Studying for an economics degree at a higher educational institution opens up a rich perspective of the historical events and current affairs that contribute to how society functions. In particular, it confers students with a deep understanding of how finite resources should be accounted for, balancing the unceasing interplay of human demands and the limits of what is available for them to consume.
To evaluate how these factors affect one another, economists employ a variety of mathematical and analytical tools. Mastery of these tools, deep grounding on past and current paradigms, and a winning ability to communicate arguments should open up rich career avenues for economists. Around 23.2% of economists take the market research route to practice their discipline, but you are bound to find anyone of them along the halls of executive and legislative government bodies, large corporations, or practicing independently as private finance advisors (College Factual, 2021).
In this article, we will walk you through the requirements, costs, and careers that await prospective students of economics degrees. You will learn the core skills needed to make the most of this discipline and determine if this course program sets you up nicely for your career goals.
An economics degree is a formal four-year college program that focuses on the study of how the production, distribution, and consumption of goods affect the overall economic performance of a country, its neighbors, and the world at large. This economics definition is founded on the fact that the main thrust of the program is to find the optimum values of these economic parameters. This, in turn, is sought to help national and international governments achieve the right balance to long-term sustainable growth and development.
What can you do with an economics degree?
With an economics degree, you can expect to obtain high-impact occupations in both the private and public sectors. Economic majors populate the most reputable think tanks, policymaking institutions, and various national and international governing bodies. They are found in legislative and executive halls contributing to sound legislations and laws that are adapted to the needs of the times. Business conglomerates likewise value the insights and talents of economists to further their growth. Historically, economists are held in high esteem for their perceived critical role in contributing to the economic health of nations.
Most In Demand Careers for Economics Degree Graduates
Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists
Source: College Factual, 2021
Cost of Economics Degree
In general, economics degree tuition increases the higher level you go. For example, an associate degree can go from as low as $3,340 to as high as $14,587 per year for public in-state schools and private schools, respectively. Those are just for bare tuition and fees only, too. Including room and board, expect the values to balloon considerably.
For quick reference, you may use the following table for the range of costs according to the type of degree you may have in mind. Remember that the published (sticker) numbers are not the be-all in assessing your chances of getting admission to a university or college. Consider that the best schools also have the best financial and scholarship packages around, so you would do well to check those out and assess how much you stand to qualify before you proceed further.
How Much Does It Cost to Get a DISCIPLINE Degree?
(Tuition and Fees Only)
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(Tuition and Fees Only)
Source: College Pricing & Student Aid, 2020; College Tuition Compare, 2021
Economics Degree Jobs
An economic degree confers multiple job opportunities across various job industries. In essence, organizations want to optimize their use of limited resources, much as nations do, going by the simple operations of supply and demand that is at the heart of economic analysis.
Economists are known to work independently in offices but collaborate heavily with statisticians and other economists.
Pay for economics degree jobs is among the most rewarding of all occupations.
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Top 10 Highest Paying Economics Career
In U.S. Dollars, Annually
Top 10 Highest Paying Economics Career Quantitative Analyst: $141,375
Top 10 Highest Paying Economics Career Securities Trader: $130,299
Top 10 Highest Paying Economics Career Financial Manager: $129,890
Top 10 Highest Paying Economics Career Economist: $129,826
Top 10 Highest Paying Economics Career Lawyer: $122,960
Top 10 Highest Paying Economics Career Actuary: $121,077
Top 10 Highest Paying Economics Career Data Scientist: $116,185
Top 10 Highest Paying Economics Career Senior Market Analyst: $115,166
Senior Market Analyst
Top 10 Highest Paying Economics Career Compensation Manager: $106,435
Top 10 Highest Paying Economics Career Management Consultant: $103,022
Sources: Northeastern University; Indeed
Is economics in high demand?
The employment of economists is projected to grow 14% from 2019 to 2029, significantly faster than the average for all United States occupations (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). There isn’t much competition among economists too, as there are not too many of them in the occupations market. Over the decade, that 14% growth translates to only 2,900 new jobs.
In the age of data, industries defer to economists to look into their wealth of data and use their economic analysis and quantitative talents to forecast sales, business, and other market trends. Organizations expect economists to find out the perfect mix of pricing, advertising, and other business-critical areas.
A global economy increasingly getting complex and complicated by unforeseen events like COVID-19 further thrust economists into the limelight. Businesses expect economists to provide the information and insights to help navigate the business into safe and growth opportunities.
What jobs can you get with an economics degree?
Policy Analyst. Policy analysts chart national economic trends and identify how these will impact government institutions, nongovernment organizations, and industries. They use mathematical models to interpret data and forecast outcomes.
Personal Finance Advisor. Personal finance advisors help people meet short- and long-term financial goals. They advise clients on matters such as savings, insurance, stocks, and other investments.
Economic Consultant. Economic consultants look into the economic condition of a particular organization and suggest ways to improve them. They also often work with legal professionals to analyze data evidence in legal cases pertaining to economics or finance.
