Top Degrees for an Online Master’s in Economic

Top Degrees for an Online Master’s in Economic
While the status of economics as a hard science may be up in the air, studying it like one in an economics degree program can lead you down a lot of interesting and lucrative career pathway. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry July 7, 2020

Earning a master's degree in economics from an online program can help you take your career to the next level. Even if you enroll in one of the best schools, success is about more than just getting that diploma.

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Is economics a science? Ask twenty different masters of this discipline and you’ll get twenty different answers, ranging from “Absolutely not!” to “Yes, definitively!” Economists continue to fight to have their craft taken as seriously in scientific circles as physics, chemistry, and biology.

However, perhaps economics’ status as a science, non-science, or social science isn’t actually all that important. Alan Y. Wang, who stands firmly on the economics-is-not-a-science side of the argument, succinctly puts it in an essay for the Harvard Crimson: “I believe that economics is a crucial field that directly impacts most everyone on this planet, perhaps more so than any other subject. The discovery of the Higgs-Boson made headline news around the world and has been heralded as one of the greatest triumphs of mankind’s collective intellect in history, but the Higgs-Boson has very little bearing, if any, on the daily lives of people.”

Economics underpins many areas of business, from finance to marketing. It influences choices we make about work, play, and family. And large-scale economic trends have a huge impact on our lives. It is a complex and fascinating subject. While the status of economics as a hard science may be up in the air, studying it like one in an economics degree program can lead you down a lot of interesting and lucrative career pathways in business, healthcare, politics, and education.

Don’t start planning your big move to the northeast to enroll in an on-campus graduate degree program at Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or Princeton University (arguably the best graduate schools for economics) just yet, however. It’s possible to earn a Master of Science (MS) or a Master of Arts (MA) in economics online from colleges and universities near the top of the school rankings—a decision that, as you’ll see below, can save you time and may save you money, too, as long as you’re willing to put in some extra work outside of class.

In this article, we list the best online master’s in economics programs and cover:

  • What can I do with a master’s in economics?
  • What is the difference between a master’s in economics and an MBA in Economics?
  • Are there other types of economics master’s degrees?
  • Where can I find the best online master’s in economics programs?
  • Will I be ready to become an economist after graduating from an online program?
  • Are there any downsides to earning a master’s in economics online?

What can I do with a master’s in economics?

You could become an economist, but it’s worth noting that becoming an economist is more like becoming a doctor than becoming a software developer. Just as a doctor might work in pediatrics, cardiology, emergency medicine, or surgery, an economist can work in the corporate world as an econometrician, for a government agency, at a think tank, in academia, or for a lobbying firm or politician. Your goals and responsibilities may differ in each of these settings, but the skills and knowledge you’ll use will be the same.

You might also work in:

  • Accounting: Involves recording, summarizing, and reporting financial transactions to provide insights into an organization’s financial health. Economists can apply their analytical skills to improve financial accuracy and compliance.
  • Banking: Encompasses various services provided by banks, including lending, investment, and deposit management. Economists might work in risk assessment, policy analysis, or financial product development.
  • Business Consulting: Provides strategic advice to organizations to improve performance, efficiency, and profitability. Economists can offer insights into market trends, economic policies, and financial forecasting.
  • Economic Analysis: Involves examining economic data to understand trends, make predictions, and inform policy decisions. This field often includes working with statistical models and economic theories to analyze economic issues.
  • Financial Analytics: Focuses on analyzing financial data to guide investment decisions, risk management, and business strategy. Economists use their quantitative skills to interpret complex financial information.
  • Financial Management: Involves planning, organizing, directing, and controlling financial activities within an organization. Economists help optimize financial performance through budgeting, forecasting, and financial planning.
  • Financial Markets: Covers the study and operation of markets where financial instruments are traded. Economists analyze market trends, investment opportunities, and the impact of regulations on financial markets.
  • Financial Risk Analysis: Involves identifying, assessing, and mitigating financial risks faced by an organization. Economists use statistical models and economic theories to evaluate the likelihood and impact of various financial risks.
  • General Management: Encompasses overseeing the operations of a business or organization. Economists in this field apply their analytical skills to improve decision-making, resource allocation, and strategic planning.
  • International Finance: Involves managing financial transactions that occur between countries, including foreign investments, currency exchange, and international trade. Economists analyze global financial trends and their implications.
  • Market Research: Entails gathering and analyzing data about consumers and markets to inform business strategies. Economists use their knowledge of economic principles to interpret market data and predict consumer behavior.
  • Public Economics: Focuses on government policies and their economic impact on society. Economists in this field analyze taxation, government spending, and public welfare programs to advise on effective policy-making.
  • Retail: Involves the sale of goods and services to consumers. Economists can work in retail to analyze consumer trends, optimize pricing strategies, and improve supply chain efficiency.

Generalist economics master’s degree programs include core courses in microeconomics, macroeconomics, quantitative methods, econometrics, and data analysis. These subjects are essential in a variety of careers.

