Economics is the study of production, wealth transfer, monetary policy, financial markets, and more. A master’s degree in economics can be a point of entry into a career in banking, financial consulting, brokerage, financial analysis, and a host of other well-paying careers.
As a master of economics, your focus will depend a great deal on your area of interest as well as your school’s course offerings. You could choose to focus on global trade, financial market behavior, retail cost analysis, insurance risk assessment, and countless other areas. Indeed, because economics touch on so many aspects of our lives, you will have a wide spectrum of specializations from which to choose. Whatever your primary area of study, a master’s degree could improve your career prospects and enhance earning potential in the field.
Just getting started? Check out our look at the economics major to find out how you can get an undergraduate degree in economics.
If you’re ready to earn your graduate degree at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, get started with a look at the Most Influential Schools in Economics.
Or read on to find out what you can expect as an economics master.
The master’s degree in economics is an advanced degree program that typically requires a minimum of two years, or the completion of 30 credit hours. Students who wish to become economists, or leaders in various areas of finance, should consider earning this advanced degree. Opportunities such as policy analyst and data scientist are often reserved for those who have earned a master’s degree. Likewise, masters in economics are in a more competitive position to land jobs as financial consultants, investment advisors, and more. If you plan to advance into a research or educational role in your field, the advanced degree is widely seen as an important threshold on your path to a PhD. Indeed, a major component of your advanced degree experience—at both the master’s and doctoral level—will be the design and pursuit of your own research undertaking, with support from an advisor or mentor.
Paul Krugman, professor emeritus of the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University, a distinguished professor of the Graduate Center Economics Ph.D program, a scholar at the Luxembourg Income Study Center, both at City University of New York, and the top-ranking influencer in the field of economics day, tells us:
I was a huge nerd as a teenager, I read a lot of science fiction, and in particular, I read Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels, which are, for those who don't know, they're sci-fi classics about a galactic civilization that's collapsing. And there's this group of mathematical social scientists who have figured out the mathematics of history and set in motion a plan to save civilization from the collapse of the empire, and I wanted to be one of those guys. And economics was as close as I could get, so there we are.” – Paul Krugman
Paul Krugman’s personal experience highlights the highly interconnected nature of economics. This is a field which concerns everything around us from governance, resource distribution, and labor to housing, supply chain management, and healthcare. A graduate degree in economics will be most beneficial to students who wish to learn more about the world around them, who are interested in the way that complex and overlapping systems interact, and who enjoy critical thinking.
If this describes you, and if you have strong mathematics skills, you could become part of a field with strong job growth potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of job opportunities for economists is expected to grow at a robust rate of 14% by 2029. Depending on what you choose to do within the field, your economics degree could also lead to well above-average pay. The BLS reports that financial analysts earned a median salary of $81,590 in 2019, while personal financial advisors earned $87,850, and economists pulled in $105,020.
If you’re considering seizing one of these opportunities and you want to find out more from those who have already been there, learn more about Paul Krugman and other top experts in economics today!
The primary requirement for gaining eligibility into an economics master’s program is completion of a bachelor’s degree from a properly accredited undergraduate school. Majoring in economics is not necessarily required, but students who major in economics will likely have completed all required coursework for graduate school eligibility. By contrast, students who major in correlated subjects like business will still be eligible to pursue an advanced degree in economics but may be required to complete a number of prerequisite courses first, including statistics, calculus, and micro-/macroeconomics.
While undergraduate programmatic accreditation is not specifically required in this field, most regionally accredited graduate schools will require that your bachelor’s degree be granted by a regionally accredited college or university.
Some colleges may offer bundled bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, where you could earn your advanced degree in one continuous five-year program. This option could save you time and money if you already know that you’ll be pursuing your advanced degree. However, the accelerated pace of such a program may make this a challenging way to earn both degrees. Find out if your school offers this bundling option and ask about eligibility requirements. But be sure you’re up to the added challenge!
