Are you considering pursuing a degree in economics? If you think you might enjoy collecting and analyzing date, researching trends, and evaluating economic issues as they relate to the production and distribution of resources, goods, and services; then you may be well-suited for a career in this field. The field also pays well, in general. Economists can work in wide variety of environments including for the federal government, state government, scientific research and development services, and finance and insurance companies. They can also often find employment with management, scientific, and technical consulting firms.
Earning an economics degree can open many doors that lead to a wide variety of career opportunities. It’s not uncommon for graduates to find work in banking, accountancy, business, finance consultancy, actuarial and data analysis, and the public sector.
Why Get an Economics Degree?
Economics is generally defined as a social science that studies the ways people interact with the production, distribution, and consumption of both goods and services. The data obtained from analyzing this information is highly valuable and has become an integral part of how society today works. In fact, most governments, international agencies, corporations, and banks rely on information provided by economics professionals in order to function successfully.
There are two primary categories of economics: microeconomics and macroeconomics. The main different between these two types is scale. Microeconomics assesses interactions between individuals and business, often functioning as a driving factor in price levels due to supply and demand. Macroeconomics, on the other hand, deals primarily with governmental and country-wide data, which is utilized most when creating economic and fiscal policies. While distinct, it’s important to realize that there are a number of issues that often overlap between the two fields.
Economics Degree Options
Earning a degree in economics can be extremely beneficial. Graduates often have a high level of mathematical and statistical skill, as well as the ability to apply relevant economic principles to a variety of fields. They are also likely to be skilled in communication, problem solving, and analytics.
Because the field of economics is so expansive and significant to society, it’s extremely easy to find employment within almost every industry, domestically and internationally. Earning this type of degree is particularly beneficial for individuals interested in working within the government. Additionally, those in economics-related careers typically enjoy enhanced job security, as employers are unlikely to ever cut these important and influential positions. There are also numerous ways to specialize in various facets of economics and there are always opportunities for future promotion in the field.
There are many different types of positions available in the economics field. Some are more specialized than others, but all require a higher education degree. Options include associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. In some situations, a Master of Business Administration in economics is optimal. Each degree level offers its own set of benefits, career opportunities, and drawbacks.
While often considered a good starting point for those exploring the field, an associate degree in economics is generally insufficient for most career purposes. Most employers require entry-level candidates to have, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree. As a result, associate programs are most commonly used to prepare students for further education at a higher level. Graduates can attain the necessary knowledge needed to pursue enrollment at four-year institutions and transfer any completed credits. It’s important, however, to verify that the associate degree program is properly accredited, as senior institutions may not accept the coursework otherwise.
Every college is different, so program requirements and prerequisites tend to vary. Most community institutions have open enrollment, so as long as candidates meet the minimum requirements they should be admitted. Applications are generally simple to fill out and may be submitted online. It’s common for schools to request an application fee, but these may be waived for those demonstrating financial need. Candidates must also have a diploma or GED equivalent, and will likely need to supply a copy of their high school transcripts. However, standardized tests, such as the SAT and ACT, are rarely required at this level.
The majority of associate degree programs in economics focus on introducing students to the fundamentals of the field. Coursework is likely to focus on important economic trends, principles, and how to apply them, as well as how inflation and unemployment can impact the overall value of money in society. Additionally, students must complete a selection of general education courses including communications, mathematics, humanities, English composition, history, and science. Associate degree programs in economics usually consist of 60 credit hours and take most full-time students about two years to complete.
- Introduction to Econometrics
- Principles of Macroeconomics
- Principles of Microeconomics
- Environmental Economics
- Elementary Statistics
- Financial Accounting
- Economic Geography
- World Economy
As previously mentioned, an associate degree is unlikely to qualify graduates for employment in the field. It may, however, be enough to earn an entry-level, business-related position at some companies.
The minimum level of education candidates need for employment in the field of economics is a bachelor’s degree. However, a master’s is generally considered optimal. Graduates will likely qualify for entry-level positions. This means that, while valuable and necessary for career advancement, a bachelor’s degree may still be considered the first step towards meeting the education requirements of the field.
