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MS in Economics vs Finance vs MBA: Which is Right For You?

Industry Advice Business

If you’re currently considering pursuing a graduate degree in the realm of business or finance, you probably have some questions. In addition to wondering whether or not earning a master’s is worth it (spoiler alert: it is), you may also be considering several different degrees to determine which will best help you achieve your goals.

Three degrees that are often considered in tandem include:

  • Master of Science in Economics
  • Master of Science in Finance
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)

While, at first glance, these degrees appear similar, they do differ in several significant ways. These distinctions make each of the degrees better suited for certain individuals, depending on their specific interests and career goals.

Below, we explore each of these degrees and offer several tips to help you make the right selection.

Master of Science in Economics

Generally speaking, economics is a discipline that focuses primarily on the “big picture” of human behavior, including how that behavior influences labor, resource, and investment allocations. While economics is related to finance and often deals with financial topics, economics professionals focus less granularly on areas that are of the greatest interest to finance professionals. In some regards, economics has historically been seen as a theoretical field, but this perception is changing.

Some of the most in-demand economics-related careers include:

  • Economist
  • Securities Trader
  • Financial Manager
  • Business or Financial Lawyer
  • Actuary
  • Management Consultant
  • Budget and Pricing Analyst

Typically, a relevant master’s degree, such as a Master of Science in Economics, is a prerequisite to working in these roles. This degree is designed to provide students with a broad but profound understanding of economic theory, quantitative methods, and economic analysis that will guide their careers. 

At Northeastern, the Master of Science in Economics is designed as a terminal graduate degree for those wishing to work as professional economists, economic consultants, and government officials. The degree also provides a strong foundation for those interested in pursuing a PhD in Economics. The program concentrates on the real-world application of economic theory. By incorporating paid co-ops into the curriculum, students have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and put their education into immediate practice.


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Master of Science in Finance

While economics focuses broadly on a government’s approach to money, spending, and resources, the finance field concentrates on how individual people and companies manage money. Because this occurs within the broader economic context, financial professionals must still be familiar with economic theory and practice, but their day-to-day focus is typically on more granular issues of budgeting, cash-flow, and business development.

Some of the most popular finance jobs include:

  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  • Financial Analyst
  • Internal Auditor
  • Insurance Underwriter

While a graduate degree is not strictly a requirement, earning a relevant master’s degree (such as a Master of Science in Finance) can make career advancement more likely, as it implies a certain level of expertise necessary to perform these jobs well. Though the specifics of such a degree will depend on the program that you enroll in, they tend to blend together economics, mathematics, and computer science along with financial theory and application.

At Northeastern, the Master of Science in Finance is designed to prepare students for new and emerging positions in the financial industry, including those which require FinTech experience and analytical capabilities. In addition, the curriculum pushes students to develop important “soft” or “human” skills such as effective communication and leadership to empower them to be more productive in their roles. This coursework is also designed to prepare students for a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, should they choose to pursue it.

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

Though many professionals consider an MBA alongside degrees like those discussed above, an MBA provides a much different focus of study. This degree offers students a broad exposure to the concepts and mechanics of running a business. While this typically includes some financial and economic concepts, the program also incorporates courses such as marketing, strategic decision making, management, organizational behavior, innovation, and more.

As such, earning an MBA tends to make more sense for aspiring entrepreneurs or professionals who are interested in moving into management and leadership positions within an organization.

How to Choose the Right Degree for You

If you are unsure which of the three degrees is the right one for you, the following two questions can help.

1. Consider your interests.

While a Master of Science in Economics, Master of Science in Finance, and Master of Business Administration do contain some overlap in subject matter, each degree is geared specifically toward individuals with different interests. Ideally, the degree you choose will be one that aligns with both your personal and professional interests.

For example:

  • If you are interested in the ways in which human behavior impacts labor, resources, investment, and governance, an MS in Economics may be the right degree for you.
  • If you are interested in the day-to-day financial operations of a company, including topics such as budgeting, cash-flow, and financial statement analysis, an MS in Finance may be the right degree for you.
  • If you are interested in general business administration and would like to learn more about a broader range of what is involved in managing a business, an MBA may be the right degree for you. 

2. What are your career goals?

In addition to your personal interests, it’s important that the degree you choose will help you achieve your career goals. For this reason, it’s helpful to understand which degree employers looking for when they hire for particular positions. 

Both a Master’s in Economics and Master’s in Finance prepare students for positions as individual contributors within an organization; but, it’s important to note that those with an economics background may find they qualify for a greater variety of positions. This is because most economics degrees expose students to issues of policy which can prepare them for careers in government, consulting, and law. Individuals interested in starting their own business or moving up the leadership ranks of their organization, on the other hand, are likely to find that an MBA might better prepare them for that outcome. 

Related: 10 Economics Careers to Power Your Future

Related: The Four Most In-Demand Finance Jobs

Related: Why Get an MBA? The Benefits & ROI

A Personal Choice

Ultimately, which degree you choose to pursue will be a personal choice centered around your interests and career goals. It’s important to consider where you currently are in your career, as well as where you want to be, and to think about how earning any degree will help you get there. 

Interested in learning more about the degrees discussed in this article? Visit the program pages for Northeastern’s Master of Science in Economics, Master of Science in Finance, and Master of Business Administration (MBA) to learn specific details about curriculum, graduation requirements, and more.