The simple definition of the field of economics is the study of wealth production, consumption, and transfer. In professional terms, there are few degrees offering more job flexibility in the financial field than a master’s degree in economics. While a master’s degree in this field is not the highest degree available, it is one that can result in a lucrative and rewarding career.
Economics involves the analysis of large amounts of data to evaluate and monitor economic trends. This information is used to develop forecasts regarding various economic issues including inflation, employment taxes, and business cycles. Economists usually specialize in particular areas, known as concentrations.
Requirements of a Master’s Degree?
A master’s degree is a graduate degree. In order to pursue this advanced degree, the candidate must generally have earned a bachelor’s first. The bachelor’s degree does not necessarily have to be in the same field as the potential master’s degree, but the candidate must meet all prerequisites of any degree program they choose to enter. That may mean taking additional classes in order to achieve eligibility for a master’s program.
A master’s degree in economics generally requires students to complete between 30 and 36 credit hours. If enrolled full-time, that works out to about nine credit hours per semester. Most students can complete a master’s degree in economics within two years. Some programs are designed for completion within 12 to 18 months.
There are also combined undergraduate and master’s economics degrees, in which the student may receive a bachelor’s and master’s degree in their field in five years. For those wishing to pursue a further advanced degree, there are also joint master’s and PhD programs. A master’s in economics also usually requires writing a thesis to obtain the degree. There are some non-thesis degrees available, but these require additional coursework.
Where Do You Earn a Master’s Degree?
You’ll earn a master’s degree in economics from a university, either in-person, online, or in a hybrid program that is a combination of the two. While community colleges do not offer master’s degrees, they are a good way for a student to pursue an interest in economics when working toward an associate degree. Before going on to pursue a master’s degree in economics, the student must have a solid understanding of economic theory as an undergraduate.
Online Vs. Traditional Education in Economics
There are differences between an online degree and an on-campus or in-person master’s degree in economics. The right choice depends on a variety of factors including the candidate’s work schedule, family obligations, and proximity to a university. It may also depend on whether the employer offers tuition reimbursement and any stipulations attached to that.
The nature of economics does lend itself well to an online format at the master’s degree level. While on-campus degrees are traditionally more respected, that is changing as more students decide to pursue their education online and more online options become available from well-respected universities.
In a traditional brick-and-mortar setting, master degree candidates may have better opportunities to interact with professors and network with other students. Both may prove advantageous from both an educational and career perspective. Personal attention is limited in an online format. In a traditional setting, students may also take advantage of the school’s facilities and programs, such as the library or gymnasium.
Flexibility is key when taking courses online. The candidate has the ability to study at their convenience. On-campus classes take place at specific times, and working students may not have the ability to attend them. An online master’s degree is also generally less expensive than one earned on-campus, especially as there are no boarding or traveling expenses.
What are the Admission Requirements?
An undergraduate degree in economics is not a prerequisite for a master’s degree. However, most programs require successful completion of basic mathematics and economics courses. Usually, at least a B average in undergraduate coursework is required for consideration for a master’s program.
Prerequisites for a master’s degree in economics include:
- Academic records from all accredited colleges or universities attended
- Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
- Resume/Curriculum Vitae
- Two or three letters of recommendation
- A personal statement
- Application and fees
Most of these prerequisites are similar to those required for an MBA or other master’s degree program.
Why Earn a Master’s Degree?
A bachelor’s degree in economics can get you started in a good career, but it will not qualify you for the highest-level positions. For those, you must earn a master’s degree. You may find schools offering a dual BS/MS in economics. It is often possible to complete this dual degree within five years.
Economics is the sort of major in which graduate school is usually necessary to advance anywhere in the field. There are few entry-level opportunities for those earning only a bachelor’s degree in economics, and little or no on-the-job training available. Students considering majoring in economics as undergraduates should realize beforehand they will need to become graduate students eventually.
When you earn a master’s degree in economics, you develop very specific skill sets. These particular skill sets are in high demand by employers who need experts in the field. Keep in mind that employment history will also play a role, as employers prefer the combination of relevant employment with a graduate degree.
Why a Degree in Economics?
