines. This program may be of particular interest to students seeking careers in international business, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and government agencies.

Public Economics Emphasis 

The public economics emphasis is designed for students who have an interest in taking courses with a public policy perspective both within economics and outside the department. Courses in public economics are combined with selections of public policy oriented courses from various social sciences. This emphasis is recommended for students with interests in public policy seeking careers in local, state, national, or international agencies.

Quantitative Emphasis 

The quantitative emphasis is designed for well-qualified majors with an interest in either theoretical or applied mathematics. Economics courses in quantitative methods are combined with courses from the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Applied Mathematics. This program may be of interest to students planning to pursue graduate studies in economics or those seeking a career in applied quantitative research.

Graduate Degree Program(s)

Master’s Degree in Economics

The Department of Economics does not currently offer a stand-alone MA degree program, although students enrolled in our PhD program will earn their MA degree as they progress toward their doctorate. See more information below.

Doctoral Degree in Economics

Admission. An applicant for admission as a regular degree student must:

  • Hold a baccalaureate degree from a college or university of recognized standing, or have done work equivalent to that required for such a degree and equivalent to the degree given at this university. The undergraduate grade point average must be at least 2.75 (2.00=C).
  • Have completed intermediate microeconomic and macroeconomic theory courses, 6 semester hours of calculus at the university level or equivalent, and statistics.
  • Submit Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores for aptitude (verbal and quantitative). International applicants whose native language is not English must also submit a TOEFL score with a speaking component, even if they have attended college in an English speaking country.
  • Arrange for the submission of three letters of recommendation.

Graduate study in economics is quantitative and analytical. Students should be comfortable with basic calculus (derivatives and integration), linear algebra, matrix algebra, and basic statistics.

The university deadline for international applications is December 1 for the following fall semester. The department encourages international applicants to comply with this deadline. Late applications may be considered. However, they may be at a disadvantage with respect to the award of financial aid. United States applicants who wish to be considered for financial assistance should apply by January 15. Students must begin the program in a fall semester.

Degree Requirements. Full-time students are expected to complete all requirements for the PhD degree within five years of entering the program (the maximum time allowed by the Graduate School is six years). The schedule of required courses below is centered on this expectation. Failure to make timely and satisfactory progress toward the degree may result in loss of financial assistance or dismissal from the program.

Course Requirements

1. Prior to beginning the program, students must demonstrate an acceptable degree of competence in differential and integral calculus and optimization techniques. (This requirement is in addition to the six hours of calculus required to apply to the program.) Such competence is normally demonstrated by taking ECON 7800 (an intensive, three-week preparatory course offered immediately prior to each fall semester) and passing its final examination with a grade of B- or better. No credit is offered for this course.

Other methods by which the required competence may be demonstrated are:

  • Obtain a letter from the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) confirming that   the student has had sufficient mathematical preparation in prior studies;
  • Pass the final examination in ECON 7800 at a level of B- without taking the course; or
  • Pass a course which is substantially equivalent to ECON 7800 at another accredited graduate institution.

Students who fail the examination in ECON 7800 will be given a second opportunity to pass an equivalent examination two weeks later. Students who fail this examination on the second attempt must enter into extensive consultation with the DGS.

2. There are seven core courses in the PhD program: ECON 7010, 7020, 7030, 7040, 7050, 7818, and 7828. Course requirements beyond the core courses include:

  • Seven elective courses at the 8000 level. Basic fields of specialization are econometrics, economic development, economic history, industrial organization, international trade and finance, labor and human resources, natural resources and environmental economics, and public economics. Ordinarily, a student would take two elective courses in a basic field of specialization in preparation for a dissertation.
  • 6 credit hours in a research colloquium.
  • At least 30 hours of dissertation credit.

3. At least four of the core courses must be taken on the Boulder campus. Courses transferred for credit must be approved by the DGS. After entry into the PhD program, all remaining courses must be taken on the Boulder campus.

4. All courses for PhD credit taken on the Boulder campus must be passed with a grade of B- or better. A student who receives a grade of C+ or lower in a core course must retake that course the following academic year.

5. No more than 12 credit hours (exclusive of dissertation credit) from a single faculty member may be counted toward PhD requirements. Independent study is allowed only to satisfy elective requirements. No more than 6 credit hours of independent study may be applied to the PhD degree and no more than 3 credit hours of independent study may be taken from a single faculty member. In consultation with the DGS, students may choose to take up to two graduate offerings in other departments as elective courses.

6. Course requirements in the first and second years include:

First Year
Fall Semester

  • ECON 7010 Microeconomic Theory 1
  • ECON 7020 Macroeconomic Theory 1
  • ECON 7818 Mathematical Statistics for Economists

Spring Semester

  • ECON 7030 Microeconomic Theory 2
  • ECON 7040 Macroeconomic Theory 2
  • ECON 7828 Econometrics 

Second Year
Fall Semester

  • ECON 7050 Advanced Economic Theory
  • Elective course
  • Elective course

Spring Semester

  • Elective course
  • Elective course
  • Elective course

7. Course requirements in the third year include: 

  • ECON 8209 (fall) and ECON 8219 (spring), which constitute the third-year research colloquium
  • Remaining elective course(s)
  • Dissertation research, if practicable.

