Complete Guide to Online Economics Degrees
Economists are the professionals who study how goods and services are exchanged for money. There are many specializations within the economics field. Some study labor demographics and trends, others advise individual firms on ways they can improve their market share, and others examine how government legislation affects unemployment or economic health. About half of all economists are employed by the government, analyzing things like employment levels and energy costs. The other half work in private sector areas, such as finance or marketing.
Those interested in an online economics degree should look for an accredited school offering specialized courses such as macroeconomics, microeconomics, accounting, or finance. Entry-level associate programs in economics are designed to give students a basic introduction to the factors that impact the financial markets, but most economics positions require at least a bachelor’s degree. These degrees introduce students to a variety of economic theories and the practical tools to apply them. Read More
Comprehensive List of Colleges & Universities for an Online Economics Degree
Overview of Available Online Economics Degrees
Master's degrees in economics will prepare graduates for a wider array of job opportunities in both the private and public sector. Strong math skills can also help graduates qualify for a larger variety of positions. Many private industry positions require a master’s degree, and advanced positions may even require a PhD. The federal government will be decreasing its hiring of economists in the coming years, leading to a relatively low rate of job creation for this profession. However, economists will have good employment opportunities in related fields such as finance and business, due to their widely applicable skills.
There are no required certifications that economists need in order to find employment. Voluntary certifications are not widespread in the economics industry, but they do exist. Economists interested in the field of international economic development can seek out voluntary credentials offered by the International Economic Development Council. To earn this credential, applicants must have four years of economic development professional experience and a passing score on IEDC’s exam.
Associate degree programs in economics prepare students to play a vital role in resource allocation and distribution. Students will gain an in-depth understanding of the principles of modern finance and their application in public and private sectors. Graduates of the associate program will be able to engage in efficient analysis and forecasting of economic trends. Like most other associate programs, these degrees also require students to complete up to half of their credits in general liberal arts classes in English, the humanities, natural sciences, and math. Associate degree programs require the completion of 60 credits, which typically takes two years.
Two economics courses make up the foundation of nearly all economics associate programs: macro- and microeconomics. Macroeconomics is a class that looks at the larger, nationwide effects on the economy, such as government policies surrounding different financial systems. Microeconomics, on the other hand, examines small-scale phenomena. This course explores how the individual consumer affects the overall economy. Other core courses cover topics such as business cycles, business organization and finance, calculus, computer systems, environmental and resource economics, financial accounting, geometry, global economics, labor problems, national income, and statistics. Students learn about the large- and small-scale transactions that govern the growth of money in the United States, as well as practical tools for examining financial data. Programs may require students to complete a research paper.
Graduates with associate degrees in economics can pursue entry-level careers in a wide range of fields, such as accounting, banking, insurance, investments, real estate, and urban and regional planning. Job titles may include account manager, area sales manager, budget analyst, business forecaster, claims adjuster, credit analyst, financial planner, loan officer, managing consultant, or pricing analyst. Associate degrees in economics also serve as a suitable stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree in fields such as business, economics, and public administration.
A bachelor's degree in economics is the prerequisite for most entry-level economics careers, such as bank officers, marketing research analysts, or purchasing agents. Students who complete this degree program will have a thorough working knowledge of microeconomics and macroeconomics as they relate to the business cycle. Bachelor's degree programs from an accredited university generally take four years to complete. The majority of programs are comprised of 120 to 128 credits and require that applicants have a high school diploma or equivalent, as well as a strong background in mathematics.
Students in the bachelor's program will learn how financial markets function and how they are influenced by economic philosophies. They will also explore the importance of the manufacturing and distribution of products, as well as how to examine financial market trends. Examples of course topics include economic law, computers and economics, calculus, financial institutions, statistics, economic theory, economic development, and algebra.
Certification and licensure aren't common in this field, although many recent graduates and professionals become members of organizations that support the advancement of the economics industry, such as the American Economic Association. Students who are interested in advancing in their field may pursue master's degrees or PhDs in economics that help them obtain positions in consulting, research, and teaching.
Economics master’s programs offer graduate-level insight into the workings of the economy and the models that professionals use to predict and interpret the economic future. These degrees are preparation for a wide variety of endeavors, including doctoral programs in economics, law school, public policy degrees, or careers in financial analysis or economics research. Economics master’s programs vary in their focus, but all contain similar coursework in fundamental economic theories and teach students the advanced quantitative skills needed to understand financial markets. While not all programs require an undergraduate major in economics, all require previous coursework in quantitative topics and basic economics. The degree takes one to three years to complete, depending on the student's pacing. Most programs require 8-12 courses.
To earn either a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS), students will take advanced coursework in micro- and macroeconomics, econometrics, statistics, and perhaps accounting. This core of classes teaches students how to interpret the movement of markets and how to apply mathematical formulas and models to economic questions. A graduate with an MS in economics is better suited to analyze businesses or work for the government as an economic consultant; however, people with either an MA or an MS do have similar job opportunities and paths.
