Having a bachelor's degree in economics gives you a solid foundation to start many different careers. An economics graduate can, for instance, work in urban planning and use those quantitative and analytical skills to help revitalize metropolitan communities. That same economics graduate could become a business forecaster and help growing businesses maximize that growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median wages in 2018 were more than $50 per hour for economists.
We've put together a list of the 20 best small colleges for economics majors on a budget. In order to land a spot on our list, the colleges had to meet the following standards:
- A minimum of two relevant programs for students seeking a bachelor's degree in economics or a related area
- Overall undergraduate graduation rate of at least 50%
- Estimated annual costs (as reported by College Navigator) of less than $32,000 a year
Eager to learn who's #1? Start your journey to find the perfect college here.
Each of these top schools has a minimum of two relevant programs for students seeking a bachelor's degree in economics or a related area (including but not limited to political economy, social development and economics, and quantitative Finance). In addition, they each maintain an overall undergraduate graduation rate of at least 50%.
Of course, to be a best value, these top-ranked schools also have to demonstrate a genuine commitment to affordable education – which means meeting our net price requirements. All of the programs on this ranking have estimated annual costs (as reported on College Navigator) of less than $32,000 a year. But which of these is the most affordable small college for an economics degree? Scroll down to #1 to find out!
For more information on the methodology, click here.
20. Occidental College
Los Angeles, CA
Graduates of Occidental College are in good company: Barack Obama graduated with the class of â83. But Oxy has more to offer than big-name alumni, including a strong economics program that ambitious students can complete in three years (assuming they passed relevant AP courses in high school). But those AP exams may be the last multiple choice tests you take for quite a while. That's because professors at Oxy focus more on problem-solving and essay-writing, and they will expect you to demonstrate critical thinking and analytic skills. That being said, this top small economics school requires all econ majors to complete a comprehensive exam during their senior year. You can also graduate with honors by writing and defending a research-based thesis paper.
Net Price: $31,645/yr
19. Carleton College
Located in charming small-town Minnesota, Carleton provides its econ majors with a wealth of resources and support. Although students don't declare majors until the end of sophomore year, budding economists can follow the first-year course guide to get a head start on their graduation requirements. Once you've declared a major, small classes and a departmental advisor ensure a personalized experience. And Carleton's two economics-specific study-abroad options — one in Cambridge, England, and the other in Bangladesh — make this one of the best small colleges for economics majors who want to make sure their degree includes an international component. As you prepare for graduation, the school's robust career center and Pathways program are available to help you plan for the future.
Net Price: $31,568/yr
18. Hampden-Sydney College
If you're looking for hands-on experience as you attend college for an economics degree, Hampden-Sydney's TigerFund will surely pique your interest. The school designated a special equities portfolio for use by its econ majors, who have sole management of the fund's investments. Faculty advisors are on hand for advice, but ultimately leave decisions up to the students. Other options include multiple research fellowships and an entrepreneurship program that's particularly well-suited for undergrads who select the Entrepreneurship career track within the major. On the other hand, students with more traditional career goals may prefer the Banking and Finance track. Outside the classroom, extracurricular activities like the pre-business society and the business ethics program help ensure a well-rounded education.
Net Price: $30,314/yr
17. Rhodes College
Rhodes earns its spot on this top college economics programs ranking thanks in part to its relatively high number of econ programs. In addition to more typical courses, such as mathematics, Rhodes offers an interdisciplinary program in international studies. Program participants take nearly as many international relations courses as they do economics courses, and they study a foreign language at least through their sophomore year. If you're concerned about your graduation prospects, you can rest easy knowing that fully 98% of Rhodes' graduating class is already employed or in grad school full-time.
Net Price: $29,659/yr
16. The College of Wooster
Among similar affordable small college economics programs, Wooster is one of the only schools to require a year-long rigorous independent study project. The college consistently receives accolades as a top research institute for undergrads, and its individualized coursework is a big part of that reputation. Through independent learning, students acquire valuable skills – in data analysis, communication, and decision-making, for example – that easily transfer to the workplace. Econ majors work alongside a faculty advisor to complete the project but seem to have few restrictions when it comes to picking a topic. Recent subjects have included everything from estimating the supply curve for human organs to looking at the efficiency of Islamic banks in Malaysia.
