Is Economics a Good Major?

Is Economics a Good Degree to Get?

If you’re wondering whether economics is a good major, you can rest assured that it can very well be. In fact, a recent Forbes article named economics as #10 in their list of best master’s degrees. This subject can offer a great deal of value and a solid base for a variety of professions. Let’s take a look at what makes economics a valuable field of study.

Is Economics a Good Degree to Get?

Strong Foundation

A degree in economics can provide the foundation for many career options. The subject material you learn in such a program will give you a broad understanding of finance, markets, consumption, and resource allocation. Such knowledge is useful for positions in management, business, nonprofits, or government, among others. An economics degree can lead your career down any number of paths.

Versatility

Many people aren’t aware of the kinds of jobs a person with a background in economics can pursue. You may be surprised to learn the versatility this degree can offer. As mentioned previously, you may find yourself in various work settings with your understanding of economics. This degree can prepare you for a broad range of positions. The most obvious position is, of course, economist. Economists are employed in business, academic, government, and private industry settings. The level of degree you will need depends on the specifications of the position. However, most economists require at least a bachelor’s level education. Advanced positions will require a master’s, and teaching positions at the college level often call for a PhD.

This versatile degree can lead to a range of careers, including public policy analyst, research assistant, consultant, financial analyst, and market analyst. Understanding how markets work, supply and demand, the effects of fiscal policy on society, and other such concepts make you a valuable commodity to numerous employers.

Challenge

Economics is not an easy degree choice. It requires a great deal of critical thought and analysis. It becomes even more thought-provoking and challenging as you advance in your coursework. This is not meant to deter you. It’s actually a very good thing, as you will graduate with a sense of self-worth knowing that you rose to the challenge. Employers will see that you were able to successfully complete a very tough major, leading them to believe you follow through on things and can bring that determination to their company. You’ll be able to give concrete examples of how you problem solve, particularly if you completed a thesis or internship as part of your program. Sharing your hands-on research and giving examples of challenges you’ve overcome in your course of study will go far in landing you a lucrative and worthwhile job offer.

These are merely a few examples of how the study of economics can benefit you in your life and your future career path. The field is incredibly diverse, with possibilities that go beyond the scope of this article. An economics degree is a good value that will provide you with a strong foundation throughout your future.

The most common experience with economics in the general populace is to have taken microeconomics and macroeconomics in college and essentially retire from their studies in the field. These people might consider themselves experts because they can read a simple demand curve. You and I both know that the field birthed by Adam Smith contains multitudes more than this. Economics touches every aspect of our lives, from the current economic picture of the world to your household budget. If you are interested in pursuing this highly relevant and endlessly useful field further than the standard, below, we answer some commonly asked questions about this area of study.

Person sitting at computer desk crunching numbers on an adding machine

Question and Answer Session:

What can you do with an economics degree? 

The field of economics can be boiled down to how to make the best decisions when allocating limited resources since demand/desire is unlimited. And who doesn’t want to make better decisions? Who wouldn’t benefit from this kind of study? Also, there are many facets of economics that can be studied. Health care economics can literally deal with life and death decisions when allocating limited resources if a global pandemic breaks out. Maybe you don’t want that kind of pressure. Perhaps, infrastructure would suit you better, making decisions on how to plan civic projects and in what order. Regional economic experts dig down into the economic impacts of geography and culture. Behavioral economics is fascinating stuff that I can’t really even begin to get into here. Personal finance needs no explanation as to its importance. Economic experts are needed in just about every field you can think of, so finding a match between your work and your interests is not only possible but highly likely. Economics trains you to think outside the box and question the efficacy of the box as an aid to thinking in the first place.

What do you study as an economics major? 

In addition to the aforementioned microeconomics and macroeconomics, other fields you will encounter include behavioral economics, financial markets, environmental economics, public economics, personal finance, and the economics of development. As you progress, like in any field, you will find your niche and specialize in your course of study. Your first step on this path will be choosing between a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science (see below). Once you have made this choice, your path will become clearer, and your future will be easier to shape. 

What are some graduate degrees worth pursuing with a bachelor’s degree in the “dismal science?” 

Some good master’s programs for individuals with a bachelors in economics include: a master’s of public administration (MPA), which can be good for those interested in civic planning; a master’s in finance can be extremely rewarding for those with a strong grasp of mathematics; and, of course, a law degree is always an option for those interested in teasing out knotty legal business issues in the private and public sector. Graduate work in economics can be pursued by those who wish to specialize in their studies and those who wish to pursue the academic lifestyle. 

