Guide to Online Economics Certificates and Short Courses

If you enjoy analyzing data and using logic and reasoning to solve problems, you might be interested in learning about economics. What is economics? It’s the study of how people use resources and how various factors affect scarcity, decision-making and response to incentives.

If you might want to become an economist but you’re not sure the career path is right for you, there are online economics certificate programs and short courses available covering various topics. These online economics programs introduce you to economics themes and may take less time and be less expensive than full degree programs.

Can You Study Economics Online?

Yes. There are dozens of economics online short courses and certificate programs available from colleges, universities and online learning providers. Sometimes these online economics courses offer topics similar to what’s taught in a bachelor’s or master’s degree program.

Online short courses and certificate programs vary depending on the institution and platform from which they are offered. These courses may be self-paced or, in some cases, feature deadlines for completing work and exams. You may be able to converse with classmates and professors in certain programs, as well.

Some short courses in economics will provide a certificate of completion or a credential. This certificate may be an additional cost, especially for free courses. However, the credential may be beneficial. Courses and certificates can be listed on a resume and LinkedIn profile to show employers you’ve continued your education.

Common Topics in Economics Online Courses

Economics covers a variety of subjects, ranging from wealth and finance to historical trends and predictions. If you want to learn more about how economics can help you in your career, you may be able to find an economics program specialty that relates to your profession. Below are only a few examples of economics course topics.

Economics for Business Courses

While economics has a variety of applications, one of the most common applications for the field is business economics. Economics for business courses focus on economics from a business perspective. They often cover macroeconomics, which is the study of the economy as a whole, including interest rates and national productivity. These types of economics courses might use case studies and problem-solving activities to explore issues like what causes recessions, how economic trends affect businesses and how to use economics concepts, models and tools to inform business decision-making.

If you’re a current or aspiring business manager or executive, learning about the broader business environment in a business economics course may help you make decisions. Courses might cover such topics as the global economy, consumer confidence, how government policy affects business, currency, how to measure economic health, social factors that affect business economics, how to deal with economic shocks and how to foster economic sustainability.

Environmental Economics Courses

Environmental economics courses cover how economic principles relate to the environment. These types of courses may cover topics like energy systems economics, how environmental resources are used and distributed, how factors like air pollution and climate change affect the environment and how to financially quantify environmental factors like carbon impacts.

Environmental economics courses may be beneficial for students who work in environmental professions or in environmental policy, as well as for students who work for sustainability-minded businesses. Students may learn how different types of energy sources, such as solar and nuclear, provide value versus how much they cost. Expenses like energy extraction and operating costs may also be covered in an environmental economics course.

Finance Economics Courses

Finance economics courses might focus on topics like behavioral finance principles, risk management and banking, insurance and securities industries. Students in these types of courses may learn about forecasting, pricing, debt, inflation, stocks, bonds, dividends and financial markets. A finance economics course may also cover financial history, including recessions, mortgage crises and regulation.

Students may be interested in a finance economics course if they work in finance or in a profession where financial principles affect their work. A finance economics course may be helpful to someone who wants to advance a career in finance, corporations or nonprofits.

Health Economics and Policy Courses

An economics policy course focusing on healthcare will cover how economics affects healthcare systems around the world. Healthcare is a major industry that deals with supply, demand and other economic policies. A health economics and policy course may help finance, economic and healthcare professionals learn how the global economy affects health organizations and patients. Courses may cover topics like healthcare spending, healthcare policy, health financing systems, how economic principles relate to healthcare, the pharmaceuticals market, healthcare planning and healthcare delivery. These courses may focus on macroeconomic forces like labor force participation or microeconomic forces like price-setting and wage efficiency.

Social justice topics related to healthcare inequity may also be covered in a health economics and policy course. For those who work in government, in nonprofit roles or as policy advisers or healthcare advocates, this type of course may benefit their work. Healthcare leaders, social scientists, public health professionals and medical staff also may benefit from this type of course.

Real Estate Economics Courses

Real estate economics courses aim to teach students how to evaluate economic factors and use financial theories and research when making real estate investment decisions. These courses and certificate programs may cover how to value property, what you should consider for a real estate portfolio, how to fund property purchases and how to use sustainable real estate practices.

