An Advanced Degree in Global Development: Go for It, Get to Work, or Both?

It’s winter break and many college students are plotting their next move after graduation.  More school?  Look for a job?  Something to consider:   in April 2012, the AP analyzed government data and found that about 1.5 million, or 53.6%, of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 were jobless or underemployed in 2011.  According to a 2011 US Bureau of Labor statistics study, 13.5% of recent grads with a bachelor’s degree and 8.6% with an advanced degree were unemployed.  (Note: “recent grads” refers to people ages 20 to 29 who completed degrees in the calendar year of the survey).  The report was the first from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to publish labor force data specifically for recent college graduates and appeared in the February 2013 Monthly Labor Review.  While the BLS report indicated that there is a general trend of lower unemployment rates with increasingly advanced college degrees, there is also evidence that recent college graduate unemployment rates vary by field (check out the stats in the Summer 2013 BLS report).  Additionally, chasing an advanced degree is expensive and time-consuming.  So, how do you decide if you should go for that advanced degree in global development?

The conundrum:  if you don’t have any work experience, you won’t be qualified to advance professionally.  On the other hand, if you have an advanced degree but not any work experience, you may hear that you’re overqualified for the entry-level job that could earn you precious experience.  Kate Warren, director of global recruiting services at Devex, summed this up in her blog. “The result is those who go straight from undergrad to graduate school often find themselves stuck in a rough spot of being overqualified for entry-level positions but under qualified for mid-level positions.”  To combat this, try a few years of work experience before graduate school.

Asiyah Sharifi, a lawyer who focuses on gender justice and women’s entrepreneurship in Afghanistan, shared tips for launching a career in international development on Idealist.  “Do the unsexy work…be truly open and able to do the work that is needed.”  As an added bonus, you may better determine what it is you’d really like to pursue.  On this note, be sure to scope out the job market—make sure there are actual opportunities for you and your advanced degree—and dig up information on the extra education you would need to get the career you want.  Often, universities provide career advising for undergraduates and alumni.  Ask your school for statistics on job placement or where recent graduates of their global development programs have been employed.    Do some of your own research.  What vacancies are appearing on job boards?  (Be sure to search for positions in the Global Washington Career Center!)  Additionally, talk with professionals with the same advanced degree you’re considering and ask them what prospects they see for future graduates.  You can track these people down by exploring networking opportunities in your area.  Global Washington member World Affairs Council’s Young Professionals International Network hosts a wide range of social and networking events in and around Seattle.

Another thing to consider before committing to graduate school is the cost.  Find out if you can offset the cost by working and studying at the same time.  On this, Warren said, “You won’t be taking yourself out of the workforce, making it so much easier to get a job when you graduate.  Working and studying at the same time can also help you apply both experiences on the other.  You will come to class with real world challenges, questions and ideas and be able to go back and apply what you learn directly on the job.”  Also, find out if you can arrange funding for your own endeavors.  For example, Global Washington member UW Jackson School of International Studies has a List of Internship Scholarships and other Funding Resources.   You can also search for scholarships and other financing for graduate students in the Education and Resources section of the Global Washington Career Center.

How do you decide if you go for that advanced degree in global development?  Use your work experience to figure out exactly what you want to focus on in your career.  Then, check out the post-graduation climate in your field.  If it’s looking good, go for the degree, and see about partially funding it and gaining valuable real-world experience at the same time.  Global Washington has compiled a list of Washington schools and graduate programs that offer degrees in development in the Gaining an Education in Development section of the GlobalWA Career Center.