What is the difference between a BA and a BS in the field, if my program offers both? 

Both degrees have their place in the field. Neither is “better” than the other. In reality, economics is a social science that requires both scientists and people from the humanities. The bachelor of arts in economics is marked by the pursuit of the social sciences aspects of the field and a deeper dive into economic history. Many schools also offer a BA track in economics education for those interested in working with youth. BA students will often have a foreign language requirement (like most BAs), whereas the BS will not. The BA student will complete all the standard liberal arts coursework in their first two years that any other liberal arts student in another field would face. Generally speaking, only 36 of the 120 semester hours of the typical degree will be spent directly studying economics. The bachelor of science in economics, on the other hand, requires more like 54 hours in major and pursues a more science (and math) based approach with direct applications in the financial markets. Both degrees have their strong points, but conventional wisdom says that a graduate in economics with a freshly minted BA is ready for the job market. A similar graduate with a BS is ready for graduate school. Most programs will require an internship-style experience for both tracks.

And, importantly for some of us, just how much math is required in a typical undergraduate economics program? 

The study of economics does not, per se, require intense math skills. Still, the post-graduation job titles with the highest salaries (statistician, actuary, etc.) are the ones that lean into the math skills. More generally put, a BA in economics will require less math than a BS, but the job prospects for a BS are more highly compensated. The math required in general economics courses will be basic 100 level university math that you will encounter in other courses like 100 level chemistry. Advanced level electives in economics may require techniques from courses like multivariable calculus. Because many departments offer a BA and a BS, the 300 level general economics courses are often offered as two separate tracks, one with calculus and one without. Econometrics (very roughly speaking, the process of turning economic analysis into economic policy) is often advised for all students as a core field of study, but not required as the level of math required can be considerable. If this does not daunt you, read on and prepare to conquer.

Image of hands writing on paper

Where can students of economics find jobs? 

Economists can find jobs just about anywhere. With their focus on critical thinking and their eye towards the bottom line, they are like the business world’s English majors. This degree is incredibly versatile, and in the right hands, well remunerated. Like a major in English, you don’t need to directly apply your studies to your profession to benefit from this educational path. The skills you learn, such as identifying and letting go of sunk costs, will serve you well as an individual in any walk of life. 

Private sector work is the obvious draw for talent, with high-tech company campuses offering every amenity imaginable, and that is to be explored and respected. Academic work is also a draw, though. the market is not what it once was. Some more entrepreneurial economists have found a home offering hot takes on the internet, but this is probably not the path for a newly minted graduate, rather something to consider once your reputation has been established. Some people trained in economics have found good results as ethics officers in the private and public sectors. The ability to see far-reaching and unintended effects of policy is endlessly applicable.

Government sector work is a good option to consider for anyone interested in pursuing economics as a career. After all, no one has a bigger interest in the prevailing economic picture than the people in charge of it. The government sector hires economists and those trained in economics in almost every department and at every level: municipal, county, state, and federal. Don’t overlook these steady (and well-compensated) employers of your kind in pursuit of the next big flashy tech giant or stock on the run-up.

What are the typical salaries of economics professionals?

The national average for an economics teacher at the high school level is $59,732. Statisticians make $91,160 per year on average. Economists can bring in an average yearly salary of $77,427, according to Forbes.com. Hiring notices for economics professors report salaries in the $100-200k range, but that accounts for seniority and publishing history, so your mileage may vary. Financial analysts round out our round-up of salaries, with a yearly take-home of $81,590. So you can see that this is a well-compensated field. All these positions show at least a 5% growth outlook for the next 5-10 years. As an economics aficionado, you will know about as far as anyone is confident predicting the future. 

Social Sciences Degree Rankings

Conclusion 

Economics is a field that is definitely worth pursuit by those with the desire to do so. The monetary rewards are there as well as the potential to benefit the larger society. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for economically trained people is expected to grow by 14 percent between now and 2029. This institution goes further, stressing that job prospects in this area are best for those with experience with statistical analysis software, really strong skills in the analysis of data, and advanced degrees in the field. One caveat for nontraditional students is that economics is a fairly conservative field, similar to STEM in a lot of ways. Still, with a data-driven field, there is always the possibility that if you can quantify the costs of the errors of their ways, maybe you can bring about real change. So, if this is where your passion lies, saddle up, be prepared to put in the work, and welcome aboard.

See also:

Bambi Majumdar
Author

Melissa Anderson
Expert

Julie McCaulley
Editor-in-Chief