Net Price: $28,038/yr
15. Washington & Jefferson College
Econ majors at Washington and Jefferson can bring more focus to their degrees by choosing one of a few emphasis areas, such as economic development. This option provides a broad view of the topic, highlighting both emerging economies and more affluent nations. Fulfilling the requirements for an emphasis is relatively painless: you need take only three to four additional courses, some of which do double-duty and also count as a required elective for the econ major. All of these points make Washington and Jefferson a top college for an economics degree that includes a more targeted area of study.
Net Price: $27,315/yr
14. Smith College
Smith's location in Northampton, Massachusetts, mean that its all-female student body enjoys a quintessentially New England college experience. But it also gives undergrads the opportunity to enroll in courses at the other four nearby schools that are part of the Five College Consortium. Smith's econ majors, for example, can learn about Buddhist economics at Hampshire or natural resource economics at UMass Amherst. Thanks to this collaboration between colleges, Smith's undergrads enjoy all the perks of a top small economics school while having easy access to a broad range of courses. And if you're eager to participate in an off-campus semester, the school offers a social sciences-focused program in Washington, DC, that is popular with politically-minded econ majors.
Net Price: $26,318/yr
13. Pitzer College
If protecting the natural world is one of your priorities, Pitzer's focus on environmentalism could mean this is the school for you. Pitzer frames the study of economics in terms of "the limited resources available to us on this Earth," and the overall goal is to pursue social outcomes rather than personal success. This unique option for environmentally-minded undergrads is part of what helps Pitzer stand out on this college economics programs ranking. But if you want to study economics alongside another field (environmental analysis, for example), Pitzer's combined major presents another great option. Participants need to complete fewer upper-level econ classes, instead focusing on courses that reflect the intersection of their two fields.
Net Price: $26,288/yr
12. Trinity College
San Antonio, TX
At Trinity, econ students can choose from six concentrations. These affordable small college economics programs range from theoretical economics to economics and law, giving students the opportunity to narrowly focus their undergrad degree to prepare for a specific career or graduate program. But if you envision a future on Wall Street, the interdisciplinary Bachelor of Science in Mathematical Finance may be a better fit. But no matter which major or concentration you choose, you'll benefit from one of Trinity's hallmark programs: the Nobel Economists Lecture Series, which brings Nobel Prize-winning economists to campus. It's a unique opportunity to hear from some of the world's most influential economists.
Net Price: $26,165/yr
11. Augsburg College
Minneapolis-based Augsburg College has lots to offer, from its six economics majors to expansive opportunities for conducting research. Not only does the senior-year capstone seminar require students to participate in economic analysis, but it offers ambitious undergrads the chance to present their work at one of many national conferences. If you'd like to conduct more intensive research with a professor, this top small college for economics majors can provide funding for research grants and assistantships. In recent years, Augsburg has partnered with prestigious institutions like the Mayo Clinic to offer econ majors high-profile research opportunities.
Net Price: $25,760/yr
10. Lafayette College
For nearly 200 years, Lafayette College has been proud to foster intellectual freedom and growth in its student body. In that spirit, its economics department encourages undergrads to work with their advisors to create a customized course of study. Thanks to this option, Lafayette is a great small college for economics majors who could benefit from an interdisciplinary education (and/or have career plans in a nontraditional field). It's also a solid choice if you're interested in academic-related extracurricular activities. Econ majors can participate in team-driven problem-solving efforts, join the economics honor society, or even manage a stock portfolio with the student-led investment club.
Net Price: $24,993/yr
9. Barnard College
New York, NY
Aspiring urbanites, take note: Barnard provides all the advantages of a top small economics school right in the middle of New York City. This women's college offers four economics majors, including the unique degree in economics and social history. The program includes courses in a broad range of topics and ultimately seeks to contextualize historical changes and movements within their economic and social settings. Fittingly, students in this program must complete quite a few history electives, through which they can focus their studies on a particular geographical region. All economics degrees wrap up with a senior thesis or research project, and students have access to nearby Columbia University thanks to a partnership between the two institutions.
Net Price: $23,741/yr
8. Austin College
This affordable college for an economics degree is located just north of Dallas, giving its econ majors easy access to a large city for research or internships. And Austin College encourages undergrads to pursue these opportunities by offering the Individual Study Off-Campus program, through which econ majors design an internship that meets their interests. The college even sets aside an entire month – known as January Term – for students to complete their work experiences. Those who have not arranged internships can spend the month conducting independent research or participating in another hands-on project. Either way, you'll benefit from this unique chance to take a deep-dive into the major without devoting a full semester to an off-campus program.
