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Is an M.A. in Economics a Waste of Time?

By July 20, 2006

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A reader recently asked: "Is an M.A in Economics considered a stepping-stone to the PhD, a decent background for business applications, or a complete waste of time? Iíve seen several posts on econphd.net and other sites saying that an MA has no value whatsoever."

I was in a M.A. program in Economics, so here's my thoughts on the issue:

I suspect an M.A. in Economics is a decent background for business, though you'd likely be better off doing an MBA (which, unfortunately would also cost quite a bit more) or a more specalized program if one is available, like an MA in Financial Modelling.

If you don't have a strong technical background, then an M.A. in Economics is an excellent stepping stone to doing a Ph.D. I don't know if it will get you into more schools, but it will give you the tools and experience to help you survive a Ph.D. program. Plus you'll also learn if academic research is right for you, without comitting 4-6 years to a program. Before I started my M.A., I had a joint double-major Economics and Political Science degree. This wouldn't have prepared me at all for the technical difficulty of a high level Economics Ph.D. program like Rochester - I wouldn't have lasted more than a few months. However, if my background were, say, a joint double-major in Math-Applied Math, then the M.A. likely would have been a waste of time.

I hope that helps! I'd love to hear other people's experiences. Please send them along!


July 20, 2006 at 2:32 pm
(1) Jeremy says:


Thank you for answering my question. I’m a bit nervous. I’m quitting my full-time Fortune 500 job in three weeks to go and finish the M.A. (I was offered an assistantship, and my wife said she’d rather I pursue my dreams than come home frustrated from my 12-hour days)

July 23, 2006 at 6:32 am
(2) janice says:

I have undergraduate degree in economics and politics from the UK and am thinking of pursuing my masters in Economics in the US. Do you know of any universities which offer MA courses of 1 year? Thank you!

June 14, 2007 at 2:42 pm
(3) Maria says:

I’m pursuing an MA in Econ from California State University East Bay. Most of my classmates were able to complete the program in under one year. http://www.csueb.com

September 25, 2007 at 2:00 pm
(4) David says:

I’m finishing my MA in Econ at University of Colorado at Denver, and I’ve got mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’ve learned that if I want to do anything in the field of economics, I’ll most likely need the phd, so the ma isn’t going to land me any interesting careers. On the other hand, the quantitative knowledge I’ve gained in the MA program is great, and if I do go on for the phd, I hope I’ll have at least a slightly better understanding than if I had went straight from undergrad.

January 18, 2008 at 9:15 am
(5) JP says:

I think an MA should be evaluated in relative terms. In my country, Chile, an MA or MSc in Econ should let you play a relevant role in government, public policy design and private sector. In my case, having a non economics background (electronics engineering) makes an MA a perfect way of making first steps into econ. without compromising 4-5 years and adding great value to my career.
I’ve been doing some research and found nice MA Econ programs in Duke, Cornell, Georgetown (joint degree with MPP, my favourite) and Johns Hopkins. Any suggestion of which might be better?

February 2, 2008 at 5:09 pm
(6) Allister says:

I agree with the writer of the fifth comment in that the masters degree must be evaluated in relative terms, in relation to countries. Moreover, I find that many of the US top programs are not much harder or diffrent to any other Masters programmes out there. However, the Phd gives a disticnt advantage if you plan on working in places like the IMF, World Bank etc but for the private sector and in fact for most Central Banks it is not necessary. In fact you will learn how to do research since many masters ptrogrammes carry a dissertation stage which albeit not as intense as the Phd but gives some guidance of what is required of you at that level.

March 20, 2009 at 1:30 pm
(7) BeginerEconomist says:

I am considering an M.A. in Economics as a stepping stone to PhD in the future. If it take 1 year to do an MA does that shave off a year from the PhD program. What I mean is that will those credits count towards the PhD program if i decide to not join the PhD program right away and waited a couple of years. Also, I have a BS in Business and MS in financial engineering so will an MA be a waste of time.

March 21, 2009 at 11:56 pm
(8) Tom says:

I am currently in my first year of a 2 year MA in Econ program. I took it because I was just very interested in learning it. I am going on to law school afterwards. I have a Bachelor’s in Poli Sci and Econ. I have found the MA program to be very informative. I wish I had had much more of a math background… but oh well. I have learned it all since I started. I say, if you’re interested in it, and want to either know the info, go on to the PhD or use it as a stepping stone degree… then go for it.

