Choosing the appropriate master’s program in economics could be integral to pursuing an education supportive of your career goals. With so many options available, it could be intimidating to decide which program makes the most sense for you. That’s where this guide comes in.
Learn about important topics including how to set your career goals, key factors to drive your decision-making process, an overview of the different types of master’s program in economics available, and tips that could help you submit a successful application.
By the end of this article, you could have the knowledge, tools, and confidence necessary to make an informed choice about your graduate education in economics.
Identifying Your Career Goals
An important factor in choosing a master’s program in economics is determining whether the degree programs you’re considering align with your career goals. But before you could do that, it’s helpful to explore potential career paths to identify which one could fulfill your career objectives.
Career Paths in Economics
Economists collect and analyze data, research and forecast trends, and evaluate economic issues to help advise businesses, organizations, government, and individuals. Some economists focus their qualitative and quantitative analyses on the costs of healthcare, products, or energy, while others study business cycles, inflation, employment levels, or interest rates.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 2021 median annual salary for economists was $105,630 .
Below are four additional professional roles in economics that you may want to consider.
Mathematicians and Statisticians
Mathematicians and statisticians perform data analysis to solve problems that benefit education, healthcare, government, and research and development. Mathematicians may rely on statisticians to design and implement the surveys, questionnaires, and polls that gather the data, but both professionals are tasked with analysis.
Median annual salary (BLS): $96,280
Operation Research Analysts
Operations research analysts use mathematics and logic to identify and solve organizational problems and inform leadership decision-making in business, healthcare, logistics, and other fields. They may also help managers to allocate resources, create production schedules, and set prices.
Median annual salary (BLS): $82,360
Survey researchers develop and execute surveys for research purposes. Some surveys may be designed for scientific research for government, health, education, or social science, while others could include public opinion polls that gather cultural, political, or market research data.
Median annual salary (BLS): $59,740
Financial managers analyze data and trends, create financial reports, and develop plans to help meet the long-term goals of their organization—such as maximizing profits. These managers must have industry-specific expertise in topics such as tax laws, appropriation and budgeting, or billing and reimbursement.
Median annual salary (BLS): $131,710
5 Steps to Setting Your Career Goals
- Assess your interests, strengths, weaknesses, and professional values.
- Research your main career choices via resources such as the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, where you could find job responsibilities, salary potential, and educational requirements.
- Network with and speak to professionals in the roles that you’re interested in.
- Consider pursuing an internship, volunteering, or job-shadowing to get a sense of what to expect in different positions.
- Use the information gathered above to craft short and long-term SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely) goals. See examples below:
- Short-term SMART goal: “Within 3 months of graduating with my master’s in economics, I will secure an entry-level position as a survey researcher in a healthcare setting.”
- Long-term SMART goal: “Within 5 years I will earn a 20% salary increase and move into a leadership role as an economist at a financial organization.”
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Master’s Program in Economics
Using a systematic approach to exploring master’s degree in economics could help make your decision process simple and stress-free. We’ve compiled a list of some areas to focus on when comparing degree programs.
Reputation and Program Rankings
When you’re exploring options for a graduate education in economics, consider reputation—not just of the school itself, but of the department or degree program you are interested in. Not only could reputation affect the quality of your education, it might also impact your employment chances after graduation.
A great way to get a sense of a program’s reputation is to talk with current students and alumni. You could connect with them through social media and by reaching out to the school itself. Ask for objective information about the pros and cons of the school and the degree program as well as specific questions about aspects that may be important to you.
Rankings are another way you could assess reputation—although keep in mind that they are overall measurements that might not take into account the attributes of a program that are most important to you. Here are just a few of the resources you could explore:
- Rankings are another way you could assess reputation—although keep in mind that they are overall measurements that might not take into account the attributes of a program that are most important to you. Here are just a few of the resources you could explore:
- U.S. News and World Report Ranking of Best Global Universities for Economics and Business—ranks both U.S. and international schools
- RePEc Ranking of Institutions—ranks both U.S. and international schools
- Tilburg University Top 100 Worldwide Economics Schools Research Rankings—ranks both U.S. and international schools
Another important factor in evaluating master’s degree in economics is the types of curriculums that each school offers. For example, in addition to classes in macroeconomics, microeconomics, and mathematics, some programs may contain courses that are more theory-based to help prepare students for further graduate work, while others might be more practical or career-focused.
You’ll also want to look into what types of electives are available so you can ensure that they align with your personal and professional objectives. Examples of potential areas of study include:
- Advanced Economics
- Environmental Economics
- Health Economics
- Data Science
- Financial Markets
- Global Research
- Public Policy
Faculty and Research Opportunities
While you may have gotten a sense of the quality of faculty when exploring the reputation of the overall school and department, you might also want to consider their perspectives on their field. Look up some of the research published by faculty and department heads to determine whether methodologies and theoretical frameworks match your professional and academic interests. Also check out the curriculum to determine the opportunities for and types of research you might engage in.
Now that online learning has become so prevalent, location may be less of a factor when considering master’s degree in economics. However, if you are considering in-class learning, check out residency requirements that may apply to the graduate schools that you’re interested in.
If you’re open to moving for your graduate studies, here are some questions to ask:
- What types of on-campus resources are offered?
- Are suitable housing options available?
- Which locations have strong job prospects?
- What is the cost of living in the area?
- Are there solid networking opportunities?
Cost and Financial Aid Opportunities
When you’ve narrowed down your options of programs, your next step may be to examine the cost of different economics master’s programs and the financial aid options that may be available if you qualify.
