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.
Learn More About Master's in Economics Programs
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
||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)
||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
Macroeconomics and microeconomics
Quantitative analysis of economic data
Quantitative analysis of organizational, competitor, and/or market-specific data
Human resource management
||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:
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.
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.
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.
2021’s Best Online Master’s in Economics Programs
West Lafayette, IN
Students have long praised Purdue University for its commitment to online education. It has continued this tradition by offering the Master of Arts in Economics. Purdue has always offered two ways to get their degrees; students can either choose to pursue their program online or in a hybrid format. This school holds regional accreditation by the NCACS THLC.
The Master of Arts in Economics is made up of 30 credit hours and generally takes about two years to complete with part-time study. Students can finish the degree in as little as 18 months or up to five years and can choose between full-time and part-time study. Sample courses include:
- Economics and Accounting
- International Economics
- Financial Econometrics
Online colleges have begun requiring that all of their faculty undergo the necessary training in order to be certified to teach online. Purdue has been at the forefront of that change, which has resulted in the online school being staffed by full-time faculty that teaches the exact same courses on the campus.
University of North Dakota
The University of North Dakota has a long-standing tradition of online and distance education, one that has been around for over 20 years. This school confers the Master of Science in Applied Economics, a professional degree. The university is regionally accredited by the NCACS THLC.
The Master of Science in Applied Economics is a degree meant for students who are interested in becoming an economic researcher. It is generally considered to be an academic degree that leads to further study at the doctorate level. For this reason, working students who wish to pursue a career as a professional in an industry may find that this degree does not fit their requirements. This degree program requires 31 credit hours in order for a student to graduate. This also includes a thesis, which is mandatory for all students, as well as a research project. Sample courses include:
- Labor Economics and Labor Relations
- International Money and Finance
- Advanced Macroeconomic Theory
The online learning experience at UND is strong. Students are treated to a 100 percent online program that is taught in a synchronous format and on the semester term. This is a great way for students to structure their time, as classes are oftentimes held in the evenings for the convenience of the students.
Ohio University’s main campus is home to the school’s Internet portal, known as eCampus to students. This school offers students the opportunity to get the rare Master of Financial Economics. This school, which is regionally accredited by the NCACS THLC, and is also independently accredited by the AACSB. The online business school is also endorsed by the Chartered Financial Analyst exams.
The Master of Financial Economics is a program that is recognized to be based on the CFA Body of Knowledge. It is also endorsed by this institution, meaning that students who successfully complete this degree will be eligible to sit for the exam that will see them become certified chartered financial analysts. This is a 10-course, 30-credit hour degree. This includes a research project that is mandatory for all students. Sample courses include:
- International Trade and Financial Economics
- Quantitative Analysis for Financial Markets
- Financial Statement Analysis
This is a flexible and convenient program that can take as little as one year to complete. It is also taught in an asynchronous format, allowing students to study when it’s best for them. With a renown faculty and a strong curriculum, Ohio University is the perfect institution for students want to get a degree from one of the leading cheap online grad schools.
Ball State University has a unique online economics degree available to students. This school confers the Master of Business Administration with a Graduate Certificate in Health Economics, Policy and Administration, a wholly online program that offers working professionals the ability to have a specialized degree. This university holds regional accreditation by the NCACS THLC and further independent accreditation by the AACSB.
As mentioned above, BSU is different from any other school on this list in that it confers a Graduate Certificate in Health Economics, Policy and Administration as a bridge into the school’s online MBA program. Students must first complete this certificate and then move into the MBA program in order to receive the certificate. This degree requires a total of 30 credit hours in order for a student to apply for graduation. This includes a capstone project. Sample courses include:
- Global Strategic Management
- Economic Analysis for Managers
- Statistics and Quantitative Methods
While it is possible to earn the graduate certificate as a stand-alone program, most economic students choose to go on to pursue the online MBA. This is because they can use the credits from the certificate as credits towards the graduate degree, making it a convenient way to both get an educational specialty in health care economics and to go on towards receiving a graduate degree.
Southern New Hampshire University
Southern New Hampshire University has a reputation for providing students with an exceptional online education. The Master of Science of Applied Economics is conferred 100 percent online to students. This university holds regional accreditation by the NEASC.
This program can either be a general degree or have an added concentration in Environmental and Natural Resources Economics. SNHU is one of only a handful of programs that offers this specialization that works to understand the economics behind environmental policies. It is a great concentration for anyone who is seeking to advance their degree in the environmental and sustainable fields. The M.S. in Applied Economics requires 36 total credit hours in order to earn this degree. There are no thesis or research projects required for this program. Sample courses include:
- Mathematics and Statistics for Economics
- Game Theory and Industrial Organization
- Investment Analysis and Portfolio Management
Courses at SNHU are taught in an asynchronous format, which allows students from all over the country to log into classes when they have free time. Courses are also taught in 10-week terms, with five start dates a year. This lends itself to more flexibility, as a student is able to take a term off for work and personal commitments.