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Become an Economist: Education Requirements and Career Info

Learn how to become an economist. Research the job description and requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in economics.

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Do I Want to Be an Economist?

Economists collect and scrutinize information in order to adequately study, research, predict, and evaluate business and revenue trends in most industries. They identify current events in the production and availability of goods, services, and other resources in order to track history and predict the future. They often use computers to gather and analyze information, using the data to assist in the control and regulation of costs, interest rates, and distribution of products.

Almost all economists work full-time, although some combine part-time consulting with teaching. The job may be stressful, especially as deadlines for reports approach. The majority work independently on their research in an office setting; some are able to do so from home. Some travel to conferences or executive meetings may be required.

Job Requirements

A master's or a doctoral degree in economics is generally required for economist positions within the private sector, and graduate degree holders form the overwhelming majority of economists. A bachelor's degree in the field provides adequate preparation for entry-level government positions, though according to O*Net Online, just eight percent of economists have only a bachelor's degree. The following table reflects the chief requirements for working as an economist:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree required; most positions in the private sector and academia require a graduate degree*
Degree Field Economics*
Experience Internships are helpful*
Computer Skills Spreadsheet software, office software**; statistical software***
Key Skills Math, analytical and writing skills*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*Net Online, ***National Bureau of Economic Research.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

An undergraduate degree in economics requires the completion of general education courses along with classes in business, management and economics. Core economics topics include microeconomics, macroeconomics, econometrics and economic thought. Depending on the university, the major may be offered through the college of liberal arts, within the social science department or in the school of business.

Step 2: Earn a Master's Degree

A master's degree can generally be completed within two years, though some programs may be able to be completed in less time. An undergraduate degree in economics is not always required for admission, though students who have majored in another area may have to take additional coursework.

Economics masters degrees prepare graduates for further study at the doctoral degree level. Some programs allow students to choose an area of emphasis such as international economics or economic development; others may offer cover wide-reaching topics in contemporary economic issues. A thesis may be required, though some programs offer a non-thesis option.

Success Tip:

  • Join a professional economics organization. Economists who hold an advanced degree often specialize in a particular area, and professional organizations provide members with an opportunity to meet fellow economists working in the same subfield and to keep current on advancements and research. Organizations include the Association for Social Economics and the National Association for Business Economists.

Step 3: Complete a PhD in Economics

A Doctor of Philosophy in Economics is a research-based degree that covers advanced topics in microeconomics, econometrics, quantitative analysis and macroeconomics. Economists hoping to teach at a postsecondary institution often pursue a doctoral degree. Working toward a dissertation accounts for a majority of the time spent in residence.

Some possible areas of emphasis include industrial organization, game theory, international economics, income distribution and econometrics. Students applying to a PhD in economics don't need a master's degree in the field. In fact, many economics doctoral degree students have only a bachelor's degree in economics.

Step 4: Find a Job

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that the employment of economists from 2010-2020 would be slow. The private sector - particularly consulting firms and scientific and technical companies - offers the best chances for employment. Research and educational institutions will also provide employment opportunities. Opportunities will be most plentiful for those with master's or doctoral degrees. Individuals with only bachelor's degrees will face intense competition. Economists who hold doctoral degrees are qualified to teach at a university.

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