Is an MBA right for you?

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A master’s in business administration equips graduates with the skills required for a career in business and management — whether that be in the private, public, or nonprofit sector. The MBA is currently the most popular professional degree program worldwide with more than 2,500 programs offered. MBA programs often include core modules in accounting, economics, marketing, and operations, and most business schools require candidates to have at least a few years of professional experience before undertaking the program. Traditionally a two-year program, schools are increasingly offering one-year programs, part-time options, and online learning for MBAs. While it might not seem like the most obvious fit for a career in global development, an MBA is the second most in-demand degree for jobs in global development, according to the recruiters that Devex spoke to when looking into the hiring trends in the sector.

Earlier this year Devex also spoke to over 1,000 global development professionals to find out what they thought about their postgraduate degree. MBA graduates were generally very satisfied with their degree; 93 percent said it was a worthwhile investment in time and money, and 69 percent believed, from their experience, that it had been very important for their career to pursue a more advanced degree. These graduates also shared their thoughts on job prospects and earning potential having obtained an MBA. Here is what else they had to say.

Career opportunities

An MBA doesn’t limit you to a career in business. This degree can also help advance your managerial career in the public sector, government, or development-focused organizations. The MBA graduates that Devex spoke to were generally mid-level, senior-level, or executive-level professionals, and 82 percent of this group said they were “satisfied” or “strongly satisfied” with their employment opportunities immediately after graduation. They were also optimistic about their long-term career advancement options; 92 percent were “satisfied” or “strongly satisfied” with their future job prospects — particularly those who identified as executive-level professionals.

MBA graduates were generally very satisfied with their degree; 93 percent said it was a worthwhile investment in time and money.

Michele Cato, global health director with Cardno, has worked in leadership roles with a number of international development organizations, including Population Services International and U.S. Peace Corps, since obtaining her MBA from the University of Washington. According to Cato, the business perspective that an MBA graduate can bring to a nonprofit or mission-driven organization is critical to its success. Cato says that one reason she was able to advance in her career and the reason MBA graduates tend to get promoted faster is because they are “seeing the bigger picture and how it all fits together.”

Salary expectations

Of the MBA graduates Devex spoke to, 75 percent were “satisfied” or “strongly satisfied” with their compensation levels immediately after graduation, while 92 percent felt the same way about their future earning potential. 

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.

Job happiness

Since obtaining their degree, 88 percent of MBA graduates were “satisfied” or “strongly satisfied” with their work-life balance. When it came to making a positive societal contribution, 93 percent were very happy with their opportunities to do so since obtaining an MBA.

Where can this degree lead you?

An MBA offers a wide range of job opportunities across different sectors. Within international development, an MBA can help professionals advance their careers and land leadership positions in nongovernmental organizations, social enterprises, or consulting firms.

Cato had a background in political science and was working with the Peace Corps when she started considering an MBA. She says her eyes “were opened to what international development could be,” but she was advised to pursue a master’s that would give her “real” credentials. Throughout her studies, however, it was clear that she would not pursue the traditional MBA career path and was more interested in international development work. The MBA, she says, allowed her to be seen as a generalist with a credential that could “do a little bit of everything.” Cato thinks there is still a certain “awe” factor about having an MBA and that helped her go a long way in both the public sector and the nonprofit. “I know I’ve gone a zillion percent faster and with more variety with an MBA,” she says.

“It just gives you the maximum flexibility in international development.”

—  Michele Cato, MBA from the University of Washington

Cato says the MBA was one of the best things she did and her advice for others who don’t yet have a master’s but are considering one: get an MBA. “It just gives you the maximum flexibility in international development,” she says. Job opportunities can also depend on what concentration you focus on, so where possible, Cato advises picking electives that demonstrate your international development focus such as global health or public administration.

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 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.