Economics Degree

Why get an economics degree? Because money makes the world go round and nobody knows more about how that really works than an economis.

Do you want to know how money moves the world?

Why get an economics degree? Because money makes the world go round and nobody knows more about how that really works than an economist.

Worshipped for their oracular powers when things are going well and cursed for being ignorant blockheads when everything goes up in flames (think the crisis of 2008), economists working at the top levels enjoy wizard-like status.

Operating from headquarters typically located in national capitals, economists deal in realms of obscure, complex knowledge and information. They wield the power to make one-sentence pronouncements that can have markets swinging wildly and business people around the world shouting for joy or running for cover.

Economics has a long history as a classical academic field. It is an area of study that deals in the theoretical and practical bases of a fundamental human activity – the creation and use of money. If you are good with applied numeracy skills and enjoy analyzing the way money works in our lives from both large- and small-scale viewpoints, consider a degree in economics.

It is a challenging major, but students who have what it takes to successfully study economics will find it is one of the most interesting and rewarding courses of study in higher education.

What is Economics?

Economics is a broad discipline, difficult to precisely define. As a field of human interest and study, economics goes back thousands of years. The modern history of economics is easily documented at least to the 1700s and Adam Smith, author of Wealth of Nations and considered the father of modern economics and capitalism.

Sometimes referred to as “the science of decision making”, economics is a branch of knowledge concerned with the human tendency to create various stores of value (money) and engage in the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. As a social science, economics is the study and analysis of the motivations and choices individuals, businesses, and governments make when allocating and using scarce resources to satisfy wants and needs.

The academic field of economics intersects many disciplines to bring together mathematics, psychology, sociology, psychology, and law among others. At the undergraduate level, economics education is the process of teaching students how to think and work like economists from the basic understanding that scarcity drives human decision making.

Economics students learn how to use math-based strategies to perform rigorous analysis of models, then build theories, and use data to test them. Strong math and analytical skills along with the ability to organize and draw conclusions from large amounts of varied information are core attributes of successful economics students.

Pure economics is somewhat of a niche field, but economics degree holders find employment opportunities in most of the traditional business sectors including accounting, auditing, banking, business services, financial analysis and management, insurance, securities, and real estate. Government agencies are another source of jobs for economics majors. Economics is a demanding field of study in terms of both intellectual and technical capabilities, and graduates emerge armed with skills that are highly valued in the modern workplace.

What are the qualities and skills an economics student needs?

Economics is an interdisciplinary field with a long history and a scope that stretches from family kitchen table budgetary decisions to the workings and global interfaces of national economic, monetary, and banking systems. The successful economics student will be in possession of a similarly broad range of qualities and capabilities. Here is an overview the most important.

Strong academic skills – University study of economics revolves around reading dense materials, sifting through reams of complex data, engaging in deep analysis, and crunching a lot of numbers. Information and conclusions then have to be pulled together and presented clearly in either written or oral reports. Students need to be excellent readers and have the ability to engage in hours of focused study of difficult materials.

Numeracy skills – Economists use math and statistics to interpret and describe the world. Numeracy and command of mathematical principles are foundational skills for economists. Beyond doing math, students must also be able to talk about it, so mastery of mathematical vocabulary and jargon is essential.

Technology skills – Modern economic analysis is technology-driven. Comfort with computers and facility with statistical analysis software packages such as SPSS and MATLAB are essential. Students will also need to know at least one of the common data science and statistics programming languages like SAS, R, or Python.

Analytical skills – Economists work with large sets of disparate data and variables. They analyse such material within a framework derived from deep knowledge of human history, psychology, and behavior. Then they draw conclusions, make decisions, and attempt to predict the future. Exceptional analytical skills and an ability to understand complex systems are hallmarks of the economics student and professional.

Soft skills – A good economics student is an independent thinker who is able to question accepted dogma and generate original ideas and insights. Curiosity is important, as is comfort with uncertainty, and the quality of being self-motivated will power intensive study and see the student through the many tasks ahead.

The prospective economics student needs to be an astute long-term thinker who can plot a careful tactical route through higher education and training in order to build a broad and deep pool of knowledge and skills. Setting clear objectives and planning ahead will be vital to achieving the most value out of your educational experience and positioning well for the job market.

