Learning Goals

The following are our primary goals for students of economics at Bowdoin College. While these goals are targeted toward our majors, many of them also apply to students pursuing the minor in economics and the minor in economics and finance.


In addition to our majors and minors, the economics department serves other constituencies at the College: those interested primarily in satisfying their MCSR requirement; those interested in obtaining a baseline level of economic literacy to complement the rest of their liberal arts education; and those taking our courses as an explicit part (core course or elective) of another course of study. Many, but perhaps not all, of the goals presented below apply to these other student groups as well.

Goal 1: Demonstrate understanding of the major concepts, theoretical perspectives, basic research findings, and methods in economics. 

Breadth in the discipline is accomplished through Principles of Microeconomics (Econ 1101) and Principles of Macroeconomics (1102), and in three core classes—Intermediate Microeconomics (2555), Intermediate Macroeconomics (2556), and Economic Statistics (2557). Our majors are required to complete four topics courses, including three at the advanced level. The advanced-level courses provide depth in a particular topic, ask students to more rigorously apply some of the analytical tools first introduced in the core classes, and, in many cases, require students to write a long research paper. Our minor is much more about breadth rather than depth. Still, each minor is exposed to all the introductory material, one intermediate level theory course, one statistics course (not necessarily in economics), and one applied course.

Goal 2: Apply principles of economics to conceptually understand behavior of individuals, households, firms, nongovernmental organizations, and governments in the real world.

This goal is achieved in our introductory courses (1101 and 1102), which many students take to gain “economic literacy,” as well as in our intermediate elective courses. These goals are refined in advanced classes.

Goal 3: Use algebraic, graphical, and numerical tools to build “models,” i.e., simplified representations of individual, firm, and government incentives and behaviors that affect the allocation of scarce resources.

The use of theoretical models is central to the methodology of economics, and modeling figures prominently even in our introductory courses. In our core courses, we develop more sophisticated models using calculus. The tools developed in the introductory and core courses are used in our intermediate and upper-level electives, respectively, in the construction of more context-specific models. In addition, the students in our intermediate and upper-level electives and in Economic Statistics (Econ 2557) are introduced to methods that allow economists to estimate or calibrate the models with data.

Goal 4: Articulate economic arguments using a range of “modalities”: verbal, graphical, algebraic/mathematical, and numerical. 

This goal is addressed in most of our courses, starting with Econ 1101 and 1102. Intermediate and advanced electives emphasize verbal arguments to a greater extent; introductory and core courses focus more on graphical and algebraic tools and the ability to numerically characterize outcomes. Advanced courses employ more sophisticated mathematical methods, such as constrained optimization, control theory, etc. 

Goal 5: Communicate effectively both orally and through writing to transmit information and to construct a cogent argument.

This goal is addressed primarily in our seminar courses, which all include a significant research paper.  Many of our intermediate-level courses also have students synthesize and critique economic arguments in the popular press and other non-technical publications. In many intermediate-level electives and advanced seminars students are required to make oral presentations to the class.   

Goal 6: Acquire skills to empirically test economic hypotheses and otherwise extract insight from data; understand the distinction between causation and spurious correlation.

This goal is addressed primarily in the Economics Statistics (2557) core course and Econometrics (3516), but also in some elective courses. Students in many of our upper-level seminars employ statistical methods in a limited context and interpret the empirical results presented in the peer-reviewed literature. Many of our independent and honors students include a significant empirical/statistical component in their work.

Goal 7: Utilize economic reasoning to assess the impacts of different policies and to understand how the perspective of economics can illuminate current events and policy debates.

The analysis of policy begins in our introductory courses, where students develop simple models or the intervention of government in markets (e.g., taxation and price controls in Econ 1101; monetary and fiscal policies in Econ 1102). Our core micro- and macroeconomics courses carry out similar analysis with higher technical sophistication. We also offer several elective courses that emphasize policy solutions to address market failure and achieve distributional goals, e.g., Economic Policy (Econ 2001); Environmental Economics and Policy (2218); and Natural Resource Economics and Policy (2228); and Economic Evaluation of Public Programs (3511).

Goal 8: Understand both the usefulness and the limitations of economic methodology, as well as the assumed values (and perhaps “biases”) implicit in economic modeling approaches. Understand the difference between positive and normative statements. Understand and articulate the distinctions between economics and other social science fields, as well as the ways these fields can jointly enhance our understanding of human systems.

Our introductory and theory courses firmly emphasize the scientific nature of economics, i.e., its emphasis on positive/testable characterizations and predictions of human behavior rather than normative assertions.  Throughout the curriculum, we emphasize the potential benefits of economic tools, but also advocate “disciplinary humility.” While some courses are more inherently interdisciplinary than others (e.g., Environmental and Natural Resource Economics, Econ 3518; Human Resources and Economic Development, Econ 2227) and others emphasize critique of orthodox economic-modeling frameworks (e.g., Marxian Political Economy, Econ 2221), virtually all of our courses stress that economic tools provide just one of many different valuable perspectives from which to understand human behavior and approach complex issues.

Goal 9: Understand the economic research process at the level of the peer-reviewed academic literature and evaluate its methods, findings, and conclusions; develop an ability to compare, critique, and understand connections between research findings in the peer-reviewed literature.

While students in any of our courses may be asked to read academic literature in economics, this goal is most consistently addressed by students in our advanced courses. Our seminar courses all include a culminating research project that requires in-depth engagement with the primary academic literature in economics.

Goal 10: Give students interested in the graduate study of economics the tools and knowledge necessary to be accepted at a top economics department.

Our upper-level courses provide much of this background, acquaint the students with the peer-reviewed literature, have them produce their own research project, and give them insights into their faculty member’s own research in a particular field of economics. Many of the students interested in graduate school undertake an honors project. We also mentor those students interested in proceeding on to graduate school, and provide other relevant information on our departmental web page.