An online master's in economics allows learners to earn advanced degrees in market economics, applied economic theory, and the quantitative analysis of economic data. This degree qualifies graduates for jobs across multiple sectors, including government, public policy, consulting, insurance, and financial management.
Professionals with graduate degrees in economics appear poised for excellent employment prospects, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting a 14% growth rate for economist employment from 2019-2029. These professionals earned a median annual salary of $108,350 as of 2020.
What Is Economics?
Scholars trace the origins of modern economics to pioneering thinkers like David Ricardo and Adam Smith in the mid-to-late 1700s. Their works inspired later generations of economists, including well-known names like John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx.
These early economists sought to identify and describe the principles and systems that govern transactional finance on large and small scales. Economic thought became more complex as these underlying systems evolved into their contemporary forms. Today, the field encompasses many interrelated theories and principles that explain market trends and predict potential changes.
As such, trained economists play very important roles in financial policy and governance in both the public and private sectors. The field typically attracts curious, analytically minded individuals interested in complex, interdependent systems. Professionals with master's degrees typically pursue roles with higher pay and greater authority, making graduate education a wise investment with strong potential returns.
Why Get a Master's Degree in Economics?
Professionals with master's degrees tend to earn significantly more money than individuals who possess bachelor's degrees, associate degrees, or no degree at all. BLS data from 2020 notes median weekly earnings of $1,545 among employed individuals with master's degrees. In contrast, the national average for all labor force members was $1,029, with the average master's degree-holder making over 50% more than the average worker.
An online economics master's degree offers many advantages beyond higher salaries and advancement potential. Additional benefits include:
- Access to More Career Paths
- An online economics master's qualifies job-seekers for positions in a broader group of settings. Professionals with undergraduate degrees often work in junior positions, but a master's can open access to more senior roles and opportunities in academia.
- A Strong Foundation for Future Education
- Individuals looking to reach the highest level of educational achievement can pursue doctorates in economics. An online economics master's degree offers a stepping stone to these terminal programs.
- Specialization Opportunities
- Undergraduate programs tend to concentrate more on foundational essentials than niche areas. Students seeking to specialize in a particular economics field or branch can begin to pursue concentrated learning at the graduate level.
Sponsored Schools for Economics
What to Expect From an Online Master's in Economics Degree
Schools structure their programs differently, but an online master's in economics usually entails 30-36 credits, or 10-12 semester-long courses. Some programs are more rigorous in their requirements, but most mandate at least 30 credits.
Timelines also vary, but they mainly depend on the degree-seeker's preferred pace. Full-time programs usually take 1-2 years to complete. Online learning offers excellent flexibility, making part-time enrollment more feasible. This pathway usually requires about 3-5 years, depending on how many courses the student takes per semester.
Some schools place economics within a broader social or political science framework. Similarly, many programs support specialized tracks in concentrated areas. Popular options include econometrics and quantitative analysis, labor economics, finance, economic theory, and macroeconomics.
Institutions set their own admission policies, which can vary considerably. Some schools require each applicant to hold a bachelor's degree in economics, finance, business, accounting, or another directly related area. Others remain open to candidates of all academic backgrounds.
If an undergraduate economics degree or close equivalent is not a firm requirement, schools tend to heavily favor candidates with:
- College coursework in foundational and/or intermediate economic theory
- Calculus coursework, especially multivariate calculus
- Linear algebra coursework
Standardized test requirements usually call for GRE scores. Some schools emphasize the GRE's quantitative reasoning section. Letters of recommendation, personal statements, and a history of excellent undergraduate academic achievement all strengthen applications.
Comparing Master's in Economics and MBA Degrees
MBAs and master's degrees in economics share some features, especially considering MBA programs with economics concentrations. However, the two study paths also diverge in some key ways. Students weighing the relative merits of these two options should carefully consider how these similarities and differences affect their learning goals and career objectives.
The following information provides a comparison of online economics master's and MBA degrees:
|Master's in Economics||MBA|
|Program Length||1-2 years of full-time enrollment||2 years of full-time enrollment
12-18 months of accelerated full-time enrollment; accelerated programs are usually open only to students with multiple years of relevant professional experience
|Typical Credit Requirements||30-36 credits (10-12 courses)||30-36 credits (10-12 courses)|
|Admission Requirements||Some schools prefer candidates with a bachelor's in economics, finance, business, accounting, or a similar area.
Applicants usually need calculus and linear algebra coursework.
Schools rarely require candidates to have related work experience.
|Variable, but schools increasingly open MBA programs to learners from all academic backgrounds.
Applicants with degrees or college coursework in business, finance, or economics may receive preferential consideration.
