Economists often analyze data on the production of resources and goods. Since economists earn an average median salary that eclipses six figures -- according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) -- the career offers a strong option for quantitatively minded individuals.
The BLS projects the economist positions to grow by approximately 6% over the next decade. As such, students who enjoy an office environment, who work well with numbers, and who hope to pursue an advanced degree should consider earning a master's in economics.
This page discusses why you should get a master's in economics; what you can do professionally with the degree; common program coursework and curricula; and some resources for further reading, learning, and assistance.
Should I Get a Master's in Economics?
Anyone who considers themselves gifted in quantitative methods such as statistics and data should consider pursuing a master of economics. Professionals with an economics master's degree typically find success in their job search.
The best master's in economics programs often provide students with two delivery methods: online or on campus. As a rule, online students often boast more work experience; in fact, online students often work full-time. Distance learners also sometimes live in remote areas that lack easy access to on-campus programs, requiring them to turn to distance education. Online education appeals more to career changers who want to continue to earn a salary while planning their next professional step.
On the other hand, on-campus master's in economics programs often appeal to students hoping to follow a more direct education trajectory, continuing their education from high school all the way through graduate school.
No matter which delivery method they choose, master's in economics students learn foundational skills, gain networking opportunities, and often enjoy access to a school's placement resources upon graduating. Many programs take pride in their job placement rate, using this rate as a selling point in their marketing materials. Finally, many programs offer services like job boards, career counseling, and placement counseling.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Economics?
Earning a master's in economics opens more professional doors than you might initially think. Graduates who hold a master of economics can also find work as financial analysts, financial managers, market research analysts, and actuaries. All of these professions require individuals with strong quantitative, business, and statistical skills; competencies that students learn while pursuing their economics master's degree. Below, we explore these five professions, describing their duties, work environments, and how an economics master's degree helps you throughout the application process.
Economists study the production and distribution of services and goods through data, studies, and research. They generally work in office environments and often work for government agencies. Economists need a master's degree or a Ph.D. to qualify for open positions.
Median Annual Salary: $102,490
Projected Growth Rate: 6%
- Financial Analyst
Financial analysts generally work in the private sector, offering investment and financial advice to both individuals and businesses. Since they oversee the creation of investment portfolios, these professionals must possess intimate knowledge of the stock market, bonds, and other investments. Though the most important qualifications for this position include a bachelor's degree and work experience, a master's in economics provides an advantage.
Median Annual Salary: $84,300
Projected Growth Rate: 11%
- Financial Manager
Often working in the private sector for large corporations or companies, financial managers oversee their organization's entire financial strategy and operations. Possible tasks include creating five-year and 10-year plans, writing reports, and overseeing investment portfolios. Work experience makes the biggest difference among candidates for this position, but a master's in economics can also help you stand out from the pack.
Median Annual Salary: $125,080
Projected Growth Rate: 19%
- Market Research Analyst
These professionals study a particular element of the market and provide a report. Market research analysts work in a wider variety of settings than financial managers, analysts, or economists, as many companies conduct market research. If you want to become a market research analyst, a master's in economics can provide a huge boost, as it demonstrates your quantitative and research capabilities.
Median Annual Salary: $62,230
Projected Growth Rate: 23%
Actuaries assess risk and quantify that risk in financial terms. As such, actuaries often work in office environments for insurance companies, government agencies, or any organization that includes a risk management wing. Other actuaries work in consultant roles, traveling from company to company. As actuaries must demonstrate competency in STEM fields such as business, math, and statistics, a master's in economics can provide a boost when you apply for actuarial positions.
Median Annual Salary: $101,560
Projected Growth Rate: 22%
How to Choose a Master's in Economics Program
Though many master's in economics programs share certain commonalities, several key factors can help students differentiate between their options. Though primarily a consideration for on-campus students -- as a school's location often affects its connections with employers and postgraduate job opportunities -- location also affects online students. Online students who take blended learning courses or who need to visit campus during their program may want to enroll in a nearby school.
Online students should determine whether their chosen program charges tuition per semester or per credit, as this distinction can affect how much part-time students pay. Students should also check how long each program takes to complete, especially if they enroll in a program that charges tuition by semester. In online programs, synchronous programs can provide more defined conclusion dates than asynchronous programs.
It's important to check a program's curriculum requirements before applying. Some programs may require an internship, while others might require the completion of a capstone course. It's also important to check if a program offers the specialization you are looking for.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Economics Programs
When identifying and applying to the best master's in economics programs, you should consider two types of accreditation: regional and national. Two organizations -- the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education -- oversee regional accreditation. In this process, independent auditors visit schools and evaluate academic effectiveness based on a standardized set of criteria. If a school does not hold regional accreditation, that means that it failed to meet the requirements. For that reason, students should not apply to unaccredited schools, as some employers may not recognize degrees earned at these institutions.
