What Can You Do With an Economics Degree?

Earning an economics degree allows students to gain a solid understanding of how companies and financial systems operate, according to university faculty. The knowledge gained through this type of degree can be applied in a myriad of jobs, experts say.

“Students with an economics degree can get jobs as … market analysts, economic consultants, day traders, credit analysts, financial analysts, management consultants and financial advisors,” Ishraq Ahmed, an assistant professor of economics at Black Hills State University in South Dakota, wrote in an email. “With a background in economics, one can also start a small business or become an entrepreneur as well.”

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Ahmed — who has a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate in economics — says the employment options available to an economics graduate depend on the level of his or her most advanced degree in the subject.

“Individuals with a bachelor’s degree in economics can obtain various entry-level jobs in banks, financial institutions and government agencies as a financial analyst, credit analyst, market research analyst, research associate and so on,” he says. “They can eventually move up to become an economist, management consultant and financial manager with more experience and training. Many of the higher-paying jobs in consulting and government and some research and policy based think tanks involve a master’s degree in economics.”

[Read: For Economists, a Moment in the Sun.]

Ahmed notes that students interested in complex, high-profile economics jobs often pursue doctorates. “If individuals are interested in teaching economics in colleges and universities, conducting academic research on various social and economic issues, as well as undertaking policy research conducted by think tanks, research organizations, multilateral organizations and government agencies, they may obtain a doctorate degree,” he wrote.

Ahmed adds that people who choose to pursue a Ph.D. in economics generally specialize in a particular area, such as labor economics or international economics, and the types of jobs they pursue after their doctorate typically align with that subdiscipline. “An individual who has specialized in international economics will be hired by institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) — the international trade body — as well as international financial and development bodies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank,” Ahmed says.

[Read: Job Universe: Economist.]

Skills Economics Majors Typically Learn

Individuals with doctorates in economics say there are many misconceptions about what the field of economics includes, and emphasize the importance of prospective students of this discipline to understand what they can expect to learn.

One common yet inaccurate assumption about the study of economics, experts say, is that the discipline is all about learning how to game the stock market.

“Economics is not about picking stocks,” says Kenneth Sanford, a Ph.D.-trained economist and data scientist who teaches executive MBA courses at the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics. “It’s not necessarily about whether the economy is growing or shrinking. … The biggest thing I would want students to know about economics is that it’s much more generally applicable than whether your 401(k) is going to grow in the next 12 months.”

Economics is a broad social science discipline that provides insight into a wide array of questions about money, markets, productivity and wealth, according to experts. Some questions that an economist might investigate include how supply and demand influences the prices of goods and services, why market booms and busts occur and which incentives are most compelling to individuals making financial choices.

“I think there’s this preconception of what economics is about, but what it’s really about is decision-making and using strategy to obtain … optimal decisions,” says Roberto Pedace, an economics professor and chair of the economics department at Scripps College in California.

Pedace says one example of a financial decision-making process that an economist might study is how job seekers determine which companies they want to work for and how they evaluate job offers.

He notes that everyday financial choices like this are central to the study of economics. “Unfortunately, there are certain elements of economics that are much more emphasized in the media,” Pedace says, “and so students end up having these preconceptions about what a class in economics would involve.”

[Read: College Majors With the Best Return on Investment.]

Reuben Yonatan, founder and CEO of the GetVoIP communications technology company, says he likes to hire recent grads from economics undergraduate programs, because these economics bachelor’s degree-holders have the data analysis skills and understanding of the economy necessary to forecast future business conditions. “It’s hugely beneficial to my small company to have someone who is aware of greater economic trends,” Yonatan wrote in an email.

Economics faculty say they give students the information necessary to develop informed opinions on political controversies regarding government regulation of economic activity and government investment into the economy.

“One can also view contemporary issues such as the cost of health care, international trade and unemployment and other social issues such as crime, abortion, climate change and pollution through the lens of an economist,” Ahmed says. “A degree in economics can help individuals analyze these issues and more — it can be used in areas such as public policy, finance, industry and forces that drive the economy.”

Because economics programs often involve in-depth policy analysis, graduates of these programs are often attractive hires for policy think tanks, according to experts. These grads’ critical thinking skills are valuable and marketable for career paths in both the private and public sectors, experts say.

Joanne Sonenshine — a development economist and business owner who has both a bachelor’s and master’s in economics — says that the best way for someone to decide whether an economics degree is the best fit is to do some introspection about what type of thinker he or she is. “An economist is analytical, and often left-brained. … An econ program is really suited for someone who approaches problem-solving from a very methodical perspective, and likes order, discipline and explanations for big programs that come from step-by-step methodologies,” she wrote in an email.

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What Can You Do With an Economics Degree? originally appeared on usnews.com

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