Guide to making the most of a degree in economics

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 29 September 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Economics degrees are a popular choice for many prospective undergraduate students looking to study at university. With many career paths available following graduation and various interesting modules throughout the course of your degree, studying economics is an attractive option. Learning how to get the most of your degree can help you set yourself up for an exciting career. In this article, we discuss economics degrees, the most common modules to expect and the approximate salaries for graduates.

What is a degree in economics?

A degree in economics is one of many social science degrees. Economic students and researchers focus on the exploration of financial situations and the various factors that affect different financial states at both personal and societal levels. One of the most common topics you might study during an economics degree discusses how people and organisations make, share and consume resources across the world. The majority of economics degrees cover two areas of study:

  • Microeconomics: This is the study of financial behaviour on an individual scale, such as how individuals react to changes in prices and resources.

  • Macroeconomics: This is the study of financial behaviour on a national or international scale and looks at issues such as inflation, rates of unemployment and more.

How long is an economics degree?

Full-time study of an economics degree takes between three and four years. This is assuming you study without taking a gap year or halting your studies for any other reason. Most commonly in England and Wales, your full-time economics degree lasts three years. In Scotland, the standard length of time for any degree, including economics, is four years. If you intend to study economics on a part-time basis due to other commitments such as employment or family life, you can expect to complete your part-time economics degree within four to five years.

What can you expect from an economics degree?

Economic degrees use a combination of lectures and seminars, with optional guest lectures often available depending on the course. You can expect to attend a mixture of both lectures and seminars every week. The exact number of hours you would dedicate to attending lectures and seminars varies according to your university and your year of study. Here is a breakdown of what to expect in economic lectures and economic seminars:

Economic lectures

Lectures consist of a lecturer speaking to a theatre full of students on one of their expert topics, usually with an accompanying slide show. You may need to take notes throughout the lecture to use in your seminar and assessments. At the undergraduate level, you may also have to conduct research prior to attending the lectures.

Economic seminars

Seminars take place on a smaller scale, often with around ten to fifteen students per seminar group. At some universities, seminar groups can be much smaller. In these seminars, you and your group go over the content learnt in the previous lecture. Seminars are more intimate than lectures and often provide one-on-one chances for students to ask and discuss questions with a tutor who is an academic in economics.

What are assessments like in an economics degree?

Your main source of assessment comes when you submit a number of written essays to your tutors on a broad range of economic matters. Other forms of assessment often include examinations, completing group projects and submitting reports. In your final year of study, you likely have to complete a long-form research project as a dissertation, which requires you to conduct prolonged research into a topic of your choice. Your dissertation is a significant portion of your final degree classification. Make sure you choose a topic you're interested in and can write about at length.

What are the skills you can gain from studying economics at the degree level?

During your economics degree, you have the chance to improve a variety of skills, including:

  • numerical and statistical analysis

  • written and verbal communication

  • presentation and negotiation with clients

  • organisation and time management

  • general and specialised IT knowledge

You can easily transfer these skills to the workplace. This could be as work experience, an internship or securing an entry-level role within the financial industry. Strive to develop these skills throughout your career, as they are useful throughout economics or finance-based roles. You can use these skills to work towards a promotion, find a new role or return to study with a postgraduate economics degree

Related: IT Skills: Definitions and Examples

What are some of the most common economics degree modules?

Though the individual modules you study vary from university to university, you are likely to find economics students studying many of the same topics. These modules are fundamental to successfully studying economic principles and real-world examples. These modules include:

  • economic policy

  • global finances

  • economic history

  • international trade

Especially as you enter your second and final years of study, you have the opportunity to tailor your scheme of study more specifically to your personal interests or your intended career path. Many students choose their university based on the choice of modules available, so make sure you research them before deciding on your preferred choice.

What are the career prospects after gaining a degree in economics?

There are many viable career paths you can go down following graduating with an economics degree. Below are just a few of the job roles available to you after you graduate with average annual salaries:

1. Economic assistant

National average salary: £25,149 per year

Primary duties: An economic assistant acts as an assistant to an economist or a social scientist. Your common responsibilities include researching existing records and conducting interviews, surveys and polls to gather data. Lead researchers use this data to influence strategy and policy decisions.

2. Accountant

National average salary: £34,943 per year

Primary duties: An accountant is largely responsible for the ongoing maintenance of financial records and is often employed directly by an organisation or hired externally. Accounts also give advice to clients and carry out audits of accounts to ensure the company is properly maintaining their records. Successful accountants have excellent numerical, communication and presentation skills.

Related: How To Become an Accountant

3. Financial analyst

National average salary: £36,255 per year

Primary duties: A financial analyst is an expert who forecasts the latest developments in the economy. They use their predicted trends to advise clients. In a financial analyst role, you often share their findings with boards of directors or those at a similar level of seniority.

4. Statistician

National average salary: £42,287 per year

Primary duties: A statistician designs and manages surveys and other types of data collection tests. Following feedback from these surveys, statisticians process the data with a particular brief or context to recommend a change in or upheaval of business strategy. Statisticians are vital for providing senior management and officials with actionable information.

5. Business analyst

National average salary: £42,593 per year

Primary duties: A business analyst is responsible for the improvement of the current working practices of an organisation. You would either work for the company or earn a contract for a set period of time. Business analysts have a hand in making important business decisions, such as mergers and acquisitions.

6. Economist

National average salary: £44,927 per year

Primary duties: An economist is responsible for carrying out research that results in the collation and analysis of large amounts of data. They create and present assets that reflect this data, including reports, graphs and charts. Economists find work in almost any industry as companies require a sound financial strategy to thrive, regardless of their sector.

7. Data scientist

National average salary: £50,324 per year

Primary duties: A data scientist has knowledge of mathematics, statistics and computer science. This is because the role of data scientists is to analyse models of data and subsequently outline an action plan for businesses to implement to improve their current operations. Data scientists create the infrastructure that allows for data personalisation and machine learning to help organisations better understand their demographics.

Related: How To Become a Data Scientist in 4 Steps

8. Data engineer

National average salary: £56,365 per year

Primary duties: A data engineer is a professional who develops systems to efficiently collect and store data that data scientists use at a later point. As a data engineer, you're responsible for making data accessible to the individuals or organisations that want to use it. The role involves rigorously maintaining data stores to prevent bugs from affecting their accuracy.

9. Investment banker

National average salary: £59,331 per year

Primary duties: An investment banker looks at both a company's long and short-term financial goals. You would then advise practical solutions to achieve these goals. Often, this includes focusing on a company's transactions, streams of revenue and any additional expenditure.

Related: How To Become an Investment Banker

10. Actuary

National average salary: £67,487 per year

Primary duties: An actuary is a specialist in financial risks who evaluates risks and advises clients accordingly on how to act regarding these risks. Actuaries understand three key theories, including probability theory, investment theory and common financial strategies. The specialised knowledge required to be an actuary is what leads it to be so well compensated.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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