You Don’t Need an Advanced Degree to be an Economist

I have been told by several people that a PhD in economics should only be pursued for one of two (if not both) reasons: You will regret it if you don’t or you want to teach at a four-year university. Based on my education and what I’ve seen concerning graduate school, this pretty much seems to be the case. Why, then do so many people believe that an economist needs a master’s degree at the very least? A lot of it has to do with the fact that people don’t really know what they’re talking about.

Rumors, Rumors Everywhere!

Most of the people who think you need an advanced degree to be an economist are often outsiders that don’t understand the subject very well. It’s true that the job title of “economist” is often paired with the minimum qualifications of an advanced degree, but that’s for one of two reasons: You actually need one for your upper-level government job or you’re listening to an outsider that doesn’t understand the subject very well. Many are often surprised when I tell them that I’ve had deep interesting conversations with a few of my professors about the subject.

You Can Publish with a Bachelor’s Degree

As long as your paper is written well and presents a decent argument, you can publish research in an economic journal even if all you have is a BA in economics. In fact, it’s a lot like having those deeper conversations, but backed with hard data, analysis, and research. Those who obtain a master’s degree study economics a little deeper and then they learn how to do more advanced research and thesis writing. Those pursuing a PhD do all of that and they learn how to teach. To an extent, you learn more than an undergraduate or master’s candidate; you learn a lot more partially because you’re learning it on a much deeper level.

Bachelor’s Degree ≠ Basic Degree

What most people don’t realize about economics is that the bachelor’s degree is not a basic degree like an associate’s. It’s an intermediate degree, which is implied by the fact that students take intermediate microeconomics and intermediate macroeconomics. Another fact is that, depending on your school, you can take advanced microeconomics and advanced macroeconomics alongside master’s degree students (as a 400-level class, of course). My school, the University of Oregon, has a lot of classes that can be taken in this fashion. Economics of crime, for example, is a 400/500-level split course.

Perhaps the best evidence of economics being an intermediate degree is the fact that those with a bachelor’s degree in economics who wish to attend graduate school most commonly apply to the PhD program. It makes sense since the first year is very similar, if not the same, as the master’s degree program. Defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary, an “economist” is an expert in economics, not necessarily someone who holds an advanced degree in the subject.


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