Top Online Master's in Economics Programs 2019

Earning a Master's in Economics Online

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), economists earned a median salary of $102,490 in 2017, nearly triple that for all other occupations that year. Despite the lucrative salaries this field offers, only 16 states require students to take a course in economics in order to graduate from high school.

With so few students possessing even a fundamental understanding of economics, an advanced degree gives you an enormous advantage when applying for high-paying positions as an economist, actuary, or statistician. This page provides an overview of why you should consider earning an online master's in economics and advice on how to do so.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Economics?

Many undergraduate students who major in finance or economics pursue a master's immediately after earning their bachelor's degree. Others continue their education after several years in the workforce, seeking an online master's in economics in order to advance at their current firm, take on a more specialized role, or change career paths entirely. Most jobs in this field, especially senior-level and high-paying positions, require an advanced degree.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Economics?

Pursuing Specialization

An online master's in economics equips you with the knowledge and skills needed to take on more specialized roles. For example, students who complete graduate-level coursework in areas like the economics of education may qualify for positions within large, urban school districts and state education agencies. Likewise, students who explore topics like international trade may choose to pursue jobs in the private sector, such as analyzing consumer demand for a multinational corporation.

Career Advancement Opportunities

According to the BLS, most economists need at least a master's degree to qualify for jobs at private organizations or to advance to higher-level positions in either state or federal government. Similarly, statisticians must possess an advanced degree for all but the most entry-level roles in their field. For other related jobs, such as actuary or financial analyst, a graduate degree may help position you for a promotion or higher salary.

Online Learning Technology

Pursuing an online master's in economics typically requires you to collaborate at a distance with a diverse group of classmates and instructors. This experience can prove invaluable to your future career success, as economists and analysts of all stripes must often communicate with colleagues or partner organizations around the world to collect, interpret, and apply financial data. Online learning also demands exceptional time-management skills, another key to success in both business and nonprofit contexts.

Prerequisites for Online M.Ec Programs

Before you apply to an online master's in economics program, research the school's admission requirements. Generally, graduate applicants must possess a bachelor's degree and some relevant professional experience.

    • Work Experience: Professional experience requirements vary from program to program. Some institutions catering to recent college graduates may not require any work experience at all, while those serving mid-career professionals may hope to see three to five years of experience in a finance-related role. Students with exceptional academic achievement during their undergraduate studies can often waive work experience admission requirements, and some schools may also allow them to apply experience they gained during an internship.
    • Exams and Test Scores: To draw in more applicants, many online programs do not require students to submit entrance exam scores. Those that do often require either the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). Scores for both the GRE and GMAT usually remain valid for five years.
    • Coursework: Many programs require applicants to complete undergraduate coursework in areas like economics, finance, or accounting in order to consider them for admission. More prestigious programs may require undergraduate GPAs of 3.0 or higher, while public and open universities may admit students with a GPA around 2.5.
    • Recommendations: To apply to graduate school, prepare to submit at least two letters of recommendation from supervisors, professors, or community leaders who can speak to your experience and potential. Avoid asking family members or friends, and give your letter-writers two months or more to draft your recommendation.
    • Essays: Some schools ask graduate applicants to submit a personal essay outlining their reasons for applying, their academics and professional goals, and the qualifications they bring to the program. You can also use an essay as an opportunity to shift an admissions officer's focus towards stronger parts of your application. Expect to write an essay of about 1,000 words in length.
    • Interviews: An increasing number of online programs do not require their applicants to participate in an interview. However, when required, an interview gives you the chance to provide context to issues with your application -- like a gap in your professional resume -- and it allows you to reiterate your enthusiasm for enrolling in the program. Try a mock interview with a friend or colleague to prepare.
    • International Students: International students must meet the same admission requirements as students from the U.S. They may also need to submit results from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) in order to demonstrate the level of English proficiency needed to succeed in a graduate program.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Economics?

