Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why major in Political Economy, rather than double-majoring in Political Science and Economics or just majoring in one while taking a lot of courses in the other?

The Political Economy major is both more and less than either Economics or Political Science.  In eleven courses, it obviously cannot match the breadth or depth of coverage of two majors totaling eighteen. Majoring in either Economics or Political Science (or both) would typically require you to get deeper into the more advanced methodologies that are particular to each discipline, although you could still do that if you are so inclined by majoring in POEC while also taking the more advanced courses in one or the other of the disciplines as a supplement.

On the other hand, Political Economy is more than the other two majors in its three core courses. POEC 250 and POEC 401 bring the different disciplines and professors together in the classroom, sparking lively discussions, while POEC 402 offers a rare opportunity for collective and original analysis of student-selected policy issues.  In fact, this senior spring seminar is the definitive intellectual experience for all Political Economy majors and is unlike anything in Economics or Political Science.

2. What do Political Economy majors do after graduation?

A lot of things. The largest portion goes to Wall Street or consulting, moving on to an MBA and a career in business. The next largest contingent goes to law school. Some others go on to a Masters in Public Policy or other graduate degrees. The remainder run the gamut (one was a principal at in North Adams; a few are in teaching or government). That is, the aggregate profile of graduates in the last ten years is a little closer to that of Economics graduates than it is to those from Political Science.

3. How many people major in Political Economy each year?

Since 2010, the number of majors per graduating class has ranged from 10 to 22, and has averaged about 17.

4. What classes should I take in my first year?

Since ECON 110 and 120 are prerequisites for many higher level POEC and ECON classes, it is best to take them during your freshman year if you are thinking about majoring in Political Economy. In addition, students interested in Political Economy should take any one of PSCI 201, 202, 203, or 204 in their first year, as these courses are the prerequisites or co-requisites for POEC 250. All prospective POEC majors are encouraged to take PSCI 201, and indeed are required to do so if they are in the class of 2020 or later, as it provides tools of political analysis that will be essential for the projects all POEC majors will undertake in POEC 402. Students should plan to complete both of their two required introductory PSCI courses (PSCI 201 and any one of PSCI 202, 203, and 204) during either the first or second year at Williams, as first- and second-year students get enrollment preference in these classes.

If you have not previously taken MATH 130 (Calculus I) or the equivalent, you should take that relatively early, as it is a prerequisite for both classes that you can use to fulfill the empirical methods requirement: POEC 253 and ECON 255. You might also consider taking STAT 101 or STAT 201 early on, as that would give you the option of taking ECON 255.

4. Is it advisable to go abroad as a Political Economy major?

Absolutely, but it requires planning ahead. Your empirical methods course must be completed before the end of junior year, because it is a prerequisite for POEC 401 (which must be taken during fall of senior year). In addition, POEC 250 and POEC 253 are only offered in the fall. If you expect to be away during the fall of your junior year, it is critical that you either: (a) take POEC 253 fall of your sophomore year; or (b) complete all the prerequisite courses for ECON 255 (which include STAT 101 or 201 and MATH 130) early enough that you can take ECON 255 (which is offered every semester) before the end of junior year. In addition, if you expect to be away fall of junior year, it is a good idea to take POEC 250 fall of sophomore year. It is possible, but not recommended, to take POEC 250 fall of senior year.

5. What does it take to graduate with honors in Political Economy?

The requirements are much like other departments. You need to have a GPA of at least 3.5 in major courses at the end of your junior spring, stay above that threshold until you graduate, write a high-quality thesis during the fall and winter study period, and defend that thesis at a public presentation. POEC majors do not write year-long theses because these would interfere with the group projects undertaken in the senior spring. For more on honors in POEC, click here.