Net Price: $23,690/yr
7. Illinois Institute of Technology
If the idea of studying economics through the lens of technology appeals to you, take a look at the Illinois Institute of Technology. The Bachelor of Science in Social and Economic Development Policy combines a focus on promoting global change with access to the school's scientists and engineers — the folks who often play a part in global development. Participants in this top small college economics program must specialize in either emerging economies or advanced economies as they explore the financial ramifications of globalization. Your degree wraps up with the Interprofessional Project, an opportunity to solve a real-world problem with classmates from other disciplines. Projects typically fall into one of three categories: service, sustainability, or entrepreneurship.
Net Price: $23,371/yr
6. Bowdoin College
Bowdoin earns its spot as one of the best small economics schools for many reasons – and though we may not have considered its 9:1 student-teacher ratio or well-educated faculty in this ranking, they certainly don't hurt Bowdoin's reputation! Economics courses in particular never exceed 40 students, which means that you'll have ample opportunities to work closely with professors. Econ majors can opt for the traditional economics program or earn a joint mathematics-economics degree, the latter of which provides valuable preparation for graduate study. And if you're interested in pursuing a career in banking, you might select a minor in economics and finance.
Net Price: $23,156/yr
5. Colgate University
Colgate is one of the few schools on this college economics programs ranking to offer a major in environmental economics. Participants take courses in both economics and environmental studies and put the two together as they analyze environmental issues through economic principles. The interdisciplinary approach is what helps make this such a strong program, and graduates have gone on to pursue careers in both traditional economics fields and sustainability-focused areas. But students in both disciplines benefit equally from the university's economics seminar series, which brings speakers to campus a few times a month. You'll also enjoy access to the prestigious London Economics Study Group, an off-campus program that Colgate initiated in 1962.
Net Price: $21,741/yr
4. Williams College
Established in 1793, Williams provides a liberal arts education in the Berkshires, just about halfway between Boston and New York City. The school cites economics as one of its most popular majors, and it's easy to see why: Williams punches above its weight in terms of research opportunities. Participants in this affordable small college economics program benefit from professors who consistently publish high-quality papers, and the school is an organizing member of a regional development economics forum. Econ majors can choose from unique courses like Water as a Scarce Resource, Gender Economics, and The Economics of Higher Education. If you're looking for a small-college experience with the resources of a larger research university, Williams could be a great fit.
Net Price: $21,546/yr
3. Hillsdale College
Hillsdale stands out on this top college economics programs ranking in a few ways. First, the school requires all students to complete a core curriculum (which includes reading the same books) during their freshman and sophomore years. For econ majors, the next step includes a firm introduction to the free-market perspective, and coursework relies heavily on works by the Austrian school. And as with all true liberal arts schools, Hillsdale sponsors an approach to learning that emphasizes critical thinking and interdisciplinary themes. As an econ major, this means you can expect to wrestle with real-life problems and consider big-picture outcomes in many of your classes – all while enjoying the strong support of your peers and professors, of course!
Net Price: $21,201/yr
2. Colorado College
Colorado Springs, CO
Colorado College's unique block plan will immerse you in just one class at a time, for three and a half weeks each. It's an intense experience based in small group discussion and personal interactions with professors. This learning model also provides flexibility, and it is not uncommon for departments to organize daylong or even week-long field trips. And as a top small college for economics majors, CC makes sure that program members receive a thorough education. In addition to a general concentration, you have your choice of emphases in Mathematical Economics or International Political Economy (which you can easily pair with a study abroad program) – all three of which culminate in a thesis during senior year.
Net Price: $21,027/yr
1. Ave Maria University
Ave Maria, FL
The only Catholic school on this list, Ave Maria brings its religious identity to bear on all its courses of study. As such, this top college for an economics degree teaches economics with a focus on how it relates to the human experience. Classes like The Study of Family and Society attempt to understand these phenomena through the lens of economics, and all econ majors must study Catholic social thought. Students can put theory into practice at the Stein Center for Social Research, an interdisciplinary institute that addresses social issues like poverty and religious trends. Finally, Ave Maria provides no shortage of opportunities to participate in internships, many of which are closely tied to the Catholic tradition.
Net Price: $18,800/yr
Want to find out exactly how much it will cost for you to attend one of these affordable small college economics programs? Check out the U.S. Department of Education's Net Price Calculator Center.