What Is an Economics Degree?

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An economics degree explores the impact money, markets, resources, and scarcity have on individuals, businesses, and society.

Economics majors investigate consumer behavior, financial markets, and the distribution of goods. A bachelor of economics degree builds strong research and analytical skills, which graduates can apply in several careers. For example, economics graduates can work as economists, financial analysts, market research analysts, or management consultants. These careers offer above-average salaries and remain in high demand.

This article explores economics degrees, salary data for related careers, and industries that hire economics graduates.

What Kinds of Economics Degrees Are There?

Colleges offer economics degrees at every educational level, including associate degrees and doctorates. Each degree prepares graduates for different careers. For example, occupations like financial analyst and actuary require bachelor's degrees, while economists typically need master's degrees. An economics professor must hold a doctorate for tenure-track positions.

Economics students can also specialize their degrees in particular subfields. This section introduces the requirements and job opportunities for different economics degrees.

Bachelor of Economics Degree

A bachelor of economics degree gives undergraduates a foundational understanding of microeconomics, macroeconomics, and international economics. During an online bachelor's degree in economics, students take introductory and upper-division economics classes, as well as courses in business, marketing, environmental economics, or health economics.

Completing a bachelor's degree in economics typically takes four years for a full-time enrollee, though transfer students with prior college credit or associate degrees can earn their bachelor's degrees in less time. With a bachelor's in economics, graduates can find employment as data analysts, financial analysts, management consultants, and economic analysts.

What's the Difference Between a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science?

A bachelor of arts (BA) and a bachelor of science (BS) in economics both emphasize research, data analysis, and economic theory. However, the degrees often come with different general education requirements. At most schools, BA students complete more humanities and social science courses, while BS students take additional math and natural science classes. A BA may also require foreign language coursework.

With either degree, graduates can pursue roles as economic analysts, financial analysts, and consultants, or they can apply to graduate school. Both degrees take around four years to complete.

Master's Degree in Economics

A master's degree in economics offers advanced training in microeconomic theory, mathematical economics, and economic development. During an online master's degree in economics, students can choose electives to specialize their studies. For example, learners can take courses in public economics if they want to pursue government roles, or they can study financial systems to prepare for careers in banking.

Earning a master's in economics generally takes two years for full-time students, though some programs offer accelerated or part-time options. After earning a master's degree, graduates can find employment as economists, statisticians, or survey researchers, among other opportunities. Many management-level careers prefer candidates with master's degrees.

What's the Difference Between a Master's Degree in Economics and an MBA in Economics?

Economics students considering a master's degree can choose a master's degree in economics or a master of business administration (MBA) in economics. Both degrees provide advanced coursework in economics and typically take two years to complete, but they differ in focus.

A master's in economics focuses primarily on research, which can lead to a career as an economist or enrolling in a doctoral program in economics. An online MBA in economics includes coursework in business administration, organizational behavior, and management, which prepares graduates for roles like management consultant or financial manager.

Associate Degree in Economics

An associate degree in economics provides an introduction to the field with foundational coursework in economics, business, finance, and accounting. During an associate degree, students take classes in statistics, financial accounting, and international business, as well as general education courses in mathematics, communication, and English.

Earning an associate degree generally takes two years of full-time enrollment. After completing the program, graduates can work as financial clerks, customer service representatives, and administrative assistants. Graduates can also transfer into four-year schools, where they can often complete bachelor's degrees in two years.

Doctoral Degree in Economics

A doctoral degree in economics emphasizes original research and advanced analytical skills. During a doctoral program, economics students take courses in economic theory, advanced econometrics, and applied economics. Doctoral students choose specialties in areas like economic development, game theory, or labor economics.

Earning a doctorate is a substantial time commitment. Most doctoral programs require 4-6 years of study, including coursework, doctoral exams, and a dissertation, on top of the time it takes to earn a bachelor's and a master's degree. The dissertation process requires extensive research and a dissertation defense. After completing their degrees, doctoral graduates often find work as economics professors, economists, or researchers.

Accreditation for Economics Programs

Accredited schools and programs meet the highest standards for education. To earn accreditation, institutions and programs undergo a rigorous review of their student learning outcomes, faculty qualifications, and graduation requirements.

For economics students, prospective schools should hold regional accreditation. In addition, individual economics programs often hold programmatic accreditation from business-focused accreditation agencies, like the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Before submitting applications, prospective learners should check for accreditation to ensure they get the education they need.

Economics Certifications

After earning a bachelor's degree, an economics major can demonstrate specialized skills by pursuing a professional certification. These credentials recognize candidates with niche skills and experience in particular economic subfields. Earning a certification can help job candidates stand out on the job market and compete for specialized roles.

