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How to Become an Economics Professor

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When your goal is to teach economics at the university level, accept the fact that you will probably spend over a decade getting your education. Although some community colleges will accept a master’s degree as entry-level preparation, if you want to advance in the field or work at a four-year college or university, you should plan on obtaining a Ph.D. You may also need work or research experience to land the position of your dreams.

Begin with a Bachelor's Degree

Your journey to an economics position begins with a bachelor’s degree. Your college may offer a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science degree in the field. The actual economics courses are typically the same, but required and allowed electives may differ. At the University of South Florida, for example, you must take a foreign language course for your BA degree, but in the BS degree, you must complete business foundation courses. At Mihaylo College of Business and Economics in the California State University system, a foreign language is not required for a BA degree. All programs, however, require courses such as microeconomics and macroeconomics.

Complete a Master's Degree

After completing your bachelor’s degree, you’ll go on for a master’s degree. Expect to spend at least three semesters of full-time study and up to five years to complete your master’s degree. Although each program may be slightly different, most will require core subjects such as applied statistics and more extensive programs in microeconomic and macroeconomic theory. You will typically complete a research project as well as sufficient elective courses to meet your degree requirements. Some programs offer additional training. At New York University, for example, you can go on for a specialized certificate in applied economic analysis after you finish your master’s degree.

Obtain a Ph.D.

The last step in your education is a Ph.D. in economics. Although a master’s degree may meet the minimum qualifications for a teaching position in a four-year college or university, the BLS notes that when candidates with a Ph.D. are available for an open position, the employer frequently chooses the candidate with the higher degree. A Ph.D. is often specifically designed to prepare you for research or a university, government or industry position, according to the University of Wyoming. Your coursework will expand on the basics of economics to cover economic theory, economic dynamics and specialized courses such as environmental and resource economics or international trade and development. You must also complete a doctoral dissertation.

Job Outlook and Salaries

Increased enrollments at postsecondary institutions are expected to fuel a growth rate of 19 percent for postsecondary teachers from 2012 to 2022, according to the BLS. The average for all occupations is 11 percent. Retirements may also increase potential opportunities. However, budgetary constraints -- especially at public colleges -- may limit positions, and those available may be part-time or non-tenured. The BLS notes the average annual salary for postsecondary economic teachers was $100,490 in 2013, with a salary range from $45,010 to $168,000. Wages were generally higher in the Northeastern states.


Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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