Online Master's Programs in Economics

Updated on: 12/13/2018

A degree in economics prepares graduates for careers in fields as diverse as banking, finance, business, insurance, and government. Economists can work as consultants, policy analysts, and researchers in the public and private sectors. A master's degree in this versatile field provides a competitive edge over job candidates with only a bachelor's degree. It also qualifies professionals to move up the organizational ladder or transition into a new field.

Whether you are pursuing a graduate degree to advance your career or to explore new opportunities, this guide offers valuable information about career prospects, salary outlook, and professional associations. It tells you what to expect in a master's in economics online, the features that determine a quality program, and the possibilities for financial aid.

What to Know About Online Master's in Economics Coursework

While requirements, courses, and specializations differ for each school, an online master's in economics shares many common features with a traditional brick-and-mortar program. Each curriculum emphasizes macroeconomic and microeconomic theory, statistical analysis, and econometrics. Students also apply economic models to predict changes and understand trends, and several programs allow students to focus on a concentration such as economic development, labor economics, or applied econometrics. Many degrees include a thesis or capstone course as a requirement for graduation.

An online master's usually requires between 30 and 40 credits. Full-time students typically earn their degree in two years, although some schools offer accelerated programs that may be completed in approximately 20 months. Most programs expect students to possess a foundation in mathematics from their undergraduate studies. However, learners without this background may receive provisional admission and then must complete requisite courses in statistics, calculus, or quantitative methods before entering the program.

What's the Difference Between a Master's in Economics and an MBA in Economics?

While similar, these two degrees emphasize different skills and lead to different career opportunities. An MBA offers a broad curriculum in business management, organizational behavior, human resources, finance, and marketing; graduates are then prepared to enter managerial and administrative positions. An MBA student may take a few economics classes, however students in a master's in economics complete much more specialized economics coursework in areas such as macroeconomics, microeconomics, econometrics, game theory, monetary policy, and forecasting.

Like the MBA, a master's in economics opens graduates to numerous career opportunities, however these positions are usually within companies, government agencies, or other organizations that require expertise in economic modeling, measurement, and policy analysis. A master's in economics also provides a sound foundation for doctoral studies.

What Common Courses are Offered in a Master's in Economics Program?

Each economics program may approach the field differently, establishing its own requirements, core courses and electives, and specializations. Most master's in economics online, however, require students to complete foundational courses in macroeconomic and microeconomic theory, econometrics, and applied economics. Choosing the right program ultimately depends on your personal interests and career aspirations.

Macroeconomics

This branch of economics studies the behavior of the economy as a whole, and focuses on changes in aggregate indicators such as unemployment, gross domestic product, and inflation. Course themes include the determination of national income and employment across the business cycle, fiscal and monetary policy, and the effects of financial crisis.

Microeconomics

Microeconomics explores individual decisions by consumers or business firms, and evaluates resources, costs, and tradeoffs. The course covers consumer behavior, different market structures, the nature of supply and demand, and the evaluation of economic efficiency of market outcomes. Students also apply microeconomic models to real world issues.

Behavioral Economics

This course explores how human behavior influences economic decisions. The field draws from psychology, neuroscience, and microeconomic theory to explain why people behave irrationally and contrary to predictions of rational economic models. Behavior economics emphasizes heuristics, framing, and market inefficiencies to analyze how market decisions are made, along with the mechanisms that drive public choice.

Econometrics

Econometrics is the quantitative application of statistical techniques and mathematical models to develop theories and test hypotheses in economics, and for forecasting future trends from historical data. Students in this course use commonly applied economic tools to perform and evaluate empirical research. Topics include hypothesis testing, inference, linear regression, and least-squares estimation.

International Economics

This course addresses international trade theory, policy, and contemporary challenges. Topics include the mechanics of foreign exchange markets, monetary policy, the cost and benefits of international economic interdependence, and globalization. Students addresses contemporary issues in international trade such as deficits, treaties and trade agreements, tariffs, regionalism, protectionism, labor and human rights, and environmental change.

What Specializations are Available in a Master's in Economics Program?

Many master's programs in economics allow students to explore their research interests and career goals through a set of specialized courses. These specializations typically reflect faculty research strengths and prominent subdivisions within the field of economics and the specific university. While specializations vary by program, this list provides some common examples.