A master’s degree in economics offers true economic value, as it is one of the highest-paying types of master’s degrees. There are a variety of specializations available at the graduate level. It’s a degree offering a great deal of flexibility in career choices, and excellent marketability.
An economics degree offers transferable skills, as it focuses on everything driving the global marketplace. Some students may have trouble deciding between a degree in finance or economics, and there is some overlap. Keep in mind that earning an economics degree provides more of an education in finance than a finance degree does in economics.
The extent of an economics education has a much broader reach. Economists focus on analysis and policy, which is not the case with finance. Put it this way – economists may find employment in the same institutions as those with finance degrees such as banks, corporations, and multi-national companies, but are often found in think tanks, universities, government, and non-profit organizations. There is simply a better scale of opportunity.
What’s Involved in a Master’s Degree?
Core courses for a master’s degree in economics focus on analytic strategies, industry trends, policy evaluation, and forecasting.
Here are some of the courses you may expect to take:
- Agricultural Economics
- Development Theory
- Financial Economics
- Game Theory
- Health Economics
- Industrial Organization
- International Trade
- Labor Economics
- Law and Economics
- Macroeconomics Theory
- Microeconomics Theory
- Non-market Valuation
- Public Economics
- Statistics for Economists
- Transportation Economics
Concentrations for a master’s degree in economics include:
- Applied Economics
- Behavioral Economics
- Business Economics
- Econometrics and Data Analytics
- Economic Development and Planning
- Economic Forecasting
- Economic History
- Economic Theory
- Financial Management
- Health Economics
- International Economics
- Public Economics
- Qualitative Economics
- Theoretical Economics
- Trade and Global Value Chains
What to Consider When Choosing a Master’s Program in Economics
Choose a program offering the concentration in which you are interested.
Economics requires conducting a great deal of research. Put those research skills to use when determining which master’s program best suits your needs and goals.
Accreditation is a vital part of choosing a school for a master’s program in economics. Applicants know whether the institution meets the minimum standards required, and whether any previous credits earned are transferable. Only consider schools accredited by the Council on Higher Education (CHEA).
Its regional accrediting agencies include:
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- New England Commission of Higher Education
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Commission of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
- WASC Senior College and University Commission
Accrediting agencies specifically covering economics includes the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International). Only 5% of business schools globally receive this prestigious accreditation.
Further Economics Education
An MBA with a focus on economics is a good alternative to a master’s degree in economics. For those who are not certain they want to devote their careers to economics per se, an MBA serves as a more general graduate business degree. While the MBA student can focus on economics, it is not the primary course of study.
Length of study and completion costs are similar for both degrees. As noted, so are prerequisites. An MBA offers more professional flexibility overall, especially if the student would like to take on a managerial role. An MBA may make more sense than a master’s degree in economics if the student does not have a strong background in mathematics.
Doctorate or PhD
It can take between five and seven years to earn a doctorate in economics. It’s among the more difficult doctorates to earn. Besides an intense interest in economic theories and models, a PhD candidate must possess excellent math skills. The majority of those pursuing a PhD in this field focus on academic careers. Academic careers may involve teaching or research.
However, these candidates are also in demand in the corporate sphere and higher-level government agencies where the person may help determine policy. Some earning doctorates in economics become consultants in the financial markets, where they can potentially earn huge amounts of money. Someone with the skill set to complete a doctoral program in economics can work in virtually any sector, since statistics and analysis form the basis of decision making.
In the field of economics, certifications are less important than earning a graduate degree. However, there are certifications most economists will earn and that are necessary for particular career paths.
- Certified Economic Developer:
This is the most prestigious certification for those working as economic developers. Overseen by the International Economic Development Council, candidates must have worked full-time in the economic development field for at least four years for consideration. Applicants must complete four training courses along with two elective courses. Successful completion of the training courses ensures that the candidate has a deep, fundamental knowledge of economic development. The elective courses permit the candidate to pursue the disciplines with which they are most concerned. There is an oral component to the exam, in which applicants must demonstrate their economic development experience. Recertification takes place every three years.
