Humans & Behavior 


Degrees Offered:

  • BA
  • PhD
  • Minor*

Department Website

Degree Requirements 

Sample Four Year Plan

* = Minors are not technically a degree, but can be pursued to supplement a bachelor's degree

Economics is the study of how governments, businesses, households and individuals choose to allocate their various needs and wants, including the production, distribution and consumption of materials goods and services and the positive and negative consequences of changes in economic activities and government policies.

The Department of Economics at University of Colorado at Boulder is recognized as a very high-quality research and teaching department, with faculty, students and alumni working across the globe.

I am truly grateful to our world-class Economics department for providing invaluable training in rigorous research methods. Collaborating with and learning from leading professors provided a foundation for the evidence-based approach we’ve used to run impact studies for our education materials used in 80 countries."

— Dr. Piya Sorcar (BA '01), Founder/CEO TeachAids

Economics is a quantitative policy oriented social science with a highly developed body of theory and a wide range of real-world applications. Economists describe the process by which scarce resources are utilized to attain individual and societal goals. Economists also predict the consequences of changes in economic activities and government policies. Theoretical models, knowledge of economic and policymaking institutions, quantitative analysis, and the examination of data are all part of this discipline. 

In general, economists are interested in the economic behavior of individuals. Investigations of the daily decisions consumers, workers, and firm managers make as well as the interactions and impacts of such decisions in specific markets are the subjects of Microeconomics

Macroeconomics refers to the analysis of overall economic activity in many markets, a region, a country or globally.  Some of the specific issues of macroeconomics include economic growth, inflation, recession, unemployment and government intervention in the economy. 

There are many interesting applications within economics, including international trade and finance, environment and natural resources, public policy, labor, economic development, economic history, industrial organization, mathematical and statistical methods, urban and regional economics and economic regulation.  See the Economics' department website for elective course lists, prerequisites and syllabi. 

The economics program offers a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree. The central core of the economics degree includes economic theory, statistics, and econometrics. Course work in mathematics, including calculus, is required. Intermediate micro- and/or macroeconomic theory must be completed before enrolling in related elective coursework. You may further enhance your degree by adding an emphasis in environmental, international, quantitative, or public economics.

And the department at CU Boulder is one of the top 50 programs in the nation, according to the most recent US News and World Report rankings.

In addition, the department has a number of excellent and award-winning faculty, including, but not limited to, a CU Distinguished Professor, a College of Arts and Sciences Professor of Distinction, recipients of awards like Marquis’ Who’s Who and the Jonathan Hughes Prize for Excellence in Teaching Economic History, and fellows for organizations like Fulbright, the National Science Foundation, the Institute for the Study of Labor, the Centre for Economic Policy Research and the Royal Historical Society.

The Department of Economics is nationally recognized in several areas of research, including Econometrics, Economic Development, Economic History, Environmental and Natural Resources Economics, Industrial Organization or Game Theory, International Trade or Finance, Labor Economics, Human Resources or Demography, Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, Political Economies, Public Economics and Urban and Regional Economics.

Their diverse faculty also include several who have joint affiliations with other departments within the College, such as the Departments of Applied Mathematics and History, and the Environmental Studies Program, institutes and centers within CU Boulder, like the Institute of Behavioral Science, the Center of the American West and the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Initiative, and outside organizations both nationally and internationally, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the European University Institute, the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Ifo Institute.

For the undergraduate students pursuing a degree in economics, there are a number of research opportunities beyond just class work:

  • The Department of Economics offers the Eaton Travel Sabbatical to eligible undergraduates. This opportunity allows students in economics to broaden their knowledge of the marketplace in a culture other than their own. The program aims to provide a different kind of international experience for students who will design a creative and unconventional study plan abroad, with preference given to those interested in regions of the southern or eastern hemispheres.

  • Qualified seniors can enroll in the department’s honors program, which includes an honors seminar and completion of an honors thesis. Honors designation at graduation includes cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude. Consider the honors program by the second semester of your junior year.

  • Economics majors may enter a combined “double degree” program with business, engineering, journalism, architecture or music. The Department of Economics also offers a minor, as described on the following page. In addition, there are certificate programs in actuarial studies and quantitative finance offered in cooperation with the Department of Mathematics and the Leeds School of Business. 

  • The university offers more than 100 study abroad programs throughout the world–many for academic credit. Students may spend a few weeks to a full academic year abroad, depending on the program selected. Prior language study or other prerequisites are necessary for some programs, so early planning for study abroad is essential. It is best to take study abroad economics courses after completion of intermediate micro and macro theory. Further information about study abroad is available from Education Abroad, 303-492-7741 or on the education abroad website.

Economists hold positions in many levels and branches of government in such functions as public policy analysis and regulation. Economics graduates use their skills in areas such as education, finance, budgetary forecasting, banking, insurance, market analysis, research, sales and technical writing.

If you pursue post-graduate education you will be well prepared for graduate study in economics, business, law, education, management, public policy, international affairs, nonprofit work and teaching. 

Career Services offers free services for all CU Boulder degree-seeking students, and alumni up to one year after graduation, to help students discover who they are, what they want to do, and how to get there. They are the bridge between academics and the world of work by discussing major and career exploration, internship or job searching, and graduate school preparation. 

Most economists need a master’s degree or Ph.D. However, some entry-level jobs—primarily in the federal government—are available for workers with a bachelor’s degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The bureau projects:

  • that 2016-2026 job growth for economists with a master’s degree will be 6 percent, roughly the same as the average for all jobs; and
  • Median 2016 pay for economists with a master’s degree was $101,050.

For those with only a bachelor's degree in economics, though, the median salary is roughly the same as those with a business bachelor's degree at roughly $65,000, according to PayScale.

Copied figure of the average economics salary

At CU Boulder, economics graduates earn more than the nationwide average of comparable majors as reported by PayScale. CU Boulder alumni in this discipline earn an estimated annual salary of $95,175, based on a pool of 2700 alumni who graduated between 1989 and 2018. This amount is also higher than the average for all CU Boulder graduates with a bachelor's degree, according to a survey by Esmi Alumni Insight of 25,000 alumni who graduated during the same stretch.

The economics department has an extensive list of alumni that are either working or have worked in a variety of industries across the globe. Some alumni of the program include:

  • Jeff Mendel (BA '00) is co-founder of Denver’s Tabernash Brewery and part owner of Left Hand Brewing.
  • Steve Hanke (PhD '69) is an American applied economist at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. He is also a Senior Fellow and Director of the Troubled Currencies Project at the conservative Cato Institute in Washington, DC, and Co-Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise in Baltimore, MD.
  • Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (BA '70) is a Liberian politician who served as the 24th President of Liberia from 2006 to 2018. Sirleaf was the first elected female head of state in Africa.