Econometrics and Statistical Applications in Economics

This specialization provides advanced training in applied quantitative economic reasoning, and leads to careers in financial analysis, investment management, research, and policymaking. Coursework includes theoretical and applied econometrics, computational methods, mathematical models, and statistical analysis, students use econometric applications to develop theories, test hypotheses, and forecast future economic trends.

Economic Development

The field of development economics explores the major economic challenges emerging in the 21st century related to globalization, international trade, and international finance. Courses in this specialization examine global inequality and poverty, population growth, and structural transformation. Students analyze key economic indicators including GDP, healthcare, education, gender inequality, sustainable development, and environmental change.

Environmental and Energy Economics

This specialization address the relationship between environmental policies, energy policies, and economic development. Students apply economic theories and empirical research to examine current environmental and energy issues. Topics include economic and health costs of pollution, energy consumption and carbon gas emissions, and the costs and benefits of environmental regulation and sustainable development policies.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

Several master's programs require students to complete a capstone project or thesis that demonstrates their mastery of the subject. The capstone often takes the form of a culminating course, where students integrate the economic knowledge from their studies into a research project. For example, a student might conduct a literature review on gender differences in corporate salaries, or a statistical analysis of the relationship between interest rates and consumer spending.

A thesis requires independent research under the supervision of a faculty committee. Students develop a hypothesis, collect and analyze data, and interpret and present the results. A master's thesis in economics might explore the impact of immigration on wages, or compare the short-term and long-term costs of environmental disasters.

How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Economics Program?

This guide — coupled with your own research — can be used to determine if your prospective schools offer trustworthy master's programs. The best master's programs in economics available online share several common features. For instance, they feature highly qualified faculty, with strong teaching, research, and publication records. Top-quality schools also boast relatively high graduation and retention rates, along with clear information about tuition costs, total number of required credits, and the typical length of time to complete the degree.

You should look for course electives and specializations that align with your career goals, and note any programs that offer internship and research experiences. These can enhance your professional standing by connecting academic knowledge to applied, real-world experiences.

While you should always choose regionally or nationally accredited schools, specialized or programmatic accreditation does not exist for master's degrees in economics. However, some MBA programs with concentrations in economics have been awarded accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Career Opportunities With a Master's in Economics Degree

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a healthy job outlook for economists with graduate degrees and experience in statistical analysis. This list describes representative career paths for master's degree recipients, including salary prospects and job growth projections.

While earning a master's in economics online or in a campus-based program does not guarantee employment, the degree prepares graduates with the specialized knowledge and quantitative skills required for a variety of professional roles. Some professionals also pursue certifications in addition to their master's; although not required for employment, many financial managers and analysts acquire certification through the Association for Financial Professionals. Government budget analysts may earn the Certified Government Financial Manager credential from the Association of Government Accountants.

Economists

Economists hold a variety of positions in government agencies, international organizations, corporations, think tanks and nonprofits. They analyze the production and distribution of resources, goods, and services, and conduct research on economic employment, productivity, wages, and consumer demand. Economists also collect and analyze data using mathematical models and statistical techniques, interpret and forecast trends, and develop economic policy. Most positions require at least a master's degree with a strong quantitative emphasis, while expertise in the application of statistical analysis software enhances career possibilities.

Median Salary: $102,490 per year

Currently Employed: 21,300

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +6%

Financial Managers

Financial managers oversee and monitor the financial health of an organization. They prepare financial statements and forecasts, manage investments, analyze market trends, and develop strategies and plans for the long-term financial goals of their organization. These managers stay current about changes in tax laws and government regulations that affect their industry. While holders of a bachelor's degree may fill entry-level positions, many employers seek candidates with a master's in business administration, accounting, finance, and economics.

Median Salary: $125,080 per year

Currently Employed: 580,400

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +19%

Financial Analysts

Financial analysts guide investment decisions for businesses and individuals, and evaluate the performance of stocks, bonds, and other types of investments. They hold positions in a variety of financial organizations, including banks, mutual funds, pension funds, securities firms, and insurance companies. A bachelor's degree is the minimum entry-level requirement for most positions, however a master's degree in fields such as business administration and economics can improve one's chances for advancement. Some analysts also pursue specialized licensing or certification.