On the subject of challenges, most economics master’s programs will require you to pass the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) before you can gain acceptance. (This is also true if you plan to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree.) Find out if your program requires you to pass this exam. If so, this will likely be the most challenging hurdle on your way to enrollment in a master’s degree program. Be sure that you take all appropriate steps to prepare for your GRE.
For any additional questions about eligibility, refer to your intended program and learn more about application requirements and any additional requirements such as work experience, academic performance thresholds, and referrals.
If you’re still working on building your qualifications for grad school eligibility, check out our look at the economics major to find out how you can get an undergraduate degree in economics.
The type of economics degree you pursue at the advanced level will depend on a combination of your professional goals and your school’s offerings. The degrees identified below are just a few variations in degree type. However, the name and nature of degrees can differ from one school to the next. Generally speaking, Master and Master of Arts programs will provide a core economics curriculum alongside theory-focused study and a set of complementary courses. Master of Science programs will provide an approach with greater emphasis on mathematics, econometrics, and computational theory. Applied master’s programs are typically regarded as professional degrees, aimed at providing practical skills for work in the field of economics.
It’s also worth noting that some master’s of economics programs are considered terminal degrees—typically applied and professional degrees—whereas others, often those with a greater focus on theory and research, are stepping stone degrees toward a PhD. In fact, in some programs, the master’s degree is built into the longer process of pursuing a doctoral degree. The PhD is particularly valuable in economics, where a great deal of respect and authority are accorded to those with doctoral credentials, including opportunities for post-secondary instruction and important research.
Some noteworthy advanced degree types include:
Business and economics students often have overlapping interests as well as common courses on the way to their respective degrees. Moreover, you could channel an undergraduate business degree into an economics master’s degree program, and vice versa. So which is the right master’s degree for you? It depends largely on what you hope to do in your career. Students who wish to work in fields such as research, public policy analysis, or financial consultation would likely benefit most from a graduate degree in economics. Those who wish to work in a more practical leadership capacity in business ownership, management, or human resources would likely be better served by pursuing an MBA. You would likely need to pass the GRE in order to access either of these options.
The specialization you choose within the field will be a matter of preference and interest, but can also help you narrow your career focus. The array of specializations in this field are as numerous and varied as are the aspects of everyday life impacted by economics. Consider how you plan to channel your education, whether you’re interested in local, national, or global systems; whether your focus is markets, labor, or accounting; whether there is a specific sector that interests you—like healthcare, agriculture, or retail. These factors will help you choose a focus in your studies from options that include:
Your specialization will determine many of the courses you’ll take in your economics masters program. Likewise, you may be required to take a number of requisite courses on foundational topics such as public policy and global economics. However, you may also choose to take a general and interdisciplinary approach to the subject. In either case, you will likely be required to supplement your coursework with a research project based on an original topic of your own design. You’ll typically work closely with the support of an advisor or mentor, and you may need to defend your research project before a committee in order to complete your program. Beyond this thesis or capstone project, common economics courses include:
A master’s degree in economics can significantly improve your job candidacy in this highly competitive field. A master’s degree could help you begin or advance a career as a financial analyst ($81,590; median pay, 2019), personal financial advisor ($87,850; median pay, 2019), or financial manager ($129,890; median pay, 2019). In addition to improving your qualifications for these roles, if you wish to become an economist ($105,020; median pay, 2019), the master’s degree in economics (or in a closely related subject area) is the basic threshold for qualification.
Economics is a field in which the emphasis on academic credentials is high. Your advanced degree will make you more appealing to employers and open the door to greater career advancement. Be aware that economists work in a wide variety of settings. In fact, the majority of economics masters end up in sectors other than banking and finance. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019, 23% of economists worked as researchers and analysts in the financial government, with an additional 9% working in government at the state level. 18% worked in scientific development and another 17% were working in management, scientific, and technical consulting services. Just 7% were employed in the areas of finance and insurance, suggesting that as a graduate with a master’s in economics, you have a lot of career options. You could perform one of the following jobs in an extremely wide range of professional settings:
Curious how far you could go with a master’s degree in economics? Start with a look at the top influencers in the field today!***
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