MS in Economics vs Finance vs MBA: Which is Right For You? (2024)

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.

Advance Your Career with a Master’s in Economics

Combine theory with practice to prepare for a career contributing to social, economic, and environmental change.


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


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.

MS in Economics vs Finance vs MBA: Which is Right For You? (2024)


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

MBAs are more expensive to obtain than a master's in finance or economics. MBA programs are broader, while master's programs in economics and finance are deeper. A master's in finance or economics typically requires a stronger background in mathematics. Median salaries may be higher for MBAs, depending on the job.

Should I get an MBA or a Masters in economics? ›

If you enjoy studying economic theories and applying them to real-world issues, a Master's degree in Economics could be rewarding. Alternatively, an MBA may be more appealing if you prefer a broader business education focusing on leadership and management.

Is MBA or MS better for finance? ›

An MBA program focuses on more comprehensive knowledge, while a Master of Science in Finance program involves more specialized knowledge. The Master of Science in Finance program has a (traditional) faster completion rate, so you can enter your long-term career more quickly.

Is it better to have an MBA or MS? ›

Both a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and a Master of Science (MS) degree can offer a comprehensive graduate-level business education, however an MBA will provide an interdepartmental look at how businesses run, while an MS will provide a nuanced understanding of one particular area of business.

Is a Master's in economics and finance worth it? ›

A master's degree in economics can be a game-changer in today's job market. Beyond the promising career opportunities and competitive salaries, getting a master's in economics unlocks skills and opportunities that make this degree genuinely worthwhile.

Which pays more masters or MBA? ›

MBA Degrees Can Also Lead to Higher Average Salaries

According to the most recently available data from Payscale, the average salary for an individual with an MBA is $96,000 a year — 20% higher than the average salary of a master's degree-holder.

Does economics pay more than finance? ›

The earning potential and salaries are comparable between the finance and economics fields. While the professions are related to one another, they're also very diverse, and salary can range based on the type and level of the job. As candidates gain more experience, they can typically negotiate for higher salaries.

Which is harder MS or MBA? ›

Both an MBA and master's in business are graduate-level programs, and meet the same rigorous academic standards. So, neither option is inherently easier than the other. The difficulty of each program also depends on the student's background.

How much does a masters in finance make compared to an MBA? ›

The degree outcomes are also an important factor for prospective students to consider. In 2019, Owen calculated its MBA graduates as coming out with an average salary of about $119,000, whereas its master's in finance candidates had an average starting salary of about $79,000.

What's better than an MBA? ›

MOOCs are a good alternative to M.B.A.s due to their accessibility, low cost and flexibility. Enrollees can work at their own pace and often pay no tuition. MOOCs also have no admission requirements, extending their reach to any interested student.

Who earns more, MBA or MS in the USA? ›

Entry-level salaries for MBA degree holders typically range between $77,020 and $128,750. For M.S. in management degree holders, entry-level salaries are between $50,000 and $86,000.

Which master's degree is most in demand? ›

  1. Data Science and Big Data. Dive into the vast universe of Data Science and Big Data! ...
  2. Artificial Intelligence. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing the game across various fields, from philosophy to climate change. ...
  3. Robotics. ...
  4. Construction Management. ...
  5. Human-Computer Interaction. ...
  6. Data Analytics. ...
  7. Neuroscience. ...
  8. Computer science.
Feb 29, 2024

How much does a MS Finance make in the US? ›

Masters Finance Salary
Annual SalaryHourly Wage
Top Earners$135,000$65
75th Percentile$109,000$52
25th Percentile$75,000$36

How much do people with a master's in economics make? ›

Economics Career Outlook

Graduate education can increase a professional's earning potential by 18 percent or more across industries, and the economics field is no different. As of 2022, economics professionals earn a median annual salary of $113,940, with the top 10 percent earning more than $207,230 annually.

Can you become an economist with an MBA? ›

You can decide to pursue one of three degrees to become an economist—a Master of Business Administration (MBA), a Master of Arts (MA) in economics or a Master of Science (MS) in economics. Each of these degrees offers its own specialized benefits that can help you advance your career.

How hard is a master's in economics? ›

Economics master's programs are demanding. Students must excel in econ, math, statistics, and social science. Additionally, they must be capable of working independently on research projects and finishing their assignments on time.

Is MBA harder than Masters? ›

Both an MBA and master's in business are graduate-level programs, and meet the same rigorous academic standards. So, neither option is inherently easier than the other. The difficulty of each program also depends on the student's background.

Is it better to study economics or business management? ›

The most crucial question to ask yourself is whether you are a "big picture" or "detail-oriented" person. If you want to know how the economy works, you should study economics. If all you want to do is manage or work for a certain company, business administration is the course for you.

Is business management or economics degree better? ›

The main difference in the two degrees is that the business degree provides a broader general education, meaning graduates can work in a number of fields. Economics degree holders are a bit more limited when it comes to the scope of suitable workplaces.


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