Guide to College Majors in Economics

What is Economics?

An economics degree trains students to apply the principals and theories of natural science to the concepts and logic of mathematics. Professional economists utilize their skills in the business, social sciences, and humanities fields.

Economists research and evaluate data related to anything of monetary or production value, such as:

  • Labor output
  • Raw materials
  • Machinery
  • Finished goods
  • Natural resources
  • Land

From the data an economist collects and evaluates, they can prepare reports and forecast about economic trends.

A graduate obtaining an economics degree can readily find a placement in a variety of fields, including:

  • Banking
  • Investment
  • Political consulting
  • Manufacturing
  • Transportation
  • Government
  • Nonprofit organizations

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Career Education in Economics

An economics degree can provide a useful career boost for financial professionals like bankers or brokers. It can also provide the start of a lucrative career path for recent high school graduates. Depending on your situation, you can find an economics degree program that meets your specific needs and career goals. Therefore, you should investigate as many programs as possible to find the one that fits your needs the best.

Recent high school graduates can launch themselves into a variety of undergraduate economics degree programs. If you launched your own career right out of high school, or never completed your bachelor's degree, you can take advantage of a growing number of degree completion programs that allow you to transfer credits from your previous school.

Busy professionals can gain the long term benefits of an economics degree without sacrificing income or family commitments by participating in online or distance learning programs. Online degree candidates participate in a combination of live lectures delivered over the World Wide Web and bulletin board discussions that allow students to interact with faculty and peers. Frequently, online programs offer students a chance for deeper interaction with professors than students receive in on-campus programs.

Because the principles of economics can be applied to a number of careers, students can choose from a wide variety of degree options.

Bachelor's Degrees in Economics

Designed to give a student the core skills for a career in economics, a bachelor degree program immerses majors in the humanities while developing crucial mathematics and analytical abilities. A college degree in economics requires a curriculum of core courses which can include mathematics, English, literature, history, and a variety of electives.

An economics degree also requires degree specific classes such as advanced mathematics, mathematical economics, statistical mathematics, economic theory, microeconomics, macroeconomics, and statistical analysis and theory. Many economics majors complete their bachelor degree programs in about four years, depending on their educational institution, transferable credits, and their learning pace.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Economics?

Like many social science majors, those who have earned economics degrees can choose from a variety of career paths. Economics students should consider which path suits them best before enrolling in a program, however, to ensure the applicable coursework is available.

Economics Career Paths

Microeconomist

These specialists measure the supply and demand flow of raw materials and services on a company-by-company basis. By collecting and evaluating this data, microeconomists help suppliers maximize profits, reduce overhead, and establish price points that will keep buyers responsive. Microeconomists who work for government agencies might find themselves working on research studies designed to highlight potential improvements in government benefits, transportation subsidies, or health care.

Organizational Economist
By evaluating the internal structure of private companies and governments, organizational economists can help financial leaders make critical decisions in response to competition and other external market forces. Organizational economists measure the relative strengths and weaknesses of corporations or government agencies, identifying ways to bolster them from attack or decay. Many organizational economists specialize in helping monopoly companies like utility companies prepare themselves for privatization.

Macroeconomist
Often employed by government agencies or private think tanks, these economic specialists compare current data to historic trends. They try to relate current events to larger, predictable cycles. Therefore, macroeconomists can reliably forecast the effects of large scale unemployment, economic growth, inflation, productivity, and investments.

Financial Economist
The banking and investment sectors rely on these specialists to understand the effects of fluctuating interest rates on their businesses. By analyzing complex statistics, financial economists can help mortgage lenders and credit card companies time special offers to coincide with expected interest rate shifts. They can also help financial corporations maximize their returns on investments like bonds and trusts by developing complex plans to generate more interest and dividends.

International Economist
Multinational corporations, national governments, and international agencies all rely on these specialists to help shape financial policies. International economists study the impact of fluctuating exchange rates, global tariffs, and trade treaties. By projecting the effects of regional decisions and market shifts, international economists can recommend new agreements and policies that can correct trade imbalances or provide companies with significant competitive advantages.

Labor Economist
These specialists research and report on the supply and demand for labor. They analyze the ways that local or regional economies create shifts in wages that can potentially save corporations significant amounts of money by shifting jobs to lower wage areas. On the flip side, labor economists research the effects of shifting job markets on regions that cling too closely to one or two core specialties. By understanding the root causes of unemployment, labor economists can pinpoint the locations that can reap benefits from government grants and job training initiatives.

