Over 274 million people across the globe will need some form of humanitarian aid in 2022. Hunger, disease, violence, and emergency migration are rising rapidly. So what can you do to help?
Majoring in humanitarian studies is the first step to helping people internationally and in your community. Working in the humanitarian area is immensely rewarding and comes with many benefits. If you’ve always cared about world issues and the people affected by them, you may be the perfect candidate.
Let’s take a closer look at the top humanitarian degrees and explore this emerging career path!
What Are Humanitarian Studies?
Simply put, humanitarian studies focus on helping people. But unlike doctors or teachers who help their communities, you’ll be working on a global scale. Humanitarian studies focus on people and all the challenges they might be facing.
Students who graduate with humanitarian degrees will study a range of topics, including:
- Global health
- Gender studies
- Food management
- International law
- Human rights
- Conflict resolution
- Poverty alleviation
- Global impact of disease, war, and terrorism
Natural disasters contribute to humanitarian needs, so climate change is often studied. Climate change affects the world’s most vulnerable people. They already face food insecurity, low incomes, and water stress. This field of study might become the focus for humanitarian workers in the next decade.
New topics are constantly added to the programs as the world changes and different needs arise. You might have a course that discusses the pandemic’s impact on global healthcare. It might then extrapolate to include forced displacement and food shortages.
But humanitarian studies aren’t only focused on learning about the world’s biggest problems. It’s about solving them. Through your studies, you will explore how to reduce suffering and save human lives. A noble cause, indeed!
Critical Soft Skills for Humanitarian Studies
Before jumping into a humanitarian career, you should consider your skills. Soft skills are natural abilities. We are usually born with them or work hard to develop them. Soft skills do not evolve in the classroom but through personal experiences.
Critical thinking might be the number one soft skill that all humanitarian workers need. Before you jump into action and start problem-solving, you need to analyze the problem on every level.
For example, if a region is experiencing a severe drought, it might be tempting to solve the issue by sending resources. But a critical thinker will look at this issue in greater detail.
How does the drought affect the region’s healthcare, farmers, women, and businesses? How can we prevent weather emergencies from affecting this region in the future?
Critical thinking skills are essential for avoiding quick fixes that allow problems to recur.
Creative Problem Solving
Your main job as a humanitarian worker is to solve problems. A successful problem-solver comes up with new ways to approach issues.
That’s why creativity should be at the core of your personality. Many of the world’s biggest concerns like hunger and violence have resisted solutions in the past. You need to be able to approach these issues in new ways.
You need to have excellent communication skills in most career sectors. In jobs that focus on social change, it’s truly essential.
Not only do you need to know how to communicate, but you also have to be persuasive and articulate. A big chunk of your job will be convincing people to do things like donating money, resources, or services.
The ability to speak about these issues in a clear, articulate manner will make your job easier. It will equal more successful programs and funding initiatives!
Leadership and Initiative
In the humanitarian sector, there’s often no guidebook on how to do your job. Unlike in an office where your tasks come from your boss, you have to take control.
Having leadership skills and showing initiative is crucial to your success. You will need to find answers to questions that have no current solutions. You will also have to do this on a large scale, with the outcomes affecting entire populations.
Being brave and showing initiative is a must in this career field! Without some gutsy actions, you might never accomplish anything.
Team Work Skills
Like any other work environment, you’ll often have to work in teams. The difference is that your team’s success affects humans rather than numbers.
Having strong teamwork skills ensures that you can help the people who need it the most. You will also have to work with various stakeholders who have their own agendas. Being able to fuse the needs and wants of both sides smoothly is vital to the job!
If you don’t have a firm grasp on all these skills yet, there’s no reason to worry. That’s exactly the reason why you’ll be studying this field! With experience, time, and practice, you can develop each of these abilities.
Humanitarian Degree Options
There are many different types of degrees with a humanitarian focus. Even if they’re offered under different names, they still focus on similar topics.
You can look for the following keywords to find a degree that suits you:
- Human Rights
- Conflict Resolution
- Global Development
- Migration Studies
- International Relations
- Disaster Management
But if you’re looking for a well-rounded education that allows you to work in any of these fields, a humanitarian degree is the right choice. You can select from different options including bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. programs. There are also online options for those who can’t make it to campus and degrees with specific focuses.
