An economics degree can launch you into a wide variety of careers in either the public or private sector. You could work in the government as an advisor, helping to establish economic policy; in a private firm as a consultant, helping companies to make financial decisions; or even on Wall Street as a broker, buying and selling stock for clients. If you’re interested in the study of markets, scarcity, and decision–making, a degree in economics could be right for you.
An economics degree focuses on the intersection of money, markets, resources, scarcity, and how those factors impact individuals and societies. The skills and concepts that you learn in an economics degree program translate to many fields. Earning an economics degree can start you on the path to Wall Street and a career helping others build wealth. Or you could pursue a career in the public or private sector, working to eliminate poverty, evaluating programs meant to stimulate the economy, or even studying human behavior as it relates to the markets.
If your interests in economics are driven by social justice or class divisions, an economics degree can provide you with the opportunity to positively impact the world. You could use your studies to investigate the root causes of poverty and the best ways to counter their impact, or you could seek ways to identify and confront social injustices that are the direct consequence of class division.
Whatever your reason for studying economics, this field will provide you with a working knowledge of the most widely accepted theories and explanations for how the financial sphere operates, and perhaps more importantly, insight into how this sphere interacts with the rest of the human experience.
What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?
Accreditation is the process by which colleges and universities are evaluated and validated. Colleges and universities that have earned accreditation have met the standards set by accrediting organizations. These organizations are comprised of faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Legitimate regional and national accrediting organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Typically, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the same institutions, although CHEA recognition isn’t mandatory. A college or university must be accredited by a Department of Education-recognized accreditor for its students to receive federal financial aid.
For a detailed look at the differences between regional and national accreditation, check out What Do I Need to Know About College Accreditation?
- What is Regional Accreditation?
- Regional accreditation is the signifier of quality education; this includes the currency of curriculum, credentials of educators, and credibility of degrees. Regional accrediting agencies only accredit institutions in their geographical area.
- The Six Regional Accrediting Agencies
- Middle States Commission of Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE)
- The Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
To find out if a college or university on your list is regionally accredited, check the Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
- What Is National Accreditation?
- National accreditation is often perceived as a less rigorous standard than regional accreditation and is governed by educational accreditors agencies that are not restricted by region or geography. This means that one such agency can provide accreditation to any college or university in the U.S. that meets its criteria. National accreditation is commonplace among trade schools, religious schools, and for–profit colleges.
Most regionally–accredited colleges do not accept or recognize credits or degrees earned from colleges that lack regional accreditation. However, national accreditation may be a useful indicator of quality for students pursuing vocational training, competency–based education, or other education models that operate under a for–profit model.
To learn more about National Accreditation, check out Understanding National Accreditation.
For help safely navigating the For–Profit Sector, check out our Guide to For–Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.
- What is Programmatic Accreditation?
- Programmatic accreditation certifies that an institution’s program, department, or college has met the standards of the programmatic accrediting agency. While programmatic accreditation agencies often have national jurisdiction, programmatic accreditation is not institutional national accreditation. In fact, programmatic accreditation often coexists with regional accreditation. In some disciplines, a degree with programmatic accreditation may even be required to earn a license or enter professional practice.
An economics degree will open the door to a lot of different professional opportunities. This means that there isn’t necessarily one national accreditor’s stamp of approval that you’ll need. However, accreditation by a leading national business association can indicate that your economics degree program meets and maintains an acceptable level of quality assurance, professional development, and post–graduate employability. It also bears noting that if you intend to pursue a master’s degree, your program may require that you have earned your bachelor’s degree from a program recognized by the leading business school accreditor.
The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International) is generally viewed as the highest level of accreditation among U.S. business schools, with only 25% of business schools earning this stamp of quality. The AACSB grants accreditation status to both undergraduate and graduate business administration and accounting programs, including those focused on economics. The easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice, or visit the AACSB website, which provides a searchable database of accredited institutions and degree programs.
You can also look at the Department of Education’s database of all recognized accreditors within its purview.
Or, to learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?
What Kinds of Economics Degrees Are There?
Associate Degree in Economics
An associate degree in economics is perfect if you’re looking to lay a foundation for future study. Though you won’t finish this degree and land a six figure job, your program will cover the basics. You will study the two pillars of modern economics — macro– and micro–economics — as well as skill–based subjects such as applied math classes, and some introductory business courses. Typically, a 60–credit or two–year engagement, the associate degree will help prepare you for entry level work in banking or the accounts receivable department of a large firm. Though you can access a similar educational program through a certificate program, even certificates from accredited schools are often considered unaccredited. While an associate degree will cost you more, you’ll also generally get more value from the undertaking. It should also put you in a stronger position to transfer your credits into a four–year economics program.