Some MBA programs require professional experience in a business-related role.
|Topics Covered in Coursework||Economic theory
Macroeconomics and microeconomics
Quantitative analysis of economic data
Quantitative analysis of organizational, competitor, and/or market-specific data
Human resource management
|Cost||Tends to be lower||Tends to be higher|
MBA degrees typically offer more versatility, often leading to career opportunities in the private sector. An online master's in economics is more concentrated and does not cover operational management, but this degree opens career paths in academia and the public and private sectors.
Popular Economics Courses
At the master's level, economics coursework explores advanced, targeted concepts. Programs generally assume learners already have a strong working familiarity with foundational theories.
Courses come in three main varieties: core, elective, and culminating experiences. Students may encounter culminating experiences as capstone, thesis, or major research projects. Many programs also offer or require practicums, which allow enrollees to apply their knowledge in real-world settings.
Examples of courses commonly offered in online master's in economics programs include:
Applied Microeconomic/Macroeconomic Theory
This core course builds on the learner's existing knowledge of microeconomics and macroeconomics, exploring the practical applications of underlying theories. Coursework examines modeled examples of real-world economic problems and emphasizes viable solutions to policy shortcomings.
Another core requirement, this course introduces a specialized branch of economics. The field fuses economic theory with quantitative and statistical analysis to explain prevailing economic trends and phenomena. Coursework equips learners with the knowledge to turn model-based theories into actionable economic policy at the micro and macro levels.
This elective affords students the opportunity to build skills in the applied mathematics branch of real analysis. Coursework focuses on functions and sequences of real numbers. These skills empower economists to perform more detailed and insightful analyses of economic trends.
How Much Will an Online Economics Master's Degree Cost?
National Center for Education Statistics figures from the 2018-19 academic year put the average graduate school tuition at $19,314, with public schools posting average rates of $12,171 per year and private schools typically costing $25,929. The cost of an online master's in economics tends to align with these figures. Many schools charge higher tuition rates for their MBA programs, but such policies do not generally apply to economics degrees.
Public schools charge lower tuition rates for in-state learners. Meanwhile, private schools usually cost more but also charge flat rates, regardless of residency. Prestige also affects tuition, with elite private schools charging the highest tuition fees.
Online learning offers many cost advantages. Some schools offer reduced rates to students enrolled in distance learning programs, and flexible structures make it easier to maintain employment while earning a degree. Degree-seekers who need help meeting their costs should pursue non-repayable forms of aid, like scholarships and grants, before considering federal or private loans.
Choosing the Right Economics Graduate Program
Ranked lists of the best online master's in economics offer a strong starting point for research. However, rankings generally prioritize quantitative data, which tends to only tell part of the story. Prospective students should always consider their personal learning objectives and career goals in evaluating the suitability of a particular opportunity rather than relying solely on rankings.
The best MS in economics prepares you to best reach your personal goals. Examples of subjective factors that could affect your decision include:
- The availability of a desirable specialization or concentration
- Pathways to doctoral programs in economics at the same school
- Appealing practicum and experiential learning opportunities
- Faculty credentials
- Class sizes and student-to-teacher ratios
Make sure that any prospective school holds current regional accreditation. Organizations like the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs sometimes accredit economics degrees. These optional, specialized credentials also carry considerable weight and prestige.
Why You Should Get Your MS in Economics Online
Economics translates well to the virtual classroom experience. Course content tends to be static and concept-based, making recorded lectures an ideal delivery format. Online learners also enjoy flexible scheduling, which boosts efforts to control costs by making it easier for students to work while earning their degrees.
Online schooling demands high levels of self-discipline, self-motivation, and independence. Everyone has a different learning style, and not all of them translate seamlessly to digital environments.
Some learners prefer the traditional classroom experience, which offers more dynamic interactivity. Prospective students should always consider their own learning needs and preferences when weighing the merits of each delivery format. Learners should plan to invest heavily in your master's degree in economics, and their success depends on choosing the program format that best matches their style.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is better, an MBA or master's in economics?
MBA programs focus more on the interrelated aspects of organizational management. Economics plays a role, but the subject plays a smaller part in a typical MBA program. Learners specifically aiming to specialize in economics generally derive more value from an MA or MS in economics.
Can you get an MS in economics online?
Yes. Educational institutions were already making it easier for learners to earn online master's degrees in economics before COVID-19 forced them to pivot to distance learning. Apart from work-study or practicum requirements, enrollees can earn master's in economics degrees without ever setting foot on campus.
Is an online master's degree in economics worth it?
Yes. A master's degree in economics can lead to higher pay and more career opportunities than those afforded by earning bachelor's degrees.
How long are economics programs?
Most master's programs in economics cover about 30 credits — the equivalent of 10 semester-length courses. Some programs are more intensive. Full-time students can usually complete degree requirements in 1-2 years.
What jobs can you get with a master's in economics?
A traditional or online master's in economics qualifies degree-holders for public-sector jobs in economic policy development. In the private sector, the degree leads to various roles in financial analysis and financial management. Individuals with master's degrees can also pursue roles in academia.
Best Online Master's in Economics Programs
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