Wesleyan, Williams, Bowdoin, or Amherst for economics?

Hey all, I was just wondering if you could tell me which one of these schools has the strongest econ department. Especially regarding job placement, internships, and professors.

Williams has the most highly ranked in terms of academic reputation and the amount of scholarly work that is published in leading journals. They have most the cited teaching faculty of any of schools you asked about. Job placement/internships (management consulting, hedge funds and i-banking) and track record of entrance to top econ grad school programs is also noteworthy. You should compare the econ department websites of the schools you asked about. Williams econ website has an impressive line up of teaching faculty and course offerings. The econ department is much larger than those of the other schools. If you have a math/quant background, Williams also has a very well known Math department which compliments its econ major as well.

This analysis considers these schools by faculty publishing in economics: https://ideas.repec.org/top/top.uslacecon.html. Note that, impressively, Williams and Wesleyan also appear in this analysis that includes universities and liberal arts colleges, and which has not been normalized for department size: https://ideas.repec.org/top/top.usecondept.html.

Regarding employment prospects, Williams graduates place highest from your group by early career earnings (and second among those of NESCAC LACs, after Hamilton’s), with graduates from Amherst and Bowdoin following closely (note that these averages do not consider choice of major): https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/williams-college-2229.

With respect to professors and overall classroom experience, Williams and Bowdoin appear in this relevant Princeton Review survey-based ranking: https://www.princetonreview.com/college-rankings?rankings=best-classroom-experience.

If you want to go by popular trope, Williams has the reputation. But, I just did a head count and it certainly seems as though Wesleyan and Williams have equally large departments, about 20 faculty each. And, for an institution as well known in the performing arts as Wesleyan is, an impressive 18% of graduates actually choose careers in the financial services and consulting fields: https://www.wesleyan.edu/careercenter/career-outcomes.html

It’s also worth checking out Wesleyan’s networking and mentoring resources:

All the colleges in the subject heading represent the gold standard in LACs. I would look at fit in addition to curriculum.

Curriculum-wise, economics major BA/BS programs consist of the following:

  • Core: introductory economics, intermediate microeconomics, intermediate macroeconomics, econometrics.
  • Several upper level economics electives.
  • Math and statistics prerequisites for the intermediate economics and econometrics courses.

Differences between different colleges’ economics majors would be in:

  1. Math and statistics prerequisites for the intermediate economics and econometrics courses:
  2. Low math: no calculus, introductory statistics (e.g. AP statistics level).
  3. Medium math: single variable calculus, introductory statistics (may require calculus-based).
  4. High math: multivariable calculus and/or linear algebra, introductory statistics (often calculus-based). Note: pre-PhD students are recommended to take even more math and statistics, such as real analysis and probability theory.
  5. What upper level economics electives are offered.

Curricular fit of a college’s economics major for a given student can be evaluated based on the above (math and statistics prerequisites and upper level electives).

Re reply #2, averages → medians.

Serious question: Given the OP’s list of schools, wouldn’t an Econ major’s job prospects come down to grades (to get your resume a second look), and how well the student connects with their interviewer, both temperamentally and cognitively?

There’s probably other stuff I’m missing, but that’s what has seemed to matter most for my son (Amherst senior). He thought the career services office there prepared him well for the internship application process. His resume’ (high grades and some good EC experience) got his foot in the door. He’s not a quant guy but obviously his coursework helped him navigate the more technical interview questions, and his charm (all from his mom) sealed the deal. He had a successful internship this summer and will be working for a mid-sized private equity firm in Boston next summer.

None of his “team members” went to Amherst but they didn’t seem to hold that against him. There are three from Trinity and two from Williams, so maybe that confirms the relative strength of those schools’ Econ programs. No other college is represented by more than one employee and the list of schools includes, among others, Hamilton, Bowdoin, Boston College, Endicott, Penn St., Carleton, and Bucknell.

I was actually surprised that during Covid I saw on Amherst socials where they profiled students that had internships and I recall at least one interned on Wall Street and a couple at top investment companies. Maybe one was your kid @alohahonu :slight_smile:

Also, the Loeb Center on campus is incredible in assisting students connect and obtain internships. They also bring alum back to campus to connect with students and in the financial sector I remember one from Fidelity came last Fall. Although my daughter isn’t an Econ major at Amherst, she landed a nice internship through their strong alum network when we thought all hope might be lost due to Covid.

The reality is that you can’t go wrong at any of the schools mentioned. It’s going to be what you do with all they have to offer once you are there. I wish you the best!

Agreed, definitely suggest that you look at the econ professors at each school and the depth of the course offerings. Also, look at the Williams math department faculty and course listings.

@TennisParent You know that I like sometimes poking fun at your wholehearted cheer leading for Williams. In this case, though, you are absolutely right. All are excellent colleges which have excellent Econ programs, but Williams has an edge on them all.