- Chartered Economist:
This was the first certification offered in the economics field. Applicants must hold an accredited master’s degree in either economics or financial economics, along with a minimum of three years of work in economics or finance. Those passing the examination become board-certified in economics or certified economic policy analysts. Certification is offered by the Chartered Certified Economists USA Certification Board ™, part of the Global Academy of Finance and Management.
- Certified Public Accountant:
Requirements for becoming a CPA depend on the jurisdiction, which includes the 50 states, Washington, D.C., Guam, the Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. All jurisdictions require a bachelor’s degree with 150 hours of coursework to sit for the exam. States specify the number of hours necessary in accounting-related studies for exam eligibility. The types and level of courses will vary by state. Someone with a master’s degree in economics would still have to fulfill all accounting and business course requirements to take the certification exam.
- Project Management Professional:
Project managers with PMP certification earn more than those without this credential. The Project Management Institute offers a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® and Project Management Professional (PMP). While the educational prerequisites are not as demanding as other certifications, in that PMP candidates need only a four-year degree, they must have at least 4,500 hours in leading and directing projects and 35 hours of project management education to qualify. It is possible for someone who did not earn a bachelor’s degree but has at least 7,500 hours’ experience in leading and directing projects to earn the PMP.
Available Careers with an Economics Master’s Degree
Careers available for those with a master’s degree in economics include:
- Data Analyst:
This tech career involves collecting and analyzing data and draw “meaningful” conclusions for the client or industry for which they work.
- Data Scientist:
This job entails the collection and analysis of big sets of data. They work with unstructured data that does not fit easily into a database. Once analyzed, they process the data and draw models for their organizations.
An economist collects data, conducts research, analyzes trends, and creates forecasts based on that information and analysis. They focus on practical economic applications in either the private or public sphere.
- Financial Analyst:
These professionals are employed by financial institutions to assess the performance of stocks and other investments. They provide investment advice and construct portfolios for individuals and businesses. The job requires staying abreast of current market trends.
- Market Research Analyst:
Virtually every industry employs market research analysts. They study market conditions in relation to potential sales of products and services.
- Quantitative Analyst:
Known as a “quant”, this role involves applying mathematical economics to issues of risk management and finances. They may work at investment banks, insurance companies, hedge funds, and similar institutions, developing algorithms to make efficient trades or creating complex models identifying investment opportunities and risks.
This job involves the application of statistical methodology to address real-world issues. Data is then interpreted for the purposes of making business or policy decisions.
Those with a master’s degree in economics will start out making more money than someone with only a bachelor’s degree. Income will only increase as the person gains experience and moves up the career ladder.
The average base salary for someone with a master’s in economics is $105,000.
The average salaries for those positions attainable with a master’s in economics includes:
- Chief Financial Officer – $218,000
- Data Analyst – $87,000
- Data Scientist – $64,000
- Economist – $121,000
- Economic Consultant – $76,000
- Economic Development Director – $97,500
- Financial Analyst – $54,000
- Market Research Analyst – $55,000
- Quantitative Analyst – $112,000
- Senior Data Analyst – $79,000
- Senior Finance Manager – $121,500
- Senior Risk Manager – $111,500
- Statistician – $96,000
Keep in mind that not all of these jobs require a master’s degree. Those with a master’s degree should earn more than the average salary.
The outlook for those with a master’s degree in economics is bright. In the next decade, jobs are expected to grow 14%, which is much faster than average. Careers are plentiful in the public and private sector.
Employment growth in certain careers open to those with a master’s degree in economics is even stronger. For example, the BLS expects the demand for statisticians to grow by 33% over the next ten years.
The critical thinking skills necessitated by economics is transferable to a wide range of businesses and industries. Success depends on the ability of companies to know what the economic future may hold, and economists serve as prognosticators. This is truly a wise career choice for those seeking flexibility in an intellectually stimulating field and a successful, in-demand job. There’s no need to feel “stuck” in a particular job or industry or part of the country if it doesn’t suit you. These skill sets are needed everywhere.
- American Economic Association (aeaweb.org)
- Global Business Education Network | AACSB
- Regional Accrediting Organizations | Council for Higher Education Accreditation (chea.org)
- Economists : Occupational Outlook Handbook: : U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov)
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