Economic Development Finance Professional

The economic development finance professional credential recognizes experienced professionals working in financial development. To earn the credential, candidates must complete a four-course training program that covers business credit, real estate finance, loan packaging, and negotiating skills. Candidates must complete the four courses, including examinations for each course, to earn the credential.

ChE™ Chartered Economist

The Global Academy of Finance and Management offers this credential for experienced economists who earned economic degrees from accredited programs, including graduate degree-holders. An economics degree meets the certification exam requirement, and the credential is recognized internationally, allowing professionals to operate in a global market.

Certified Economic Developer

The International Economic Development Council grants the certified economic developer credential to experienced economics professionals. Certification candidates must demonstrate at least four years of full-time economic development experience and ongoing professional development activity through practitioner-based training courses. Candidates must also pass an exam, which includes multiple-choice, essay, and interview questions.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Economics?

A bachelor of economics prepares graduates for entry-level opportunities in industries that require strong research and analytical skills, such as market research, financial services, and consulting.

Economics majors can also work for nonprofit organizations and in the public sector. For instance, the federal government hires economics to work for the Office of Personnel Management, the Federal Reserve Board, and in Foreign Service.

Market Research

Bachelor of economics degrees prepare graduates for careers in market research. Market research analysts investigate sales trends and analyze data on consumer demand, using statistics to assess marketing strategies and research competitors. Analysts then create reports to help executives make decisions based on their findings.

The ability to analyze data and extract information helps market research professionals thrive. Economics majors — particularly those with electives in marketing — have those skills.

Financial Services

The financial services industry relies on professionals with strong analytical skills. Financial analysts research economic trends, review historical financial data, and evaluate investments.

A bachelor's degree in economics meets the entry-level educational requirement to work as a financial analyst, budget analyst, or risk analyst. Experienced professionals or people with master's degrees can move into managerial roles, like financial manager, which has a median salary of nearly $130,000 per year.

Consulting

Many economics majors work in the consulting field, specializing as economic consultants, management consultants, or management analysts. In these roles, consultants evaluate the financial and economic strength of organizations; analyze expenditures, revenues, and other financial data; and recommend changes to improve efficiency or profit margins.

A bachelor's degree and professional experience prepare economics majors for careers in consulting. Coursework in management and business can also help future consultants. Some roles may require master's degrees.

What Kind of a Salary Can I Earn With an Economics Degree?

Economics professionals earn above-average salaries, often in careers as financial analysts, management consultants, financial managers, and economists. Some of these fields require additional education, and most have strong job growth projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Fastest-Growing, Highest-Paying Careers
Career Median Annual Salary (2019) Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)
Financial Examiner $81,090 7%
Financial Analyst $81,590 5%
Management Consultant $85,260 11%
Mathematician or Statistician $92,030 33%
Economist $105,020 14%
Actuary $108,350 18%
Postsecondary Economics Teacher $104,370 9%
Financial Manager $129,890 15%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Professional Organizations

  • Global Association of Economics Education This student-led, nongovernmental organization encourages economic education and entrepreneurship opportunities for learners in marginalized communities. GAEE hosts dozens of chapters in ten different countries. Members can access leadership opportunities, distance learning training, workshops, and essay competitions.
  • oikos International Founded in 1987, oikos is a student-led organization that emphasizes sustainability in economics and management. The organization encourages students to integrate environmental perspectives into their economics educations. Members can participate in local conferences, workshops, and webinars to complement their academic studies. The association also hosts events and publishes newsletters.
  • American Economic Foundation Founded in 1885, the AEA represents students and scholars in economics. The foundation publishes scholarly journals, hosts an annual meeting with networking opportunities, and offers career-focused services. Economics majors can access its student resources page, which includes research opportunities, information about graduate school, and career resources.
  • Omicron Delta Epsilon This international honor society for economics majors operates nearly 700 chapters around the world. The society recognizes scholastic achievement in economics and publishes an academic journal featuring undergraduate and graduate student papers. Omicron Delta Epsilon also hosts professional meetings and competitions for students.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Do Economics Majors Make?

According to PayScale, professionals with bachelor's degrees in economics earn an average salary of $70,000 per year.

Can I Study Economics if I'm Bad at Math?

Economics majors use mathematical and statistical methods to analyze data and create economic forecasts. Most programs require coursework in algebra and statistics.

Is Economics Easier Than Accounting?

Both economics and accounting require analytical and finance skills. Most economics programs require more theoretical coursework, while accounting programs emphasize practical skills. The "easier" program is the one that aligns best with your personal skills.

What Pays More: Finance or Economics?

Both economics and finance majors can pursue in-demand careers with above-average salaries. According to PayScale, economics majors and finance majors earn roughly the same average salary of around $70,000 per year.

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