The BLS estimates that economists earned a median salary of $102,490 in 2017. The lowest 10% of economists, usually those working in smaller markets and those relatively new to the field, earned less than $56,400 that year. The highest 10% of economists, generally those with many years of professional experience and an advanced degree, earned more than $172,580. An online master's in economics can also prepare you for careers as an actuary, statistician, financial analyst, or even a software developer creating computer programs with economic applications.

Traditional Careers for M.Ec's

Career Stats Description

Political Scientist

Median Pay: $115,110

Job Growth: 3%

Political scientists study the development of shifting political attitudes and systems over time, and those with economist expertise possess the ability to assess political trends specifically related to the economic marketplace. This is generally an office position that requires overtime hours on time-sensitive reports.

Ideal for: Those with strong statistical analysis skills and the ability to assess changing political issues objectively.

Economist

Median Pay: $102,490

Job Growth: 6%

Economists collect and analyze economic data, research historical economic trends, and evaluate economic issues. They may work in the private sector helping businesses use economic data to make better decisions or within the public sector helping government agencies design and evaluate programs.

Ideal for: Those with exceptional analytical and critical-thinking skills. Economists must also know how to write well to convey their findings.

Statistician

Median Pay: $84,760

Job Growth: 33%

Statisticians use statistical theories and techniques to help understand or address problems in fields like education, healthcare, business, or engineering. They must often design surveys (or other tools used to collect data) before analyzing and reporting on the data they gather.

Ideal for: Those who excelled in math during high school and college. Statisticians must also possess strong analytical skills.

Actuary

Median Pay: $101,560

Job Growth: 22%

Actuaries assign financial values to risk and uncertainty. For example, an actuary working for an insurance company may calculate the cost of providing life insurance to a certain individual based on her age, gender, and health-related habits, such as whether she smokes tobacco.

Ideal for: Those who can combine their strengths in math and data analysis with the ability to communicate their recommendations to colleagues without statistical expertise.

Non-Traditional Careers for M.Ec's

Career Stats Description

Business Operations Analyst

Median Pay: $81,390

Job Growth: 27%

Business operations analysts, also known as operations research analysts, help organizations investigate complex issues and make better decisions. An analyst working in the airline industry, for example, may look at factors like fuel costs and passenger demand to make a recommendation regarding ticket pricing.

Ideal for: Those who possess strong critical-thinking and problem-solving skills in addition to an above-average understanding of mathematical and statistical analysis.

Marketing Research Manager

Median Pay: $145,620

Job Growth: 10%

Marketing research managers plan and implement marketing programs. They may determine demand by monitoring market patterns, recommend prices that help companies maximize their profits, or conduct research to investigate whether consumers need new products or services.

Ideal for: Those who understand both quantitative and qualitative data, as market research often requires examining numerical data and reasons behind certain behaviors.

Small Business Consultant

Median Pay: $84,300

Job Growth: 11%

Financial analysts who serve clients with a relatively small number of employees, otherwise known as small business consultants, help entrepreneurs better understand and meet the needs of their market. They may work independently or as part of a larger consulting firm that specializes in small business support.

Ideal for: Those with an understanding of business operations across several industries who want to apply their expertise in a variety of settings.

Economics Software Developer

Median Pay: $103,560

Job Growth: 24%

Software developers create computer applications and systems to meet the needs of their users. Developers with a background in economics may, for instance, create a program for banks that helps them determine whether an individual or company can generate sufficient profits to pay back a loan.

Ideal for: Those with strong computer programming skills and a background in both finance and information technology.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Economics

Pursuing an online master's in economics often gives you the flexibility to learn on your own schedule and at your own pace, meaning you can follow an accelerated track in order to graduate sooner and save money. Part-time students balancing their studies with a job or family obligations may instead prefer a lighter course load and more spread-out tuition payments. By seeking a degree in economics, you may also qualify for scholarships or financial aid targeted at students in this field.

Tuition Timelines

You can earn a degree in economics on a part-time, full-time, or accelerated basis. Generally speaking, full-time students graduate from these programs in fewer than two years, while part-time students may require up to four years to complete their studies.

