Guide to Economics Programs
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Though you can study economics online, traditional university programs are generally the best choice for this challenging field.
See what core courses you can expect to take as an economics major.
Completing your master's degree may be necessary if you want to work as an economist.
Though there is slow job growth for economists, you can use your economics training in a variety of fields.
Learn How You Can Study Economics
You can study economics through campus-based and online programs. You can also choose hybrid economics programs, an increasingly common mode of study that combines occasional in-class meetings with regular online study.
Brick-and-mortar Economics Programs vs. Online Economics programs
Most students study economics on campus at a college or university, which has many advantages despite the similar curriculum of traditional and online programs. Although economics is not a field that requires a great deal of hands-on learning, it is valuable to have ready access to your instructors and peers in order to find answers to advanced economics questions.
The structured environment of a traditional economics program provides continuity as you study challenging economics math courses that require consistent study. In an on-campus program, it is also easier to find economics tutors, opportunities for practical exercises and internships, and access to equipment and lab facilities, which can be used for the computer programming component in many economics programs.
You can also study economics online, enrolling either in an online college or in online courses offered by a traditional university. The educational standards are usually similar to those of traditional programs, and you can find programs up to the master’s level at many schools. The content of these economics programs is similar to that of courses taught in traditional programs. But it can be more difficult to obtain a research or professional economics internship if you are pursuing your degree online.
See if you fit the profile of a typical economics student
Many people imagine that economics focuses purely on math. While math is a major part of economics, you will also need to be a critical thinker with strong analytical skills and attention to detail. You should also have strong communication skills in writing and speaking in order to communicate your research to your audience in approachable, compelling language. Ask yourself the following questions as you consider studying economics:
- Do I enjoy working with mathematics and large quantities of data?
- Am I comfortable using computers to set up functions and enter data?
- Can I easily understand and construct charts and graphs displaying complex data?
- Can I construct theories and explanations for patterns in data, and defend and improve them?
If you can answer these questions affirmatively, you fit the skills profile of a promising economics student. However, not every economist or financial expert shares the same characteristics. This is why some people with talents in math go into economics or related programs and find themselves faltering; some students may be drawn by the promise of using mathematical skills and earning high salaries, but find they lack genuine interest in economics topics, such as policy evaluation and international monetary economics. If you want to be sure you have the necessary focus in economics topics to be a successful student, try an open online course in economics, which will let you test the waters without making an expensive commitment.
Find Out How to Earn an Economics Degree
As an economics student, your coursework will mostly consist of math, economic theory, and courses that teach you to prepare statistical models.
See what you’ll study in economics programs
Economics involves a great deal of higher-order thinking, drawing heavily from mathematics and statistical analysis of large amounts of data. The majority of your work will focus on learning analytical skills. You can expect to develop economic models, or prepare detailed explanations of historical and current models, as well as learn how to find and collect information in large quantities of data. You can expect to conduct original research if you pursue an advanced degree, either on your own or under the tutelage of a professor.
Learn what courses you’ll take while studying economics
You can expect to take these core economics courses during your academic career, in addition to a menu of economics electives:
This course will teach you the theories and concepts usually applied to understanding the economic decisions of individuals, companies, and governments. Microeconomic topics are perhaps the most commonly known, forming the bedrock on which most other theories and concepts are built.
This course will teach you theories and concepts relating to more complex, large-scale issues involving the nation or large groups. Specific topics you may cover will include inflation, banking systems, international trade, and unemployment policies.
This course will teach you the mathematical theories behind statistics and probability. You will learn topics ranging from statistical relevance to model development for explaining and predicting events.
This course will teach you complex mathematical methods that have been developed specifically for economic analysis. These include single and multiple linear regression models, correction for different rates of variation in samples, and other advanced methodologies.
This course will teach you the theories behind modern computers, which are vital to conducting most advanced economic analysis. Your topics of study will include basic mathematical programming, construction of models and simulations, and specific languages such as Java and Python.
In addition to core economics courses, students who are attending on-campus programs—and, increasingly, online programs as well—will have the opportunity to apply for internships, collaborate with professors, and perform independent studies. These experiences are vital for obtaining the skills and proven experience you’ll need to start building a resumé and research portfolio.
Discover the Economics Degree Levels Schools Offer
You can earn economics degrees at the following levels:
An associate’s program in economics is designed to give you an introduction to economics concepts while also providing you with general education. Earning an associate’s degree on campus or online usually takes between one and two years, and is ideal if you want to prepare for future study. Although an associate’s degree is not sufficient to become an economist, it can be enough to become a bank teller or loan officer.
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. Bachelor’s programs take around four to five years to complete, after which most economists go on to graduate or doctoral programs. In addition to becoming an economist, you may pursue careers in financial management and analysis, as well as more advanced government analysis positions.
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.
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 takes between three and six years and requires you to prepare a piece of independent research. Any economics position is open to you with a doctorate, including becoming a professor of economics at a university.
Note that no group provides economics programs with subject-specific accreditation, so do not seek programmatic accreditation in this field.
Learn Exactly What Economists Do
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.
Discover the Job Landscape for Economics Professionals
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.