Humanitarian Bachelor’s Degrees
Your bachelor’s degree is the start of your humanitarian career. Here, you’ll learn the fundamental principles of this field. You’ll also begin to explore further options, whether that means a master’s degree or a career.
When choosing your bachelor’s degree, you can go with a general subject or opt to specialize right away. A Global Humanitarian Studies degree will cover a wide selection of knowledge, allowing you to work in many different fields.
If you choose to specialize right away, you’ll have a clear path to your career in front of you. Choosing a Disaster Management degree will lead to a foreign aid position, for example.
There’s no right or wrong decision! And remember that you can always upgrade to a master’s degree if you change your career track later. And with that, let’s look at the top five humanitarian bachelor’s degrees worldwide.
International Rescue and Relief – Union College
International Rescue and Relief is a Bachelor of Science program at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. It refers to providing aid to people affected by manmade and natural disasters.
It’s not your ordinary humanitarian degree! To succeed in this program, you need to have a strong sense of adventure. Throughout your four years of study, you’ll learn about:
- Wilderness and survival skills
- Search and rescue
- Swift-water and rope rescue
- How to provide healthcare in remote places
- Emergency healthcare and lifesaving skills
- Disaster management
You’ll spend your first summer in intensive wilderness training and a semester in a developing nation. At the end of your studies, you’ll be able to work with NGOs providing emergency relief. Or if you want to stay local, you can work as a paramedic or firefighter.
Annual tuition is around $24,000, but the college offers tons of scholarships! Work scholarships and campus employment are also available for students in need.
Disaster and Emergency Management – Coventry University
The Coventry University campus is just outside Birmingham, England. It offers a few different humanitarian degrees, including Disaster and Emergency Management.
This Bachelor of Science degree is a three- or four-year program focused on lessening the impact of catastrophes. It is one of the oldest and most developed humanitarian aid courses in the United Kingdom.
During their first two years, students will learn about environmental, manmade, and technological disasters. In their third year, students can study abroad or do a work placement.
The annual course fee for international students is approximately $20,000. Coventry University offers a range of scholarships, from free accommodation to tuition reduction.
Global Humanitarian Studies – University College, London
This Bachelor of Science degree based in London focuses on crisis response and prevention. Students will learn how to expect threats and manage interventions. Topics range from climate change to public policy to project management.
In addition to the main program, students can choose two optional pathways. The Digital Science pathway includes the study of data and statistics. Management Science focuses on leadership, decision-making, and team-leading.
The Global Health pathway studies the challenges that global health providers face. It includes poverty, disease, and maternal health. Finally, Anthropology and Social Science focuses on inequality, war, and culture on a global scale.
A summer work placement and an independent project are also part of the curriculum. The annual tuition fee for international students is just shy of $30,000.
Humanitarian Aid and Development – Charles Darwin University
This three-year Bachelor of Humanitarian Aid and Development program is offered in Darwin, Australia. What makes this degree a little different is its emphasis on Indigenous communities.
While most humanitarian studies focus on global issues, this program is all about community. If you want to work on a smaller scale with specific populations, this might be the program for you.
Students study program management, international aid, and community development. They’ll also get the chance to take language electives or minor in Indigenous Studies.
The program includes two mandatory work placements. You can choose to complete them in an Australian location or travel internationally. Opportunities are available all over the Asia Pacific region.
The annual program fee is just over $18,000. There are also many international scholarships available for students who need financial aid.
Humanitarian and Development Studies – Western Sydney University
Another exciting bachelor’s program in Australia is available at Western Sydney University. The Humanitarian and Development Studies degree is a three-year program in Sydney. Students also have the option of completing it part-time, over six years.
This program was created with the help of several NGOs to make sure the content is relevant for the real world. Professors actively work in United Nations organizations or other non-profits. You can be sure you’re getting a practical education here!
The focus is on real-world simulation, case studies, and solution-based courses. A semester-long international placement ensures you get that hands-on experience component.
