12 graduate degree programs to further your global development career

By Kate Warren

Graduates of the the International Center for Afghan Women’s Economic Development on the campus of the American University of Afghanistan. The center serves as a training ground for female entrepreneurs and a hub for Afghan businesswomen to network with each other. Photo by: US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan / CC BY-ND

A postgraduate education is typically an essential component of a global development professional’s career path. A quick peek at the job postings on Devex or other job boards will  reveal that an overwhelming majority require, or strongly prefer, candidates with a master’s level education or higher.

In fact, 79 percent of professionals believe the global development workers of the future will need a postgraduate degree to be successful in their careers, according to a recent Devex study conducted in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development and Population Services International.

But even if you’ve decided to pursue a master’s degree, how do you narrow your choices of study?

A master’s in international development or international relations can be an obvious and sound choice for those looking to propel their career in international development. It was ranked as the number one most in-demand degree for future hires in a Devex survey of recruiters the past two years in a row.

However, there are many more degree programs out there that can be equally, or even more, in demand.

READ: 5 trends to know about global development hiring in 2016

As you consider the next step in your global development education, here are 12 additional graduate school programs to consider.

1. Master’s in public policy or administration

MPP or MPA programs are a popular choice for global development professionals. The public sector plays a critical role in aid funding and delivery so understanding how to effectively manage public institutions and how policy impacts aid efforts are highly valued skills.

READ: 3 skills master's in public policy graduates bring to global development

2. Master’s in business administration

An MBA is quickly becoming a coveted credential in the global development space. As public-private cooperation increases and organizations look to bring business best practices to the developing world, MBA graduates are increasingly in demand. In fact, in a survey of recruiters Devex conducted earlier this year, 38.5 percent named an MBA as the most in-demand degree they seek in future hires, second only to a master’s in international development.

READ: Why global development professionals, recruiters are on the MBA bandwagon 

3. Master’s in public health

While clinical degrees like nursing and social work are also in demand, most global health positions are not clinical jobs. Positions typically focus on the community, national or even global level and look at the systems and policies impacting areas like nutrition, infectious disease and maternal and child health. An MPH program provides a well-rounded education in areas like health policy, social and behavioral sciences, epidemiology and biostatistics.

READ: 7 global development career paths for MPH graduates

4. Master’s in engineering

From building roads and bridges to mobile phone apps and innovative technologies, engineers of all kinds are in high demand in the global development space. In addition to technical skills, successful global development engineers are also innate problem solvers with strong analytical skills and soft skills like cultural sensitivity and empathy.

READ: A global engineer education: What you need to know

5. Master’s in education

Education is a pillar of global development work, so naturally experts in education are in demand to lead these programs. However, you may not want to stop at a masters. If you look at senior level positions in education, you will find that many require a doctorate degree.

6. Master’s in anthropology

While perhaps not as in demand as other degree programs, as the recent Ebola outbreak illustrated, anthropologists can have a powerful role in development. Understanding how and why people of a different cultures think and act the way they do is a critical component to developing interventions and programs that don’t do more harm than good. Like education and some of the other social sciences, however, you may find that a Ph.D is ultimately necessary to continue down this career path.

READ: Post-Ebola, what work awaits anthropologists?

7. Master’s in environmental sciences

From conflict mitigation, to energy, to food security and health, climate change and the environment are a crucial component of global development work touching almost every sector. Degree programs that focus on environmental sciences, climate or natural resource management are increasingly in demand. Thirty-one percent of recruiters Devex surveyed listed it as a top in-demand degree for future hires.

READ: The green jobs boom in renewable energy

 8. Master’s in agriculture science

Crop irrigation, seed production, animal husbandry and many more aspects of agriculture and livestock are an essential component to increasing food security around the world. A wide range of expertise that falls under agriculture sciences are in demand across the development industry.

9. Master’s in nutrition/food science

Also a component of increasing food security, trained nutritionists are also increasingly in demand. A heavily academic crowd, this is another specialty where you may need to pursue a doctorate degree.

WATCH: Careers in food security: Why both specialists and integrators are key

10. Juris doctor/master of laws degree

Trained lawyers are in demand to work on democracy and governance, rule of law and human rights projects. Lawyers are also often sought to oversee contracts and procurement, an overlooked but essential part in the business of global development.

READ: Global development careers for lawyers

11. Master’s in urban planning

Housing, transport, infrastructure and resilience programs all rely on urban planners to help promote smart growth and development in rapidly growing urban areas around the world. Architecture is an alternative path to consider but you may find opportunities not as plentiful as those with a degree in urban planning.

READ: Urban planning jobs: What you need to know

12. Master’s in economics

Ranking third place in our recruiter survey of the most in-demand degree programs, a master’s in economics, econometrics or statistics is a highly coveted credential from organizations like the World Bank and other international finance institutions, typically preferring a Ph.D. The quantitative and qualitative analysis skills gained from this kind of training can also prepare you for a career in monitoring and evaluation.

READ: What you need to know: Careers in monitoring and evaluation

Of course, there are many other degrees that can be valuable to a global development career, and new programs are being developed all the time — like this one on sustainability management or this one on tri-sector collaboration.  When trying to determine which program is right for you and your career goals, ask yourself these eight questions.

What did I miss? What other degree programs do you think are in demand or have been helpful in your global development career? Please leave them as comments below.

You know you need a postgraduate degree to advance in a global development career, but deciding on a program, degree and specialization can be overwhelming. Devex and our partners are digging into all things graduate school and global development in a weeklong series called Grad School Week. Join online events and read more advice on pursuing a postgraduate education here.

This article was last updated on 29 October 2016

About the author

Warren kate 1
Kate Warren@DevexCareers

Kate Warren is the senior director and editor of careers and recruiting content at Devex. With more than a decade of international development recruitment experience working with international NGOs, consulting firms and donor agencies, she has a finger on the pulse of hiring trends across the industry and insider knowledge on what it takes to break in.


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