Start by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if you’re eligible for grants or loans. You could also consult the websites of the grad schools that you’re considering to determine whether they offer merit-based fellowship programs to help fund your education.
The American Economic Association (AEA) offers a list of funding resources that might help you explore other financial support options.
Overview of a Graduate Education in Economics
A master’s degree in economics could be treated as a terminal degree or as preparation for a PhD program . Here’s an overview of the intricacies of different program options.
Types of Economics Master’s Programs
There are two primary types of master’s degree programs in Economics: a Master of Arts or a Master of Science. Both types of economics master’s programs generally take two years to complete, require 30 credits or more of study, and include a thesis or capstone project.
Master of Arts in Economics
Master of Arts in Economics (MA) programs focus on preparing students for careers that focus on analyzing data, applying this analysis to economic policy, and translating economic concepts to a broad audience.
The curriculum for an MA in Economics may include courses that allow you to build concentrated knowledge and qualitative skills to solve real-world problems, such as mathematical economics, micro and macroeconomic theory, and econometrics.
If you are treating your MA as a terminal degree, you may need to complete a thesis at the conclusion of your program.
Master of Science in Economics
Master of Science in Economics (MS) programs are geared toward providing students with a strong understanding of theoretical and empirical foundations of economics, as well as analytical and quantitative tools.
Depending on the program, coursework for an MS in Economics may include technical subjects such as research methods, statistics, asset pricing, decision and game theory, or computational financial economics.
An MS degree may be a good choice if you want to pursue a career in consulting, government, the corporate sector, or education—or if you plan on earning a research-focused graduate degree upon completion of your program.
Concentration Areas for Master’s Program in Economics
Take time to review the concentration options for the economics graduate programs that you’re interested in to verify that you could customize your degree to reflect your career goals.
Examples of 5 possible concentration areas include:
- Behavioral Economics: Combines a foundation in advanced psychology with a focus on business applications.
- Econometrics: Focuses heavily on statistical and mathematic models to develop theories and forecast economic trends.
- Financial Economics: Explores decision-making principles in banking, investment management, and corporate financial management.
- International Economics: Delves into topics such as foreign investment, international trade, and the effects of global economic policies.
- Labor Economics: Considers subjects such as unionization, minimum wage, and unemployment levels.
Tips for Navigating the Admissions Process
The last thing you want to do is rush when it comes to representing yourself, and your abilities, in your application. Read on to familiarize yourself with admission requirements, application timelines, and tips for success.
Admission Requirements for Economics Master’s Programs
Different types of master’s program in economics may vary in their admissions requirements. However, typically schools require completion of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.
Economics master’s programs generally require a strong foundation in mathematics and statistics; you may have to complete required prerequisites to ensure your abilities in these areas before you apply.
Additional admission requirements may include:
- GRE Scores. Test score requirements might vary by school, but a high score is preferable.
- Letters of Recommendation. Schools typically request 2-3 letters of recommendation from faculty or professionals who could speak directly to your skills, work acumen, and ability to excel in a graduate program.
- Resume. Some applications may require you to include a resume that summarizes specific related work experience.
- Personal Statement. You may be asked to create a response to a specific prompt. Regardless, your statement should be well thought out, free of grammar and spelling errors, and concise.
- Official Transcripts. You usually are required to supply records that detail your grades, prior credit, and prerequisites.
Graduate School Prep Timeline
When it comes to prepping for your graduate school applications, it’s wise to start early. Consider keeping a calendar or setting reminders on your phone to ensure you meet the specific deadlines for each program/school you want to apply to.
Below is a sample schedule to help keep you on track for starting a master’s degree in economics in the fall:
- May to July: Research graduate schools and programs and compile a list.
- August: Prepare for the GRE with a prep course, study guide, or other tool.
- September: Take the GRE and request your letters of recommendation. If you’re unhappy with your scores sign up for another test.
- October: Begin drafting your personal statement or essay and updating your resume. Request official transcripts.
- November: Retake the GRE if necessary and have a trusted third-party review and critique your application documents.
- December: Submit all your applications and keep copies for your records.
Tips That Could Help You Craft a Strong Application
Having a solid application could help set you apart from other candidates and potentially compensate for weaknesses in other areas. Here are some tips.
- Get recommendations from people who have higher degrees in economics (such as a PhD) and who could speak directly to your competency as a student. Examples might include your academic advisor, department chair, or faculty members.
- If you don’t have existing relationships with economics professors, your GRE scores, grades in advanced math or statistics, and personal statement may carry more weight, so try to ensure that you effectively highlight your strengths for the admission committee.
- Your personal statement should detail your research interests, outline your professional goals, and indicate how each specific institution could help you accomplish them. Be specific rather than grandiose.
- Look into whether or not your research goals align with economics faculty members in the schools that you’re applying to and, if so, include this in your personal statement.
- If possible, customize your resume to highlight how your professional experience aligns with each of your programs of interest.
- Triple-check that you have included everything required, that you’ve met all application deadlines, and that your application is error-free.
Your graduate education could be an investment in your future: choosing one that supports your objectives and career goals may be one of the more substantive decisions you make in your life. Thus, take the time to consider your objectives, explore your options, and thoughtfully prepare—and customize—your applications.
Try not to get discouraged if you hit any roadblocks throughout this process. If things don’t go your way, remember that you may always reapply. And if that is the case, you could do so with the knowledge and experience that you gained the first time around.
Best of luck!
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