Online Master's & Doctorates in Economics, Graduate Programs & Degrees

Online Economics Graduate Programs offer advanced insight into how the economy works and examine the statistical models that professionals use to predict and interpret the economic future. Graduate-level economic inquiry could enable learners to think critically about the data they collect. Then they can use it to effect decisions about national and global markets and policy. This could involve issues in healthcare, fiscal policy, foreign aid, the environment, or financial and real risk.

 Online Masters & Doctorates in Economics, Graduate Programs & Degrees infographicwritten by Rana Waxman

Online Economics Graduate Programs: Overview

Online Economics Graduate programs may be available at the Masters and Certificate levels, as PhD in Economics programs are usually only offered on-campus. While PhD programs normally concentrate on theoretical issues, Master's programs could focus on the practical application of economic theory. That said, economics is a multi-disciplinary field that incorporates elements of behavioral science, finance, statistics and history. Students may study trends and predict future ones through the analysis of data.

Admission Information

Admission requirements often vary between schools, although students who want to apply to online economics graduate programs typically need a bachelors degree from a regionally accredited U.S. university or college (or the equivalent) and a certain minimum GPA.

Applicants may also need a strong background in introductory micro and macroeconomics, calculus and possibly, economic theory courses. Other material that may need to be submitted with transcripts could include

a statement of purpose, reference letters, resume, GRE, and TOEFL scores (as required).

One of the potential features of online economics graduate programs is some schools have what is called rolling admissions. This means that accepted students might begin in the semester that is up next (e.g. Spring, Summer, Fall).

What Is the Meaning of Applied Economics?

Applied economics relies on economics theory and econometric tools to answer questions and analyze data about practical issues. For instance, how will specific policies affect markets? Students of applied economics might learn to apply economics theories and principles to explain outcomes to this type of real situation. Graduates might therefore be able to make informed predictions and convey economic concepts and findings to a wide audience.

Online Masters in Economics Programs

Online Masters in Economics programs may be available as MA (Master of Arts) or MS (Master of Science) in economics or applied economics. A MPS (Master of Professional Studies) is a less common form of economics degree. Most of these programs take about 1 to 2 years of full-time study—although this could vary by school and curriculum, and some online students might choose a part time format.

The course work is often like that in a PhD program – one usually takes courses in microeconomics, macroeconomics, econometrics, and an emphasis field. Also, students often take courses in statistical analysis. In some programs, students may have to write a thesis, and in others they might take an exam to earn their degree.


When surveyed, 58% of Economic Consultants reported they had a Doctorate degree, 29% a Masters degree.i

Online MA or MS in Economics?

Both an online Master of Arts Degree and a Master of Science degree in Economics emphasize analytical, technical, and quantitative competencies. However, a Master of Arts degree typically provides more flexibility (through more electives) for students who seek a more policy-oriented education.

Online Master of Science in Applied Economics

An online Master of Science in Applied Economics degree reviews how to construct and estimate economic models through econometrics and quantitative techniques and economic reasoning. Students might focus on how to analyze and make sense of economic data and apply the data to national and global policy and markets.

Curriculums could require students to complete about 30 credits. The degree plan may begin with a relatively simple introduction to economics or a more advanced instruction that requires a good grasp of economics and some mathematics.

For those who do not have a strong math background, students might enroll in a Math Methods for Economists course, which might accompany first semester core work. The course may not count towards the degree (i.e. not-for-credit) but could cover those parts of Integral Calculus, Multivariable Calculus, Optimization Theory, and Linear Algebra that are necessary to pursue economics.

Core MS topics typically discuss 4 key courses: (1) microeconomic theory, (2) macroeconomic theory, (3) statistics, and (4) econometrics.

Microeconomic Theory coursework could explore consumer theory, theory of the firm, and market equilibrium. Topics covered might include constrained optimization, preferences and utility, exchange, production, pricing, market structures, and welfare economics.

Macroeconomic Theory coursework could provide an overview of output, employment, rate of interest, and price level determination. Topics covered could include theories of consumption and investment, the demand and supply of money, inflation, unemployment, and economic growth.

Statistics coursework could provide a general overview of statistical methods. Topics covered could include probability and sampling, distribution theory, hypothesis testing, estimation, and analysis of variance.

Econometrics coursework typically focuses on the application of statistical methods to the testing and estimation of economic relationships.

Students may also need to complete additional coursework in advanced econometrics as well as several electives. Advanced econometrics courses could be themed and might include the topics below.

  • Macro-econometrics focuses on the practical uses of time-series econometrics in a macroeconomic context (e.g. non-stationary time series models).
  • Macroeconomic forecasting looks at econometric approaches to forecast macroeconomic activity and how these could be relevant to policy recommendations.
  • Financial econometrics could cover the methods used in empirical finance (e.g. test of CAPM Capital Asset Pricing Model).
  • Micro-econometrics could discuss advanced techniques frequently encountered in applied micro-econometric analysis (e.g. nonlinear regression).

To tailor the program to meet their personal and professional goals, students might choose other curriculum areas such as public policy, environmental economics or health economics.

Master of Science in Applied Economics

The MS in Applied Economics Program develops skill in economic reasoning, and in constructing and estimating economic models through the use of econometrics and other quantitative techniques.