What is the best preparation for studying economics?

Economics is a challenging subject. Students need to be well-prepared in terms of both general academic study skills and mathematical skills. Cover as many upper-level math and statistics courses as possible in the high school or undergraduate years.

The ability to apply strategic reading skills is critical, and should be learned early. Build analytical skills and take advantage of any opportunity to learn the use of statistical analysis software. Picking up some programing experience would be a good idea. High school students should complete any available economics courses in preparation for the more challenging college work.

Exploring the real world of economics is very useful preparation for this major. Aside from previewing economics textbooks to get a feel for the distinctive nature of this academic field, prospective economics majors should read publications like The Economist and The Wall Street Journal on a regular basis. Learn how to interpret data that is presented in graphs and tables. It is also advisable to gain early familiarity with career options.

Economics is a specialized field that has developed over a long period of time. Therefore, the best preparation for graduate level economics study is an undergraduate degree in economics. An ideal strategy would be to do a B.S. economics with a business administration minor. Technology skills should be honed during the undergraduate years. Avoid learning to code Python while carrying a graduate level course load.

What coursework is required for an economics degree?

Although some business-focused associate degree programs might provide useful background for an intended economics major, study for an economics degree most commonly begins at the 4-year bachelor’s degree level. Because the majority and most lucrative of job opportunities in the field are occupied by graduate degree holders, students beginning their studies at the undergraduate level would be wise to plan their degree strategically with graduate-level study already in mind.

Economics is a well-established university major, so nearly every campus houses an economics department that offers 4-year Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) undergraduate degrees in the field as well as various configurations of economics master’s degrees that take 2-3 years of full-time study, although there are intensive programs that may be completed more quickly. Besides the Master of Arts, Master of Science, and PhD, an MBA with an economics specialization (MBA in Economic Studies) is a graduate study option at some schools.

The B.A. in economics is theory-focused and oriented toward the practical demands of entry-level jobs in the field. Foreign language study requirements are common. An economics B.S. focuses on applied economics, and requires a lot of mathematics classes. Students tackle calculus, econometrics, and advanced economic analysis. The B.S. degree is generally better preparation for graduate school.

Along with the typical General Education Requirements and several types of math classes, economics undergraduates can expect to enroll in courses with topics like micro- and macroeconomics, history of economic thought, world economic history, behavioral economics, public economics, economic development, and international trade.

Economics master’s degrees usually include a specialization, and selection of specialty is a key to matching your interests and meeting future career objectives. Popular specializations include:

  •       Creative Economy
  •       Economic Policy
  •       Econometrics and Quantitative Economics
  •       Environmental Economics
  •       Health Economics
  •       International Economics and Development
  •       Macroeconomics/Financial Economics
  •       Political Economy
  •       Public Policy
  •       Spatial Economics
  •       Quantitative Methods

Courses will vary with the type of master’s degree (M.A. or M.S.) and choice of specialization. Graduate curriculums are often organized into quantitative and applied tracks. Here are a few example course titles:

  •       Business Cycles
  •       Data Analysis
  •       Development Theory
  •       Elementary Mathematical Economics
  •       Growth Theory and Policy
  •       Labor Markets and Policies
  •       Macroeconomic Theory
  •       Monetary Theory & Policy
  •       Statistics for Economists
  •       Topics in Econometrics with Applications

Economics graduate programs offer many possibilities for building a degree specialized to particular career goals and professional circumstances. That is why a master’s in economics can be an ideal degree for the professional who has several years of experience in the field; undergraduates intending to study straight through need to plan early and prepare carefully.

What are the benefits of an economics degree?

Entry to a profession with high earning potential is only one of the benefits of majoring in economics.

While working towards an economics degree, students explore the important economic concerns that impact society. Globalism, growth, ethics, individual freedom, income inequality, social development, environmental justice, and government policy are just a few of the topics that economics majors analyse from both theoretical and practical perspectives. The study of economics develops critical thinking skills and builds intellectual depth as well as interdisciplinary breadth, producing exceptionally well-rounded individuals and great generalists who can add value in nearly any occupational role.

Economics students are afforded many opportunities for hands-on learning and the exploration of real-world applications of fundamental economic theories and principles. They build useful research design, data handling, and computer technology skills that are applicable across a wide range of academic and occupational pursuits.