Two program structures are available for students to choose from. The Humanitarian Preparedness and Response stream focuses on international emergencies solutions. The Human Rights, Protection, and Development option deals with peacebuilding and sustainability.
International students can expect to pay just under $19,000 per year. Students can also choose to do a double degree and combine it with a relevant major.
Humanitarian Master’s Degrees
If you’ve finished a bachelor’s degree, you might be thinking of leveling up. Getting your master’s in humanitarian studies opens a world of new opportunities.
Students who achieve a master’s degree have a greater influence on public policy. They’ll also qualify for higher-level positions within NGOs and other aid organizations.
The most popular place to study for a master’s in humanitarian studies is Europe! Let’s get into the best options there, as well as some North American locations.
Humanitarianism, Aid & Conflict – University of London
Based in London, this is one of the only degrees that explores conflict and humanitarianism. This program aims to develop critical thinking, research, and presentation skills. Students will study a range of topics, including conflict resolution, policy, and development.
Study methods are modern, forward-thinking, and inclusive. These include:
- Case studies
- Field trips
- Weekly workshops
- Seminars held every term
- Collaboration with activists, policymakers, and professionals
People with science-focused bachelor’s degrees or relevant experience can apply. The program length is one year full-time or two years part-time. International students will pay roughly $30,000.
International Humanitarian Action – Uppsala University
Based in Sweden, this master’s program was created in conjunction with NOHA. The Network on Humanitarian Action (NOHA) links several universities in this joint project. Students can apply for the prestigious Erasmus Mundus scholarship.
Throughout your studies, you will move between different partner universities in Europe. You’ll have the chance to study in Spain, France, and Poland. During your last semester, you’ll work on your master’s thesis.
A bachelor’s degree and English fluency will allow you to apply. Students who wish to study in France or Spain will also need to know those languages. The entire program cost is about $13,500, not including housing and travel.
Humanitarian Studies – Fordham University
Fordham University’s faith-based master’s degree is based in New York City. If you want to experience life in the city that never sleeps, this is your chance! Students receive many opportunities for hands-on experience, including:
- Foreign service program
- Internship semester
- Senior thesis research
- Study abroad options
New York City is home to the UN’s international headquarters. Many Fordham students complete their internships at this well-known NGO.
The cost is $1,546 per credit, with the program requiring 30 credits to graduate. It does not include thesis dissertation fees and other expenses.
Humanitarian Assistance – Tufts University
Located in beautiful Massachusetts, the Humanitarian Assistance program is a popular degree option at Tufts. Offered with the Fletcher School of International Law and Diplomacy, this is a one-year intensive master’s program. To apply, you must have:
- A bachelor’s degree
- 3 to 5 years of relevant work experience
- English fluency
- The ability to learn a second language by graduation
Students in this program study all areas of humanitarian work. But there is an emphasis on nutrition and food policy, and how they relate to disasters. Students end their studies with a capstone project supervised by their professor.
The cost of the entire program is $49,296. Scholarships, teaching assistantships, and paid research can help fund your studies.
Leadership for International Humanitarian Action – Hebrew University
For a completely different change of pace, you can study in warm, sunny Mexico! The Hebrew University in Mexico City offers a unique perspective on humanitarian studies.
The program runs for two years and blends online and in-class components. It focuses on teaching real-world intervention techniques. Students can practice these when they complete their internships. There’s also a component of leadership and direction.
The program incorporates a look at Jewish culture as well. Students, be warned! This program is taught in Spanish so if that’s one of your strong suits, you’ll do well to apply. Otherwise, choose one of the other options mentioned!
If you aim to do research on a global scale, a Ph.D. is the best course of action. Entry into a Ph.D. program requires a master’s degree and often relevant work experience.
If you want to go all the way to the top with your education, getting a Ph.D. can be the defining moment. It can often lead to senior-level positions, higher salaries, and greater influence.
Humanitarianism and Conflict Response – University of Manchester
Students have the option of studying for three years full-time or six years part-time. They will prepare an 80,000-word thesis with the guidance of two supervisors. Graduates will find employment at NGOs, governments, think tanks, and other large organizations.