It’s important to review all college and university requirements and prerequisites for admittance carefully, as they can vary. Most institutions, however, will require candidate to submit a completed application and accompanying application fee. Additionally, they must hold a diploma or GED equivalent, as well as have a minimum GPA. Standardized tests are also commonly required, with schools requesting the submission of SAT and/or ACT scores.
Bachelor degrees in economics usually consist of 120 credit hours and take most full-time students about two years to complete. Most programs focus on teaching students the fundamentals of both microeconomic and macroeconomics. Coursework is likely to cover commerce and finance as it relates to individuals and businesses, as well as national and global entities. As with most liberal arts education degrees, general education courses are also necessary to graduate. Additionally, students may have opportunities to participate in internships, but this is rarely required. While most colleges and universities do now allow undergraduates to select an economics concentration, elective courses are often available in related topics such as international economics, corporate economics, environmental economics, and banking and forecasting.
- Financial Markets
- Financial Economics
- International Trade
- Public Policy
- Economics Management
- Behavioral Economics
- Technology in Economics
- Economic Development
- Labor Economics
- International Economics
As previously mentioned, a master’s degree is often preferred by employers for most jobs in the field. It may be possible, however, to obtain an entry-level position working in for some businesses or federal government agencies. The following careers are just some of the options available to graduates.
- Management Consultant
- Research Assistant
- Market Research Analyst
- Sales Analyst
- Budget Analyst
- Operations Research Analyst
The most desirable jobs in economics tend to require a master’s degree or higher. This option is optimal for professionals seeking further development of their skills and who wish to advance their careers. Completing a graduate-level program will also provide a competitive advantage during the job search process, making it easier to find higher-paying employment. It’s common for graduates to earn larger salaries than those with lower-level degrees.
College and university requirements and prerequisites for admittance can vary, so students must research each institution’s regulations carefully. Most require every candidate to submit a completed application and accompanying application fee, as well as a statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, and resume. Additionally, students must have an undergraduate degree and official transcripts. While the bachelor’s does not necessarily have to be in economics, institutions will likely require certain prerequisite courses. These are likely to include classes focusing on economic theory, statistics, and calculus. A minimum GPA is also often needed, as well as GRE test scores that meet the school’s threshold for admission.
Master’s degrees in economics usually consist of 60 credit hours and take most full-time students about two years to complete. The goal is generally to equip students with the skills and knowledge necessary to pursue advanced positions in the field and/or admittance into doctorate-level programs. Coursework often centers on training students to utilize current economic tools, models, and principles to better analyze data in order to create accurate forecasts, reports, and strategies. Because most general education courses will have been completed at lower levels, many colleges and universities offer concentrations. Selecting a concentration can help tailor the academic experience and prepare students for more specialized employment in the future. Common options include data analytics, financial economics, public policy, spatial economics, and international economics. Additionally, students may be required to complete a capstone research experience.
- Econometrics Research Methods
- Game Theory
- International Trade
- Macroeconomic Theory
- Microeconomic Theory
- Economic Development
- History of Economics
- Economics Research Methods
- Corporate Finance
- Mathematical Methods for Analysis
Those holding master’s in economics are likely to find work in a variety of different sectors, such as government, corporate, academic, and non-profit. Industries that frequently hire graduates include banking, health, law, environmental, energy, education, and agriculture. Below are just some options.
- Policy Analyst
- Market Research Analyst
- Financial Manager
- Political Scientist
- Survey Researcher
- Urban or Regional Planner
Graduates with a bachelor’s degree may also choose to obtain a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in economics. While the core portion of the degree focuses on business administration, most of the elective courses deal with economics. Graduates develop a deeper understanding of various business topics in relation to economic principles. This option is ideal for individuals who already plan to utilize their degrees to work in corporate and commercial settings. Ultimately, an MBA in economics provides a targeted education and a competitive advantage during the job search process, especially for jobs related to global markets, local economies, public policy, consumer behavior, pricing indices, and purchasing power.
