Because we hear about "the economy" in the news so often, many people have the misconception that economics is simply the study of business or making money. While this can be close to the truth in some cases, economics more broadly is a study of making decisions under conditions of scarcity, whether in terms of limited time, money, or other resources. Economics encompasses everything from the microeconomics of a personal decision about grocery shopping to the macroeconomics concepts used to describe the aggregated decision-making of entire populations.
Indeed, economics has many useful concepts that we can use to better understand how we approach various decisions in our daily lives, regardless of whether money is involved. The concept of "opportunity cost" describes the lost gains from one alternative that we sacrifice when we choose another; for example, if you decide to major in economics, one opportunity cost is losing the ability to major in engineering instead.
Of course, the ability of economics to explain and predict decision-making is particularly powerful in the realm of business. The concept of "competitive advantage," for example, guides companies to focus their business on products and services that they can provide either at a lower cost or with a higher value than their competitors. This is still a core concept for entrepreneurs, who must clearly define their competitive advantage as well as their strategy for preserving it to raise funding from venture capital or other investors.
The myriad applications of economic thought have led to the creation of many more specific subfields, such as project economics, behavioral economics, environmental economics, and others. But at the end of the day, they are all united by a focus on decision-making with constraints - regardless of what the limited resources are.
A background in economics can be a gateway to a number of interesting -- and often, high-paying -- careers. The ability to analyze the factors driving economic decision-making is a hugely valuable skill, whether employed in the public or private sector.
Banks, hedge funds, institutional investors, and a wide range of other financial institutions employ economists in roles such as financial analysts, investment analysts, and pricing analysts to help evaluate the risks and potential returns of investments. Government researchers in economics do similar work, helping to arm policymakers with the information they need about trends in the national as well as global economy.
Some students of economics prefer more detail-oriented career paths. For example, accountants use their expertise in allocating the revenues and expenses of different business activities over time to help companies make critical resource allocation decisions. And in the world of insurance, an actuary is responsible for quantifying risk -- an indispensable role in helping businesses manage uncertainty.
Regardless of whether you prefer to contemplate big picture questions of the global economy or more specialized questions about how to classify and attribute different business costs, careers in economics require the ability to combine quantitative analysis and qualitative evaluations.
Coursera offers a wealth of opportunities to develop your skills in the field of economics, regardless of your level of expertise and your area of focus.
No matter what your goals are for your education and career, taking online courses, Specializations, and Guided Projects in economics through Coursera offers distinct advantages. You can get an education from high-quality institutions like Columbia University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of California, Irvine, at a significantly lower cost than on-campus students. The ability to take courses online also allows you to fit learning into your existing schedule, giving you the flexibility to build your skills while continuing to work at your current job or raising a family.