What Economics Courses Will I Take in an Associate Program?
- Business Calculus
- Business Statistics
- Estate Planning
- Financial Accounting
- International Business
Now that you know what to look for, check out the following certificate:
Bachelor of Economics
The bachelor’s degree in economics is the standard 120–credit, four–year college degree. If you study economics at this level, you will gain a robust introduction to the field. In addition to laying a strong foundation through the study of micro– and macroeconomics, you’ll encounter some of the more technical and mathematical aspects of your discipline. You’ll also gain exposure to some more specialized topics in your field. In addition, the bachelor’s degree in economics is the first point at which aspiring students generally get the opportunity to do significant independent research. The bachelor’s in economics degree is ideal for those who aspire to management–level work in business, finance, and banking, or for those who wish to pursue either economics or business administration at the graduate level.
What Economics Courses Will I Take in a Bachelor’s Program?
- Calculus and Statistical Analysis
- Labor and Industrial Organizations
- Macroeconomic Analysis and Policy
- Microeconomic Analysis
- Money and Banking
What’s the Difference Between a BA and a BS in Economics?
Both the bachelor of arts (BA) and bachelor of science (BS) in economics provide students with introductory and advanced education in economics. Both are four–year economics degree programs. The primary difference is that the BS, as a more science–based approach, emphasizes the use of mathematical analysis. Conversely, those who choose the BA will focus on the theoretical and conceptual side of the subject, including forays into the history, international relations, and linguistics that contextualize the discipline.
If you’ ready to find a program, then go to:
Master of Economics
There are two master’s degrees typically pursued by people with the necessary undergraduate perquisites in economics—the master’s in business administration (MBA), and the master’s in economics. Those interested in earning an MBA should check out our tips on earning a business degree. Those interested in a degree with a greater emphasis on theory should consider a master’s in economics degree.
This graduate level course of study offers greater detail and specialization in the discipline of economics, and often includes a master’s thesis. For many students, this thesis can act as the rough draft for a peer–reviewed article or even a book. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that the master’s degree is just for academics. Many hedge funds, think tanks, and banks make use of people with graduate training in economics. The master’s in economics degree typically takes two years, although some one–year options are available.
What Economics Courses Will I Take in a Master’s Program?
- Economic History
- Financial Economics
- Health, Education, and Welfare
- Public Economics
What’s the Difference Between an MA and an MS in Economics?
As with the bachelor of arts and bachelor of science, those who wish to study economics with a focus on theory and the humanities should consider a master of arts in economics degree, whereas those with an interest in the scientific principles and mathematical operations underlying economics would be served better by a master of science program.
If you want to find the best online programs, then check out these rankings:
Ph.D. in Economics
The Ph.D. in economics is a terminal degree. Your economics degree program will typically involve three to five years of research after two years of dedicated graduate level coursework, including the development of a dissertation. You will be called upon to develop original research that both adheres to conventions in the field and offers the potential of breaking new ground. If you succeed in this arduous endeavor, you will earn among the highest accolades granted within the academic community. With a Ph.D. in economics, you’ll gain access to some of the most coveted positions in both the world of academics and the corporate boardroom. You could also have an opportunity to provide leadership in scholarship publishing, policy development, or government agency.
What Economics Courses Will I Take in a Ph.D. Program?
- Agricultural Economics
- Economic Systems
- Environmental Economics
- Labor and Demographic Economics
- Real Estate
- Transportation Economics
What about Dual Degree Programs?
Many economics students will combine their studies with sister disciplines, such as law or finance. This comes in the form of dual JD/MA programs, dual Ph.D.s, or any number of other possible combinations. Studying for multiple degrees simultaneously is not for the faint of heart. This is a seriously demanding strategy for earning your degrees. Nevertheless, ambitious and qualified students will benefit by earning their degrees faster and more cheaply. Dual degrees will also make you more attractive to prospective future employers.
What Kind of Licensing or Certification Do I Need?
For some jobs, an economics degree is not enough. When it comes to obtaining a certification or a license to practice your profession, you will have to base your decisions on the specific career in economics you want to pursue.
