Sounding off on master's degrees as career 'prerequisites'

A business school lecture room. Devex readers chime in with their ideas on whether pursuing a master's degree is worth it. Photo by: PromoMadrid / Alfredo Urdaci / CC BY-SA

Can a master’s degree help advance your career in global development?

Definitely, but before you enroll, there are several things to consider, said Kate Warren, director of global recruiting services at Devex, in a recent Career Matters post.

Try working first before heading to graduate school, she advised, because “having a master’s degree with no real work experience can sometimes do more harm than good.” Entry-level jobs, though competitive, are typically administrative in nature and therefore don’t require such a degree; as such, having one will make an applicant overqualified for the job.

Indeed, that was the case for some of our readers.

“I have two Masters degree and a number of years in real world experience,” Oluwasola Olanipekun wrote. “I however find out that its real difficult to break through especially for us in Africa.”

Sometimes even a combination of work experience and a master’s degree isn’t enough. There are certain consulting assignments that prefer experts with doctorates.

Maureen E. Swaby-Samuels, who has several years of work experience, a master’s degree and two postgraduate certificates, commented that it hasn’t been easy for her to land “good” consulting assignments.

In the case of Wayne McCallum, having a doctorate proved helpful. The degree, coupled with voluntary work, has opened up networking opportunities and paved the way for him to land a “development” job, he said.

“The PhD has subsequently helped me blast through the glass ceiling, but I could probably have got a long way without it. Experience and a masters is probably the ideal balance,” he wrote. “Of course things are always getting more competitive, so it also comes down to how you ‘work’ the context you find yourself in; being proactive and building a profile, either in an area and/or a region. Just having a masters/experience will not guarantee anything in the future if you do not promote your profile in the ‘community.’”

The bottom line, argued Isanga Robert Stephen: Don’t just pursue a master’s degree for the sake of having another qualification.

“Many a time, people add qualifications to increase chances of getting employed. They forget one thing: that an additional qualification is of paramount importance if it is aimed at sharpening the way you perform your current duties at work,” Stephen said. “In other words, an additional qualification should aim at enabling you better your performance.”

Bridgette Kuhlmann offers a counter-argument: If a young person cannot find a job with a bachelor’s degree, wouldn’t it be better to attend graduate school, rather than get frustrated with the labor market?

What do you think? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.