Choosing a Master’s Program in Economics

With so many programs in economics these days, it’s hard to decide on just one! Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I, too, have been overwhelmed by the massive sea of master’s degrees in economics. The good news is that there’s a surefire way to ensure that you’re choosing a great program that’s right for you. The bad news is that you will have to do a lot of research. If nothing else, this guide will help you narrow down your choices. Before you decide that a master’s program is right for you, make sure you’re prepared.

Listen to Your Research Interests

When you were an undergrad, you had to pick a major. A graduate student not only picks a major, they pick a specialization (often called “fields”). These specializations are solely based on your research interests. If you’re stumped, either think back to your undergraduate coursework and try to remember what you enjoyed most.

During my time at the University of Oregon, I was most interested in labor economics, public economics, and macroeconomics. Much of the time, you will have the opportunity to take classes with such titles. Not all programs will actually have fields outside of a PhD.

Not All Economics Master’s Programs are Created Equal

It’s not enough for an economics department to offer master’s degrees. You need to know how the curriculum is designed. On top of all of this, you must take the rigor of the program into consideration. There’s a simple way to do this: Look at the catalog and look up the textbooks they use in the bookstore. When I did this, I quickly noticed how many programs used the same textbooks the University of Oregon used in its undergraduate curriculum. It’s worth noting that BYU-Idaho’s undergraduate economics courses use some of the same books the University of Oregon uses in its master’s program.

If you ever notice that the curriculum doesn’t mention a thesis, you should get in touch with someone at the school. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s standard for a master’s program to require a thesis. If it doesn’t, then there’s almost always a “coursework” option along with either a “thesis” or “research” option. Simply put, the choice is all about what skills you want to improve. If you want to get your degree and be on your merry way, choose the coursework option. If you want to go to a PhD program or if you want to actually use the skills you learned, choose the thesis or research option. Personally, I would choose the research option. Either way, you get the same degree.

Portland State University (The Climate Trust)

Online vs Campus

Before you groan and scoff at the thought of an online degree, you should consider asking yourself what an online degree is. In essence, an online degree is a credential that you completed a self-study program and did the work necessary to develop a certain set of skills. Now ask yourself what a degree earned from a physical campus is. The biggest difference is that you have a physical room to be in by designated times, physical assignments to turn in, and exams you take in person.

In a nutshell, a lecture is a nothing more than someone telling you what’s in the textbook they’re requiring you to have for the class. The instructor/professor is practically there to answer questions and make the information a little easier to digest. There’s no shame in a program that can get you to do that without someone in front of a classroom. Just be sure to also check that it’s accredited if it’s not a school that’s widely known.

Which One is Right for You?

So which program is right for you? That depends on a multitude of personal qualifiers. If you don’t know where to start, this guide should help. The American Economic Association has a list of graduate programs in the United States. You might consider searching Google for an ‘Online Master’s in Economics.’ It’s completely up to you. If a PhD program is ultimately your goal, your research interests aren’t as important in the decision. One thing should always remain constant: Comfort with the program. If something doesn’t feel right, reach out to the faculty and ask some questions.