You might benefit from taking a real estate economics course if you’re a real estate developer or investor or if you work in real estate as a broker consulting for these types of professionals. You’ll learn about supply and demand in real estate markets, how to price properties and what real estate cycles are and how to optimize your work for them. Other topics that may be covered include the cyclical boom and bust nature of real estate, how price-setting affects the real estate market, long-run and short-run supply considerations, and the price elasticity of demand.

Is an Economics Course or Certificate Worth It?

Is studying economics worth it? An economics course or certificate may be beneficial depending on your goals. For example, if you’re an environmental activist, you may be interested in an environmental economics course. If you want to gain more responsibilities at work or advance your role, a relevant economics certificate may impress your employer.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), to work in an economist role, you most likely need a master’s degree or Ph.D. Some entry-level jobs, typically in government, may require only a bachelor’s degree.

Short course programs don’t provide degrees, though some provide a certificate of completion. A certificate may enhance a professional role depending on the knowledge gained and how that applies to one’s job duties. If the program you choose does not offer a certificate, you can still mention your achievement on your resume or on LinkedIn.

If you want to advance your education but you’re not sure if studying economics is the right fit, compare various courses below.

Courses in Economics vs. Finance Courses

Online finance courses focus on specific financial principles, such as managerial finance, financial technology (fintech), bookkeeping, financial reporting, accounting fundamentals and merger analysis.

Economics courses may also cover financial principles like valuation and financial modeling and forecasting. The main difference is that economics focuses on broad systems that may involve finance, while finance is more based on the tools and techniques of money management.

Short courses in finance typically don’t prepare you for finance manager roles like a master’s in finance would. They can, however, support growth in a profession where finance is used. Some finance professionals will take finance short courses to develop their knowledge in specialized areas, such as real estate or financial modeling.

Which course is better for you, economics or finance, depends on how directly involved in a financial role you are and how you want to apply what you learn to your job or life.

Economics vs. Master of Business Administration

If you want to advance your role in business, you may be wondering about the difference between an economics course and a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Economics short courses and certificate programs may not have the same impact as an MBA on your salary and career.

That’s because an MBA program usually takes around two years to complete and teaches broad business principles such as leadership, finance and business analytics. An economics course will be much shorter, lasting several weeks or a few months, and will generally hone in on a specific economics topic.

In an MBA program, you may learn about economics in a similar format to a short course. You may also learn several subjects within economics and/or be able to specialize in economics or in another business area like real estate, finance or marketing for your MBA.

You might be interested in trying a short course in economics to see if you enjoy the experience and want to dedicate more time and money to earn a master’s degree in an MBA program.

3 Benefits of an Online Economics Certificate or Short Course Program

As you contemplate whether participating in an online economics certificate or short course program is worth your time and financial investment, consider these benefits. Ultimately, the decision is yours to make, but there are some common considerations to take into account.

1. You may gain a career advantage.

According to a 2020 study reported by Sallie Mae, 87% of people who took an online course for professional development reported a career benefit. Possible positive career outcomes from taking an economics course or certificate program may include a promotion, a raise or the ability to switch careers. Career benefits may also include increased responsibilities and additional learning opportunities.

An online course may be the catalyst for changing careers and embarking on a new, more fulfilling career path. Or, you may be able to immediately apply what you’re learning on the job and become more of a leader where you work.

You can list a certificate on your resume and LinkedIn profile, which may impress employers or show up in search results when recruiters and employers search for that kind of certificate.

2. The time and financial investment is comparably minimal.

There are hundreds of free courses available online. You may be able to take a course for free and get a certificate, or audit a course for free and purchase a certificate. Compared to master’s degree programs that may take two years or more to complete, you can complete your certificate or short course program in just a few weeks.

A short course or certificate program can be helpful to try before committing to a master’s program. Since most short courses and certificate programs are modeled after or are identical to actual university master’s program courses, taking one is an efficient way to discover how much you enjoy learning about the topic.

3. Short courses and certificate programs may provide networking opportunities.

Depending on the short course or certificate program format, you may be able to interact with instructors and other students in the course. This may lead to networking, which may open up career opportunities. Meeting students and faculty from around the world could lead to job prospects in new areas or industries if the contacts you meet refer you.

Even free online economics courses with hundreds of thousands of students may feature online forums. There, you may be able to participate in discussions, ask questions and connect with classmates.

Taking an online course may also benefit you if you decide to apply for a full program at the same school since you’ll have some experience with the program and instructors.

Last updated February 2021