Part-Time Path

Part-time students usually take one or two courses at a time, making it easier to focus on the material at hand and schedule their learning around other responsibilities in their lives. Most part-time students graduate in three or four years.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Southern New Hampshire University
Total Credits Required: 36
Summary: At SNHU, part-time students typically earn their online master's in economics in three years. As tuition rates change annually, students may end up paying more per credit at the end of their studies than when they first enroll.

Full-Time Path

Full-time students take between two and four classes each semester, usually meeting all of their program's graduation requirements in two years or fewer. While not impossible to do through asynchronous learning, students may struggle learning full time while keeping their job or caring for family members.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Ohio University
Total Credits Required: 36
Summary: Full-time students at Ohio University can earn their master's in fewer than two years. The university offers a slight tuition discount to residents of Ohio.

Accelerated Path

Designed for students who want to earn their degree as quickly as possible, accelerated courses of study often feature self-paced learning, meaning you can advance through your material as soon as you can demonstrate understanding of key concepts. In some cases, you can earn a master's in as few as 12 months.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Boston College
Total Credits Required: 24
Summary: Boston College offers an accelerated path to a master's for students who earned their bachelor's within the last three years and completed significant undergraduate coursework in economics, finance, and statistics. Students on the accelerated path can graduate in as little as one calendar year.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

Scholarships represent one of the best ways to pay for your online master's in economics. Seek awards that match your unique background, like scholarships for students in your field of study or from your hometown.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Economics Program

Most online master's in economics programs consist of 30-36 credits, and full-time students can usually earn their degree in two years or fewer. Students who did not major in economics or a related field during their undergraduate studies may need to complete introductory coursework before tackling more advanced subjects.

In asynchronous online programs, students can watch lectures, complete assignments, and take exams entirely on their own schedule. Synchronous programs require students to log in at set times to participate in live discussions or activities.

Major Milestones

  1. Enrollment - Roughly two years prior to graduation

    Many programs feature multiple start dates throughout the year, making it easier for working professionals to begin their graduate studies when most convenient for them.

  2. Completing Foundational Coursework - Immediately upon enrollment (or during undergraduate studies)

    A master's program in economics builds on undergraduate coursework in areas like statistics and financial analysis. If you did not take these classes in college, you may need to complete them immediately upon entering a graduate program.

  3. Completing Major Coursework- Roughly 12-18 months prior to graduation

    After meeting foundational coursework requirements, master's students begin to explore more advanced subjects in their field, including macroeconomics and applied econometrics. Full-time students usually complete this coursework in their first year.

  4. Completing Elective Coursework - Roughly 9-12 months prior to graduation

    Depending on your area of specialization, you may take electives in areas like managerial economics, monetary policies, or international corporate finance. Full-time students usually complete this coursework in their second year.

  5. Completing Capstone Project - Roughly six months prior to graduation

    A capstone project offers students the chance to apply their learning to a real-world issue. For example, they may partner with a nonprofit organization to analyze the economic impact of a public housing program.

  6. Graduation - Upon meeting all graduation requirements

    After completing your capstone project and meeting all of the credit requirements specific to your program, you formally earn your master's degree in economics.

Coursework

In an online master's in economics program, you can expect to take courses in statistics, micro and macroeconomics, and econometrics. You may also choose from a slate of electives to prepare for specialized roles in the field.

Mathematics and Statistics for Economics

This course builds on undergraduate coursework in statistical analysis by introducing more advanced concepts, such as regression and inference. Students also learn to translate results of their analysis for lay audiences.

Game Theory and Industrial Organization

In this course, students explore several topics related to game theory, including the interaction between firms and the market; the links between market structure, firm conduct, and economic performance; and the role of government regulation.

Applied Econometrics

Broadly speaking, econometrics involves the application of statistical methods to describe economic systems. This class equips students with the theory and skills needed to use observational data in the construction of econometric models.

