NerdScholar Favorites: International Development Programs - NerdWallet

NerdScholar Favorites: International Development Programs

International development

There are 139 developing countries out of the 196 in the world, according to the International Statistical Institute, meaning that the majority of the planet’s population is still living in less than ideal economic and social conditions. Thousands of leaders and volunteers have dedicated their lives to improving these inequalities, and now Millennials are looking not only to join them, but to push the envelope even further.

According to the Intelligence Group (youth-focused, consumer insights company), 64% of Millennials say “it’s a priority for them to make the world a better place.” For these students, who are passionate about effecting world change, international development might be the perfect choice of major. Unlike international relations or international studies programs, which focus on politics and culture, respectively, an international development program affords students the opportunity to learn what it’s like to work in the field and really get your hands dirty.

International development deals with all issues related to quality of life, such as foreign aid, poverty alleviation, health care and education. The career options are extensive in this field, ranging from working for a non-governmental organization to the United Nations. Colleges across the nation recognize the importance of international development, and with today’s global circumstances, it is never too early to start changing the world. NerdScholar has compiled a list of our favorite international development programs; future humanitarians should take note.


George Washington University — Most Industry Experience

The international development program at George Washington University offers degrees for both graduates and undergraduates. The graduate international development studies program at the Elliott School of International Affairs trains the next generation of development practitioners, exposing them to the latest research, best practices from the field and experiential learning opportunities. Many of these learning opportunities are rooted in GWU’s prime location in Washington, D.C. Students are within walking distance of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and engage with the global policy communities in development discussions and projects.

“Our aim is to help form young men and women who are engaged, morally intelligent and committed to improving the human condition,” says Sean Roberts, program director and former U.S. Agency for International Development official. “Students in the IDS program are taught to think critically but creatively about development and are intensely engaged with today’s cutting edge development issues.”

Similarly, the international development concentration within the international affairs major allows undergraduates to enhance their knowledge of the field. Graduates of the concentration become knowledgeable of policies and programs designed to alleviate poverty and promote development, and gain the ability to critique various approaches to development.


Michigan State University Most Flexible

The specialization in international development at Michigan State University is available to all students enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs, and it can be combined with any major. The nonrestrictive nature of the program encourages creativity, since students are allowed to build a program tailored to their interests, majors and career objectives. That being said, students leave the program with a clear understanding of the fundamentals of international development

Rob Glew, director of the Center for Advanced Study of International Development, says that the program’s “goal is to give students an opportunity to combine language study, international development studies course work, an overseas experience and a capstone course experience to further their understanding of some of the world’s pressing problems.”

Students in the international development specialization at MSU graduate with the freedom and the preparation “to be change makers in the world.”


Macalester College — Most Cutting-Edge

The concentration in international development at Macalester College only requires six classes, but the hard-hitting coursework touches on the most important issues in the field. The concentration examines the “long-run transitions in social, economic, political and cultural institutions that accompanied industrialization in modern states, particularly in the Global South,” says media relations manager Barbara Laskin. The program seeks to understand disparities in people’s welfare, opportunities, and resources by placing them in a historical and global context.

Courses such as “Imperial Nature: The United States and the Global Environment” and “Comparative Democratization” analyze the complex relationships between developed countries and developing countries. The coursework causes students to reflect on their own living conditions and how they may impact international development, positively and negatively. Through the coursework Macalester students come to better understand the complexity of international development.


University of Vermont — Most Community-Oriented

The community and international development major at the University of Vermont provides students with a structured opportunity to make a difference in the world. The rigorous coursework is taught by experienced faculty, and it exposes students to all the factors that can hold back development or help move it forward. Courses that prepare students to tackle the most pressing international issues include “World Food, Population, & Development,” “Thinking Critically About International Development” and “Sustainable Development in an Island Economy.”

In addition to the coursework, students are able to put ideas into action on the ground by leading development projects in St. Lucia, Belize and Honduras. The program continues to work with these same international communities year after year, bringing together students, faculty and international partners. The mission to build communities takes place both in the classroom and in the field.


Seattle University — Most Hands-On Experience

The International Development Internship Program is an alternative program designed for upperclassmen at Seattle University. This 20-credit academic program consists of an introductory seminar, a 10-week internship with an NGO in a developing country and a closing seminar that focuses on the internship experience. While any student with junior standing is eligible to participate, the internship will only count toward majors in economics, international business, international studies or French. The internship itself offers students a full immersion experience in a developing country. Working with an NGO gives students great insight into what it’s like to have a career in international development; IDIP alumni have gone on to work with the Peace Corps, Rotary International and the Fulbright Program.



Note: Superlatives, noted in green, are inclusive of the group of schools listed in this article only.

Student volunteers image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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