Some master’s in economics allow students to customize their degrees based on their aspirations. Some programs let students choose from among a wide variety of electives to create a custom specialization, while others offer a selection of set concentration options, like:

  • Applied Economics: Focuses on using economic theories and principles to solve real-world problems in various sectors, such as agriculture, industry, and public policy, through empirical analysis.
  • Econometrics: Involves the application of statistical and mathematical models to test hypotheses and forecast future trends in economic data, aiding in the development of economic theories and policies.
  • Economic Development: Studies the factors that contribute to the economic growth and development of countries or regions, including poverty reduction, income distribution, and sustainable development.
  • Economic Theory: Explores the fundamental principles and models that underpin economic behaviors and markets, providing a foundation for analyzing and predicting economic phenomena.
  • Economics in Healthcare: Examines the economic aspects of health and healthcare systems, including the allocation of resources, cost-benefit analysis, and the impact of policies on public health outcomes.
  • Financial Economics: Analyzes how financial markets operate, the behavior of financial assets, and the impact of financial decisions on the economy, focusing on areas like investment, risk management, and corporate finance.
  • Health Economics: Investigates the efficiency, effectiveness, and behavior in the production and consumption of health and healthcare, emphasizing cost analysis, policy implications, and health outcomes.
  • International Economics: Studies economic interactions between countries, including trade, investment, currency exchange, and the impact of globalization on economic policies and outcomes.
  • Labor Economics: Focuses on the dynamics of labor markets, including employment, wages, labor productivity, and the impact of policies on labor supply and demand.
  • Macroeconomic Theory: Examines the overall functioning of an economy, including inflation, unemployment, economic growth, and monetary and fiscal policy, to understand and predict large-scale economic trends.
  • Microeconomic Theory: Analyzes the behavior of individuals and firms in making decisions regarding the allocation of limited resources, focusing on market mechanisms, consumer behavior, and production theory.
  • Monetary Theory and Policy: Studies the role of money, banking, and monetary policy in the economy, including the impact of central banking decisions on inflation, interest rates, and economic stability.
  • Public Policy: Involves the analysis and design of government policies to address economic issues, focusing on areas such as taxation, public spending, and regulation to promote social welfare and economic efficiency.

Your interests and your career goals should be front of mind when choosing a concentration. Think carefully before choosing an online master’s in economics program that doesn’t offer any opportunities for students to tailor their academic experiences.


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What is the difference between a master’s in economics and an MBA in Economics?

Economics is part of the curriculum in most MBA programs, and there are specialized MBA in Economics programs that cover many of the same core concepts as master’s in economics programs. There are some significant differences between these degree pathways, however.

For example, MBA programs typically take longer to complete, are more expensive, and have stricter professional experience requirements for applicants. However, the most glaring difference is that the MBA is first and foremost a broadly focused business degree. In contrast, an MS or MA in Economics is a highly specialized field-specific degree. In online MBA programs—even those that offer an economics specialization—students take more core courses on business management topics. In online master’s in economics programs, most coursework is focused on economic theories and principles.

As a result, these two degrees support different kinds of careers. The MBA in Economics will be most helpful if you want to launch a career in management. However, if you’re going to spend your professional life in research, public policy, or consulting, the online master’s in economics is the better choice.

Are there other types of economics master’s degrees?

The Master of Arts in Economics, Master of Economics (MEcon or MEc), and Master of Science in Economics—all of which are basically identical in terms of program content— aren’t the only non-MBA options for students who want to study economics at the master’s degree level. Economics is, as noted above, a field divided into many areas of specialization, and there are online master’s degrees for each.

Depending on your interests and aspirations, it may make more sense to pursue one of the following degrees instead of a generalist online master’s in economics:

  • MA in Petroleum Economics: Focuses on the economic aspects of the petroleum industry, including resource management, market dynamics, pricing, and policy issues related to oil and gas.
  • MA/MS in Applied Econometrics: Involves the application of statistical and mathematical techniques to analyze economic data, test hypotheses, and forecast economic trends to inform decision-making.
  • MA/MS in Behavioral Economics: Examines how psychological factors and cognitive biases influence economic decision-making, combining insights from economics and psychology to understand human behavior in markets.
  • MA/MS in Economics and Finance: Integrates economic theory with financial analysis, focusing on the interplay between economic policies and financial markets, investment strategies, and corporate finance.
  • MA/MS in Environmental Economics: Studies the economic impact of environmental policies, natural resource management, and sustainability, emphasizing cost-benefit analysis and environmental regulation.
  • MA/MS in Financial Economics: Analyzes financial markets and instruments, focusing on topics such as asset pricing, risk management, and the economic principles underlying financial decisions and institutions.
  • MA/MS in Integral Economic Development: Focuses on holistic approaches to economic development, emphasizing sustainable growth, poverty alleviation, and the integration of social, economic, and environmental factors.
  • MA/MS in International Economics: Examines the economic relationships between countries, including trade, investment, and currency exchange, and the impact of globalization on economic policies and outcomes.
  • MA/MS in Public Policy Economics: Analyzes the economic aspects of public policies, including taxation, public spending, and regulation, to promote social welfare and economic efficiency.
  • MS in Agricultural and Resources Economics: Focuses on the economic analysis of agriculture, food production, and natural resource management, addressing issues such as sustainability, policy, and market trends.
  • MS in Applied Economics and Statistics: Combines economic theory with statistical methods to analyze data, forecast trends, and solve practical problems in various economic sectors.
  • MS in Economics and Computation: Integrates economic theory with computational methods, focusing on the use of algorithms, data analysis, and modeling to address complex economic issues.
  • MS in Mineral & Energy Economics: Examines the economic principles and policies related to mineral and energy industries, including resource management, market analysis, and environmental impacts.
  • MS in Quantitative Economics: Emphasizes the use of mathematical models and statistical techniques to analyze economic data, test theories, and inform policy and business decisions.
  • Master of Applied Economics: Focuses on applying economic theories and principles to solve real-world problems in various sectors, such as business, government, and non-profits, through empirical analysis and policy evaluation.