MBAs are technically master’s degrees, so these programs will have many of the same admission requirements and prerequisites as mentioned in the section above. Candidates must have an undergraduate degree, although not necessarily one in economics. Certain content-related classes may, however, need to be taken to qualify. They must also be prepared to provide a completed application, application fee, transcripts, statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, resume, and GRE test score. Most institutions will require a minimum GPA and GRE test score for admittance.
Most MBA in economics programs consist of approximately 60 credit hours and take full-time students about two years to complete. They are primarily business degrees, but with a few economics-specific elective classes included. The core coursework often covers how businesses work and what skills are most important to ensure they are successful. These degrees are often interdisciplinary, providing an examination of a wide range of areas such as accounting, marketing, information technology, communication, leadership, and ethics. The remaining elective courses are then economics-related. Additionally, students may be required to complete comprehensive research or capstone project.
- Business Communications
- Global Business
- Business Law
- Principles of Economics
- Math and Statistics for Economics
Individuals with an MBA in economics are able to apply large economic concepts to business management issues, making them highly valuable in a wide variety of settings. Professionals with this level of education often take on leadership roles, such as supervisors, managers, and heads of department.
- Pricing Analyst
- Global Manager
- Financial Analyst
- Management Consultant
- Economic Forecaster
- Market Research Consultant
A doctoral degree is not required for most jobs in economics, but earning one can be extremely beneficial. They are particularly important for individuals interested in conducting research that has the potential for impacting academic and/or policy. Graduates are often considered economic think-tanks and are frequently pursued by various government departments and international organizations. They have a broad set of tools for understanding and analyzing social world trends, evaluating causes, and identifying possible interventions. PhD holders are well-regarded and highly desired by prospective employers.
Depending on the institution, doctoral and PhD candidates must have a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree prior to applying for admittance. While this does not necessarily need to be in economics, students will need to meet certain course prerequisites. These will vary, but are likely to include coursework in intermediate macroeconomics and intermediate microeconomics. Additionally, students must possess a minimum GPA on all prior classwork to qualify. Submission materials include an application form and fee, statement of purpose, transcripts, GRE scores, letters of recommendations, and resume.
In most cases, doctoral degree programs consist of between 90 and 120 credit hours and take full-time students five to seven years to complete. They are also often campus-based, so finding an online option may be challenging. The curriculum often depends on the student’s chosen concentration area. Occasionally, programs can be adapted to suit specific career goals. Most, however, are designed to provide graduates with the skills necessary to analyze economic reports, research fiscal and policy effects, and make accurate economic forecasts. It’s not uncommon for students to take both a written and oral examination prior to graduating, and many are required to teach at least one undergraduate class while enrolled. Almost every PhD program culminates with a dissertation.
- Corporate Finance
- History of Economic Theory
- Statistical Research Methods
- Industrial Economics
- Organizational Economic Theory
- Behavioral Economics
Those who graduate with a doctorate or PhD in economics generally have one of two career goals: conducting research in economics academia or providing economics research data to a non-academic sector (i.e. government, international organization, or non-profit). In either position, these professionals have significant advocacy potential and have the ability to influence policy through their research.
- Postsecondary Economy Professor
- Financial Manager
- Urban or Regional Planner
The total cost of attendance can vary quite a lot. Determining factors include institution type, degree earned, location, and residency status. Public schools tend to be less expensive, but they do charge more for students from out-of-state. Each college and university sets a tuition based on its operational expenses and endowments can also have an impact. More specific information pertaining to the anticipated yearly cost of admittance at a college or university can usually be found on institutional websites.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of attending a two-year, public college during the 2017-2018 academic year was $10,281. Earning the same degree from a private institution cost an average of $25,596. Students enrolled in traditional, public, undergraduate degree programs paid, on average, a total of $20,050 during the same time frame. The average cost for a single year at a private four-year institution was $43,139.
Graduate and doctorate-level degrees are often priced differently. One master’s degree in one field can cost more or less than another master’s degree in another field offered at the same college or university. Students can generally expect to pay around $20,000 per year, but this can vary significantly, with some institutions charging over $60,000 per year. Doctorate and PhD students typically pay between $28,000 and $40,000 a year, an amount that can add up quickly over five to seven years of additional education.
