Whether you subscribe to the theory that money makes the world go round or you believe in the old adage that money is the root of all evil, the reality is that most of us will spend our adult lives trying to acquire more of it.
In short, this is why economics is such an important subject. Economics is the study of money, markets, resources, scarcity, and the way that these factors inform our decisions as individuals and societies. Money provides a tangible representation of the value of things, including commodities, goods and services. But it also represents power, hierarchy, and the class divisions that formulate various social systems.
You might wish to study economics for practical reasons. Maybe you want to be a hotshot working on Wall Street and making big money for hedge funds, or perhaps blazing your own trail working as a day trader. Or perhaps you’re looking to secure a stable job working for a banking firm.
Perhaps your interests in economics are more principles in nature. This discipline could 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.
No matter what 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.
If you already know what you’re looking for, go ahead and jump to our ranking of The 100 Best Business & Economics Programs in the World Today.
You might also be interested in checking out the Top 50 Places to Study Classical Economics.
If you need a little more information, continue on.
Covered in this article:
- What do I need to know about accreditation?
- What kinds of Economics degrees are there?
- What kind of Licensing or Certification do I need?
- What can I do with an Economics degree?
- How much can I make with an Economics degree?
- What Professional Economics Associations or Societies should I join?
Let’s start with the one thing you absolutely must be sure of before you proceed: accreditation.
What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?
The last thing you want to do is waste time and money on a degree that won’t be taken seriously by future employers. That’s why it is absolutely imperative that you make sure your school has the proper accreditation before you proceed.
As with most other higher education disciplines, accreditation is of critical importance in determining where to obtain an economics degree. Program accreditation is granted by accrediting agencies that are formally recognized by the Department of Education. Only accredited colleges or universities are eligible for financial aid. Moreover, accreditation typically indicates that an institution is not only maintaining its standards but that it continues to advance and remain current within its field. As you proceed in your search, you’ll find both institutional accreditation and program accreditation. The former refers to school wide accreditation and the latter refers to the accreditation conferred upon your specific discipline and degree program.
Regional Accrediting Agencies
The institutional accrediting sector is divided into regional and national accrediting agencies. Generally, regional accrediting agencies confer greater credibility and merit. When you’re investigating a college or university, you’ll want to look for the “stamp of approval” from one of the following regional accrediting agencies:
- The Higher Learning Commission
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
When it comes to national accrediting agencies, reputations may vary. In some cases, program specific accrediting agencies may hold a great deal of importance. Some professions and places of employment will require that your degree has been conferred by a course of study with program specific national accreditation.
A degree in economics 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 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’ve received a 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 focusing 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 take a 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?
Now that you get the idea, let’s take a look at some of your degree options.
What Kinds of Economics Degrees Are There?
Associate Degree and/or Certificate in Economics
An associate’s 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 microeconomics — 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’s 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 programs, 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 proposition. It should also put you in a stronger position to transfer your credits into a four-year program.
What Courses Will I Take?
- Financial Accounting
- Business Calculus
- Business Statistics
- International Business
Now that you know what to look for, check out The 20 Best Financial Management Certificate Programs.
Bachelor of Economics
The bachelor’s degree is the standard 120-credit, four-year college degree. Those who study economics at this level will gain a robust introduction to the field. In addition to laying a strong foundation through the study of micro- and macroeconomics, you’ll take on some of the more technical and mathematical aspects of your discipline. You’ll also gain exposure to some more specialized topics in your field. The bachelor’s degree is also the first point at which aspiring students generally get the opportunity to do significant independent research. This degree is ideal both 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 Courses Will I Take?
- Macroeconomic Analysis and Policy
- Microeconomic Analysis
- Labor and Industrial Organizations
- Money and Banking
- Calculus and Statistical Analysis
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 both introductory and advanced education in economics. The primary difference is that the BS emphasized the use of mathematical analysis. Conversely, those who choose the bachelors of arts will focus on the theoretical and conceptual side of the subject, including forays into the history, international relations, and linguistic realities that contextualize the discipline.
Now that you know a bit more, check out The 100 Best Business & Economics Programs in the World Today.
You might also be interested in checking out the Top 50 Places to Study Classical Economics.
Master of Economics
There are two master’s degrees typically pursued by people with the necessary undergraduate perquisites in economics, namely the masters in business administration (MBA), and the masters in economics. Those interested in earning an MBA should check out our tips on earning a Business Degree here. Those interested in a degree with a greater emphasis on theory should consider a masters in economics.
This graduate level course of study offers greater detail and specialization in your discipline, and often includes a master’s thesis. For many studnets, 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 degree typically takes two years, although some one-year options are available.
What Courses Will I Take?
- Financial Economics
- Public Economics
- Health, Education, and Welfare
- Economic History
What’s the Difference between an MA and an MS in economics?
As with the Bachelor of Arts and the 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, which 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’re ready to get started, check out The Best Online Master's in Economics Degree Programs.
PhD in Economics
The PhD in Economics is a terminal degree. Your 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. As a PhD in economics, you’ll gain access to some of the most coveted positions in both the world of academics and the corporate board room. You could also have an opportunity to provide leadership in scholarship publishing, policy development, or government agency.
What Courses Will I Take?
- Labor and Demographic Economics
- Economic Systems
- Agricultural Economics
- Environmental 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 PhDs, 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, the ambitious and qualified student will benefit by earning his or her degrees faster and more cheaply. Dual degrees will also make you more attractive to prospective future employers.
If you’re looking for schools that allow for Dual Degree studies, start with The 100 Best Business & Economics Programs in the World Today.
What Kind of Licensing or Certification Do I Need?
When it comes to obtaining a certification or a license to practice your profession, you will have to base you decisions on the specific career you want to pursue.
The field of economics is uniquely varied. This course of study can lead to an array of occupations that each have their own particular certifications. Although there are no specific qualifications required to be an economist per say, many subfields within economics require certification. Your required credentials will largely depend on the occupation you hope to pursue. Below are just a few of the types of licenses you might need:
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 is in a position to 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 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 will 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 up further career opportunities.
In one sense, anyone can give financial advice, but 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 and 3 years of relevant experience. You’ll also need to pass a test, and follow a professional code of conduct.
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, the majority of 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 an analyst.
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 into a 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 I do with an economics degree?
Your economics degree can be the key to lucrative academic, business, and finance careers. Some possible Careers in Economics 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 fairly well-paying position. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides statistics on some of the most popular jobs in the field:
- Market Research Analyst: Median Salary, 2016 — $62,560
- Economist: Median Salary, 2016 — $101,050
- Compensation and Benefits Manager: Median Salary, 2016 — $116,240
- Actuary: Median Salary, 2016 — $100,610
- Credit Analyst: Mean Salary, 2016 — $81,160
- Financial Analyst: Median Salary, 2016 — $81,760
- Political Scientist: Median Salary, 2016 — $114,290
- Management Consultant: Median Salary, 2016 — $81,330
Are There Professional Economics Associations or Societies I should join?
Professional Associations are a fantastic way to make connections in your field, 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 premiere 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 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 as increasingly dominated by mathematics. This organization centers its research, resources and networking opportunities around the use of applied mathematics and statistics in the field.
Now that you now a bit more about how to earn an economics degree, jump to our ranking of The 100 Best Business and Economics Programs in the World Today and find the best school for you!