Is a master's degree in international development for you?

Photo by: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

A master’s in international development or development practice prepares professionals for a wide range of roles in the sector. An MID/ MDP incorporates aspects of economics, law, politics, sociology, history, anthropology, and international relations. These programs are a popular choice for professionals transitioning from other sectors, as well as those looking to gain a broader view of the issues to figure out their place or advance their career in global development.

Devex carried out a survey earlier this year to find out what global development professionals thought of their postgraduate education. The survey revealed that MID/ MDP degree holders believed their studies to be of be of great value with 86 percent saying the master’s degrees had been worth the investment of time and more. Furthermore 73 percent believed that, based on their experience, pursuing an advanced degree had been very important to their career. Here is what else they said about a master’s in ID/DP.

Career opportunities

The broad nature of an international development degree means it can lead to a range of careers in both the private and public sector across many functional and technical areas. Many professionals working in aid or humanitarian agencies, nongovernmental organizations, consulting firms, or multilaterals have a background in international development and recruiters still rate it as the most in-demand degree for jobs in the sector.

Want to see how different degree programs stack up against each other? Use this interactive chart to compare 10 top degree programs for a global development career and see how graduates rate them on everything from compensation to work-life balance.

Of the professionals Devex spoke to, 77 percent were “satisfied” or “strongly satisfied” with their job opportunities immediately after graduating from this program. This group of graduates were also very positive about their long-term career advancement options; 85 percent were “satisfied” or “strongly satisfied” with their prospects.

Salary expectation

Salaries are generally seen favorably among MID/MDP degree holders, with 75 percent saying they were “satisfied” or “strongly satisfied” with their compensation levels immediately after graduation. They were even more optimistic about their long-term earning potential; 85 percent felt “strongly satisfied” about the contribution of their degree to their long-term compensation levels.

Job happiness

MID graduates are happy with the positive societal contribution they had been able to make since obtaining their degree; 89 percent felt “strongly satisfied” or “satisfied” with opportunities in this area.


International development graduates were also happy with the positive societal contribution they had been able to make since obtaining their degree; 89 percent felt “strongly satisfied” or “satisfied” with opportunities in this area. When it came to their work-life balance since graduating, 78 percent of respondents said they were “satisfied” or “strongly satisfied.”

Where this degree can lead you?

While providing an overview of the issues and players impacting global development, a master’s in ID can also allow students to explore areas of particular interest and gain specialist knowledge that can help with the future job search.

Sanola A. Daley had a background in international politics and Latin American studies and was particularly interested in development in this region. During her master’s in international development studies at George Washington University she focused on private sector development in Latin America and the Caribbean and took elective courses from the MBA program, which complemented this interest. Her practicum research, as part of the master’s, took her to Chile, where her team examined different effects of copper mining on development in that region.

Following graduation, she worked for almost four years in a research and project management role in Costa Rica. During this time, Daley worked on different issues, including tourism, microfinancing, and women’s leadership — all of which she says utilized and built upon the same skillsets and knowledge gained from the master’s program. Since returning to Washington, D.C., Sanola has worked at the Inter-American Development Bank and is currently an advisor on diversity and inclusion.

Update, October 23, 2017: This article has been updated to describe Sanola's role at IADB.

To find out more about how a master’s in international development helped advance Daley’s career, read more about her postgrad experience and her advice for other students.

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. In partnership with the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA), Duke Center for International Development (DCID) at Duke University, Duke Kunshan University, the Online Master of Public Health (MPH) at George Washington University, and the MPA/ID Program at the Harvard Kennedy School, we 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.

About the author

  • Emma Smith

    Emma Smith is a Reporter at Devex. She covers all things related to careers and hiring in the global development community as well as mental health within the sector — from tips on supporting humanitarian staff to designing mental health programs for refugees. Emma has reported from key development hubs in Europe and co-produced Devex’s DevProWomen2030 podcast series. She holds a degree in journalism from Glasgow Caledonian University and a master's in media and international conflict. In addition to writing for regional news publications, she has worked with organizations focused on child and women’s rights.

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