Econ Grad (India)
Last Updated: October 2021
Why M.A./M.Sc. Economics?
In layman's terms, you require a masters degree in economics in order to become a professional economist. A simple bachelor's degree would not fulfill the need. Professional economists work with real-world data, run statistical and econometric techniques on it, and use theory to make sense of the analysis. They might work in the corporate sector, the government, banks, universities, or research institutes.
Most good schools in India require you to clear an entrance test (held separately by each school) which quizzes you on bachelor's level economics and on relevant portions of statistics and mathematics. Though you do not necessarily need to have studied economics during your undergrad, you would certainly need to study it for these entrance tests. Hence, there are no hard eligibility criteria (except for perhaps a good score during your undergrad, irrespective of what programme and discipline it was), but your capability to be able to solve the entrance tests. Some of them even hold interviews as a second round of admission, which you need your economic, statistical, econometric, and mathematical fundamentals to be extremely strong for (cases in point: ISI Delhi/Kolkata, IGIDR, SNU).
The following are top economics schools in India which you must apply to at any cost:
You can start with reading content on the following website which is curated specifically for MA Economics aspirants (I do not have any affiliation with the following, it is mentioned here just because it is a good starting point): www.economicsentrance.weebly.com . In general, you are required to have knowledge of a standard undergraduate (bachelors) programme in economics. Even if you have studied it in your undergrad, it is always a good idea to join a coaching centre to keep you going. You can follow this thread on Quora for latest news on the same. If you feel you do not need coaching, no need to beat yourself up. Just obtain the right preparation material and previous entrance test papers, and follow a disciplined routine for your preparation.
You can refer to books followed in a standard B.A. (Hons.) Economics programme in India (like Delhi University). Specifically, the following:
Intermediate Microeconomics (Varian; Snyder & Nicholson)
Intermediate Macroeconomics (Mankiw; Blanchard; Dornbush & Fisher)
International Economics (Krugman & Obstfeld)
Basic Statistics - Measures of centre and spread (S.C. Gupta)
Probability and Inferential Statistics (Freund)
Mathematics for Economists (Sydsaeter & Hammond; Chiang)
History of Economic Thought (Kurz)
Indian Economy (no particular book)
Previous entrance test papers
You can access previous entrance test papers here.
What not to do
For a list of mistakes that you must not commit during your preparation for M.A. Economics entrance tests, please see my Quora post.
What to expect
Apart from the usual compulsory courses like microeconomics, macroeconomics, econometrics, and mathematical optimization, you would be studying advanced topics like time series, applied econometrics, development economics, labour economics, etc. The focus would be on applied economics, i.e., working with data and learning computational skills. You would learn how, using non-experimental data, one can find causal estimates of the effects of certain economic variables on others (for example: Given the current economic framework, by how much would the GDP of India increase if government expenditure increases by a certain amount?). You would be either required to or expected to learn statistical software such as R/STATA/SAS for these purposes. You may also be required to submit a dissertation or term papers, and use of these statistical techniques using aforementioned software would be implicit. You can view the recommendations of the UGC (2001) for a standard MA Economics programme in India here, or view it below (these are only general recommendations; for actual syllabi, please visit the web sites of each of the schools since the document below is quite old):
Suggestions for while you are pursuing the programme
Coding and programming skills have now become necessary for working as an economist at any organisation worth its while, including in academia, government, and industry. Read here why economists must learn to code. And since these are skills borrowed from computer science, economists also need to learn how to work with programming languages in general.
Whether or not the MA Econ programme you join teaches you or requires you to learn software that are useful for economists, you must make an effort to self-learn the following (there are several free online courses that are available), since these would be required in any kind of a job that you take up later on, or for a PhD (definitely) if you decide to go for it:
R - This is probably the software that would be used the most, because it is used for doing econometrics and carrying out regressions. R's commands are a tad difficult at first but the software is FOSS (free and open-source software), so it shall always be available for free (I would recommend using its GUI version called RStudio). STATA was used by a previous generation of economists and you might still see some of your professors using it. You can have a look at the comparison between the commands for the two kinds of software here (and download the actual pdf guide here). Since R is picking up steam due to the fact that it is free and that it has a vast number of useful packages (add-ons) for economics, it would pay off in the long run to prefer this over STATA. Nevertheless, you can learn both software for free at Econometrics Academy. You can learn R in particular on this website.
