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Top Paying Jobs You Can Get With a Development Studies Degree

According to the UN, we have ten years to address the world’s biggest problems. We’re in a decade of action.

Development is all about helping the world’s developing nations. It’s an interdisciplinary field of study that combines politics, economics, anthropology, and sociology.

Development studies is a degree that covers all of that and more. And if you keep reading, you might find it’s the right choice for you.

What is Development Studies?

Development is a fairly new discipline when contrasted with other sociological fields. It got its unofficial start in 1949 with Truman’s inaugural address:

“More than half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery […] Their poverty is a handicap and a threat both to them and to more prosperous areas. For the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge and the skill to relieve the suffering of these people.”

Modern development has become far more complex since then. It’s about everything from climate change to world hunger to economic opportunities.

In essence, its scope encompasses the challenges facing us all now and into the future. But at its core, a development studies degree is all about improving the conditions of people everywhere.

What Do I Need to Study Development?

Typically, development is studied as a master’s degree. It’s rare to find bachelor programs aimed at development. Instead, development builds on existing knowledge.

As a master’s, the barrier to entry is often high. Most courses require a prior degree in one of the following fields:

  • Political science
  • Economics
  • Sociology
  • Demography
  • Human geography

It’s not uncommon for some experience with empirical methodologies to be a prerequisite. This is because development is about lived experiences – and there’s a mountain of data to gather and interpret.

Many postgraduates conduct an independent empirical study as part of their final thesis.

Studying International Development

If you’re eager to learn what development degrees are all about, familiarize yourself with the UN’s Sustainable agenda. There are 17 goals, and they cover multiple aspects of the developing world.

But is development studies a good degree for your career?

In terms of marketability, development is most appropriate for certain industries. It’s a prime candidate if you’re interested in working in any of the following sectors:

  • Public policy
  • Economic development
  • Human rights
  • Humanitarian causes
  • Diplomacy
  • Government office
  • Higher study or PhDs

Organizations like the United Nations, UNHCR, and Amnesty International are all examples that are well suited to development graduates.

Where Can a Development Studies Degree Take Me?

International Humanitarian and Development Careers

Learn about the career paths open to you after studying international development

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With what’s been said, you should have a decent idea of what can you do with a development studies degree.

But don’t just think of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and charity work. Development studies degree careers are surprisingly varied. And there are a lot of options once you graduate.

Transferrable Skills

Development blends a variety of academic disciplines with a broad worldview. Because of its focus on cooperation and diplomacy, it helps to build the soft skills that are appropriate in any workplace.

On top of that, the deeper insights into empirical methods are a great asset for any budding business leader or managerial staff.

Knowing how to interpret and act on data is a key skill in any industry.

Aid Worker

A degree in development is a great foundation for any humanitarian career. With an established theoretical framework that delves into the bigger picture, many NGOs see such a degree as an important asset.

Development Consultant

Development consultants are outside experts brought in to advise on development projects. Such initiatives could be anything from farming subsidiaries to infrastructure renovation.


You might not think it, but a development degree can lead to a career in journalism. But every publisher needs good writers. Development provides a strong background in international politics and developing countries.

The focus on the Global South can be a major asset for publications seeking to employ journalists who focus on the developing world.


Diplomats are highly qualified. With a master’s degree in development, you’ll be poised to work as a diplomat in low-income countries. If you studied a particular continent or country in-depth during your degree, even better.


Environmental and social inequality campaigners often have a background in a development-related field.

Climate change and economic injustice unfairly affect developing countries. And this will only worsen as time goes on and the climate crisis kicks into a higher gear.

As a campaigner, it will be your job to tackle the hard issues that many governments and politicians would rather ignore.

Academic Researcher

Universities aren’t just a place to get a degree. They have a constant need for researchers. They field whole teams to study the challenges facing the world’s poorer nations.

A development degree is a perfect primer for a role like this. A career in research should be particularly appealing if you’re eager to get your hands dirty with field research.


If you envision yourself as a professor or lecturer in development, getting your master’s degree is a necessity. Many lecturing professions require a Ph.D. on top of a master’s.

If you wish to go down this route, it’s common to see universities offering tutorships. You’ll gain valuable experience lecturing and a salary while you study for your Ph.D.

As development is such a wide field of study, most lecturers specialize in one discipline, such as economics or gender.

Salary Potential

Let’s address the elephant in the room: How much will you earn? Ultimately, your development studies job salary depends on your chosen career path.

On average, development graduates earn in excess of $60,000 per year in the US.

One of the biggest factors is whether you end up working in the public or private sector. Public and charity sectors pay less on average.

But if you end up employed by a private firm for your business acumen and academic background, your salary potential will likely be higher.

Make the World a Better Place

Between climate change happening before our eyes, growing wealth inequality, and the ongoing pandemic, it’s no secret that we’re running out of time to act as a species.

If you’ve always had the urge to do good in the world, development studies may be the right way to chase your dreams.