If you’ve decided that postgraduate studies in economics are your ideal educational path but are unsure whether to pursue an MA or MSc degree – there might be a way to get out of the dilemma. Stick with us while we explore which is better for you.
The good news is that the trouble with master’s programmes in economics isn’t the earning potential or job prospects upon graduating.
After all, a recent report outlined that medicine and economics graduates earn the most. 20% higher than average, to be precise.
But the troubleshooting begins when defining a field of study in the first place.
There’s an ongoing debate if economics is an exact or descriptive science, meaning that there is no real consensus on whether it belongs to the scientific or humanistic field.
That’s why universities have a generous amount of freedom when tailoring their master’s programmes in this field of study.
In pragmatic terms, both MA and MSc programmes in economics share similar features: they will take approximately two years to complete, and both will provide you with more than solid career opportunities.
Here’s what they’ll do differently.
In general, MA (Master of Arts) programmes focus on the discipline at an advanced level and offer specializations in literature, language, history, or social science.
MAs are terminal degrees in many areas, which means they are the highest possible qualification you can obtain in that field of study.
When it comes to economics specifically, an MA can be a way to enter the job market immediately or pursue a PhD degree – so, it’s not a terminal qualification.
In most cases, classifying a master’s programme in economics as an MA implies that the particular university will strongly emphasize theoretical knowledge within the field. To be more specific, you’ll probably take courses such as:
*Many universities that place economics studies within the Master of Arts umbrella tend to merge Quantitative Analytical Methods and Statistics in a single course that offers insight into mathematical tools and concepts they can apply to their field of study.
MSc is an acronym for the Master of Science programme that emphasizes the scientific principles in the chosen field of study. So naturally, the qualification is usually awarded for studies in sciences, engineering, and medicine, i.e., for programmes that are more focused on scientific and mathematical subjects.
When applied to economics, this means that an MSc programme will primarily focus on quantitative aspects of the discipline and include a great deal of technical knowledge acquiring. Simply put, if you opt for an MSc in economics, it’s reasonable to expect coursework that outlines the priority of mathematics.
In its basic form, Master of Science in Economics includes courses outlined in the MA syllabus above, but also subjects such as:
As we outlined, the main difference between MA in Economics and MSc in Economics is in the general orientation of the studies. While Master of Arts in Economics will likely entail the programme that emphasizes the discipline’s theoretical aspects, Master of Science studies tends to focus on mathematical and statistical elements in economics.
However, as universities are free to tailor their studies individually, it’s not always possible or wise to rely solely on the nomenclature degree.
Instead, inspect the programme with vigour and scrutiny to make sure it matches your interests and career choices.
Here’s what you should pay attention to.
Before anything else, make sure you go through the master’s curriculum and syllabus, as that’s where all the differences will be immediately apparent. Whereas the syllabus outlines portions of topics included in the studies, the curriculum consists of a combination of subjects, topics, and activities.
If many courses revolve around math, statistics, and analysis, be sure that the programme is designed as an MSc, regardless of the nomenclature. Likewise, if most courses are theoretical, economics studies will probably be more inclined towards MA-like programmes.
If you’re unsure about a particular master’s, the best thing is to reach out to the university staff directly and get firsthand advice.
Many universities choose to provide you with the details of this classification straight away to avoid any further misunderstandings. It means that you’ll have clear information whether a particular master’s in economics is an MA or an MSc right from the overview.
They’ll also outline who is the particular programme for, and what kind of skills you can obtain upon graduating.
Be sure to acknowledge that there’s a great deal of diversity within postgraduate economics studies. In the US, for example, most master’s in the field are classified as STEM majors and offer their courses to aspirants with significant mathematical foreknowledge.
In essence, because economics is a broad field of study with several legitimate approaches, it’s possible to enter the area through several doors.
Although specific requirements vary from university to university, MSc inclined postgraduate studies will likely have more strict enrollment requirements.
Because “the primacy of mathematics” understands that students have strong numerical reasoning ability, MSc programmes will probably require you to submit some evidence on this foreknowledge.
Admission requirements may include:
On the other hand, eligibility criteria for MA in economics may be somewhat looser. Undergraduate studies in economics or the related field are usually preferred, but many universities worldwide will accept applicants with a bachelor’s degree in any subject.
Again, this is not a strict rule, so it’s possible to find an MA in economics with more strict admission criteria than those for specific MSc programmes. Then again, if the studies insist on technical aspects, it’s probably wise to have a strong background in mathematics.
In terms of career options, there isn’t a “one-and-for-all” defined difference between MA and MSc degrees in economics. On the contrary, both tend to offer favourable job prospects and excellent earning potential.
Besides, in today’s job market, employers will often list the skills and knowledge needed to apply for a position rather than going into the details of the educational nomenclature. In translation, they will likely seek applicants who have the “know-how” and be pretty much indifferent to whether they graduated from MA in economics or MSc in economics.
It’s also true to say that the MSc programme will better equip you for positions requiring advanced analysis, calculations, and research skills. But, on the other hand, an MA degree will likely pave the way for jobs that rely on theoretical knowledge and insight.
Some of the jobs you can apply upon graduating include:
Eventually, the main difference between MA in Economics and MSC in Economics lies in your own preferences and abilities.
The best way to tell if a particular master’s in economics is a right fit for you is to look at its coursework and see if you’re comfortable with the subjects. If your intellectual butterflies don’t fly when you see the subjects, it’s probably wise to keep on searching.
Here at CBU, we created a postgraduate programme in economics that has gathered many such butterflies by now. Download our prospectus for more information, or contact us directly if you have any questions.