How I Got into Economics (UK) | Complete Journey
This article is written by Mukul Patil, a graduate of Economics from the London School of Economics, a world-leading University.
Throughout school, I never really knew exactly what I wanted to do at university or in later life. I considered a huge number of different subjects but since I chose Economics, I have found it to be an incredibly interesting and rewarding subject which greatly increases my ability to understand the world around me.
If you are considering further study in Economics, I urge you to get as much exposure to how economics can be applied and understood as possible so that you can understand just how exciting a subject it can be.
With this post, I want to let you know what it takes to get into Economics at a top university and show you that it just takes a little bit of early thought.
At this point, GCSE were no more than exams I felt I just needed to do well in (parental pressure was the key motivator). At this stage I did not know what I would like to study, however, I knew that my strengths lay in mathematics, sciences and business and so I focussed my efforts on maximising my grades in those subjects.
However, on the flip side, I had experienced teachers from my weaker subjects telling me to give up studying some of them and accept that I would always be bad, particularly in languages.
For that reason, I pushed myself, not just to maximise my strong subjects, but to make sure I was at a good level with my weaker subjects as well.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, focussing on self-study, finding out what works for you as well as making use of your friends is a great way to learn if your teachers aren’t giving you the support you need. Anyway back to Economics.
The point is, at GCSE, you don’t need to know exactly what you will be studying at university. Nor do you need to feel too much pressure over them, unless you’re applying to Oxford or Cambridge, they will not affect any future life plans, as long as you do well in the subjects you wish to continue at A-level.
So focus on learning a wide range of subjects – you’ll be surprised at the amount of geography you’ll still remember 10 years later.
Year 12 for me was interesting. The school required me to do 3 A-levels however I decided to do 5. This was partly because I wanted to push myself with my academic achievements but also because I was quite indecisive with which career path I wanted to take.
That is why I studied, Maths, Further Maths, Physics, Economics and Chemistry at AS-Level.
Maths was my strongest subject, so I needed to secure high-level grades. I studied physics because as a kid, I was always fascinated by the way things work. I spent a lot of time taking things apart and putting them back together, playing with Lego and even making various pieces of furniture from scrap wood we had in the basement.
This combined with my unhealthy obsession with cars meant that I figured I would be destined for a career in engineering.
However, my parents on the other hand wanted me to become a doctor, more specifically a neuro-surgeon (no pressure right!) and so I studied chemistry as well.
My choice for studying economics was simply because I had studied business studies at GCSE and this was the closes thing to that – I still was not seriously considering studying economics.
“What I enjoyed most of all was debating with peers”
Over the next year, however, I came to love the subject.
It allowed me to apply my analytical skills to understand why people, businesses and countries act the way they do. And even though at A-level economics is taught through essay writing at A-level, as a numbers guy, I enjoyed this fact, because it allowed me to build key writing skills – the ability to explain chains of logic and analysis as well as evaluate numerous viewpoints and present a conclusion.
What I enjoyed most of all was being able to engage in debates with my peers and my teacher about current affairs and key news articles (I studied during the Brexit debate so things sometimes got heated).
In year 12, the focus is on two things:
- Finding out which of you’re A-level subjects you enjoy the most
- Maximising your grades at the end of the year
The first point was key for me to understand why I wanted to do economics.
Chemistry simply was not a subject I enjoyed and so I dropped it at the end of the year.
Physics I enjoyed. But, I realised, all of the building and lego-ing I used to do as a kid was because I saw it as a hobby. I made the things I had an interest in however I wasn’t sure building and construction was a career that I wanted to take.
Instead, I aspire to have a garage with old cars that I break apart and fix instead. I realised Economics and Maths were, therefore, my favourite subjects, cementing my decision to do Economics at University.
That second focus may confuse you.
Because offers are made before you have completed your A-levels, what is more important are your predicted grades.
That is because, even if the grade requirements for an economics course is A*AA for example, there will be people applying with predictions greater than that, who will be seen more favourably by admissions officers. That’s why, if you had to choose one year to work super hard, you should make that year 12.
The first thing with personal statements in economics is to figure out if you want to study a more mathematical degree or a more essay-based economics degree.
BSc Economics courses tend to be more mathematical while BA Economics (with the exception of Cambridge) tend to be more essay-based. Because I liked maths, I decided to focus on getting a BSc.
Economics personal statements are best if they include the following:
- Reading relevant books
- Attending public lectures
- Relevant work experience
- Summer school
Personal statements for economics are primarily academic. You need to find 3 areas of economics you like and talk about. Macroeconomics and microeconomics should be included, and the third one can be your choice. I chose development economics but equally, you can choose econometrics, finance, behavioural and many more.
What’s more important than your paragraph choice is how you back that up. Reading is the easiest way to do this. Start of course with news outlets like the Financial Times and the Economist but also ask your teachers for recommendations on which books to read on each topic and start there.
Focus on reflecting on the key lessons of each book – do you agree? Do you disagree? Why? How does this link to something in the news?
This reflection will be key to standing out.
I also reached out to my dad and some of his friends and was able to spend a day at the Bank of England. Despite only spending a day in their library, I was able to read so much about how the bank influences the economy and its role in economic growth.
Crucially, it linked to one of the books I was reading on the 2007 global recession, allowing me to discuss these links in my personal statement.
Attending public lectures is also a great way of showing your interest as well as learning more for very little costs.
Many universities host public lectures where renowned economists or industry experts come in to speak on a topic.
Attending these and discussing them will show your interest and that you’ve gone above and beyond to pursue your interest in economics.
I also attended a paid summer school by Debate Chamber.
Honestly, I left applying to a summer school too late because I did not know they existed and hence all the free ones hosted by leading universities were already full. Despite having to pay, I believe it was definitely worth it.
Mine was one-week-long and we discussed a different aspect of economics each day – some of which I was still learning in my final year of university. Once again, I used this to show evidence that I have gone beyond most students to demonstrate my interest.
One thing to note is that saying things like you read the Financial Times or the Economist, or even the book Freakonomics will not help you stand out. Make your personal statement unique by finding different sources of each of the things mentioned.
Also, when writing your personal statement, remember that the first draft will never be good. Mine started as just a list of things I had done.
However, by talking to current university students, my teachers, my parents, relatives and friends in the industry, after over 10 drafts I was able to craft a good personal statement, that got me 4 offers from universities.
So even if you don’t like your personal statement to begin with, just keep refining it with the help of others and I promise it will get there.
In Year 13, congratulations!
Hopefully, you’ll have multiple offers from various universities. Even if you don’t get all of the universities you wanted, don’t be too disheartened. When I got the email from Cambridge that I hadn’t been accepted, I was sad for days.
Looking back on it now, it pushed me towards LSE instead and in no way did I ever look back.
“When I got the email from Cambridge, I was sad for days”
The temptation to avoid in year 13, is to focus on just achieving your offer and that’s it. If you are capable of more and are predicted higher grades, go for them! Trust me, results day can be nerve-wracking, so you want to have the knowledge that you gave it your all.
As I had chosen a mathematical economics course, I needed to achieve A*s in Maths and Further Maths as well as an A in Economics.
My offer was A*AA in Maths, Physics and Economics and an E in Further Maths (LSE required simply that I pass Further Maths). I pushed myself to maximise all of my grades and therefore was able to achieve 4 A*s overall.
Overall then, my top tips for getting into economics:
- Find out what you enjoy about economics
- Find ways to engage with the subject outside of your school – read the news, read books, attend lectures or get work experience
- Start early so you can enjoy all of these things. Economics is an incredibly interesting and complex subject. Taking time to explore that will deepen your love for it.