Development Studies Degree and Training Program Information

Development studies degree programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Learn about each program, common coursework, career options and employment outlook in the field.

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Essential Information

Development studies is a sub-sect of social sciences that examines how various political, economical and human influences can affect the development of a nation. The subject might appeal to individuals who are interested in working within international organizations, non-profit organizations or the United Nations. While a master's degree or beyond is often needed to secure a position as a political scientist or policy analyst, a bachelor's degree could help graduates find entry-level careers as program coordinators or research associates.

A Bachelor of Arts in International Development can be completed in 4 years. Due to the international scope of development issues, schools often encourage development studies majors to take a semester abroad. Applicants to these programs are only required to have completed high school.

A Master of Arts and Master of Public Administration in International Development can be finished in 2 years. Because these programs are designed to train future field practitioners as opposed to future academics, programs often culminate in a final project rather than a thesis paper. Additionally, some programs require students be proficient in a foreign language prior to graduation. Admission seekers must hold a bachelor's degree, though not necessarily in development studies. Some programs strongly recommend that candidates for admission have at least three years of relevant professional experience. Applicants may be required to complete certain courses prior to admission.

A Ph.D. in Development Studies typically takes 3 years to complete. Ph.D. programs include the research and writing of a dissertation. Some doctoral programs require applicants to have completed a master's degree program, while others may accept individuals with just a bachelor's. While professional experience in the field may help an admission seeker's changes of gaining admission to a program, fieldwork is not a prerequisite of admission.

Bachelor of Arts Degrees Covering Development Studies

While development studies concentrations are available through social science departments, fully-fledged majors are generally called international development programs. These 4-year programs often focus on the social, political and economic factors that lead to growth in certain physical and industrial areas.

International development has far-reaching consequences with regard to cultural identity, food security and political turmoil. Possible course topics include:

  • Access to health services
  • Conflict resolution
  • Consequences of urbanization
  • Human rights issues
  • Political stability
  • Resource allocation issues

Master's Programs in International Development

These Master of Arts and Master of Public Administration programs may be completed in 18-24 months. Besides international development, these programs may be called international political economy and development. At the graduate level, programs focus more on political analysis and financial policy development rather than the social and cultural factors that have contributed to a given sector's growth.

These curricula help students analyze situations and determine what type of assistance best helps spur prosperity and development in a given region. Possible course topics include:

  • Cultural development
  • Economic development theory
  • Governance issues
  • Research methods
  • Statistics

Doctor of Philosophy Degrees in Development Studies

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs prepare students to work both as academics and practitioners. While working in humanitarian assistance, disaster management and curriculum development, graduates may investigate how migration or investments help communities grow.

In addition to research related topics, students at this level learn about education programs, policy issues and research in the social sciences. Topics of study include:

  • Economic analysis
  • Political relations
  • Research methods
  • Sustainable human development
  • Technology in the developing world

Popular Career Options

Graduates may work for non-profits, non-governmental organizations and government bureaus. Their duties can include protecting the environment, distributing microloans to small businesses and providing humanitarian aid. Some of the career options include:

  • Aid program project officers
  • Anti-violence program coordinators
  • Conflict management research associates
  • Gender equality analysts
  • United Nations consultants

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Many of the career opportunities for graduates of developmental studies may fall under the category of political scientists. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that employment opportunities for political scientists were projected to increase 5% from 2018-2028 ( In May 2015, the BLS reported that the median annual wage for these individuals was $117,570.

Bachelor's, master's and doctorate degree programs in developmental studies train students how to study the economical and political factors affecting the development of nations. Graduates can work a wide variety of jobs, including political scientists and various kinds of consultants and analysts.

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