Math at Applied Economics

One needs mathematics to do economics; parts of calculus and parts of linear algebra are our workhorses.

However, one doesn’t need advanced mathematics in the sense of a mathematician to seriously pursue economics. It has been said that the only truly advanced mathematics ever used by Nobel laureates in Economics has been in connection with general equilibrium theory (Eugene Silberberg, The Structure of Economics – A Mathematical Analysis, McGraw Hill, 2nd ed., 1990); at the opposite extreme, one of the laureates, Ronald Coase, illustrated his seminal ideas with nothing more abstract than arithmetic examples!

We require of our entrants a working knowledge of Differential Calculus, which in turn requires a minimum of a single course in Calculus, taken in High School, Community College, College, or elsewhere. At least one semester of undergraduate calculus, or equivalent, passed with at least a B grade is required for admissions.

To do economics properly, one needs Multivariable Calculus especially partial differentiation (typically covered in more advanced Calculus courses). Those who have not taken any course in Multivariable Calculus are required to take our three undergraduate credit, full-length, Math Methods for Economists course in their first semester, which is available on-line, and costs half our usual tuition. The course does not count toward the degree. It covers those parts of Integral Calculus, Multivariable Calculus, Optimization Theory, and Linear Algebra, which are necessary to pursue economics. For those required to take Math Methods, the course is treated academically as part of the Core. Thus, all rules applying to the Core apply to Math Methods.

In order to waive our Math Methods for Economists course, evidence of Multivariable Calculus is required.

If you have not had a Calculus course in college, consider the following inexpensive ways to prepare for entry to our program:

  • A Calculus I course is available online through the Johns Hopkins Math Department.
  • An Introductory Calculus for Business [MATH 108] is available at George Mason University Math Department.
  • Applied Calculus I [MTH 271] is offered at various NOVA locations, and online.
  • Elementary Applied Calculus [Math 160] is offered at Montgomery College.
  • The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Online Math Program.

We encourage all our students to study: Carl P. Simon, Lawrence E. Blume, Mathematics for Economists, Norton, 1994, the text for our Math Methods for Economists course. It can accompany you throughout your time at our program, and beyond. There is absolutely no need to learn even nearly the whole content of the book, and you can always use it as a reference. Buy used; save 50%. This is a small investment with big returns for half a lifetime or longer.

The table of contents of Edward T. Dowling, Schaum’s Outline of Mathematical Methods for Business and Economics, McGraw Hill, 1992 or 2009, skipping Chapters 7 and 8 on Linear Programming, gives a fair idea of the minimum math needed in our program. Doing many of the exercises in the book is the best way of learning the material.