International students can expect to pay $27,000 annually. Scholarships and funding are limited, so potential students need to plan carefully.
Political and Humanitarian Studies – University Fernanda Pessoa
Located in beautiful Portugal, this Ph.D. focuses on politics and international policy. Students can specialize in ethics, migration, gender, and other streams of study. Research projects can focus on environmental law, education, or social policy, among other topics.
English is the main language of this program, but knowledge of Portuguese will be helpful. Students who have a master’s degree in any field of science can apply. Additionally, a bachelor’s degree plus relevant experience might be acceptable.
The first-year fees are €1950 and €1,700 for each following year. Your total cost would be approximately $7,000 U.S. You also have the option of paying in installments, making this a very affordable option.
Humanitarian Studies – University College Dublin
This three-year degree located in Ireland aims to combine research and training. It’s a structured program, meaning you’ll have to take required courses. You’ll also have to follow specific guidelines and work within the scope of the program.
There’s not much information available on this program. It’s best that you contact the school directly for requirements and fee information.
If you want a humanitarian career but don’t have the time to attend classes, consider online options. You can usually study at your own pace and get the same qualifications as in-class students. There are bachelor’s and master’s level programs to get you started.
Humanitarian Leadership – Northwest University
This fully accredited bachelor’s degree follows a faith-based curriculum. Students learn to prepare, respond, and provide support to victims of disasters. Methods of aid include physical, psychological, and spiritual techniques.
The application process includes transcripts, test scores, an essay, and an interview. The program fee is $399 per credit and with 120 credits, so you’re looking to pay over $47,000 in total.
Humanitarian Action and Peacebuilding – Oxford Brookes
This master’s course was created by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research. Students have opportunities to go on UN missions during their program.
There is a major focus on self-led learning and self-reflection. Half of the course will involve interactions with peers and professors. The other 50% will be based on individual work and research.
Offered only online, this course lasts a total of 30 months. It’s a budget-friendly option with fees for all students set at about $6,000 per year.
Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies – University of London
This highly specialized master’s program is the largest of its kind in the world. It features an emphasis on law and policy about forced migration and refugees. Graduates will be able to influence international policies and lobby to protect migrants.
The program can last between two and five years, depending on your course load. The annual cost is around $12,000. There are scholarships and bursaries available to all students.
Humanitarian Action – SOAS University of London
This two-year master’s course provides a well-rounded look at humanitarian action. Students learn the fundamental aspects of humanitarian aid and critique current trends. There’s an emphasis on current forced migration patterns and asylum seekers.
Anyone with experience in the field or a bachelor’s degree can apply for the program. It concludes with a dissertation. The program cost is about $16,000 for international students.
Health services are a crucial part of humanitarian aid. If you know you want to work in that field, studying for a health-focused degree is the right option. Consider these three unique humanitarian health degrees!
Humanitarian Intervention – University of East London
This master’s degree applies psychology to humanitarian studies. Students learn to help others deal with mental-health issues and traumatic events.
You can apply your studies to fieldwork and help individuals living in danger – for example, counseling survivors of war or victims of violence. You can also work as a counselor for other humanitarian workers.
Since foreign aid workers see a lot of traumatic events, they often need counseling. You might find employment with different NGOs, counseling their employees.
This one-of-a-kind degree is available through the University of East London. You can complete it in one year, paying a fee of approximately $15,000. You can also choose to study part-time over two years and pay $2,500 per credit.
Humanitarian Health Programme Management – Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
This master’s degree is one of the only programs that focus on health program management. The goal is to teach students how to handle complex and expensive health care programs.
Humanitarian aid often involves establishing hospitals in remote or affected regions. For these care centers to thrive, professionals need to plan and manage the process. You will also learn about good practices and how to train qualified staff.
The program includes an international research project. This can be overseas or in the UK and involves hands-on experience. The program cost is just over $25,000 and runs for one year. To apply, students must have humanitarian experience or a medical degree.
