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A Guide to Online MBA in Economics Programs

A Guide to Online MBA in Economics Programs
Economists study the forces that drive our decision-making. That means they work a pretty expansive canvass since people and entities are constantly making choices. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry July 7, 2020

If you choose to pursue an economics MBA online, your choice of programs will be limited. The good news is that some of the best programs in the country offer this degree online.

MBA Programs You Should Consider

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Economics is often called “the dismal science,” a reputation it has started to shake in recent years. That’s because economists have realized how broadly their studies can be applied, and they have been applying them to more—and more compelling—subjects. The result has been an explosion of popular economics books and podcasts such as Freakonomics.

Economists study the forces that drive our decision-making. That means they work a pretty expansive canvass since people and entities are constantly making choices. Economists untangle the motivations underlying those choices so businesses, policymakers, and governments can more reliably predict human behavior. There’s a place for economics in every human endeavor. The ability to see the costs and benefits of a decision is hugely valuable, whether the end goal is to sell more products, reduce pollution, or insure more people.

In short, there’s more to being an economist than just studying GDP.

The same is true for studying economics. You might pursue a degree in financial economics, behavioral economics, econometrics, or theoretical economics. You can also pursue an MBA in Economics. You won’t find economics listed among the most common Master of Business Administration concentrations. Even so, it’s a useful one that you should consider if your interest in economics goes beyond the theoretical.

The MBA in Economics is also a well-rounded business degree that you can pursue online with confidence, though you won’t see many programs–high-profile or otherwise–in your school search results.

A handful of top-tier schools offer this concentration. Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business is one of them. Indiana University – Bloomington’s Kelley School of Business is another. And while other high-ranking institutions may not offer economics as an official MBA specialization, it’s often possible to create a de facto concentration or major by choosing electives focused on economics.

Here’s what you need to know about pursuing this degree. In this guide to online MBA in Economics programs, we cover:

  • What is an MBA in Economics?
  • What kinds of students typically pursue this degree?
  • What is the difference between an MBA in Economics and a master’s in economics?
  • Do online MBA in Economics programs have the same prerequisite requirements?
  • Is the curriculum generally the same in online MBA programs?
  • Are online economics MBAs less expensive than on-campus programs?
  • Are there downsides to earning an online MBA in Economics?
  • What kinds of jobs can I do after earning an online MBA in Economics?
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What is an MBA in Economics?

Most MBA programs touch on economics (both micro and macro) because there’s no way to separate business and the economy. That makes an MBA in Economics is one of the most thematically integrated MBA specializations out there. The business side of the economics MBA curriculum is supported by economic theories, principles, and practices that make up the concentration curriculum—and vice versa. Production affects the economy, and the economy affects production in a pretty tight circle, to give one example. These programs teach business and leadership fundamentals with an emphasis on pricing and purchasing, consumer behavior, the global marketplace, and monetary theory.

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“Should I Get A MBA?”

The National Association of Colleges and Employers predicted an average starting salary for 2019 MBA graduates of $84,580—provided those graduates found jobs in computer science, engineering, science, or business. (source)

Students considering an MBA or graduate business degree can choose from varied career paths, including those focused on financial management, data analytics, market research, healthcare management, and operations management. The analytical skills and problem-solving techniques gained from graduate level business degrees are in high demand across business sectors. (source)

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What kinds of students typically pursue this degree?

You’ll find two types of students in online MBA in Economics programs. The first is the professional who wants to gain an edge in business. They want to be able to predict how economic cycles affect business and identify useful consumer behavior trends as a means to an end. The second is the professional who is fascinated by how global markets behave and by the outside forces that can lead to the economic ups and downs that affect all of us.

Both are looking for skills and tools that will let them make stronger strategic business decisions, influence markets, understand why people consume the way they do, and see the economy’s often-invisible effect on people and corporations. Both can come from backgrounds as diverse as finance, manufacturing, and public policy. Whether they enroll in an online MBA in Economics program with years of work experience or fresh out of a bachelor’s degree program will depend on a school’s prerequisite requirements.

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

The most significant difference between these two online degree pathways is in the breadth and depth of knowledge they offer students. An online Master of Science in Economics program will narrowly focus on economics but dive very deep into economic theories and principles. On the other hand, an MBA in Economics is a broadly focused interdisciplinary degree that spends a lot of time on topics related to business management like managerial accounting, financial management, and corporate finance–and may approach economics through the lens of business. You can expect to find more classes in applied economics in an MBA program and more classes in economic modeling, economic analysis, theoretical econometrics, economic development, and economic phenomena in MS in Economics programs.

Both an MBA and a master’s degree in economics can lead to a career in economics, but if you want to pursue a career in business, the MBA degree is probably the better choice. An MS in Economics or a similar degree may be the better option if you aspire to work in research, public policy, or academia.

Do online MBA in Economics programs have the same prerequisite requirements?

The prerequisite requirements for graduate students applying to on-campus and online MBA programs are generally the same for full-time and part-time students, though this varies from school to school. To enroll in an economics MBA program, you’ll most likely need a bachelor’s degree. You will also have to have completed undergraduate coursework in statistics, calculus, microeconomics, and macroeconomics.

