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Human rights or international relations?

Hi! I'm very interested in working for Human Rights Watch, post college. What's the better major for that, Human rights or International Relations? Or please let me know if there are other even more helpful majors for this type of career (I'd either want to be a researcher in their organization or do something with policy?). Also, what's the best minor for me then? journalism sociology international-relations human-rights

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Ollie’s Answer

I know people working in a few different human rights organizations. My favorite is a Salvadoran outfit called It's a great field in which to work, but not simple to get started.

Not-for-profit organizations (also known as non-governmental organizations or NGOs) have basically two kinds work they do:

-- "Development" work: this is marketing and fundraising, telling the organization's story to potential donors and applying for grants. It also involves PR and media relations (writing, producing, and placing stories in news media). At the entry level, development work means asking donors to donate.

-- "Program" work. This is the work of the organization. Depending on the org's approach, it can be education, advocacy, coordination, driving the truck, cleaning the clinic, keeping records, or whatever. It varies all over the place, especially at the entry level.

You sound like you are interested in program work. For this you will need to speak the language of the people your org serves. You'll need administrative and communications skills. You'll need a whole lot of curiosity and desire to build relationships. For best results, you need to be able to understand both individuals and the political and economic systems that oppress them.

So, what college courses can prepare you well for this? Learn the language(s) you need. A good history curriculum (look for "lived history" rather than "lists of dead white guys history") is very helpful. Political science is also helpful. Being able to write compellingly and take good photos -- journalism -- is helpful. If you have talent for quantitative work, knowing some statistics will help. The world being what it is, a critical course on contemporary world religions is something you really need. I wish I had taken a class in basic business accounting in college, as well.

As you mention, there are majors in International Relations and Human Rights. It's fine to investigate colleges with those majors. Examine the lists of classes they offer for those majors, to make sure they match your interests and talents.

One of the most important assets you'll develop at college is your list of personal contacts. The diversity and thoughtfulness of your fellow students counts for a lot. Pay attention to that potential as you choose a college.

And, try to get an internship with an org whose work interests you as early as possible. That will give you a view of how things actually work and what you actually need to learn.

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Shannon’s Answer

I have worked at human rights organizations. My degree is in social policy.

The key to getting work you want after school is internships. HRW has a great college internship program. If that's where you want to work, no reason to wait.

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Maija’s Answer

International Relations or Human rights would both be great. I don't know if you have chosen a college yet. My college had a major entitled Global Studies, it was essentially a mix of both. Perhaps minoring in one and majoring in the other. A second language would also be good. Not to sound overly biased, but French is a major communication language world wide, Spanish, Arabic or Chinese would also be good choices depending on what is available to you.