Global Health, Humanitarian Aid, and Disaster Medicine – University del Piemonte Orientale
This unique Ph.D. focuses on emergency health care during manmade and natural disasters. Students become professionals in dealing with disasters like war and terrorism. They also aid populations dealing with natural and climate change disasters.
The course consists of a 12-month online learning session. It’s then followed by a 2-week residential session which includes in-class training. An online exam and a Ph.D. thesis round out the program.
The entry requirements include a medical degree, humanitarian work experience, and research knowledge. The fee is about $9,000 and covers tuition and residential session hotel expenses.
Business-minded people are essential in humanitarian work. If your goal is to manage an NGO or help communities start businesses, consider these degrees.
NGO Management – Bayes Business School
The master’s program fuses business and humanitarian work. It’s designed for students who want to work in senior-level positions at NGOs.
Before beginning the master’s program, you’ll need to do a one-year post-graduate diploma. You can then enter the NGO Management course, which is a 12-month, part-time program. An independent research project is a key component of the graduation requirements.
The full program fee is approximately $14,000. You’ll pay a large chunk for the post-graduate diploma and the rest to upgrade to the master’s program.
Humanitarian Logistics – Hanken School of Economics
This master’s program is focused on Economics and Business Administration. But students can choose the Humanitarian Logistics specialization. The program is taught in English in Helsinki, Finland.
Students learn how to apply logistics and supply chain management to humanitarian aid. Upon completion of the program, you’ll be able to work with large organizations and NGOs. Your work will focus on designing and managing supply chains.
The program is free for European students, but international students need to pay $14,000 per year. There are also requirements for showing sufficient funds for living.
Civil and environmental engineers are key to building healthy and safe communities. If you love the idea of using your engineering skills to help others, the University of Warwick offers a great program.
The Humanitarian Engineering master’s focuses on finding sustainable solutions to the world’s problems. Students can also specialize in management or sustainability streams of study.
The course focuses on active learning through collaboration. No boring lectures here! You’ll get practical hands-on experience through an independent project. Students have the option of studying full-time or part-time.
Full-time international students will pay just under $30,000 per year. Part-time students can expect to pay around $15,000 a year.
If you’re interested in the environmental side of humanitarian action, studying climate change might be for you. Royal Roads University in British Columbia, Canada offers a Master’s in Climate Action.
This unique course views human suffering through an environmental lens. Students research, debate, and problem-solve climate change issues. The program features an open, flexible curriculum that can be tailored to your goals.
Students take the course in a blended format. Most of the learning is self-directed and online. On-campus intensives are held twice a year for students to learn in class.
A bachelor’s degree and relevant leadership experience are required. Students who don’t meet the requirements can apply for flexible admission. In this option, they complete a pre-master’s course first and then transition into the master’s program.
International students should expect to pay $33,146 (about $26,000 U.S.). Scholarships, sponsorships, and financial aid are available for all students.
Options for Humanitarian Careers
If you go to law school, you’ll become a lawyer. Attending teacher’s college? You’ll be a teacher. Of course, there are some variations but generally, the job is set. But a humanitarian degree can lead to a variety of careers!
At the bachelor’s level, you’ll study a bit of every topic and acquire a wide breadth of knowledge. Later, at the master’s and Ph.D. levels, you can choose a specialization. Humanitarian jobs encompass healthcare, education, engineering, politics, and much more.
While there are hundreds of different positions to explore, let’s look at some of the most common jobs!
Foreign Aid Worker
A foreign aid worker is what you most likely think of when you consider humanitarian careers. Aid workers provide support and services to people affected by various emergencies. They travel to whichever location needs them, and the job can be difficult and dangerous.
Social Worker or Psychologist
Humanitarian crises are very traumatic for people who go through them. Skilled mental health professionals are needed on the ground to provide counseling. You might be working with children affected by poverty or violence. You might also be providing PTSD treatment for refugees fleeing from war.
Nurse or Doctor
Healthcare professions are very in-demand in the humanitarian sector. Many remote, war-torn, or dangerous places do not have trained health care providers. You’ll often be working with minimal supplies and under difficult conditions.
If you love teaching, this might be the perfect role for you. Training coordinators work in different sectors. They might be training new volunteers on how to distribute food. They might also be working with office-based staff to onboard them into their roles.
