Master's Required - Top Graduate Programs for a Career in Study Abroad

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If you look at just about any study abroad job posting, you'll see one very common phrase: Master's Required. While there are ways to get a study abroad job WITHOUT a Master's degree (I'll write about that next week), here I suggest seven-plus graduate programs that are sure to launch your career in study abroad.

Profile of You

So, let me guess. This is you: 

  • You majored in something related to the international world (international relations, international affairs, international business, anthropology, languages, etc.).
  • You studied abroad in college (maybe even 2 or 3 times).
  • You double majored or minored in a language (and you list those language skills on your resume)
  • You volunteered as a peer advisor in your university's study abroad office.
  • You received glowing recommendations from the study abroad director at your school on your work in the office.
  • You talk about study abroad to (nearly) every person you meet - clearly you're passionate about it.
  • And now, you want to work in study abroad - making the dream of study abroad come true for future college students.

Looks great on paper, right? You'd think this person would be a shoo-in for a job as a study abroad advisor at ANY college, university, or program provider. But sadly, this person has a very small chance of landing one of those jobs and here's why: Master's Required. 

Why Do You Need a Master's Anyway?

The sad truth of the study abroad field is that for most entry-level jobs these days you need a Master's degree to get in the door (and sometimes that's not even enough). Where did this - some would argue - over inflated requirement come from? I'm not sure. But my personal opinion is that there's a little-talked-about pressure in the higher education world for administrators to match or try to match the academic credentials of faculty. Instead of relying on an applicant's experience and knowledge of the industry (because let's face it, that's what study abroad is), in academia we tend to give a little more weight to academic achievements. Some will argue that these (experience and academic credentials) go hand in hand, but in my experience and the experience I've seen of others, the MA, MS, M.Ed., etc are a vital step to starting your career in study abroad. 

Graduate Programs for Future Study Abroad Professionals

Okay, so let's pretend that there's absolutely NO WAY you can get a job in study abroad without a Master's. [There are ways to get a job without a Master's. I'm writing about that next week.] But for now just play along. Now, the challenge is selecting a program that will help you land that first dream job in study abroad. Below I profile some of the best (in my opinion) master's programs that will help you get a great job in study abroad. The list is not exhaustive and others may strongly disagree (leave a comment if you do, please!), but I don't think you can go wrong with these options (in alphabetical order):

American University (D.C.)
International Training and Education MA 
Why It's Awesome: This program focuses on how education can be an instrument of international development and cross-cultural understanding. One of the best bits is that they focus on practical application of theoretical concepts, so after this two-year program you should walk away with some pretty interesting knowledge AND some solid experience under your belt. Oh. And did I mention you'd get to live in D.C.? 'Nuff said. 

What's the Catch: With budgets in higher education being cut dramatically over the past few years, the number of scholarships and graduate assistantship available may be decreasing (not sure). A great question to ask the admissions office: How many people in each class receive a scholarship; how many receive an assistantship. This will help you gauge your chances of receiving one. 

Bowling Green State University
Higher Education and Student Affairs MA 
Disclaimer: I'm going to talk about my alma mater now. Yes, I'm biased, but it's my blog AND BGSU happens to be a great program/experience so it's a win win. I get to be biased and you still get a pretty decent program recommendation. 

Why It's Awesome: What I like most about this program (and similar programs at Loyola University in Chicago and Miami University in Ohio), is that you get to learn about the entire higher education experience from administrative issues, student development, the history of education, student learning, and more. My mantra has always been that study abroad is an extremely important, but small part of the college experience. You have to understand the bigger picture, in my opinion, before you can understand how study abroad can/will impact a student. Okay. Stepping off soap box now. Another great benefit to this program is that you HAVE to do a graduate assistantship to be in the program. No exceptions. This means you'll get two years experience working in higher education by the time you graduate. Score! You can also take classes that focus on international education. 

What's the Catch: Well, if you know you want to work in study abroad, getting a grad assistantship in a study abroad office is going to be difficult. Assistantships are already competitive even before you start narrowing it down be department. I was lucky enough to land a GAship at Baldwin-Wallace College in their Explorations/Study Abroad Center. [Though I was their second choice. Feel free to heckle Christie, the Director, about that one. ;)]. Two of the most influential years of my life. No joke. 


Edge Hill University (England)

Management of International Higher Education MA

[This is a blog about study abroad. I had to throw in an international option.]
Why It's Awesome: You get to live in England. The program is only one year, like most master's degree programs in the UK and Europe. The courses/modules sound extremely interesting, but sadly, it's a new program so I don't know anyone personally who has gone through the program. But it sure does look great on paper the internet. 

