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What do international development majors do after college?

I do not know what to major in but am interested in international development. #international #undecided #international-affairs #college #career #career-counseling

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Carly’s Answer

Hi Amy! I am not in the international development field but many of my friends are or are preparing to do so, so I'll try to give some advice based on what I know from them. There are a range of different jobs from working in the field collecting data to handing out aid to studying development to working in local development NGOs. Don't just think about whether you want to work in international development, but what kind of skills or strengths you have that you can apply to the field. If you have strong academic skills, research for int'l dev organizations may be a good route. If you love to travel and have strong people skills, working in a development NGO or as part of an in-country USAID project might be a great way to help. There are also several specialized areas within international development such as women's rights or the environment, although I wouldn't rush to pick a specialty yet. If you want to get a better picture of day to day life though, one of the best ways to learn more about this field is by reading books written by people in it who can give you an in-depth look at the day to day experience and the ups and downs. I would personally recommend Whispering in the Giant's Ear by William Powers, and a brief Google search can definitely suggest other memoirs by aid workers and other int'l dev workers!

But, before you start on this path, there are a few things to consider. First, think seriously about how you value and prioritize other aspects of your life. International development professionals earn a very minimal amount of money. Sometimes, this is not a problem because you're living in a poor area where that money goes farther. Sometimes, this is not a problem for people because their parents can afford to subsidize their career. Assuming that's not the case, take a good look at the salary ranges and compare them to what you think you need or want for your life. For some people, their passion for change and desire to travel outweigh the concerns about the low salary. But it is definitely worse considering as you balance your other priorities like economic security, etc. Another important consideration is your interest and ability to travel. This job usually requires extensive travel, often without a lot of choice in where you go or how you live while you are there, which is great when you're young, but can get more complicated as you get older. Two final things to consider are the high burn-out rate and systemic problems with the international development sector. Much like domestic social workers, unprepared international development workers can become overwhelmed by the many problems they see and their inability to solve them all, especially within large, bureaucratic aid or development organizations. To deal with this, talking with people in the industry about burn-out can help prepare you to face the challenges that are inevitable going to come, and taking a college class on international development can help you judge where you see yourself in the industry and what kind of change you'd like to make.

One final suggestion I would make is to make a list of organizations you might like to work for or different jobs you might have in this field. Once you can find some specific organizations, check out their websites and follow them on twitter or facebook - this can give you a better sense of what you might be doing and what the important issues in the field are!

Finally, I would agree with the previous commenter, there is no one right major for international development. Whether you develop language skills, research skills, communication or tech skills, find what you love and where your strengths and then see how they can fit into the field!
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Ariel M.’s Answer

Hi Amy, I would say that you should pick a major that you are interested in learning about. Whether it's English literature, or graphic design or French, you should enjoy the area. To me picking a major isn't about a career so much as it's about learning. Your first job out of college is going to be entry level tasks, like keeping up calendars, organizing files, maybe doing some smaller level projects. From there, you'll build your experience. I was an Art History major in college and now I'm a lawyer. So, I'd focus more on the major that you'll enjoy. Because if you enjoy going to class, you'll get better grades. And GPA is probably more important that anything else when you apply to jobs. I hope that helps you.
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Rachel’s Answer

<span style="background-color: transparent;">Collegeboard.org is a great resource for this! I poured through the pages of universities all over the U.S. when I was a senior in high school. Collegeboard was my go-to site! They put all of the information in one place and it is very easy to use. They even have various filters you can apply to see only colleges that have programs you are interested. To determine academic rigor, look at the admissions requirements, G.P.A. of past admitted applicants, SAT/ACT scores, class rank etc. This will give you an idea of what scores and grades you need to be accepted. However, don't be discouraged your application will be reviewed based on the full picture! College-board will help you get an idea of what is most important to the specific school you are applying to.</span>


This professional recommends the following next steps:

  • <span style="background-color: transparent;">Chat with your Guidance Counselor</span>
  • <span style="background-color: transparent;">Create a Collegeboard.org account</span>
  • <span style="background-color: transparent;">Start using CollegeBoard as a resource to look up schools.</span>


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John H.’s Answer

Amy: that's wonderful that you're considering int'l development as a career interest! We need people who understand that our world is becoming more and more globally interdependent, and who want to end the inequalities that exist. I worked at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government for many years where many of the students were committed to careers in international development. They had a number of things in common . . . they were serious about affecting change in countries that needed help, they were excited about traveling to new places and meeting new people, and most, if not all, were becoming fluent in at least one language other than English. Now, these were all graduate students, so most had worked for several years before coming the program . . . they had worked for international nonprofits (called NGO's) or worked in government, or taught English in international schools, and many had served in the Peace Corps. So, these are all options for those graduating from college with a BA. After grad school, your options increase because often this degree is required for jobs at organizations such as the State Department or the United Nations, and other intergovernmental organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.


You don't need to major in international development, but it would make sense for someone who has a keen interest in the field. I would also recommend learning that second or third language, so that might be another option for a college major. Also, to get a better feeling for what's current in the field, I would recommend getting yourself up to Cambridge to attend one of the Forums at the Kennedy School (http://iop.harvard.edu/forum/upcoming). They usually have int'l issues as topics at least once each semester and they are open to the public. Also, be brave and introduce yourself to some of the students there and ask questions about what it's like to be serious about international affairs. That alone will help you decide if this career choice is the right one for you.


For now, I'd say simply continue to develop your own interest in international affairs and development. Which part of the world holds the most interest for you? Have you already started to learn a second language, and where is that language spoken throughout the world? Do you read weekly/monthly publications that focus on international development? Here's a website that might give you some ideas: https://www.hks.harvard.edu/centers/cid. I want to encourage you to pursue your passion about international affairs because, as I said above, we need people like you!

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