How to Become an Economist

How to Become an Economist

If you have a keen interest in understanding how the economy works, analyzing data, and making informed decisions, a career as an economist might be the perfect fit for you. Economists are professional individuals who approach economic issues with logic, research, and an analytical mindset. This field offers a wide range of opportunities, from working in the private sector to advising government agencies. But how do you become an economist? What qualifications and skills do you need? Let’s explore the path to becoming an economist and the steps you can take to achieve this career goal.

One of the first steps on your journey to becoming an economist is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in economics or a related field. A solid foundation in economics theory, statistics, and econometrics is essential. After completing your undergraduate education, you can choose to gain further knowledge and expertise by pursuing a master’s or PhD in economics. These advanced degrees provide a deep understanding of economic theories, research methodologies, and managerial skills.

While education is important, real-world experience is equally valuable in the field of economics. Many economists gain experience through apprenticeships or internships, where they have the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills in a professional setting. These apprenticeships can be found within government agencies, research institutions, consulting firms, or other organizations. They provide hands-on experience and allow you to network with professionals in the field.

Another way to gain experience and expand your knowledge is by engaging in research projects. Researching and analyzing economic data will help you develop highly valuable skills such as data interpretation, statistical modeling, and making accurate economic forecasts. By contributing to research papers or publications, you can establish yourself as an expert in a specific area of economics and increase your chances of getting noticed by potential employers.

In addition to education and experience, professional certifications and accreditation can enhance your career prospects as an economist. One such certification is the Certified Business Economist (CBE) offered by the National Association for Business Economics (NABE). This certification demonstrates your proficiency in the field of business economics and can set you apart from others in the job market. Other certifications, such as the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) or Certified Public Accountant (CPA), may also be relevant depending on your specific career path.

Upon completing your education and gaining relevant experience, it’s time to enter the job market. Economists can find employment in a variety of industries, including finance, healthcare, consulting, government, and media. The average salary of an economist varies depending on the sector and level of experience, but economists generally earn a respectable income. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for economists in 2020 was $108,350, with the highest 10 percent earning more than $187,200.

Why Choose a Career in Economics?

Choosing a career in economics can be a smart step for anyone interested in the social sciences and the influence they have on the world. Economists are professionals who focus on studying and understanding how economies work, helping governments and other institutions make better decisions related to finance, policy, and resource allocation. Here are some reasons why you should consider a career in economics:

1. Variety of Roles and Potential

When you become an economist, you open yourself up to a wide range of potential career paths. You could work as a researcher, analyzing data and conducting studies to find helpful information and insights. You could become an econometrician, specialized in using statistics and mathematical models to analyze economic data. Or you could join the managerial field and work as a consultant or advisor, helping companies and organizations make informed decisions based on economic analysis.

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2. Good Job Outlook

The job outlook for economists is generally positive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for economists is projected to grow 8 percent from 2018 to 2028, which is faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is mainly due to the increasing complexity of the global economy and the need for economists’ expertise in various industries.

3. High Potential Earnings

Economists tend to earn a good salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for economists was $105,020 in May 2018. However, this figure can vary depending on factors such as education, experience, and the industry you work in. Those with a Ph.D. in economics are also likely to earn higher salaries compared to those with a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

4. Opportunities for Research and Influence

If you are passionate about research and making a difference, a career in economics can provide you with the perfect platform. Economists often have the opportunity to conduct impactful research that can shape government policies and influence decision-making processes. By providing authoritative economic insights and recommendations, economists can contribute to the development of a more stable and prosperous economy.

5. Relatable to Various Fields

Economics is a field that is closely related to and applicable in various sectors. Whether it is healthcare, education, advertising, finance, or government, the principles and concepts in economics are often relevant and can provide valuable insights. This versatility allows economists to work in different industries and apply their skills and knowledge across a wide range of fields.

Steps to Becoming an Economist

Becoming an economist in the American job market requires a specific approach and a high level of education. This guide will outline the steps you need to take to pursue a career in economics.

Educational Background

The first step is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in economics or a related field, such as mathematics or political science. This will provide you with a solid foundation in economic principles and theories.

Upon completing your undergraduate studies, you can choose to further your education by pursuing a master’s degree in economics. This will allow you to dive deeper into specialized areas, such as econometrics or energy economics.

For those aiming for the highest levels of the profession, a Ph.D. in economics is often required. This intensive program focuses on research and analysis, and it typically takes around four to six years to complete.