8. Course requirements in the fourth and fifth years consist of relevant dissertation credit hours.

Preliminary Examinations. Written preliminary examinations in microeconomic theory, macroeconomic theory, and econometrics must be taken in the examination period following the successful completion of core courses in these areas. Under most circumstances this period would be in August prior to the second year. An examination attempted and failed must be taken again and passed in the next examination period. A second failure results in dismissal from the program, subject to appeal to the GCRC under extraordinary circumstances. In no case are attempts beyond the third granted. 

Students who have failed any of the core courses are ineligible to take the preliminary examination in the area of failure. These students must retake the failed course(s) in the following year and attempt the relevant preliminary examination in the first scheduled examination period after they pass. 

Students who fail to pass all three preliminary examinations within two-and-one-half years of beginning the PhD program must exit the program. 

MA Degree. An MA degree will be awarded to students who have successfully completed all core courses in the PhD program, completed 30 hours of graduate credit with a 3.00 GPA, and performed satisfactorily within two attempts on at least two out of three preliminary examinations.

Third-Year Research Colloquium. Third-year students are expected to register for 3 credit hours per semester in the research colloquium, which will meet weekly under the direction of a faculty member. The purpose of the colloquium is to provide students the opportunity and guidance to complete the required third-year paper and to facilitate progress toward the dissertation stage. 

Under some circumstances, students may delay taking this colloquium until the fourth year with the approval of the DGS.

Comprehensive Examinations. Students must take an oral comprehensive examination before admission to PhD candidacy. This examination may occur either at the time of the student’s research presentation in ECON 8219 or at a later date and will encompass the materials in the presentation and all relevant course work completed by the candidate. Students who fail this comprehensive examination will be given a second chance during the following semester. For those students for whom the presentation in ECON 8219 does not serve as the oral comprehensive examination, a separate oral examination must be scheduled before admission to candidacy.

Admission to Candidacy and Dissertation Requirements. Students are formally admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree after completing all course requirements and all preliminary and comprehensive examinations and after earning four semesters of residency (see the front section of this catalog for details). After admission to candidacy, students must register each fall and spring semester for dissertation credit (ECON 8999) until attaining the degree; the accumulated credit for the thesis must total at least 30 semester credit hours to attain the degree. A student must prepare a written dissertation and successfully pass an oral examination before a dissertation committee and other interested persons on its content before receiving the degree. The minimum residence requirement for the PhD degree is six semesters of scholarly work beyond the bachelor’s degree.

Administration: Examining Committees for Examinations. Examining committees for preliminary examinations consist of three members of the economics department who teach in the relevant area. Examining committees for comprehensive examinations consist of at least three members of the economics department.

Preliminary Examinations. 

  1. Written examinations are numbered so that insofar as possible the identity of the student is unknown. Each faculty member grades independently and writes no comments in the examination booklet. A meeting of the graders is called by the chair of the examination committee and the committee grade is submitted to the graduate program coordinator. The possible grades include High Pass or Distinction (used sparingly), Pass, and Fail.
  2. In cases where there is a question of pass or fail on any exam, if two of the members of the examination committee vote affirmatively, a grade of pass will be recorded; if two of the members of the grading committee vote negatively, a grade of fail will be recorded. If the vote of the grading committee is tied and the third member is absent (but will be available within seven days), the decision to pass or to fail is to be made by the reconvened grading committee. If fewer than two members of the grading committee are present and voting, or if the vote of the grading committee is tied and the third member is not available within seven days, the decision to pass or fail will be made by the Graduate Curriculum and Review Committee (GCRC); in such circumstances the grade is reported as pass or fail, based on a majority vote.
  3. When examination results are reported, a student who failed should have an opportunity to discuss his performance with a member of the examining committee.

Dissertation Guidelines.

  1. In January of the academic year following the research colloquium, each student must submit a written dissertation proposal and conduct an oral defense of that proposal before his or her basic committee. A dissertation proposal form must be signed by each member of the basic committee and submitted to the graduate program coordinator. The basic committee consists of the student's faculty supervisor and three other faculty members from the department. An acceptable proposal must include a statement of purpose and a justification for the importance of the work; a full literature review and a statement of how this research will contribute to the literature; and a detailed description of the methodologies to be used and of the data bases, if appropriate. 
  2. Normally students are expected to complete their dissertations by the end of their fifth academic year. The graduate program coordinator provides details on submission of the dissertation and arrangements for the oral defense. The final defense is conducted before a basic committee of four faculty members from the department plus one outside member. After the defense, minor changes are agreed upon between candidate and supervisor before the final dissertation is submitted.