In addition to the core coursework, students will also take graduate seminars, which discuss cutting-edge problems in economics. Some programs include a built-in focus in a particular economic area, such as economic policy or global economics. Other programs let students choose electives in their own interest area. Economics master's programs may just consist of coursework, or they may require the completion of a thesis in addition to the courses. Coursework-only programs include a final exam, while thesis programs require that students defend a research project in front of a faculty committee.
The master's degree in economics can open up many career opportunities, since many economist roles require an advanced degree. About a third of economists work for the federal government, while large numbers also work for state governments or management and scientific consulting firms. Besides direct work as an economist, the master's program can also be applicable to a variety of roles in business, such as financial analyst, stockbroker, market research analyst, actuary, operations research analyst, or survey researcher.
The doctoral degree in economics is a research degree that trains students in high-level economic analysis and independent research. A PhD is required for most economist positions, as graduates of the doctoral program have developed the analytical, math, and critical thinking skills necessary for these upper-level positions. Doctorate programs typically take around five years to complete and require advanced coursework, along with a dissertation. Students center their program around a particular economic area, such as corporate finance, international business, or government economics. Applicants need an accredited undergraduate degree with a high GPA, usually in economics or another quantitative field. Many programs also require Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores.
The economics PhD program provides students with opportunities to implement upper-level analysis, research skills, and economic theory. Courses discuss econometrics and mathematical modeling in economics, microeconomics, macroeconomics, and economic dynamics. Other graduate seminars discuss emerging issues in economics and practical applications of economics to topics like business strategy, industry, or finance. Many programs require qualifying exams after the first year or two of the program, which cover these advanced topics. The final two to three years of the degree focus not on coursework but on the student’s dissertation project, a research question of the student’s design. During this time, students read literature, create economic models, and consult with their professors.
For online doctorate programs, the coursework is typically all completed online with no on-site training necessary. However, many universities have a “residency” requirement when it comes to the PhD. One of the ways that schools have gotten around this is to offer several off-site seminars that last a few days at different locations around the country. Students attend several of these during their PhD, which satisfies the residency requirements and gives students a chance to interact with professors and other students.
Economics certificates provide focused training in economics and quantitative methods. These programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate level. Undergraduate certificates are completed concurrently with a bachelor's degree, while graduate programs are stand-alone alternatives to a master's degree. The 12- to 15-credit certificate program can be finished in a year or less. Applicants to a graduate certificate in economics typically need a bachelor's degree in economics or another highly quantitative area, such as math, computer science, or business.
The economics certificate curriculum provides a short and specialized training in quantitative evaluation and economic systems. Common courses include quantitative methods, forecasting, and statistics. Other courses may focus on economic systems, energy economics, ecological economics, time series, financial markets, public economies, health economies, global banking, competition and regulation policy, and international industry economics. Graduate certificates in economics are more likely to allow students to choose electives to suit their professional interests, while undergraduate certificates focus more on economics fundamentals. Even with a variety of concentrations, most economics certificates have a similar core of basic requirements.
The career opportunities open to certificate graduates will depend on their previous education and professional experiences. Current professionals in a variety of industries, including general management, healthcare, finance, and non-profit administration, can all benefit from a thorough understanding of economic principles. Individuals with a bachelor's degree in economics can use a graduate certificate to decide if a master's degree is right for them or to gain advanced economics skills for work in government or business.
When deciding on which school to enroll in, it's important to consider accreditation. Attending a school that is accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education means your institution has earned a stamp of approval from an independent organization focused on assessing academic quality. Employers also look at graduation from an accredited school more favorably when deciding whom to hire. The Council on Higher Education Accreditation provides a searchable database for those interested in researching accredited degree programs.
Economists analyze market trends and make predictions based on their knowledge of economic theories and practical modeling techniques. They are employed by businesses to help them secure their financial future and by the federal government for analysis of the national economy. Common work settings include hospitals, government facilities, technical firms, research centers, and private corporations. The following list provides a sample of some of the career specializations that economics graduates may choose to pursue:
- Econometricians: Econometricians work at the intersection of math and economics. They use mathematical models and principles to conduct research on the economy.
- Financial Economists: Financial economists conduct research on the banking system and examine how the financial industry affects overall market health.
- Industrial Economists: These economists study and describe trends in particular market sectors and evaluate how big players in those industries will affect the industry as a whole.
- Labor/Demographic Economists: Labor and demographic economists are specialists who make predictions about the future of particular industries, their employment rates, and job opportunities.
- Macroeconomists: Macroeconomists look at big-picture trends in economics, such as the effect of government legislation on the economy. They also predict future trends, such as unemployment rates and job prospects for different fields.
- Public Finance Economists: These economists look at the influence and role of the government in the economy. They predict the effects of tax cuts, interest rate changes, and legislation on unemployment rates and other national figures.
- Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Accessed May 16, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/economists.htm
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