It is important to keep in mind that there are financial aid options available. Students can apply for scholarships, grants, and loans to help cover the cost of attending college. Additionally, many individuals seeking master’s and doctorate-level degrees are able to qualify for funding that covers much or all of their studies.
Certifications and Licensing in Economics
There are numerous certifications economics majors and professionals can consider pursuing once a degree has been obtained. While none are necessarily required, most can be extremely beneficial.
Some of the most commonly sought-after options include:
- Certified Business Economist (CBE):
The National Association for Business Economics (NABE) manages the Certified Business Economist (CBE) certification, which focuses on applied economics and data analytics. The program is designed to bridge the gap between the information obtained in an academic setting and the knowledge needed to be successful in the professional world.
- Certified Economic Developer (CEcD):
The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) manages the Certified Economic Developer Program (CEcD. This certification serves as an international acknowledgement that a professional has achieved the pinnacle of excellence within the field of economic development.
- Chartered Economist (ChE):
The Association of Certified Chartered Economists (ACCE) manages the Chartered Economist (ChE) Certification program, which is designed to prepare students for a challenging career. Participants are provided with the key business acumen required to make better business decision and execute strategies that align with various economic and financial goals.
- Economic Development Finance Professional:
The National Development Council (NDC) manages the Economic Development Finance Professional (EDFP) Certification Program, a four-course training exploring essential skills needed to practice economic development. Areas covered include business credit and real estate finance analysis techniques, loan packaging procedures, and problem-solving skills.
It’s important to realize that nearly all certifications have continuing education requirements. In order to keep current, certain educational regulations must be met. Expectations and deadlines vary, so research guidelines thoroughly to ensure qualifications do not accidently lapse.
Online vs. Traditional Options
Technological advancements make it easier than ever before to earn a degree in economics. Students can choose between on-campus and online academic experiences. Many students choose to earn their economic degrees by attending classes in person at their college or university. This type of learning is available at all educational levels and provides students an opportunity to meet and interact with a variety of like-minded individuals.
While the traditional means of earning a degree is popular, it does not work for everyone. Individuals already working full-time or who have other personal responsibilities at home often find distance learning to be a much more reasonable alternative. Online economics programs offer more flexibility regarding scheduling and do not require students to attend classes in person. A major drawback, however, is that there is very little opportunity to network with professors and peers in the field. This option is, none-the-less, a viable way to prepare for a career in the field.
Some colleges and universities now also offer hybrid economics degree programs. The majority of coursework is still completed online, but students are required to attend short residencies that take place on campus. This provides an opportunity to ask professors questions in person, interact with peers, and network within the field.
Professional Organizations for Economics
Many economics professionals continue their development by joining professional organizations. There are numerous options available and each offers a wide variety of great benefits to current practitioners and students alike. Those enrolled in degree programs generally receive discounted membership rates and can still take advantage of all the associated perks.
While the specific member benefits vary from group to group, some of the most common reasons for joining a professional organization include easy and unlimited access to economics-related tools and resources, conferencing and networking opportunities, free or discounted continued education courses, and a safe space for idea-sharing.
Some of the most popular economics organizations and associations include:
American Economic Association (AEA)
American Economic Association (AEA) members receive online access to AEA journals, discounts on continuing education courses, ability to submit papers to be considered for presentation at the annual meeting, and first-alert news and announcements.
World Economics Association (WEA)
Paid members of the World Economics Association (WEA) receive unlimited access to all WEA eBooks, economic journals, bi-monthly newsletters, and blogs. They can also attend organizational conferences and participate in the WEA Young Economists Network.
National Association for Business Economics (NABE)
Members of the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) receive access to the latest economic news and updates, the NABE database, continued education certificate programs, and economic surveys. They can also participate in roundtables, attend conferences, and search for employment.
What Does an Economist Do?