National accreditation focuses on programs in specific fields. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) leads in programmatic and national accreditation for business, economics, and accounting programs. This type of accreditation is not required by many employers, but it may make you more competitive in the job market.
Master's in Economics Program Admissions
Most on-campus master's in economic programs list similar admissions procedures. Programs typically ask prospective students to submit an application form, transcripts, and letters of recommendation. Some programs also request standardized test scores -- typically the GMAT or the GRE -- and previous work experience in economics.
Online admissions often mirror on-campus admissions, with one caveat: the online admissions process can require more involvement, as some online programs ask applicants to complete an interview. Other online programs provide each applicant with a one-on-one admissions counselor.
Both online and on-campus economics applicants should apply to at least three schools. Graduate admissions typically involve more competition than undergraduate admissions, so prospective students should try to ensure that they at least get in somewhere by applying to many different schools.
- Bachelor's Degree: All economics master's programs require students to hold a bachelor's degree. Many master of economics programs also require students to either major in economics or take courses in economics at the undergraduate level prior to entrance.
- Professional Experience: Some economics programs require applicants to possess one or two years of work experience in the field.
- Minimum GPA: Most graduate programs in economics require students to boast a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0. Some of the more elite programs require even higher GPA scores.
- Application: Students should plan to spend three to five hours on each school's form.
- Transcripts: A transcript provides a comprehensive list of all of the courses that a student has taken and their corresponding grades. Students can request an unofficial transcript from their undergraduate school free of charge; however, some registrar offices charge a small fee to send an official copy.
- Letters of Recommendation: Prospective students should generally request at least two letters of recommendation from former professors, although letters from former employers can carry a lot of weight in programs that require work experience. Applicants should give their recommenders at least two months advance notice.
- Test Scores: In general, prospective economics students must take the GRE or GMAT. Minimum scores vary from program to program.
- Application Fee: A typical application fee ranges from $20 to $100. Students who demonstrate need can sometimes get this requirement waived.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Economics Program?
While most master of economics programs cover the same core competencies, coursework and curricula can differ from program to program. Below, we outline common concentrations and courses that you can expect to find in your economics program of choice.
|Developmental Economics||Students in this concentration learn about the nature of international development, which prepares them to work with government or international development agencies once they graduate. Topics include the global economy, economies of a specific region that interests the student, international finance, and international political economy.||Development economist, international development analyst|
|Applied Macroeconomics||This concentration expounds on the typical macroeconomics course of study. Possible topics include monetary economics, economic growth, international finance, and finance and the macroeconomy. Each course takes a large-scale, global approach to economics, focusing on large issues such as inflation. Graduates can find work as economic analysts or professors.||Professor, economic analyst|
|Applied Microeconomics||This concentration typically focuses on topics learned in the microeconomics core course. Topics can include urban economics, regional economics, healthcare economics, political economy, and labor market economics. Similarly to the applied macroeconomics concentration, graduates of this concentration can find work in academia or analysis; however, the two groups of graduates focus on different topics within those professions.||Professor, economic analyst|
|Financial Economics||In this concentration, students complete specialized coursework in areas such as financial econometrics, statistics, international finance, and financial markets and financial intermediation. Graduates find work as financial analysts or investment managers at financial organizations.||Investment manager, investment analyst|
|Business Economics||Students in this concentration focus on application over theory, learning about practical scenarios. Topics include forecasting in organizations, real risk, and cost-benefit analysis. As opposed to some other concentrations, graduates do not often work in academia, instead entering the business world in management or analytical positions.||CEO, financial analyst, economist|
Courses in a Master's in Economics Program
Courses often vary between programs. As such, unique or interesting classes in a program's curriculum can help a student choose which school they want to attend. However, many schools do offer similar core courses. Below, we delve deeper into five of those courses.
In this course, students receive a thorough grounding in advanced macroeconomics concepts, including market equilibrium, consumer theory, and theory of the firm. Other topics include market structures, pricing, utility, and welfare economics. This course often forms the foundation of a macroeconomics concentration.
Similar to its macroeconomics counterpart, this survey course focuses on foundational microeconomics topics, including utility, pricing, constrained optimization, and market structures. While the topics mirror those taught in macroeconomics, the perspective differs.
In this course, students dive deep into econometrics and the use of statistical methods to determine and test economic relationships. Topics discussed include least squares, heteroskedasticity, and serial correlation. Most graduate-level econometrics courses spend a significant amount of time discussing least squares and their application and implications.