Economist. Economists study the production and distribution of resources, goods, and services by gathering and analyzing data, establishing trends, and evaluating economic issues. They apply qualitative and quantitative economic analyses to a variety of fields or study the cost of healthcare, energy, employment levels, and many others.
Quantitative Analyst. Quantitative analysts are specialists who apply mathematical and statistical methods to solve financial and risk management problems. Often called “quants,” they help investment banks, private equity firms, and insurance companies make optimum business and financial decisions.
What kind of salary can I earn with an economics degree?
The lowest 10% of economic degree holders earn less than $59,220, still significantly higher than the average for all occupations, $41,950. The highest 10%, meanwhile, can look forward to an annual $108,350 income. With that level of pay, economic degree holders have it all to a future of secure finances if they handle their careers right.
Types of Degrees in Economics
As with other disciplines, economics degree types are in the form of associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees. The time to complete each type is determined by the units required. Each type varies in the scope of courses to study and the associated costs.
What kinds of economics degrees are there?
1. Associate Degree in Economics
Average time to complete: 2 years
Credit requirements: 60-70 credits
An associate degree in economics serves as a basic introduction to the field of economics. It focuses on foundational courses in economic theory, applied economics, and the financial system.
The associate degree program in economics includes general education courses in the social sciences, math, and the humanities. The courses on basic financial principles and markets prepare students to pursue higher programs if they choose to take that route.
Based on the figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, associate degree holders can expect a median income of $56,590, significantly higher than what high school diploma holders earn, $39,070 (BLS, 2021).
Entry-level jobs: insurance account managers, customer service representatives, financial clerks
2. Bachelor of Economics Degree
Average time to complete: 4 years
Credit requirements: 120 credits
A bachelor of economics degree provides studies in supply and demand, consumer behavior, and financial markets. International trade and economic policies are within the scope of the discipline to complement classes in social science, business, and statistics.
Students typically need four years to finish their bachelor of economics degree, but those with previous associate degrees can finish the major in less time. In addition, students will have to choose between a bachelor of arts (BA) or a bachelor of science (BS) degree.
The most common level of education attained by people in occupations related to economics is the bachelor of economics degree. Around 40% of these workers are holders of the degree.
Entry-level jobs: policy analyst, research associate, data analyst, operations associate, associate underwriter
3. Master’s Degree in Economics
Average time to complete: 1-3 years
Credit requirements: 50-70 credits
A master’s degree in economics is a post-baccalaureate study that focuses on microeconomics, macroeconomics, econometrics, and quantitative analysis. The program teaches students to deepen their research and analytical skills.
The curriculum enables students to familiarize themselves with the discipline’s principles, models, and tools to analyze data and create reports, strategies, and forecasts.
Many programs for a master’s degree in economics often require a comprehensive research project addressing a current economic issue.
High-level jobs: research fellow, trading analyst, junior trader, economics adjunct faculty, lecturer in managerial economics.
4. Doctoral Degree in Economics
A doctoral degree in economics trains graduates as competent researchers and able economics professors. Graduates are required to take specialized courses and pass comprehensive exams.
Doctoral candidates are required to write and defend dissertations to earn their degrees. They are expected to have a deep understanding of major areas of economics, with a particular focus on theoretical, applied, and empirical microeconomics and econometrics.
Graduates of doctoral degrees in economics are expected to apply the knowledge they have learned to produce original research in theoretical, empirical, and applied settings.
High-level jobs: college professor, personal finance advisor, financial managers
Source: College Factual, 2021
Economics Degree Requirements
In general, schools vary in what they establish as economics degree prerequisites from candidates for their economics degree programs. The University of California, Berkeley, for example, requires that incoming applicants take prerequisite courses in economics, calculus, statistics, and intermediate economic theory (University of California, Berkeley, 2021). Alternatively, students can show proof that they are taking the special courses concurrently at the time of their application to the program.
Proof of Graduation
This may include the candidate’s diploma and certificate of graduation from his/her high school.
This should be the official GED transcript. You should compute the GPA in case the school you are applying for the economics degree program requires a GPA threshold.
Economics degree programs typically lean on the use of mathematical models and statistical tools so expect prerequisite courses in statistics and calculus, for example. You might also have to take introductory courses in economics subjects before or at the time of your admission application.
SAT or ACT Score
The College Board has essentially discontinued the SAT on January 19, 2021, but experts suggest results from it or its equivalent, the ACT, can increase the likelihood of passing the program requirements.
TOEFL or IELTS
Either of these two is required for international applicants. You need to clear with the school about other special requirements if you are a non-native or non-citizen applicant.
Application fees vary. They are non-refundable and can be paid through various methods, so verify which system works with the school.
Mathematical skills. Economics relies on various branches of mathematics, including calculus and algebra. It also uses statistics ponderously, so students who are averse to these courses may skip the program and look for alternative ones.
Analytical skills. The work of economists typically revolves around data, from collecting them to analyzing and producing results, reports, and forecasts. Correlating various aspects of these divergent data requires extreme attention to detail and analytical skills.