Besides the academic and career-related benefits that the degree offers, studying economics requires and develops strong intellectual and analytic capacities. It also leaves graduates with a big-picture grasp of the interrelationships between policy, money, business, and human psychology. These attributes are useful in almost any business field.

What can you do with an economics degree?

Getting an economics degree prepares you to work in a variety of roles in both public and private sectors. Accounting, banking and finance, business consulting, and insurance are examples of industries that offer a range of positions suitable for an economics major.

Government departments and ministries along with central banks are among the most common sources of opportunity for pure economists, as are institutions of higher education. It is important to remember that most positions in these sectors call for doctoral-level qualifications.

An academic background in economics will equip you with the ability to apply a toolbox of mathematical and statistical analytical techniques to complex data sets. These strong analytical skills combine with well-developed capabilities to extract information, draw conclusions, and formulate recommendations to make economics graduates particularly skilled problem solvers.

This makes economics degree holders a good fit for a broad range of positions in business and industry, including many jobs that do not appear to fall within traditional economics career tracks. Here are some examples of positions that an economics degree will qualify you for.

Jobs for Economics Majors

  •       Actuarial Analyst
  •       Business Development Manager
  •       Central Banker
  •       Data Analyst
  •       Economic Policy Consultant
  •       Financial Risk Analyst
  •       Investment Analyst
  •       Market Researcher
  •       Policy Analyst
  •       Pricing Analyst
  •       Professor
  •       Statistician
  •       Trade researcher

The field of pure economics tends to be a bit tight where job opportunities are concerned. Pure economists are generally found working as professors, in central banking, and in government policy centers and think-tanks. An advanced degree, usually a doctorate, is a standard requirement. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 7% growth rate through 2026 for jobs within the field of economics, which works out to the addition of about 1,300 jobs to an existing inventory of 21,300.

Salaries for Economics Majors

Typical entry-level qualification for occupations in the economics field is a master’s degree. A stiff requirement, but median entry level annual salary in 2017 was $102,490.  Students hoping to enter an economics career with a bachelor’s degree should explore government job opportunities.

Positions are more plentiful outside of pure economics. A graduate degree plus additional certifications and advanced technology skills are certainly helpful to compete on the business job market as an economics major, but salaries are generous. Market research analysts earn a mean annual salary of $71,450; a financial analyst pulls down an average of $99,430. Actuaries earn $114,850 per year.

Salaries go up quickly once management levels are reached. A new graduate can become a management consultant within a few years and be earning $93,440, while a compensation and benefits manager makes $130,010 annually.

Is an economics degree right for you?

A degree in economics is a good higher educational option for students who excel in conducting mathematical analysis of data and drawing conclusions about large- and small-scale phenomena. An interest in history, human psychology, business, technology, and world events provides the right background for the core technical skills that you will build in an economics degree program.

The wide variety of on-campus and online economics degree programs available makes it a good major for working professionals and other students who need flexibility. Economics career path possibilities are also varied and offer many different, interesting occupational roles along with the promise of good compensation.

If you are up to the challenges and have the unique mindset required to be able to think like an economist, consider getting an economics degree. It is a classic higher education qualification and your passport into an ancient and respected discipline.


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Dartmouth University

  • Hanover, NH
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Dartmouth is the 9th oldest university in the United States founded in 1769 by Eleazar Wheelock, who was a Congregational minister from Connecticut.

Carnegie Mellon

Carnegie Mellon University

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Andrew Carnegie founded the Carnegie Technical Schools in 1900. An industrialist and philanthropist of Scottish heritage, Carnegie derived inspiration from the Brooklyn-based Pratt Institute to set up the institution.

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University of Chicago

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The University of Chicago was founded in 1890 as a coed college by the American Baptist Education Society, who donated $400,000 to go with a donation of $600,000 buy oil magnate John D. Rockefeller.

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University of California – Berkeley

  • Berkeley, California

The University of California – Berkeley, which is simply referred to as Cal as well as UC Berkeley, Berkeley, or California, was founded in 1868 and located in northern California.

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University of Virginia

  • Charlottesville, Virginia

Founded in 1819 by one of the fathers of the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia (UVA) was established amid the creative tumult surrounding the birth of the United States.


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