Professional Development

While studying, it’s important to gain practical experience through internships or apprenticeships. This will not only enhance your understanding of economics in real-world settings but also provide valuable networking opportunities.

Employment Opportunities

Upon completing your education, you can pursue a variety of career paths as an economist. These include working for government agencies, universities, central banks, or private sector companies.

The demand for economists varies within different industries. Some may find employment in financial institutions, analyzing market trends and advising clients. Others may focus on energy, environmental, or political economics.

Salaries for economists also widely vary, with the highest percentiles earning the most. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual wage for economists in May 2020 was $116,020.

Career Progression

As you gain experience and expertise, you can progress within your career. This may involve taking on more specialized roles, moving up to managerial positions, or even transitioning into consultancy or academia.

Continuing to learn and refine your skills is essential for career advancement. You may consider participating in professional development programs or pursuing certifications, such as the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation.

The timeline for career progression in economics can vary. Some economists start in entry-level positions and work their way up over several years, while others may experience faster advancement based on their skills and opportunities.

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The Importance of an Economist Degree

Studying economics is a pathway to a wide range of careers and offers a deep understanding of how the world works.

For those aspiring to become economists, earning a degree is an essential step in the journey. An economist degree provides the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed in this field.

Here’s why obtaining a degree in economics is so important:

Better Job OpportunitiesStudying economics opens doors to a variety of career roles, including analyst positions, managerial roles, and research opportunities. With an economist degree, you have a wider range of potential job opportunities in both the private and public sectors.
Higher SalariesAn economist degree is associated with higher earnings. On average, economists earn significantly more than those with only a bachelor’s degree. Those who hold a master’s or PhD in economics can expect even higher wages.
In-Demand SkillsEconomics is a highly sought-after discipline in today’s job market. The skills gained through studying economics, such as analytical and problem-solving abilities, mathematical proficiency, and a deep understanding of economic principles, are in high demand across various industries.
Professional NetworksWhile studying economics at university, you have the opportunity to connect with industry experts, professors, and other students who share your passion for economics. These networks can be invaluable for future internships, job opportunities, and collaborations.
Research and Information AnalysisAn economist degree equips you with the skills to conduct rigorous research and analyze complex economic information. This ability is crucial for making informed decisions and providing valuable insights to organizations and businesses.
Varied Career PathsAn economist degree opens up diverse career paths. As an economist, you can work in finance, government, consulting, healthcare, media, and many other sectors. The versatility of an economist degree allows you to follow your passion and find the best fit for your skills and interests.
Continual LearningEconomics is a dynamic field, always evolving with new theories and approaches. Pursuing an economist degree enables you to stay up-to-date with the latest economic trends and advancements, ensuring that your knowledge remains relevant and valuable over time.

In summary, obtaining an economist degree is an essential step for those interested in becoming economists. It provides better job opportunities, higher salaries, in-demand skills, valuable professional networks, research abilities, varied career paths, and ongoing learning opportunities. With an economist degree, you have the foundation to excel in the field of economics and contribute to shaping the world.

Gaining Experience as an Economist

When pursuing a career in economics, gaining practical experience is essential for achieving success. There are various paths you can take to gain experience and enhance your skills in the field of economics.

One of the best ways to gain experience is by completing an internship. Many universities and institutions offer internship programs that allow students to work alongside experienced economists and learn from them. This hands-on experience provides valuable insights into the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities of an economist.

Another way to gain experience is by joining apprenticeship programs. These programs typically offer a combination of on-the-job training and classroom instruction, allowing individuals to develop practical skills while studying economics. Apprenticeships can be a great way to gain real-world experience and make connections in the industry.

Studying economics at a university is often the first step towards becoming an economist. A bachelor’s degree in economics can provide a solid foundation of knowledge and skills in areas such as microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics. Many universities also offer specialized courses and programs for those who wish to pursue a career in economics.

Upon completing their bachelor’s degree, many individuals choose to pursue further education through postgraduate studies. This can include earning a master’s or doctoral degree in economics or a related field. Advanced degrees can enhance job prospects and open up opportunities for higher-level positions in research, academia, and consulting.

Professional certification is another way to advance in the field of economics. The Certified Economist (CE) designation, offered by the Global Academy of Finance and Management (GAFM), is a globally recognized certification that validates the expertise and competency of economists. This certification can help to demonstrate your skills and abilities to potential employers.