Economists are often responsible for studying the production and distribution of resources, goods, and services by collecting and analyzing data, researching current trends, and evaluating relevant economic issues. These professional must be familiar with qualitative and quantitative analysis and should be able to apply both forms to a variety of different fields. The analytics they provide are often utilized in politics, finance, business, education, health, and environmental studies/practices.
Their duties can vary, but commonly include:
- Conducting surveys and collecting data
- Analyzing data received with mathematical models, statistical techniques, and computer software
- Presenting key research results
- Interpreting and forecasting economic and market trends
- Advising governments, businesses, and individuals on various economic topics
- Recommending potential solutions to current and projected economic problems
- Writing articles for academic journals
There are a number of career options for individuals who possess a degree in economics. Job titles, responsibilities, and salaries can vary significantly.
Some of the most prominent econ positions and salaries include:
- Economist - $77,809
- Marketing Research Analyst - $53,713
- Actuary - $96,515
- College Professor - $88,259
- Statistician - $74,261
- Mathematician - $71,216
- Political Scientist - $55,989
- Survey Researcher - $58,667
- Financial Analyst - $61,652
- Data Analyst - $61,316
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the College Have an Economics Major?
It’s important to verify that a college or university has the necessary and/or preferred degree options early during the search process. Not every institution offers the same programs and curriculums can vary drastically. Researching these details ahead of time makes it easier to map out academic and career goals. It also ensures students have educational opportunities they want and need most to be successful in their given career.
This is particularly important for students planning to earn secondary majors or minors. Also, individuals seeking master’s and doctorate degrees should confirm which, if any, concentrations are available prior to enrolling. Degree and specialty offerings should be available to view on institution websites.
Accreditation – Regional and Programmatic
Choosing a school and/or program that is appropriately accredited should be a top priority for students. Colleges and universities are not required to seek accreditation, but the most reputable ones choose to anyway. Being accredited indicates that the institution is adhering to important academic standards and serves as a way of letting employers know that the information taught to students is relevant.
Schools that lack accreditation may or may not be meeting regional, national, and/or international academic standards. Graduating from such an institution can be problematic, as most accredited colleges and universities will not accept credit transfers from them. It may also be difficult or impossible to enroll in other higher education programs in the future. Additionally, some employers pay graduates from unaccredited schools less or refuse to hire them at all.
Institutions can seek accreditation from a number of international and regional agencies. There is no major accrediting body for the economics field specifically, but it is still important to select a school accredited by a regional agency. Regional accreditation confirms that all of the college or university’s programs meet the expectations of employers within the region. Graduates should have little difficulty finding employment within the area but may need additional education or certifications if they move to another location.
Regional accreditation organizations include:
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
- North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCACS)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS COC)
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Schools (WASC ACS)
How Long Does it Take to Graduate from an Economics Program?
As previously mentioned, program lengths vary depending on the type of degree sought. Associate and master’s degrees take an average of two years to complete, while bachelor’s degrees can generally be accomplished in four years, and PhDs require up to seven years. It’s important for students to select an option that aligns with their career goals as well as their financial situation. Graduating earlier often means finding employment sooner, which can be beneficial for those who need to begin making money quickly. However, higher-level degrees tend to result in higher-paying jobs.
Prospective undergraduate and graduate students should also take note of accelerated economics programs. Some colleges and universities offer options allowing those enrolled to complete both degrees at the same time. These programs can take less time to complete, generally requiring a total of five years instead of six.
How much do economists make?
According to PayScale, the average annual salary for economists is about $77,800. This is well above the median annual wage of $37,690 for all occupations, as reported by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. In most cases, entry-level professionals can expect to make approximately $59,000 to a year, while seasoned professionals with 20 or more years of experience can expect yearly salaries of up to $124,000.
Should I get an economics degree online?
Many students opt to earn their economics degrees online. This is a completely viable option assuming the institution is properly accredited. The scheduling flexibility offered by these programs can make reaching academic and career goals easier, but some people still prefer the traditional instructional methods offered on college and university campuses. Ultimately, the decision is up to each individual student, as there is little difference in the quality of the education received.
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