Online degrees in economics offer versatile preparation for careers in business, law and public policy. Understanding the production and consumption of material wealth gives insight into human psychology and modern institutions. In turn, this knowledge supports skills in key areas such as communications and financial management.
Economics: The discipline
Economics is the social science dedicated to producing a better understanding of "the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services," as Merriam-Webster Dictionary puts it. Economists seek the underlying principles that make markets, financial institutions and individual economic players (people or corporations) behave as they do.
The discipline of economics has practical applications in public policy as well as in corporate strategy and operations. The American Economic Association explains that while the economics major does not provide applied training for a specific occupation, "it provides the logical structure that pays off in understanding the big picture" for pursuits in corporate, government and non-profit sectors. In addition to a keen understanding of financial management and market dynamics, economists develop solid transferable skills such as logical analysis and the ability to solve problems.
Online degrees in economics
Online business degrees in economics are available at every level, from associate to doctoral programs, although associate degree programs are rare. The most popular program is the Bachelor of Science, which emphasizes a general education and yields the most versatile professional credential. The most common online degrees in economics include:
- Bachelor. The B.S. in economics offers the best overview of the field and is a sufficient credential for most entry-level jobs in the business sector.
- Master. The M.S. or MBA in economics allows graduates to pursue advanced work in the field, either through coursework and research (M.S.) or through the professional business curriculum of the MBA.
- Doctoral. The Ph.D. in economics prepares graduates to teach at the college level and produce original scholarship that sheds light on how markets and economies function.
Many bachelor-level economics graduates use their academic training as a foundation for professional study, pursuing a law degree (J.D.) or MBA before heading into the workforce.
A number of online resources are available to help students understand economic principles. In online degree programs, instructors may make use of virtual labs to help students work through problem sets and get real-time results and feedback to their work. A wide range of data sets are available online for students to learn about the type of resources and problems economists deal with in their daily work. Finally, a number of simulation tools--ranging from computer games to opportunities to run a virtual McDonald's franchise--can also help online students see how economic principles play out in everyday life.
Career trajectories for economics graduates
Economics graduates generally find entry-level jobs at corporations, financial institutions or consulting firms. Other popular roles focus on business strategy and analytics or financial management. With experience, economists may advance into supervisory roles.
The American Economic Association identifies the following career areas for economists:
- Corporate business administration, including general manager, entrepreneur, accountant and marketing specialist roles.
- Consulting, including research analyst and management consultant jobs.
- Law, with a J.D. degree.
- Government, including analyst and management roles with the Federal Reserve Board, State Department civil service jobs, the World Bank and the CIA.
- Teaching, especially at the college level (requires a master's degree for community college jobs and a Ph.D. for university professor jobs).
Salaries vary widely depending on career path. Economists, who generally have a master's degree or higher, earned a mean annual salary of $99,350 in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Economics at a glance
- Salaries: Economics is the fourth highest-earning major, according to a 2008 Wall Street Journal report. The average starting salary for economics majors is $43,419 or $52,926, depending on the source. A 2011 report from Georgetown University reported a median salary of $70,000 for all workers with a bachelor's degree in economics.
- Top scores: Economics graduates scored higher on the LSAT than any other major, according to a 2006 Journal of Economic Education study.
- Common career paths: business, finance, law, government, teaching