Median Salary: $84,300 per year

Currently Employed: 296,100

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +11%

Financial Examiners

Financial examiners who perform risk assessment evaluate and monitor the health of financial institutions, ensure compliance with laws and regulations, and monitor the activities of bank management. Financial examiners specializing in consumer compliance monitor lending activity to ensure that borrowers are treated fairly, and avoid predatory loans. Most positions require a bachelor's degree for entry-level employment. Senior examiners who handle complex cases and direct examination teams generally hold a master's degree in business, economics, or accounting.

Median Salary: $81,690 per year

Currently Employed: 52,500

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +10%

Budget Analysts

Budget analysts develop and prepare budget reports and financial statements, and monitor institutional spending. They review budget proposals for accuracy, completeness, and compliance with laws and other regulations, and estimate future financial needs of the organization. Budget analysts need at least a bachelor's degree for entry-level positions; however, since many of these professionals perform cost-benefit analysis and use statistical techniques to monitor budgeting activity, a master's degree is usually required in accounting, economics, or related fields that emphasize quantitative skills.

Median Salary: $75,240 per year

Currently Employed: 58,400

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +7%

Source: BLS, 2018

What's the Expected Job Growth for Economics Careers?

Job growth varies by industry, however employment rates in many economics careers over the next decade will remain stable, with greater than average increases projected for financial managers, analysts, and examiners. Recent periods of financial instability increases the demand for professionals with training in risk management, while demand is also on the rise for analysts with expertise in "big data" and technological applications. As the U.S. and global economy grows, a graduate degree provides job applicants with a competitive edge in the field.

Professional Organizations for Careers in Economics

Earning your master's degree represents only one part of your education. Learning about career possibilities and connecting with economic professionals are also important. Professional associations, like the ones listed here, offer invaluable resources as you prepare to enter the job market, including access to employment services, attendance at conferences and networking events, and subscriptions to specialized publications.

  • International Association for Energy Economics

    This nonprofit provides a forum for professionals interested in energy economics and others who shape policy on issues related to the energy industry. It hosts an annual international energy conference and publishes periodicals on environmental and energy policy.

  • National Association of Business Economics

    NABE provides leadership for business economists and other professionals who use economics in the workplace. The association sponsors publications, conferences, and certification and continuing education programs. Students receive a discounted membership rate.

  • National Economic Association

    Established in 1969 by the Caucus of Black Economists, NEA promotes the interests of African American, Latinos, and other people of color within the profession. Benefits include discounted student membership rates and access to the NEA job bulletin.

  • American Society of Hispanic Economists

    ASHE promotes the participation of Hispanic Americans in the economics profession, and supports research on economic policies that affect the Hispanic community. The organization also publishes job listings for academic and non-academic positions.

  • American Economic Association

    This not-for-profit organization provides a forum for economic research. The AEA supports established economists and graduate students with career-enhancing services such as conferences, journals, and job listings.

How to Pay for a Master's in Economics Degree

A master's degree represents a major financial investment. Most students rely on financial assistance such as loans, grants, or scholarships to help defray the costs of their education. The list below describes some sources of external funding, including federal aid and opportunities intended for students pursuing graduate work in economics and related fields.

Federal Financial Aid

Eligibility for need-based financial aid begins by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students must also complete the FAFSA application to receive any form of federal aid, including low-interest loans offered regardless of need. Many graduate students in economics find that they qualify for Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans.

Phi Chi Theta Helen D. Snow Memorial Scholarship

This scholarship awards up to $2,500 to a student member of Phi Chi Theta enrolling in an accredited bachelor's or graduate degree in business and/or economics. Applications must include an official transcript, current course schedule, two letters of recommendation, a resume, and an essay describing their future role as a Phi Chi Theta alumni member.

Women in International Trade Charitable Trust Scholarship

The Trust awards this merit-based scholarship worth up to $1,500 twice per year. The award supports women studying international trade and international development who show promise as future global leaders. Applicants may be full- or part-time students attending an undergraduate or graduate program in international economics or a related field at an accredited U.S. institution.

Government Finance Officers Association Minorities in Government Finance Scholarship

The GFOA Minorities Scholarship supports upper-division undergraduate and graduate students interested in careers in state or local government finance or nonprofit finance. This $10,000, one-time award is restricted to citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. or Canada studying public administration, governmental accounting, finance, political science, economics, or business administration.