Think of the above degrees as offering concentrations on steroids. If you want to go all-in professionally on a discipline like financial economics or quantitative economics, you may get more out of a dedicated degree program than in a full-time or part-time graduate program that devotes the majority of credit hours to core coursework.

Where can I find the best online master’s in economics programs?

In many disciplines, students who opt to study online are spoiled for choice. Economics isn’t one of them. The list of the best online master’s in economics programs is relatively short:

  • American University
  • Johns Hopkins University’s Krieger School of Arts & Sciences
  • Purdue University (Main Campus)’s Krannert School of Management
  • University of Missouri – Columbia
  • University of North Dakota
  • West Texas A & M University’s Paul and Virginia Engler College of Business

Will I be ready to become an economist after graduating from an online program?

There are no specific educational requirements or licensing requirements for economists, which means that technically, you’re an economist once you graduate with an online Master of Science in Economics. Whether you’ll be an economist qualified in the eyes of others to tackle economic problems may depend on where you’re looking for work.

In academic settings, you will most likely need a PhD in Economics and expertise in advanced theory before you can call yourself an economist. In business settings, you can reasonably call yourself an economist if you have a master’s degree and you’re doing the work of one. In government agencies, you might not even need a master’s degree, provided you’ve taken enough bachelor’s degree-level courses in economics, statistics, and calculus.

That said, while an online master’s degree program can prepare you to identify economic trends and make predictions based on those trends, you might have trouble landing a job on the strength of this degree alone. Getting a master’s in economics may only be the first step in your career journey. Before you can become the next James Heckman, you will probably need to beef up your resume. Even if the master’s in economics program you choose doesn’t require students to complete an internship, consider completing one on your own in whatever industry or industries interest you most. You’ll get a chance to work alongside seasoned economists, use data visualization software, and see an economist’s day-to-day duties.

You can also pursue certifications on your own after earning this degree. Look into professional certifications from the:

Finally, you may need to move. Pursuing a master’s in economics online means you can study anywhere. It doesn’t follow that you can work everywhere. Washington DC employs five times as many economists as any one state in the US. California, Virginia, New York, and Texas have the next-highest employment rates. Chances are that the majority of economists working in those states are at companies headquartered in major metro areas.

Are there any downsides to earning a master’s in economics online?

There are many good reasons to choose an online degree program. Affordability is one. Earning a master’s in economics online may not mean paying a lower tuition rate. Still, it might save you money in the long run because you won’t be paying commuting or relocation costs. You may also be able to continue working and earning money while pursuing your degree online, which can give you a substantial financial advantage.

There is one significant downside you should consider before you commit to an online master’s in economics program, however. Online master’s programs for graduate students cannot replicate the experience of studying on campus in its entirety. You may take classes with the same illustrious faculty, cut your teeth on the same case studies, and earn the same diploma. However, you’ll step into the workforce lacking some of the resources and support that students in on-campus programs amass through connections made in the classroom, during on-campus events, and through clubs.

You can find resources on your own and build your own network of support, but you’ll have to put in the work before and after graduation. The first step is to take advantage of every opportunity to connect with your fellow students and professors virtually. Make a point of getting to know your peers outside of virtual classroom discussions.

Next, start researching professional organizations. Join those that have the most to offer in terms of networking events, professional development opportunities, conferences, certificate programs, and mentorship programs. There are quite a few professional groups for economists, including:

The more you can do to bolster your career through networking and professional development, the better. With a master’s in economics under your belt, you might earn around $87,000. With a degree from one of the best online master’s in economics programs, you’ll probably earn more. If you really want to boost your earning potential, though, you’ll have to hustle. Economics is a competitive field, and master’s degrees are becoming as common as bachelor’s degrees in many markets—which means getting a master’s in economics, whether you study online or on-campus, makes good economic sense. How far you take your career after graduation will be up to you.

(Updated on May 29, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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