What's the Catch: Well, if you're an non-UK or non-EU citizen reading this, that means Edge Hill will look at you as an international student, therefore, the fees are a bit high. So start saving your pennies. And because this program is very new (I believe it launched in fall of 2009 or 2010), it's relatively untested. But hey, if you're the adventurous type, go be our guinea pig and and report back. I want to hear all about it. 

Kent State University (Ohio) 

Higher Education Administration M.Ed. [Certificate in Internationalization of Higher Education]
Why It's Awesome: You get the best of both worlds: I broader understanding of higher education with a specialization in international education. You can't go wrong. Also, you'll be working (through your grad assistantship) on a traditional college campus. It doesn't get much more standard than KSU. And the school is rich in history specifically related to higher education.

What's the Catch: Well, Kent, Ohio, isn't the most exciting place you could live for two years, but what you'll get from the program and the specialization in international education is totally worth it. Also, like BGSU, getting a graduate assistantship specifically in study abroad will be challenging. 

Lesley University (Massachusetts)
Intercultural Relations MA
Why It's Awesome: I used to live in Boston/Cambridge where Lesley is located. In fact, I used to live around the corner from the building where most of the graduate classes are taught. Oh wait. Is that not reason enough to apply? Fine. Here's more. Lesley has several tracks and enrollment options (like low residency) to fit a lot of needs. And like SIT (below), they've become one of the "go to" programs for people already in the field and people eager to break in to the field. Just reading through the course titles gets me excited. And I love, love, love that they have a language requirement. 

What's the Catch: Lesley isn't exactly a traditional college experience. The small residential campus that primarily serves undergrads is several blocks away from the graduate school. But since most people in the program are currently working in international ed in some capacity, it's not a big deal for them. But if you're a newbie, with no study abroad job currently, this could be a bummer. Or maybe not. Everyone has to do an internship as a degree requirement, so you can get your fill of practical application through that. I came really close to going to Lesley, but at that time, they didn't have much by way of scholarships/grants. That may all be different now. 

SIT Graduate Institute (Vermont) 

International Education MA (and others)

Why It's Awesome: SIT has basically become a feeder school for international education, especially among study abroad professionals in the Northeast. They have even more degree options, tracks, and concentrations than UofM (below) - even a low residency option. But one of the best parts of SIT's programs is that most are just one calendar year which typically includes a practical field experience. To give you an idea of the field experience you could have, when I worked for Semester at Sea, there was a woman working along side me on the ship who was using the experience as her practical requirement. Darn the luck, aye? 

What's the CatchOne of the downsides of SITs program (at least from where I sit), is that since you won't be studying at a more traditional college or university (similar to the Lesley situation), you won't get to see/learn about the college experience and how study abroad fits into it - or how traditional study abroad offices function. However, you could do your practical experience at a more traditional campus and BOOM, you're good. 

Fun fact: It seems that either: 1) every SIT grad I know was in the Peace Corps OR 2) every Peace Corps alum I know went to SIT. Hmmm...

University of Minnesota
Comparative and International Education Development MA
Why It's AwesomeNot only is my international education research crush a faculty member (Hi, Dr. Paige!) in the program, but the CIDE program has a lot of options for specialization. You can focus on policy, educational exchange, and development education. If you're ready for a research-focused program with a long and respected history, this is it. Though, admission is competitive, so put some effort into those application essays. 

What's the Catch: Hmmm. Well, I'm guessing the winters in Minneapolis aren't the most fun thing you'll ever experience. But millions of people do it every year, so buck up, kid. And if you're looking for a program that is more practical in nature - and less theoretical - make sure you read through the course requirements carefully. You want to make sure you'll be motivated by the coursework - and not deterred by it. 


There you have it. Seven-plus graduate programs that are sure to give you a great education, practical experience, and those ever important master's degree credentials behind your name - all with the hopes of landing that first or next study abroad job. Of course, there are plenty more programs in International Education (I considered the NYU International Education program and Columbia's program in International and Comparative Education program way back in the day) and MANY more higher education programs (Michigan State, Indiana U, Ohio State, Colorado State, UCLA.and the list goes on. You can find a pretty comprehensive list here.). 

Things to Consider When Choosing a Program:

At the end of the day, you have to choose a program that fits your needs, lifestyle, budget, and interests. Here's just a few things to keep in mind. 

  • Will the coursework keep you interested (so you'll finish)?
  • Will the coursework offer content and knowledge that will help you in your study abroad career? (i.e. language acquisition, cultural understanding, administrative knowledge, etc.)
  • Will you get practical experience from the program?
  • Can you afford the program?
  • Are you ready for grad school? (It's okay if you're not. Try a post-grad gap year instead!)

Not all programs are created equal and you have to choose a program based on your unique situation, but hopefully, this list will help get you started in your search. Happy [grad school] hunting! 




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