Some colleges and universities accept students from all academic backgrounds, while others prefer that applicants have previously studied business, economics, or a related discipline. Most schools offering MBAs have traditionally required that applicants submit GMAT scores. However, quite a few business schools have made submitting standardized test scores optional for all applicants or for applicants with relevant professional experience and/or strong undergraduate GPAs.

Is the curriculum generally the same in online MBA programs?

Distance learners often take the same core courses and concentration courses as their on-campus peers with the same professors. They can also usually choose from among the same elective options. Many specialized MBA programs follow a sequence in which an entire cohort takes core business courses in year one and concentration courses and electives in year two. Online programs can buck that trend when some classwork is self-directed, or when the online program doesn’t follow a cohort model. Many online MBA in Economics programs require students to complete an internship and a capstone course or thesis course identical to those in the corresponding on-campus program.

Students studying online take a mix of MBA courses and economics courses like:

  • Accounting
  • Advanced Economic Theory
  • Applied Economics
  • Behavioral Economics
  • Business and Economic Forecasting
  • Business Communications
  • Business Law
  • Econometrics
  • Ethics
  • Finance
  • Financial Economics
  • Human Resources Management
  • International Economics
  • International Business and Financial Policy
  • Macroeconomic Analysis
  • Managerial Economics
  • Marketing
  • Math and Statistics for Economics
  • Monetary Policy
  • Operations Management
  • Principles of Economics
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Supply Chain Management

Are online economics MBAs less expensive than on-campus programs?

Unfortunately, most business schools don’t offer discounted tuition rates for MBA students who choose full-time or part-time remote or hybrid MBA programs. You’ll probably pay as much as out-of-state students studying on-campus—likely anywhere from $800 to $1,600 per credit hour and between $24,000 and $60,000 in total tuition.

You can save money, however, by choosing an online MBA in Economics program because you won’t be paying commuting costs or room and board. You may be able to continue working while pursuing this degree, so you don’t have to go as deep into debt.

The best graduate degree programs with an economics specialization can cost quite a bit more. The part-time online hybrid MBA program at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business costs somewhat more than $140,000 in total when you factor in technology fees and other non-tuition expenses. The trade-off is that the average increase on Tepper MBA grads’ pre-MBA salary is 126 percent, and 94 percent of grads get at least one job offer within three months of graduation. You’ll pay a lot more for your degree, but you may be able to pay off the debt you accrue faster once you have it.

Are there downsides to earning an online MBA in Economics?

You’ll earn the same graduate-level business degree in an online program, but there are some elements of the traditional on-campus MBA that online programs just can’t replicate. These include networking events, departmental conferences, lunches with industry leaders, and tours of local firms. Some online MBA programs try to give distance learners some of the same opportunities as their on-campus counterparts by including residencies in the curriculum. These weekend- and/or week-long experiences tend to be packed with classes, events, and excursions designed to help online students build their professional networks.

If, however, your online MBA in Economics program doesn’t have a residency requirement, you can still do a lot to build your own network and give your CV a boost before and after graduation. First, take on one or more internships, even if the online MBA program you choose doesn’t require you to complete any to graduate. You’ll make valuable connections and gain real-world experience that may give you an advantage over other job seekers.

Next, join one or more professional associations related to economics. Check out:

Being a part of one or more of these groups can give you access to local networking opportunities, job boards, conferences, and mentors.

Finally, pursue whatever professional certifications and licenses make the most sense given your career trajectory. Look into professional certifications from the:

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What kinds of jobs can I do after earning an online MBA in Economics?

Economics is a broad field with applications that go beyond financial markets. After earning an online MBA degree in economics, you’ll have the skills and knowledge to jump into a variety of interesting and lucrative roles across many industries. You may end up in manufacturing, banking, retail, insurance, academics, public policy, or a government agency. In fact, 22 percent of economists work for the federal government. The next largest segment of economists works in scientific research. Your title might be:

Then again, you might just end up in positions or industries most people don’t see as having any connection to economics. Specialized knowledge of economic theory can come in handy in just about every field. Some economists become entrepreneurs because they have the tools to predict how specific industries will respond to a new product or service, price those products or services competitively, and ride out economic ups and downs. You can also use economics to tackle unknowns as offbeat as:

Whether you decide to use your economics knowledge to launch a career in business or your aspirations take you in a more unconventional direction, you’ll do well in the money department. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for economists is $105,020 and the top-paid ten percent earn more than $185,020. Finance and insurance are the best-paying fields, but government jobs for economists (which are plentiful) pay pretty well, too. And if the whole ‘becoming an economist’ thing doesn’t work out for you, your online MBA in Economics can help you land a job in management in another field.

So, is earning an online MBA in Economics worth it? Let’s look at the facts. An MBA, regardless of concentration, can potentially double your salary. An MBA in Economics, in particular, is a versatile degree that can lead to a career in management, research, or policy. That means you’ll be able to make all kinds of career moves that your colleagues with generalist MBAs can’t make.

All things being equal, studying on campus is probably the best possible way to earn an MBA. However, if studying online is what allows you to earn your economics MBA, then yes, it’s worth it.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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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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MBA Programs You Should Consider

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