Economists are experts in the theory and practice of the production and distribution of goods, services, and resources. They often specialize in a particular field of study, such as labor and the workforce or the role that tax policy plays in influencing the economy. Economists often study historical information and create mathematical models to predict the outcomes of various activities and policies.
The work of an economist usually involves informing decision makers or the public about particular economic situations or challenges, as well as explaining how economic events of the past relate to the present. This work will require you to be skilled at research, analysis, and critical thinking, as well as advanced forms of math such as statistics and calculus. You will also need to possess reading and speaking skills in order to present your findings in a clear, and in some cases persuasive, manner to your audience.
Check the Guide to Accreditation in Higher Education to learn more about accreditation and how to determine if the program you select meets the necessary standards.
Associate Degree in Economics
An Associate Degree in Economics is designed to give you an introduction to economics concepts while also providing you with general education.
- Credit hours/length of study: 1-2 years
- Employment prospects: Although an associate’s degree is not sufficient to become an economist, it can be enough to become a bank teller or loan officer.
Bachelor’s Degree in Economics
A bachelor’s degree is the usual entry-level credential for most economics work, and the lowest level you can get and officially be employed as an economist.
- Credit hours/length of study: 4-5 years
- Employment prospects: In addition to becoming an economist, you may pursue careers in financial management and analysis, as well as more advanced government analysis positions.
Master’s Degree in Economics
A master’s degree prepares you for almost all careers in economics, although your exact choices of career will be shaped by your specialty or concentration. Master’s programs typically take one or two years to complete. In addition to working as an economist, you can begin to teach economics with a master’s degree. Anyone who wants to learn what makes business tick all over the world should consider pursuing a master’s in economics. Also, if you have a strong desire to learn complex theories and analyze the data needed to apply them to real world scenarios, the master’s degree program in economics will be a good fit. This program is usually only open to students who majored in economics or a closely-related field like finance or business.
- Credit hours/length of study: 2-3 years
- Coursework: microeconomic and macroeconomic theory, applied econometrics, and economic development
- Employment prospects: Since economic specialists are in demand, organizations are willing to pay a premium price to attract the right talent. Earning a master’s in economics increases your chances of landing a job that fits both you and your expertise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), economists can expect to earn roughly $89,450 per year. Those who assume a more specialized role, such as financial controllers, can earn at least $100,000 annually.
Doctorate in Economics
A doctorate in economics is the highest possible credential you can earn and is often obtained after already beginning a career as an economist. Earning a PhD typically requires you to prepare a piece of independent research.
- Credit hours/length of study: 3-6 years
- Coursework: specialized to your field of interest
- Employment prospects: professor
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 6 percent job growth for economists, which is slower than the average for all occupations. While there are not many job openings predicted for economists, there are many jobs that use economics training, particularly in the public sector. The skills you gain while earning a degree in economics are also applicable to other fields, such as financial analysis and market research.
Most positions require at least a bachelor’s degree and often have high salaries, particularly in finance. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the median pay for a financial analyst to be around $74,350 per year. Positions calling for economics training are found nationwide, although usually concentrated in large cities, particularly in Washington, New York and Chicago.
Despite the broad range of work that economists engage in, you will find few opportunities to specialize until advanced levels. In economics bachelor’s degree programs, you will take core economics courses, as few schools offer specialties at this level. At the master’s level, you can begin to specialize in economic policy or global development economics, but some institutions only offer a master’s as part of a PhD program. One way to decide on a specialty is to select a broad range of undergraduate courses, even outside economics, as you may discover that the economics behind a typically unrelated field interests you most. Some of the more common specializations in economics include:
- Financial Analyst
- Financial Advisor
- Economic Advisor
- Revenue Agent
- Budget Analyst
- Loan Officer