Public Finance Economist
Politicians love to roll out the pork barrel by sending grants and tax breaks home to their constituents. Public finance economists keep those programs on track by measuring the effects of government largesse. By analyzing trends in productivity and income, public finance economists can highlight critical situations that require adjustments to welfare, grants, or other forms of government assistance. They can also show voters how government intervention produced positive economic results, to justify rising tax rates or participation in controversial programs.

Econometrician
This fairly recent specialty has grown in response to demand from businesses that want to use every possible competitive advantage to become leaders in their markets. Econometricians rely heavily upon their math skills to create such things as game theory and regression analysis to formulate economic models that can be used for future forecasts. This long term forecasting allows large businesses to minimize the risk of making major changes, like opening up for business in a new country or preparing for eventual attack from competitors that do not yet exist.

Business Journalist
The explosion of small businesses and individual investors has created significant demand for experienced insight and analysis. Economists who share a passion for writing and journalism can earn solid income by reporting for mainstream newspapers like the Wall Street Journal or appearing on influential cable networks like CNBC or Bloomberg. Many economists with strong writing skills and clear points of view can build their own subscriber bases for newsletters or Web sites that advise readers to buy or sell stocks or bonds based on personalized research.

Legislative Assistant
As America plays a larger role in the global economy, lawmakers at every level rely on skilled economists to help them shape policies and laws to benefit their constituents. Many state legislators use economic forecasts to justify tax breaks or other benefits that can lure major employers or manufacturers to their areas. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill employ staff economists to forecast the effects of new regulations on international trade, tax revenue, and unemployment benefits.

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Preparing for Economics Career Opportunities

Economics career education is incredibly versatile and can apply to several specialty fields. In today's marketplace, where it is common for employers to downsize or merge, and employees to hold employment with several different employers, a degree in economics offers vast career opportunities for this "free agent" marketplace.

    • The job outlook for those with economic degrees is expected to stay within the national average. Those who hold a master's degree or a PhD in economics have a much better chance at job placement.
    • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), local, state, and federal government agencies employed 52% of all practicing economists in 2006.

Working at the state or local government level allows economists to apply their skills in areas such as forecasting population growth and the effect on tax revenue and increased expenses such as education. Economists in state and local government aid in establishing economic development plans for the regional economy.

  • Starting salaries for entry-level professionals with economics majors are typically higher than entry-level salaries for other bachelor's degrees.

Skills of Successful Economists

During their degree programs, economics majors develop a set of core skills that help them succeed at any job in their field. These core competencies allow professional economists to work in a variety of roles in the academic, corporate, and government arenas.

  • Data acquisition skills: Economists rely on their ability to ferret out raw data from numerous sources to make accurate projections and recommendations. Not only must economists learn how to gather data from official reports and sources, they must develop the personal relationships and skills necessary to get accurate data, especially when that data could result in a negative analysis of a company or a policy.
  • Competency in various data analysis techniques: Economists must be able to see between the lines to uncover patterns and relationships between seemingly unconnected sets of numbers. The best economists can find relationships between almost anything, which has led to some of the most important economic policy breakthroughs of the last century.
  • Critical thinking skills: Economists routinely look beyond the ways that numbers add up to realize the deepest connections between pieces of information. Frequently, skilled economists set out to study a specific area only to reveal even more significant ramifications and applications of their work.
  • Writing and reporting skills: Because their work routinely immerses them in numbers, economists must also learn to communicate their findings effectively through written reports and oral presentations. Politicians, businesspeople, and the general public all rely on economists to boil down their findings into bottom-line presentations. The most skilled economists can summarize their most important discoveries in television-ready sound bites. Other economists work with writers and producers to distill their insight into executive summaries and other pieces of communication that busy people can easily digest.
  • Competency in the use of technical analysis software: As economists use more sophisticated tools to crunch numbers, today's degree programs train students on the most up-to-date systems. Understanding the latest software allows economists to work faster and solve more complex problems than their predecessors imagined possible.
  • Ability to recognize economic trends and patterns. One of the most important skills an economist can develop is the ability to watch shapes and patterns emerge from raw data. By understanding the cyclical nature of markets and businesses, economists can more readily warn us of impending catastrophe or upcoming opportunities.

Certification and Licensure

There are no specific state or federal licenses required for students to gain work as economists.

Economists who work in investment banks or in other financial institutions often must follow the same certification rules and regulations as other bankers or brokers.

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