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Hi, I’m currently in my first year of A-levels considering doing either Maths or Economics at hopefully a top university. I think I would be both competent and interested in either subject, so I’d like to choose based on which would best enable me to do as much good as possible (I’m currently a longtermist). I don’t expect there’s a definite answer, but any advice on how to evaluate this would be greatly appreciated.

I provide details of my personal situation below, but generalisable answers will be good too for other readers in the future.


More details:

I tend to be very interested in every subject, and for this reason I’m normally good at them too, however I have particular natural ability in maths.

I’m taking Maths, Further Maths, Economics, and Politics - although I’m likely to drop Politics (since I get the impression that it makes little difference for applying to Maths at uni and I’m a slow worker). (I may replace Politics with Spanish since I have learnt it to a pretty high level already.)

I get good grades - 9s and 8s at GCSE, and I haven’t been properly examined yet but seem to be doing very well in all of my A-levels and I’m aiming for A*s.

My main issue is speed of work, which is mostly fine for Maths, but is a problem for essay subjects. For GCSEs I managed to increase my pace enough to do well, so hopefully I should be able to do the same for A-levels/uni.

(Also I have never learnt to code, so unfortunately I have no idea whether AI work would be a good fit for me, but it would be nice to keep that option open.)


I don’t have a good understanding of what switching subjects is like, so it would also be great to hear whether starting with Maths with plans to potentially switch to Economics is a good idea compared to starting with Economics straight off.

Anything else I haven’t considered is very welcome too.

Thanks so much!




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My impression is it is relatively easy to do a PhD in econ after a maths undergrad (possibly even preferred); it is basically impossible to do a maths PhD after an econ undergrad.

With that being the case, do you think there are even any benefits to doing Economics from the start rather than Maths?

Well, it depends on what your objectives are! If you wanted to be a politician or an investment banker econ would likely be better. People might find it easier to help you if you shared some details about your goals. You mentioned AI briefly; maths would almost certainly be much better for that.

Transient Altruist
The thing is I really don’t have any specific objectives/goals. It sounds like Maths is best for keeping options open, so I suppose I should do that and narrow down later.
Well, as someone who also had to choose between maths and econ, I can at least tell you that I chose maths.
Karthik Tadepalli
The benefits would come if you are more interested in econ than in math. I'm doing an econ PhD and if I had done a math undergrad I would have gouged my eyes out.
Transient Altruist
Ah yes I forgot about that. Considering I’m personally equally able/willing to do Maths, things seem to be lining up to say that Maths gives much of the same benefits as Econ but keeps more options open.

I'm unfamiliar with the GCSE or unis system, but based on my 3-minute online search, I would also recommend maths + further maths instead of economics.

If I had to guess, unis will require you to take maths for higher-level economics courses anyways. Either the knowledge or credit will transfer when you get to unis.

Definitely math not economics. Once you understand a bit of multivariable real analysis (which would not be until towards the end of undergrad unless you're very advanced), you can start learning some economic theory or econometrics. 

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