Another survey course, graduate-level statistics touches on different statistical analysis methods. Topics include hypothesis testing, probability, variance, estimation, and sampling. Students need experience in undergraduate calculus work to enroll in this course, which applies to every economic discipline and career.
- Financial Economics
Another survey course, this offering introduces students to several foundational topics in financial economics, including the stock market, derivative securities, and valuation. Students practice evaluating investment portfolios, and the course prepares students for future careers as investment managers or analysts.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Economics?
Master's degrees in economics generally require one to two years of full-time study to complete. Though most programs opt for the standard 36-credit curriculum, some degrees require as many as 54 credits to graduate. Some programs that run on a quarter system may also require additional credits.
Several factors affect the time it takes to complete an economics master's program. For example, some programs only offer part-time study. Online programs that deliver coursework synchronously can generally offer a more defined completion time than those that deliver coursework asynchronously . Additionally, some programs offer an accelerated track that allows students to double up on credit or test out of certain course requirements, allowing them to finish their degrees faster. In programs that charge tuition by semester, this track allows students to pay less for their degree; however, many programs charge tuition per credit instead.
How Much Is a Master's in Economics?
Students should expect to pay between $20,000 and $50,000 for their master's in economics degrees.
Several factors contribute to that estimate and can affect the overall cost of your economics degree. For example, on-campus learning comes with several costs that do not affect online learning, including housing costs and an on-campus meal plan. These programs also include technology fees for on-campus features such as access to laboratories, libraries, or other facilities.
Online programs generally avoid these costs, as an online course fee may serve as the only cost beyond tuition. Additionally, some colleges allow online students to pay in-state tuition, or at least a discounted rate compared to on-campus students, regardless of their location.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Economics Prepares For
- Certified Economic Developer
A globally recognized certificate, the CEcD also benefits from exclusivity, counting only 1,110 members among its ranks. Applicants need at least four years of professional economic development experience, must take professional development core courses, and must pass a qualifying examination.
- Chartered Economist
Applicants need a combination of professional experience, academic education, continuing education/professional development, and test scores to earn this designation. However, a master's in economics can significantly expedite the process, as applicants with a master's or Ph.D. and at least five years of experience in the field may earn the certificate with only a resume review.
- Certified Business Economist
This certification demonstrates a professional's competence in data analytics and applied economics. In order to earn the certification, applicants need two years of work experience, coursework completed through the National Association for Business Economics, and a passing grade on a qualifying examination.
- ACCE Certifications
The Association of Certified Chartered Economists offers opportunities for professionals to get certified in petroleum, health, energy, managerial, financial, or industrial economics, in addition to economic policy analysis. In each case, applicants must complete a program and pass a qualifying exam.
- Chartered Financial Analyst
Granted by the CFA Institute, this credential requires students to complete a comprehensive program that includes coursework and a qualifying exam. Over 150,000 financial professionals currently hold the title of CFA. This certificate helps financial and business economists stand out from the competition in their job search.
Resources for Economics Graduate Students
The Economist provides in-depth insight into global affairs every week. Any economics student can stay up to date on the world's happenings by reading this magazine each week.
This open access journal aims to streamline access to top-of-the-line research through its own peer review system. It provides students with access to newer economic research.
Though this publication does not confine its scope strictly to economics, it does publish several cutting edge economics articles each month. YaleGlobal Online also provides insight into global affairs.
A primarily online publication, Economy Watch focuses on the U.S., Canada, Europe, the Middle East, and emerging markets such as India and China. The publication primarily writes feature articles.
An Austrian organization dedicated to economics, the Mises Institute publishes a quarterly journal about Austrian economics. The institute also offers fellowships, research, online learning, and books.
Professional Organizations in Economics
The economics field offers numerous professional organizations to help young professionals advance in their careers. These organizations offer services such as job boards, continuing education, professional development, and access to publications. In general, membership in these organizations helps you stay up to date on best practices and research trends, connect with employers, and improve your craft. Below, we spotlight five of the field's best organizations.
AERE caters to professionals who focus on the allocation and distribution of our planet's natural resources. It offers conferences and meetings, access to publications, and jobs and fellowships.
NABE offers networking and professional development events throughout the year. It also provides professional certification, a jobs board, and access to publications.
Originally created in 1969 under the name of the Caucus of Black Economists, NEA continues to help people of color advance in the economics profession. The organization accomplishes that goal through an annual conference, access to publications, and grants and fellowships.
Founded in Atlanta in 1928, SEA publishes one of the oldest economics journals in the nation, the Southern Economic Journal. The organization also operates an annual conference for members.
AEA's membership primarily includes college professors. The organization publishes multiple journals and operates a jobs board and an annual conference.