Critical thinking skills. Critical thinking is an important component of economics degree skills. Economists are required to solve complex problems and to do that, they need sound logic and reasoning to resolve the problems. They must have an eye for historical and ongoing developments, sift through them and posit new paradigms or trends.
Communication skills. Economists have to be articulate and fluent in reaching out to their clients and audience. From time to time, they are required to collaborate with other economists and other professionals, which necessitates an excellent ability to explain and get their ideas across divergent cultures and personalities.
Writing skills. From communicating reports, presenting forecasts, to publishing research papers, economists must present their ideas clearly in written words.
What to Look for in Economics Program
Students of economics programs are expected to have a feel for the specific fields that they find highly interesting and pursue them further through advanced graduate studies. Most colleges will only offer graduate programs that have specialization options. Undergraduate students will do well to have their bachelor’s degree in order and apply to the appropriate school where the specialization is offered.
Available specializations in economics program may include:
Economics in the Developing World
Economics of Cities
Market Structure and Firm Strategy
Poverty and Inequality
Economics of Jobs
International Macro-Finance/Macroeconomics of Financial Markets
Managerial Economic Analysis
Economics of Organization
Data Analytics and Economic Analysis
Behavior and Strategy
In the case of the University of Chicago, specialization programs follow the same five component parts required for its standard economics program:
The objective of these component parts is to give the participating students the best tools of their chosen field while possessing the broadest understanding of the markets and industries in which they are likely to participate (The University of Chicago, 2021).
You will find that in general, colleges and universities typically list their accreditors on their websites. If you cannot find the accreditation information on an institution’s website, you can check out the CHEA website or the ED’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs to verify if the institution is properly accredited or not.
Financial Aid Options
The most prestigious names in graduate education often have financial packages that bring the total cost of enrollment to a fairly manageable level. For this reason, students are encouraged no to be easily dissuaded by published/sticker prices that they see. Instead, they should explore financing or scholarship options offered by the institutions themselves.
Beyond school and general scholarships and financial aids, several institutions exist that award scholarships to economic degree students. Among these are:
APA Judith McManus Price Scholarship Package: Varies Eligibility: Women and minority (African American, Hispanic American, or Native American) students in an approved Planning Accreditation Board (PAB)-approved program. Should be American citizens.
Mercatus MA Fellowship Package: $80,000 Eligibility: The candidate must be a student of George Mason University pursuing a master’s degree in economics in preparation for a career in public policy. The scholarship itself is a two-year, competitive, full-time fellowship program.
Society of Actuaries Hickman Scholar Program
Package: $80,000 Eligibility: This program seeks to increase the number of academic actuaries who hold a Ph.D. and an actuarial designation. Candidates must pursue academic careers in the US or Canada. Candidates are expected to use their stipend to address the research and education needs of the profession, including both theoretical and practical aspects.
The Hamilton Project: The Curious Case for Taking Up an Economics Degree
The value of a college degree has been a point of interest and subject of lively debates from both experts and the men on the streets alike. Take, for example, the oft-discussed report from the Center on Education and the Workforce, What’s It Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors, which examines the value of a college degree in relation to the choice of a major over the course of a career.
Another study, however, pushes the envelope of an economics degree to another level. The study—The Hamilton Project—presents, instead, a whole range of possible outcomes. The possibilities cover the fifth percentile of earners up to the 95th percentile. In all the potential outcomes, it turns out, economics degree graduates get the biggest share of the pie among the best-paid graduates in all fields.
It’s quite a nifty look at the lifetime value of a college degree. It’s not overly technical but it could get interesting if you tinkered around with the tools in the study, so you would do well to check it out yourself.
Beyond money considerations, of course, people have other yardsticks to determine their choice of a degree. But if you think earnings could give you more wiggling room to decide other things in life, then a degree in economics might just be the ticket for you. Mind, then, the core skills that it demands.
Accreditation: Postsecondary education institutions. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Education.
Applying to the economics major. (2021, June 1). University of California, Berkeley.
Average undergraduate tuition and fees and room and board rates charged for full-time students in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by control and level of institution and state or jurisdiction: 2017-18 and 2018-19. (2019). National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
Business economics. (2020). UAGC | University of Arizona Global Campus.
Career earnings by college major. (2014, September 29). The Hamilton Project.
College Board will no longer offer SAT subject tests or SAT with essay. (2021, January 19). College Board.
Economists: Occupational outlook handbook. (2021, April 9). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Employment, wages, and projected change in employment by typical entry-level education: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021, April 12). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Find accredited higher education institutions & programs. (n.d.). Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
How can I specialize in an economics degree? (2020, May 22). The Top Business Schools and Degrees.
Kenneth C. Griffin Department of economics. (2021). The University of Chicago.
The mega list of scholarships you should apply for | Class of 2021-2022. (2021, May 17). Colleges of Distinction.
Specialization tracks — economics. (2021). University of California, Davis.
Trends in college pricing and student aid 2020. (2020). The College Board.
What’s it worth?: The economic value of college majors. (2020, May 7). CEW Georgetown.