Online PhD in Economics

Economics PhD programs are popular among business-minded graduate students. Those pursuing a PhD in economics typically study current economic theory and policies, as well as the history of important global developments in finance and economics. With this doctorate, candidates are eligible for careers as government analysts, economists, global corporate executives, and other high-level positions in the fields of business and finance. The Ph.D. in economics is especially sensible for students aspiring to a career in economics, finance, or business, and is sometimes completed in combination with a graduate-level business or management degree.

The curriculum of the PhD program in economics involves in-depth study of standard economic policies and trends. Programs vary according to institution, with some colleges offering a particular concentration in topics like post-Keynesian, institutionalist, or feminist economics. Additional specialty areas include development economics, international economics, labor economics, monetary economics, gender economics, comparative economic systems, economic history, and econometrics, among others.
Doctorates usually require intensive research and comprehensive course work, as well as the presentation of a formal dissertation to support students' original research, to complete the program.

About Online PhD Programs in Economics

It may seem that a PhD program in economics is easy to come by in a fully online format, but most colleges that offer a doctoral economics program require at least a minimum amount of on-campus attendance for seminars, lectures, or courses. Ph.D. programs in this field often make a point of encouraging effective communication skills and social interaction, as economists and analysts must be adept in these areas in the workforce. For example, students in the PhD program for economics at the University of Chicago follow a curriculum that combines economic research with practical applications. Chicago students develop a personalized plan of study with their academic advisor, but are also afforded the flexibility of an online schedule that can be completed from home. While exact syllabi vary, sample courses from the Chicago curriculum are below:

Year One:

  • Price Theory. This course touches on how supply and demand would factor into competitive markets as well as monopolistic markets, and the potential effects of investing in human and physical capital.
  • Theory of Income. This class covers the neoclassical growth model, human capital accumulation, and the q-model of investment.

Year Two:

  • Social Interactions and Inequality. This class goes over how social interaction influences the economy, and topics include social media and discrimination.
  • Topics in Matching and Market Design. This is a reading-intensive course covering the technical component of marketing design and discussions on what makes interesting marketing strategy.
  • Public Economics. Taxes are analyzed in this course to determine how the government utilizes taxpayer money on programs like welfare and social security.

Students complete their doctoral degree with a formal dissertation to support their extensive research. For their economics dissertation at Chicago, for example, students are encouraged to consider publishing their dissertation research in professional journals and academic periodicals. Typically, Ph.D.s are awarded only after candidates have completed the dissertation, as well as any additional program-specific requirements, to meet the standards of the granting institution.

Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Economics

Most Ph.D. students in economics are required to incorporate rigorous mathematics and business courses into their curriculum, as being skilled in these subjects in addition to intensive economics training is essential to a successful economics career. Due to the exhaustive requirements in a variety of academic subjects to complete the economics Ph.D., some students are hesitant about whether they can meet these demands. In a field like economics that seems to have countless career opportunities accepting various qualifications, some prospective students may question the necessity of a doctoral degree.

However, students who get a PhD in economics can be sure they are getting a comprehensive and thorough education in this field. Graduates with a doctorate have a much greater chance of moving into a high-level executive position than those who have only completed an undergraduate or master's degree. Upward mobility and job growth are also stable, especially for Ph.D. graduates. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), while economists in general may experience slower-than-average job growth during this decade, job opportunities for individuals with economics Ph.D.s are expected to increase, particularly for those with strong quantitative abilities, analytical skills, and related work experience.

Application & Admission Requirements

PhDs in economics require diverse prerequisites, intended to demonstrate to the admissions faculty that the candidate has adequate basic knowledge of economics, as well as a dedicated interest in performing research, as this is ultimately what much of their career may entail. A prime candidate for the Ph.D. in economics has a master's degree in economics or a related field, or an undergraduate degree in addition to supplemental course work to satisfy graduate-level requirements, as well as documented research experience or professional experience related to economics. Depending on the granting institution, doctorates usually require an extensive application process, including a minimum GPA, letters of recommendation, a statement of intent, possible competency exams, and entrance interviews and evaluations.

Career Options & Job Market

A PhD in economics can open the door to a variety of diverse career options. Economics doctorates provide the skills needed to become economists, analysts, actuaries, political scientists, and even teachers and mathematicians, among others. Graduates are qualified to work in high levels of federal, state, and local government, as well as in financial firms, scientific research organizations, and consulting offices. As skilled economists are needed in nearly every aspect of business and commerce, the demand for knowledgeable professionals is steady, and prospects and salaries are high. Economists averaged an annual salary of $89,450 in May 2010, and jobs in this field are expected to increase 6% by 2020, with increased opportunities for Ph.D. holders, according to the BLS.

Where to Find Information

  • U.S. News and World Report As a reputable source for top colleges and universities ranked by program, this resource features information on the best economics graduate programs in the country.
  • – Foley blog This web page, containing comprehensive first-hand yet objective information for prospective graduate students, is maintained personally Mark C. Foley, associate professor of economics at Davidson College.
  • Harvard University Department of Economics Arguably the top economics Ph.D. program in the U.S., this site features an in-depth exploration into the principles and curriculum of this prestigious program.

How to Get Funding

Economics Ph.D. students, as in any Ph.D. program, should first complete the FAFSA application to explore federal financial aid options. Next, students should research which state-funded and college-specific scholarships are available. Many federal agencies offer stipends for a specified term or research fellowships, depending on the area of study. Students may also be eligible for assistantships through private organizations, as well as merit- and need-based scholarships through the institution awarding the degree.

  • Federal Direct Stafford Loan. Ph.D. students can find low-interest loans of up to $20,500 and with a 6.8% fixed interest rate per year, through this loan program.
  • Federal Perkins Loan. As a great loan option for full-time students with an expressed need for financial aid, this aid program distributes an average of $3,500 per academic year at a rate of only 5% interest.
  • Campus-Based Aid. Schools may decide how to manage their campus-specific financial aid their own way, but most schools also fully participate in the wide variety of federally regulated funding programs.

Essential Advice

  • Is this the right choice for you? Be sure to give yourself ample time to think through your options. If you're comfortable with your final decision, you will be able to clearly see how the benefits outweigh the hardships while you are in the process of pursuing this degree. Ask other Ph.D. students about their own experiences.
  • Get a head-start on the application. Just as it took some time and effort to contemplate your next move, it will take more time and effort to complete the application process. Get started now, and you'll be glad you did later.
  • Work instead of study in the meantime. Taking on a Ph.D. program immediately after you finish a previous degree isn't for everyone. Allow yourself to gain some much-needed insight and experience by seeking out a professional opportunity before you start studying again.
  • Explore your funding options. Organizing your financial aid is key to getting off to a healthy start in the degree process. It is always a good idea to get the financials squared away now, so you don't have to wonder about it later.