It’s important to note that gaining experience as an economist is not limited to formal education and certifications. Building a strong network of professional contacts, participating in conferences and workshops, and staying updated on current economic trends and policies can also contribute to your professional growth.

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The job outlook for economists is generally positive, with a projected growth rate of 7 percent from 2019 to 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists with advanced degrees and specialized skills in areas such as data analysis and quantitative modeling are expected to have the best prospects.

When it comes to salaries, economists can earn a wide range depending on factors such as education, experience, and job location. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for economists was $105,020 in May 2020. The highest 10 percent earned more than $186,310, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $59,450.

Career Opportunities for Economists

There are a wide variety of career opportunities available for economists, making it an exciting and versatile field to work in. In this section, we will share some of the most prominent career paths that economists can embark upon.

1. Government and Public Sector

Many economists find fulfilling careers working in government agencies and public sector organizations. They provide economic analysis and policy recommendations to help government entities make informed decisions. This can involve analyzing economic data, forecasting trends, and evaluating the impact of government policies.

2. Research and Academic Institutions

Economists can also pursue careers in research and academia. They can contribute to the field by conducting in-depth research, publishing scholarly articles, and teaching economics at universities and colleges. This path provides opportunities to delve into specialized areas of interest, contribute to economic theories, and mentor aspiring economists.

3. Financial Institutions

Financial institutions, such as banks, investment firms, and insurance companies, often employ economists to provide insights into financial markets, risk analysis, and economic forecasting. Economists in this sector study market trends, evaluate investment opportunities, and develop economic models to support decision-making processes.

4. Consulting and Advisory Services

Economists can work in consulting firms or as independent consultants, providing economic expertise to a diverse range of clients. They may be hired to identify and analyze economic trends, develop strategic plans, evaluate the impact of policy changes, or provide expert testimony in legal proceedings. This career path often offers a high level of flexibility and the opportunity to work on a variety of projects.

5. Non-Profit and International Organizations

Economists can contribute to social and economic development by working in non-profit organizations and international institutions. These organizations focus on addressing poverty, inequality, and sustainable development. Economists in this sector analyze the impact of policies and programs, provide recommendations for improvement, and work on projects with a global impact.

These are just a few examples of the career opportunities available to economists. The demand for economists varies across different industries and sectors, so it’s important for aspiring economists to research and stay informed about the job market to better understand the specific skills and qualifications needed in their desired field.


What qualifications do I need to become an economist?

To become an economist, you typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in economics or a related field like mathematics or statistics. Some positions may require a master’s or a Ph.D. in economics.

What skills are important for economists to have?

Economists need strong analytical and mathematical skills. They should also have good problem-solving abilities and be able to work with large sets of data. Strong communication skills are also important for presenting research findings.

Can I become an economist if I didn’t major in economics?

Yes, it is possible to become an economist even if you didn’t major in economics. Many graduate programs accept students from various academic backgrounds. However, you may need to take additional coursework or pursue a master’s degree in economics to strengthen your knowledge in the field.

What career opportunities are available for economists?

Economists can work in various industries such as government, finance, consulting, research organizations, and academia. They can work as economic analysts, policy advisors, financial analysts, researchers, or professors, among other roles.

How long does it take to become an economist?

The duration to become an economist depends on your educational path. It typically takes around four years to earn a bachelor’s degree in economics. If you decide to pursue a master’s degree or a Ph.D., it can take an additional two to six years, depending on the program and your research focus.

What is the first step to become an economist?

The first step to become an economist is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in economics or a related field. This will provide you with a strong foundation in economic theory and quantitative analysis.

Do I need a master’s degree to become an economist?

While a master’s degree is not always required to become an economist, it can greatly enhance your job prospects and earning potential. Many economists choose to pursue a master’s degree in economics or a related field to specialize in a particular area of the field.

Dave Pennells

By Dave Pennells

Dave Pennells, MS, has contributed his expertise as a career consultant and training specialist across various fields for over 15 years. At City University of Seattle, he offers personal career counseling and conducts workshops focused on practical job search techniques, resume creation, and interview skills. With a Master of Science in Counseling, Pennells specializes in career consulting, conducting career assessments, guiding career transitions, and providing outplacement services. Her professional experience spans multiple sectors, including banking, retail, airlines, non-profit organizations, and the aerospace industry. Additionally, since 2001, he has been actively involved with the Career Development Association of Australia.