A Master of Arts or Master of Science in economics is the minimum educational requirement for most economist jobs. Master's programs typically take at least one to two years of full-time study, depending on the type of program, according to "Princeton Review." Additional factors, such as your undergraduate preparation and graduate course load, also affect the length of time it takes to get your degree.

Courses Required for Admission

You must have a bachelor's degree to begin a master's program in economics, but you don't necessarily need an economics major. Typical admissions requirements include undergraduate classes in calculus, statistics, microeconomics and macroeconomics. If you're admitted to a master's program but don't have all the required prerequisites, you'll have to complete them before beginning graduate classes. This may add a semester or even more to the time required to complete your degree.

Classes and Credit Requirements

Master's students typically complete a core of economics classes in macroeconomics, microeconomics and econometrics and then choose advanced classes in a specialty, such as applied economic analysis or quantitative financial economics. Programs also usually typically include a project or thesis. On the semester system, universities usually require a minimum of 30 credit hours for a master's in economics, but some programs and specializations require as many as 36 semester hours. With a full-time graduate load of nine or more semester units, students can complete a 30- to 36-unit program in one and a half to two years.

Other Typical Degree Requirements

A master's degree that includes a thesis may take more time than a program that substitutes a research project. For example, a master's with a project option may take as little as a year and a half at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. On the other hand, if you choose a thesis option, you must conduct research, prepare your thesis and defend it before a master's committee. Depending on your progress, this process may add a semester or more to your degree. Many master's programs require passing comprehensive exams at the end of the program. If you fail the exams the first time, you may be allowed to retake them, but this could delay your graduation.

Part-Time Options

Students who take less than a full-time load may need three years or longer to complete a master's in economics. For example, if you take only one three-unit class per semester, a 30-unit degree requires 10 semesters, or five years. Many schools set a time limit for earning your degree. For example, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte allows six calendar years to complete a master's degree with a thesis.

Accelerated Programs

Some universities offer an accelerated program combining the bachelor's and master's degree in five years. Students typically enter the special program after completing the first two years of a bachelor's in economics. Once admitted to the accelerated track, they can count some advanced economics classes during their junior and senior years toward both degrees. Students can receive the master's degree one year after the bachelor's.