The study of economics is dedicated to understanding the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. Despite popular belief about the alleged “dismal science,” economics is fascinating; a field about a fundamental element of human behavior: decision making. Students can learn more about how individuals, businesses, governments, and societies choose to spend their time and money from online economics courses made available for free from many top-tier schools.
As professionals who study the production and distribution of resources, goods, and services, economists do a lot of research to understand how and why people, organizations and societies make the choices they do. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) considers conducting surveys, collecting data, and forecasting business trends on the micro and macro level to be the most common responsibilities in econ positions.
But as one might expect, the role of an economist often varies, according to the BLS. A government economist may study taxes, trade or minimum wage – all in an effort to inform policy decisions. An economist for a business may direct the organization on what to sell, at what price and when.
A bachelor’s degree in this field is bound to include some math, maybe some statistics. Since economics is all about choices, students might take a slew of liberal arts courses — since culture, history and geography all impact choice.
The University of Southern California, for example, requires its econ undergrads take:
- Intro to microeconomics and intro to macroeconomics
- A series of math courses, including some statistics
- A choice of electives, including law and political economy, finance and money, and international economics
Stanford economics students take a similar load, including a policy writing course, econometrics, upper division math and statistics courses.
Many students can combine an econ bachelor’s with a minor, or a focus, in liberal arts or other social sciences. For example, many economics degrees are complemented by business-specific coursework, with a core of classes in topics like management fundamentals, international business, or business law — like this University of South Florida program that offers specializations in Comprehensive Economics and Global Economics.
At the graduate level, there are ways to specialize and focus an economics degree in a particular area. The Department of Economics at Georgetown University offers dual degree programs in areas like economics and public policy, foreign service or European studies. Combining the study of law and economics is also common, such as this program at New York University.
Most economics professions require an advanced degree, but some entry-level jobs are available with a bachelor’s degree, according to the BLS. At the master’s and Ph.D. level, students usually study in a specialty area, which qualifies them for greater advancement in the field. Since economics hinges heavily upon research, advanced degrees are a necessary part of advancement.
A bachelor’s in economics provides undergraduates with experience in mathematics and business, and many go onto find jobs outside of the economics profession as research assistants, financial analysts, market analysts, and similar positions in business and finance.
Ideal Candidates for Economics
Critical analysis is fundamental to the job, according to the BLS. Economists must be able to determine trends, make observations and draw conclusions. Math skills are important, since number crunching and formulas are fundamental to the field.
Many economists communicate via reports, so the ability to write, and write well, will pay off. Economists often conduct their research alone, but it is important for economists to be able to speak clearly about their findings.
Growth in the field is in the single-digits for the next 10 years — just six percent. The largest employer of economists is the federal government, and employment is expected to decline. However, the BLS does state that job opportunities for individuals with a master’s degree or Ph.D. are expected to be good, and many can find work as consultants, especially in bigger cities.
Remember, many bachelor’s degree holders find jobs outside economics, and apply their experience and analytical skills to their work as research assistants, financial analysts, and market analysts in business or finance.
Average pay for economists was $89,450 in May 2010, with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $48,250, and the top 10 percent earning more than $155,490.
The field of economics is relevant to a wide range of careers, and can take a qualified individual in a many directions. Research contemporary economists, read their publications and determine if their work is relevant to your career aspirations. Contact the programs you are interested in and take proactive steps to see if it’s the right field for you.