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Online Master of Arts in Economics

An online Master of Arts in Economics could be an applied, policy-oriented course of study with an emphasis on academic research. Therefore, in some schools, an MA may be somewhat less technical than a MS. It could aim to enable students to understand things like markets, monetary forces, human behavior, and organizational behavior. Some MA programs might serve as a stepping-stone to a PhD in Economics, but this is not always the case.

Through a meld of coursework in economic theory and practical application, students may learn to interpret complex mathematical concepts to solve real-world challenges as well as solidify leadership skills.

Curriculums could resemble MS programs at first glance, although students might start out with an introduction to mathematical economics, and may take more general (advanced) econometrics courses. These courses could familiarize students with the concepts and skills to test hypothesis and forecast future trends. Also, they might learn to use statistical software, such as Stata. Micro and macroeconomics courses may discuss similar topics as in the MS but take on a different point of view.

Microeconomic theory could highlight the behavior of individuals, firms and the interaction of both in the marketplace. Students might examine forms of market structure and how these impact firm behavior; they may also explore the role of government and effectiveness of policies

Macroeconomic theory could cover theories of income determination, inflation and unemployment, business cycles and long-run growth. Coursework could discuss an analysis of monetary and fiscal policy, debt dynamics and financial crisis

Electives could help students customize their degree plan to personal and professional interests, and each university may offer different courses. Some possible elective topics are as follows.

  • Labor Economics - theories of wages, employment, prices, collective bargaining
  • Survey of Economic development – mid-20th-century on
  • Public Economics – taxation, deficit financing, market equilibrium
  • Finance, Stability, Growth – banking, financial systems, regulatory issues

To earn their degree, online MA economics students may need to complete a capstone project. A capstone project could provide an opportunity to apply knowledge and skills in a real-world scenario. Students usually pick a topic to address a major economic issue, and might work under close consultation with a faculty advisor.

What Is the Study of Economic Development?

Economic development could explore progress in an economy or express qualitative measures of this progress. Sometimes, if covers aspects such as the adoption of new technology, or movements from agriculture-based to industry-based economy. Thus it might reflect studies of how to improve living standards. Students drawn to this field might consider online economic development graduate programs. Below are several examples.

Online MS in Resilient & Sustainable Communities

An online Master of Science in Resilient and Sustainable Communities (MSRC) could take a bioregional approach. This is where students take courses (online) and apply what they have learned into their local communities. Participants may be required to take about 39 credits of courses, divided into core courses and electives. There may be an option of how to culminate the degree through either a capstone portfolio, thesis, or an applied professional project.

MRSC students could study topics such as land-use planning, economic development, energy production, food systems, and resource management. At the same time, they might develop skills in leadership, group organization and conflict resolution.

Online MPS in Community and Economic Development

An online Master of Professional Studies (MPS) is a Master's degree that usually blends theory and practice. As an applied course of study, an MPS may be offered in a specific area of economics, such as community and economic development. Students may be required to complete about 30 credits of core courses, electives, and a capstone project or internship. Coursework could explore some of the real issues that different regions face such as land use, population change, and municipal finance. Also, students might develop their ability to lead, strategize and plan through courses in statistics and sociological principles.

Online Economics Graduate Certificate

Online Economic Graduate Certificate programs could enable students to expand or update their knowledge. Certificates may have the same admission requirements as for a Masters level program, although post-Masters certificate programs presume students have earned a graduate degree and want to build on that base.

Most certificates are by nature, shorter than full degree programs since they tend to cover only a few courses in a single topic (e.g. four courses). Also, some schools may provide a substantive list of courses out of which a student might select the topics that are most important to them. For instance, students who enroll in a Post-Master’s Certificate in Quantitative Methods might be able to study some of the topics covered in a MS program—or, choose to study real risk, machine learning in statistics, cost-benefit analysis, and survey research methods.

PhD in Economics

While a PhD in Economics is not commonly found online, it is the highest (research-focused) degree one could earn in economics. Most PhD programs in economics do not require applicants to have a Master's degree but some programs may roll the two levels together. If your goal is to ultimately pursue a PhD, you should make sure the Masters program you choose could sufficiently prepare you for this endeavor.

Why Pursue an Online Economics Degree

One reason some students might consider online economics graduate programs is for their convenience. Distance learners could engage with coursework that blends web technology, print and other media so that flexibility is balanced with interaction.

Students often communicate with faculty and each other through discussion forums, chat rooms, and email. Thus, a virtual classroom could be a collaborative space designed so that students share their knowledge and experiences.

Formats for online economics degrees could vary. Sometimes, students could progress through their courses one class at a time, but there may be deadlines to follow, much like traditional program delivery. To that point, online learners may be encouraged by their university to obtain a student ID and take part in all the same resources as on-campus students.

Employment Outlook with an Economics degree in

For at-work professionals who have a Bachelors degree, an advanced degree is sometimes required for advancement to higher level positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) signals that career prospects “should be best for those with a master’s degree or Ph.D., strong analytical skills, and experience using statistical analysis software.

Economics Accreditation

Regional accreditation usually signifies that an economics degree program meets national education standards. Some programs may also bear programmatic accreditation. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is an example of one organization that may approve economics and business-related degrees.

Take the Next Step with our List of 17 Online Economics Graduate Programs

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