Python - This is software that is used mainly by economists for mathematical models and solving matrix algebra. Its applications lie mostly in macroeconomics, but you can also do econometrics with it. It is quite powerful because it is a general-purpose programming language. You can learn Python with a focus on economics on the Quant Econ website.
LaTeX - This is a type-setting language. In layman's terms, it is a command-based word processor, but way more powerful. Documents written in LaTeX have a different look and feel, to the extent that you can tell with a single glance whether it is the case or not. The biggest advantage is that you can incorporate complex mathematical equations and symbols into your text using simple commands. And LaTeX is also FOSS (which translates to 'free'!). You would need to first download the base software called MikTex. But you wouldn't be able to start writing code right away. For that you would need an end-user app like TexWorks. You can teach yourself how to use this language by reverse-engineering it using something like Overleaf, which is an online service that has several document templates that you could tinker with. To learn commands for symbols, you could use another reverse-engineering tool like DeTexify (you just draw the symbol with your cursor and they tell you the command!).
Apart from learning software, it would be advisable to do part-time work related to academics, such as being an online subject matter expert (SME) for economics. While being an SME, you can help undergrad students around the globe with solving problems in economics. This way you get to revise your undergrad concepts (thus, strengthening your basics), and also earn an income while being home. For this, you can check out various platforms such as Chegg (I do not have any affiliation with them).
Whatever work you do after MA Economics would involve research, whether you join a corporate, a government organisation, an institute, or an NGO. These are explained below:
Corporate - Most of the work you do here would encompass econometric and statistical principles. Most companies would want you to perform one or the other kind of analysis on some kind of data that would help them improve their (or their clients’, in case they are a consulting group) products and/or services. The growth path hence would be of a similar nature (but obviously requiring more experience and rigour) and can be managed with an M.A. degree. After 5–10 years of work-ex, you would be treated somewhat similar to an MBA with commensurate experience.
NGO - These organisations usually hire M.A. Economics grads as Research/Project Associates, who are required for field work (surveys, mostly in rural areas where development projects are carried out), running statistical analysis on the collected data, and for carrying out administrative tasks like coordinating with partner organisations, writing technical reports, and fixing appointments. These do not pay as much as corporate jobs do, but if you are honestly interested in development and giving back to society, this is a good option. The growth path is a little different, in that you would next become a field trainer where a team of (new) associates would be under your guidance, then you would get into monitoring and evaluations, and finally heading development projects (this has been highly simplified by me).
Research Associate - You can join different government organisations like the RBI, the Ministry of Finance, NITI Aayog, etc. as a Research Associate (some positions are contractual while some are permanent). The work here would be similar to that at a corporate i.e. involving a lot of econometric and statistics, the only differences being the environment and that the projects would NOT be catering to particular products, but to national economic development/management. The next step is being promoted to the post of Consultant, and then to Economic Officer and the like. However, if you are looking at this option for the long term, the best idea would be to pursue a PhD, either right after your masters or after some work experience.
Indian Economic Service (IES) - These officers work in the Ministry of Finance. The role of the service can be broadly categorized in terms of economic advice, economic administration, implementation of development policy and programmes, besides dealing with other areas such as economic reforms, regulation, price fixation, and monitoring and evaluation. IES officers are exposed to almost all the sectors of government functioning. These officers also provide link and continuity in policy-making, which is essential even for policy change.
Academics - Then there are those who are interested in pursuing A-level degrees like PhD and MPhil, for their aim is to teach at a university/institute and ‘head’ research projects themselves. For this, you can join as a (contractual/temporary) Research Assistant/Associate at a university or institute on a short-term project (3–11 months). The experience you gain there would prep you for a PhD. Simultaneously, keep applying for PhD, so that by the end of the project you have an admission offer in hand.