Usually among the highest level positions, program directors take charge of projects. Their job is to make sure every initiative runs smoothly. They can do anything from handling budgets to training staff, but their biggest roles are planning and strategizing.
To create big changes, you need to provide hard facts and numbers. Data analysts compile, analyze, and use statistics to create something tangible. You’ll be assembling reports, studying patterns, and compiling statistics that’ll be used to lobby for policy changes!
Engineers are a crucial part of humanitarian work. Civil engineers help communities grow with new roads, bridges, and service buildings. Meanwhile, environmental engineers solve water shortage problems and tackle pollution and environmental problems.
To succeed, NGOs need money and donations. As a grants specialist, your job is to secure the budget and gather enough funds to run programs. You’ll be working with stakeholders, creating fundraising campaigns, and writing proposals.
Security officers, assistants, social media interns – there are many support positions. These are usually based in head offices or foreign aid bases. While you won’t be getting into the action, you’re still providing an essential part of the aid process.
Benefits of Humanitarian Degrees
Without a doubt, the biggest benefit of working in the humanitarian sector is helping people. The more aid workers we have, the higher impact we can make when it comes to real-world problems.
But if you’re thinking of entering this career field, you may be wondering what the benefits for you are. High pay? Career advancement? Let’s take a look!
Meaningful and Rewarding
A job that is meaningful and rewarding is very in-demand. Around 90% of Americans claimed they would trade less money for more meaning in the position.
Additionally, service-oriented workers feel like their jobs are the most satisfying! Although humanitarian work isn’t easy, by any means, the rewards are plentiful.
Explore New Places, Learn New Cultures
If you love exploring new places and meeting new people, this is the career for you. Humanitarian workers often find themselves working in unique or remote locations.
Because you’re dealing with international problems, travel can be a big part of the job. You might be part of an emergency response team in Sudan or providing nutrition counseling to families in Sri Lanka. The possibilities are endless!
Besides fieldwork, there are office jobs, management opportunities, and short contracts.
Make an Impact
Everyone wants to make their mark on the world. When working in the humanitarian sector, you’re making an impact on people all over the world.
Providing life-saving services as an aid worker will help thousands of people in dangerous situations. Designing schools, roads, and buildings for emerging communities will increase opportunities. Teaching remote communities the basics of small business management can open up doors.
Whatever you’ll be doing, it will be helping future generations to flourish!
Challenging and Exciting
If you prefer a 9-to-5 job with clear expectations and no surprises, think again. Many humanitarian positions offer a host of daily challenges. No two workdays are ever the same!
As an emergency worker, you might be distributing food one day and providing basic health services the next. You might have to make an unexpected rescue mission in the morning, then find yourself filling out paperwork in the afternoon.
This feeling of not knowing what comes next can be very exciting! But it’s also not for everyone. If you love a challenge and live life on the edge, you’ll find success.
Potential for High Salary
A humanitarian career salary range is quite wide. Some positions are filled on a volunteer basis while others feature a small stipend. But there are possibilities for a high salary!
Entry-level workers typically make around $25,000 a year. With time and experience, you can build your career and progress in the pay scale. Management positions at NGOs can average around $100,000.
If you have specific, in-demand technical skills, you might be earning over $200,000! Humanitarian salaries depend on:
- Skills and abilities
- The level of danger associated with the position
- The size of the organization
- The position you apply for
- Level of education
- Expertise in certain fields
Most people who enter humanitarian positions aren’t doing it for the money. But a paycheck is still important for your survival, so there’s no harm in doing some research!
Do More With Your Education
Do you always keep an eye on the news? Start fundraisers to help victims of disasters? Love to travel and don’t get frustrated by challenging situations? If you’re empathetic and a problem-solver, humanitarian degrees might be the right choice for you.
You can do more with your education if you get a humanitarian degree. Cure world hunger? Stop climate change? You might even be able to change the world or solve some of humanity’s biggest problems!
Once you’ve chosen a program from this list, it’s time to get started! You’ll need to check requirements, gather your documents, and apply.