Managerial Economics

Ideal for students who want to take on leadership or supervisory roles in business, this course allows students to apply economic theory and the tools of decision science to the work of increasing organizational efficiency.

Corporate Financial Management

Students examine capital restructuring, financial markets, budgeting, investments, and portfolio management. Relying heavily on an understanding of economics, this course helps students better understand the risks and opportunities that face an individual firm within the larger marketplace.

Requirements to Practice

Economists need at least a master's degree to qualify for most jobs, and some positions may even require a Ph.D. or doctoral equivalent. Economists do not need a license to practice, though they may seek out voluntary certifications to demonstrate expertise and improve their job prospects.

Certain related fields do require certification, however. For example, in addition to coursework in economics and applied statistics, actuaries must pass a series of exams administered by either the Casualty Actuarial Society or the Society of Actuaries in order to become a fully certified professional.

    • National Association for Business Economics Certification: NABE's certified business economist program signals advanced knowledge in applied economics and data analytics. Candidates must possess at least a bachelor's degree and two years of professional experience. They must also pass an exam and meet continuing-education requirements every two years.
    • Chartered Financial Analyst Institute Certification: Becoming a chartered financial analyst gives you a competitive edge over other candidates when applying to jobs in investment analysis and portfolio management. To receive the credential, you must pass three exams and possess at least four years of relevant professional experience.
    • Casualty Actuarial Society Certification: CAS professionally certifies actuaries in the fields of automobile, homeowners, workers' compensation, and medical malpractice insurance. Applicants must pass a total of seven exams to earn associate-level status, and they must also participate in continuing education to maintain their certification.
    • Society of Actuaries Certification: SOA certifies actuaries in health insurance, life insurance, retirement benefits, investments, and other financial fields. Like CAS certification, applicants must pass seven exams to become certified associates. Associates may then seek out fellow-level certification, which usually takes an additional two to three years.

Professional Organizations & Resources

After earning your online master's in economics, joining a professional organization can help advance your career. Beyond simply advertising job opportunities on their websites, these groups host national and regional networking events to help their members collaborate and build professional connections. They also offer continuing education and professional development opportunities, and many sponsor mentorship programs, allowing new members to call upon the expertise of more established ones.

  • American Economic Association: AEA publishes nine scholarly journals, hosts an annual meeting, and provides extensive resources for job-seekers. It also hosts an easy-access research portal and an online discussion forum for its members.
  • National Association for Business Economics: In addition to administering the certified business economist credential, NABE organizes networking events, offers scholarships for its continuing-education offerings, and advertises job opportunities for both aspiring and established economics professionals.
  • National Economic Association: Founded in 1969 as the Caucus of Black Economics, the NEA works to support the professional aspirations of economists of color. The association's Westerfield Awards annually recognize exemplary service to the field.
  • World Economics Association: Launched in 2011, the WEA represents thousands of economists around the globe working in both public and private sectors. The association organizes professional conferences and student networking events, and it curates international economics research.
  • The Econometric Society: Dedicated to the advancement of economic theory as it relates to statistics and mathematics, The Econometric Society gives awards for academic papers, organizes workshops and networking events around the world, and publishes four journals.
  • Federal Student Aid: To apply for federal financial aid, you must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This website also offers advice on finding private grants and scholarships to help finance your education.
  • American Economic Association Student Resources: AEA offers a wealth of resources to students interested in economics, including an overview of what the discipline entails and a guide for those planning to apply to graduate school.
  • The Economist: With a circulation of more than 1.5 million, The Economist serves as one of the largest magazines devoted to economics. It provides extensive coverage of issues in the field, including developments in international trade and monetary policy.
  • Economics E-Journal: This journal provides open access to thousands of academic papers in economics. Students can use it to jumpstart their research or brush up on topics in advance of an exam.
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab: Conveying the results of statistical analysis to nonexperts requires strong writing skills. The Purdue OWL offers tips on communicating clearly and concisely, as well as advice on crafting resumes, cover letters, and academic papers.