The field of economics is uniquely varied. This course of study can lead to an array of occupations, each of which has its own certifications. Although there are no specific qualifications required to be an economist, many subfields within economics require certification. Your required credentials will largely depend on the occupation in economics you hope to pursue. Below are just a few of the types of licenses you might need:
- Credit Analyst
- As the name implies, a credit analyst determines the approximate financial health of a prospective loan applicant. The modern economy runs on credit, so determining who can pay their loans back and who is not is essential to keeping the financial world in working order. If you want to become a credit analyst, you need to go through The National Association of Credit Management. This organization offers the Credit Business Associate designation for applicants who finish three college-level financial accounting courses, financial statements, and business credit as well as a certification exam. After five years of business experience, you can also sit to take the test for the Risk Management Associations Credit Risk Certification.
- Finance Officer/Loan Officer
- Opportunities for finance/loan officers reached a fever pitch during the height of the subprime mortgage bubble. Nevertheless, there is still a substantial need for loan officers, and becoming a loan officer yields an unusually high–paying job for a modest amount of education. Typically, finance/loan officers have a bachelor’s degree in economics and ample on–the–job training. It takes 20 hours of coursework, as well as passing both an exam and background/credit checks, in order to become certified. Officers must renew their license annually, and sometimes states establish additional requirements. Also, certain groups, such as the American Bankers Association and the Mortgage Bankers Association, offer additional training. Though this training is not required, it is greatly encouraged and may open further career opportunities.
- Financial Advisor
- In one sense, anyone can give financial advice. However, if you want to be taken seriously, you will need some credentials. Although financial advisors may need a variety of certifications depending on what products they wish to sell, the most obvious path to respectability runs through the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. They offer the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) certification. You will need a bachelor’s degree in economics and 3 years of relevant experience. You'll also need to pass a licensing exam and follow a professional code of conduct.
- Financial Analyst
- The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the same licensing organization that governs securities, requires licenses for many financial analysts. Unlike many of the other sub-branches of the financial industry, most licenses relevant to this field require sponsorship by one's employer. Thus, most people will get their feet wet in the industry before thinking about becoming analysts.
- Investment Banker
- If you want to be an investment banker, you will need to register as a representative of the bank you work for with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Investment bankers need to pass an examination in order to qualify. They can also acquire voluntary certifications such as the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) from the CFA Institute.
Before entering an economics licensing or certification program, be sure that it is awarded by a reputable association or group. Most associations or groups will require you to complete an education program or workshop to earn your certification.
What Can You Do With an Economics Degree?
You may be asking yourself, "What can I do with an economics degree?" Fortunately, you’ll have plenty of options. Your economics degree can be the key to lucrative academic, business, and finance careers. Some possible Business and Finance Careers include:
- Accountants and Auditors
- Appraisers and Assessors of Real Estate
- Budget Analysts
- Claims Adjusters, Appraisers, Examiners, and Investigators
- Cost Estimators
- Financial Analysts
- Financial Clerks
- Human Resources Specialists
- Insurance Underwriters
- Loan Officers
- Management Analysts
- Market Research Analysts
- Meeting, Convention and Events Planners
- Operations Research Analysts
- Personal Financial Advisors
- Purchasing Managers, Buyers and Purchasing Agents
What Kind of Salary Can I Earn with an Economics Degree?
A degree in economics can be a pathway to a well–paying position. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides data on the potential earnings for some of the leading jobs in the field of economics. The following data reflects median annual salaries as of 2018:
|Market Research Analysts||$63,120|
|Purchasing Managers, Buyers, and Purchasing Agents||$67,600|
|Labor Relations Specialists||$67,790|
|Accountants and Auditors||$70,500|
|Personal Financial Advisors||$88,890|
|Compensation and Benefits Managers||$121,010|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Are There Professional Economics Associations or Societies I Should Join?
Professional associations are a fantastic way to make connections in the field of economics, learn about valuable seminars or certifications, and improve your own credentials. The association or associations you choose to join will depend to an extent on the career path you take. Look for economics associations that correspond with your academic or professional concentration.
- American Economic Association
- The AEA is the premier economics association in the U.S. It has over 20,000 members drawn from the academy, business, and government. It publishes prestigious academic journals, organizes industry conferences, and is largely seen as a necessary affiliation for anybody working in the field of economics.
- Econometrics Society
- Economics as a discipline has undergone tremendous change since the early 20th century. It used to be a branch of political economy and/or moral philosophy, but now is widely regarded as an empirical science. As such, it is increasingly dominated by mathematics. The EA organization centers its research, resources, and networking opportunities around the use of applied mathematics and statistics in the field.