March 22, 2009 at 9:49 am
(9) Bijaya Gautam says:

I am Student of Economics at the Masters Level (M.A.Economics)soon going to be completed within next six months and have a keen desire to pursue Ph.D in Energy Economics, so for the same reason can you guide me how to obtain the degree in US? Shall I need GRE Economics? Pls tell me the criteria to get admission in the US Universities as a student of Energy Economics.

May 25, 2009 at 12:13 am
(10) YS says:

What is better..MA economics or MBA in finance?..and which one has better job prospects?..I am presently doing a bachelor s in mathematics and do not wish to do a Phd..I am very confused between the two options as i have received varying views.

May 30, 2009 at 8:43 pm
(11) M.Upender says:


M Upender

June 16, 2009 at 2:55 am
(12) ECON STUDENT says:

I just graduated with an MA in Econ from a UC school. I suggest it to anybody that has a passion for economics. Hoping to land a semi-decent job. It will certainly get me a better job than just my econ BA. No question.

July 10, 2009 at 5:46 am
(13) Tom Nightingale says:

In the UK there is (usually) a distinction between MA and MSc courses, the latter have a greater maths/stats/econometrics content and may be better preparation for Phd’s and very specialist roles (e.g., people who develop elaborate econometric models based on historical data, then miss such things as the recent recession and the fairly recent the LTCM fiasco). Problem with the scientific approach is, it works well only with quantifiable factors…it tends to be nitty-gritty. I think senior managers and policy makers need to be able to step back from the detail and see the wood (forest) for the trees. But then, I’m an MBA (originally an engineering graduate). If I had my time again (Oh!, if only) I’d choose MA Econ. with business options.

July 14, 2009 at 6:34 pm
(14) AK says:

I have just finished my MA in comparative business Economics from University college of London after pursuing a BA in financial economics at Leicester. I think an MA gives empirical understanding of Economics relative to the BA studies that focuses on models and theories. Thus, in in order to pursue a phd, i beleive a MA is essential as it gives you focus that a BA is unable to provide. Furthermore, my masters focuses on the post communist eastern european states and so is a excellent place to start a phd in this field, even though im not plannin to pursue one. All the best fellow economists

July 22, 2009 at 10:34 am
(15) Jay says:

With a bachelorís in Poli Sci and Econ, why not go to law school and then make serious money..

August 30, 2009 at 9:22 pm
(16) EconPhDguy says:

I earned a BA in general business with a concentration in econ (little mathematical background) before entering the PhD program at MIZZOU. I quickly switched to an MA. While earning the MA I was an instructor. The MA taught me the tools used in graduate level economic analysis while providing me the experience of being a college level instructor.

I assure you the experience of teaching and the introduction to the “involved” calculus tools makes an AMERICAN rather competitive in the crowd of foreign applicants to PhD programs.


October 22, 2009 at 5:46 am
(17) Arsalan says:

well guys, i have recently completed my MBA with majors in banking and now i am planning to go for MS in economics in order to get a phd. well i think an MA economics is equally good as far as the subject selection is concerned and to be more precise the majors you choose in your masters. and yeah i totally agree that it also depends on the country you live. As i live in Pakistan, here an MBA is more valuable as compared to a simple masters or MA.

October 22, 2009 at 4:29 pm
(18) John says:

One difference that a professor noted is that some colleges (part of a university) have a greater focus on the quantitative. Heavier math. As an engineer, that’s where my preferences reside as it is the qualitative with more detailed examination.

An MA from where” is the first question I have to ask. And who are you marketing it to?

Often we find that people, having taken one course each in micro and macro economics know everything there is to know about economics. Or, at least, that’s there take.

I’ve heard one human resources director say that their unwritten policy was to only look at people that were graduates of Harvard

From a personal standpoint, just getting part way through an MA program has opened up my minds eye to so much more than I understood.

The issue really is in the perception in the market for labor. And a lot has to do with demand, both overall as unemployment rates change in general, and specific to the markets.

Engineering has become oversupplied with the US competing in a global market of individuals with visas. At one time, an MBA with experience in quality management went to the front of the class. At one time, it was all about finance.

November 29, 2009 at 12:10 pm
(19) Muhammad Abdul Sami says:

@ Arsalan…….after p.H.d whawil u do then…….. i mean u have done ur MBA now looking for PHD. how does it relae to anyhthing ans post to msami_23@yahoo.com

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