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HBX Business Blog

5 Things You Didn't Learn in Undergrad Economics

Posted by HBX on January 17, 2017 at 2:55 PM


Many prospective students ask us whether it is worthwhile to take HBX CORe if they have a background in business economics. With a number of economics majors on the HBX staff, we found this question especially interesting, so we've rounded up five things we teach in HBX CORe that weren't a part of our undergraduate education.

Willingness to Pay

In a typical undergrad microeconomics course you may learn a lot about utility, indifference curves, wealth, and substitution effects. But post college – and in CORe – it’s all about Willingness to Pay (WTP). This is the maximum amount someone is willing to pay for a good or service (e.g. my WTP for an UberPool is around $4), but collecting accurate data is easier said than done, as there is often a gap between people's hypothetical and actual WTP.

Market Demand

This brings us to our second point – did you ever learn how to properly measure demand? Two tools in every marketer’s pocket are polls and surveys, but understanding proper poll and survey design is essential to collecting accurate demand information. Most economics courses miss the boat on this one.

Conjoint Analysis

Surveys and polls are one thing, but if you want to dive deeper into demand for specific features you will need to know Conjoint Analysis—a statistical approach to measuring consumer demand for specific product features. This tool will allow you to get at the surprisingly complicated feature and price tradeoffs consumers make every day.

For example, pretend you are Apple Inc. and you want to know what part of the iPhone you should improve; battery life, screen size or camera. A conjoint analysis will let you know which improvement customers care about more and are worth the company’s time and money. 

Cognitive Biases

Undergrad economics makes a lot assumptions on how people behave. It’s often assumed that people are (1) aware of all the different options available to them and (2) that individuals are able to accurately rank the varying options based on their preferences. However, these assumptions often fail, sometimes in meaningful ways.

There are hundreds of examples of cognitive biases that affect our decision making processes. For example, you may rely too heavily on the first piece of information you receive, reducing the value of all subsequent information. Or maybe you only listen to information that confirms you original inclination.

Understanding these cognitive biases is crucial when trying to predict human behavior in the real world.


Business strategy is a field in and of itself, but it is often glossed over by undergraduate programs. If you stick to purely undergrad economics, you may miss out on critical tools and frameworks to develop, maintain and assess different strategies, including Porter’s Five Forces, SWOT Analyses, and Core Competencies.

In short, what sets HBX CORe apart from many undergraduate Economics programs is it's focus on applicability and real-world situations. We don't just want students to be able to memorize concepts and formulas, we want them to be able to solve problems, inform strategies, and execute ideas that will help move their organizations forward.

Interested in learning Financial Accounting, Business Analytics, and Economics for Managers?

Learn more about HBX CORe

Topics: HBX CORe, HBX Insights