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How Do I Get a Master's in Development Economics?

By C. Mitchell
Updated May 17, 2024
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Getting a master’s in development economics typically requires an undergraduate degree in economics, as well as a professed interest in problems of national development, poverty, and government structure on the international stage. A number of universities around the world offer master’s in development economics programs, and each tends to have its own requirements and specific application structure. Some schools prefer some work experience in development economics, while others admit large percentages of their students directly from undergraduate institutions. It is always important to research the specific requirements of any program you are interested in, but for the most part, some basic schooling paired with a strong motivational drive are the only things needed to earn the degree.

A master’s in development economics is different from a general master’s in economics. In most cases, you will need to attend a specifically development-centered program in order to earn such a nuanced degree. Many standard economics graduate programs offer courses or seminar opportunities that focus on developing economic systems, but there is rarely enough instruction to qualify as a specialization, much less a degree. Identifying schools that offer a master’s in development economics specifically is a crucial step in the process.

Once you have located a few of these programs, it is important to research their admissions requirements. Most all master’s degree programs require a bachelor’s degree as a stepping stone. Development economics programs are usually no exception, and most go so far as to require an undergraduate degree in economics or international development. It is sometimes possible to petition around this requirement, particularly if you have extensive experience working in the international development field. Beginning your planning early and earning a foundational degree is almost always the best course, however.

Setting out your reasons for pursuing a master’s in development economics is also usually required in some form or another. Some schools will interview applicants and will ask there for some sense of why the degree is desired. Others require essays and personal reflections that will accompany the application materials. Schools usually want to ensure that the students they admit, educate, and train actually have the motivational energy needed to use their degree in the field. Graduates are generally expected to bring about some kind of positive change.

Admission is the biggest hurdle, but simply being enrolled in a development economics program does not guarantee the subsequent granting of a degree. In order to graduate, students must usually take and pass all required courses, as well as complete some sort of independent research project. This project is often called a master’s thesis, and usually requires a range of outside information gathering. In some cases, the thesis work is done in conjunction with nonprofit groups or non-governmental organizations doing work in low-income countries. Other projects are more academic, focusing on the science of structural change and population growth, for instance, or studying the development process of a range of different economic systems across a certain time horizon.

Students must usually defend their thesis research before a team of faculty and development economics experts before they can be awarded their degree. Deficiencies in the research or flaws in the presentation can hinder or even terminate the degree progress. Careful, calculated work all along the way is imperative.

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