Advancing Your Career Through Graduate Study

April 06, 2016

By Ellen H. Badger, Editor

This month’s Advice From the Field column offers insights from two experienced international education professionals on the career benefits of graduate study. Joan Elias Gore, PhD, senior program development consultant at the Foundation for International Education, and Valerie Woolston, executive director of international initiatives at the University of Maryland Graduate School, share helpful tips for anyone interested in pursuing studies at the graduate level for career advancement.

Q. What field(s) of study at the graduate level is the best for me to pursue if I want to advance my career as an international educator? Is international education my best choice?

A. Joan Elias Gore The starting point is not your field of study, but the level. If you are interested in advising and service-related careers, you’ll require a master’ degree. If you are interested in senior-level positions, you should seek a PhD or doctorate of education (EdD). What you study should be determined by what you are interested in learning.

There are a number of master’s level programs in international education, and some very good PhD or EdD programs. Master’s level programs focus on the nuts and bolts of international education. EdD programs go beyond that, focusing on development, policy, and leadership. PhD programs focus on the philosophy, theory, history, and development of the field. Or, you can pursue a degree in almost any other discipline, while concentrating on gaining entry-level experience in international education as well. This can open doors for you based both on degree and practical experience. An EdD degree can include a variety of education areas including international education. Anyone interested in a PhD should only pursue it in an area they love. In sum, choose the level of your degree and its type by what you want to do and what you care about learning. Always accept opportunities along the way to expand your nuts and bolts international education experience.

When researching graduate study in international education, look at the programs that appeal to you academically; are available in your preferred location; offer both part-time study (if you are employed) as well as full-time options; and are affordable. Search online (websites like, with sponsored sites) and print evaluations (like the Princeton Review: Gourman Report of Graduate and Professional National and International Universities). Be sure to talk to your international education colleagues for their recommendations for programs both in the United States and abroad!

A. Valerie Woolston I’ve been working in the field of international education for well over 40 years. In fact, when I started in the 1960s, there really was no field as such, but there were a few international educators. It’s marvelous to see how far the professionalization of international or global education has come during that time. Master’s programs in international education are not only available in the United States but globally. (What a great subject to study in a foreign country!) In fact, many of the institutions that have master’s and doctoral degrees in the field are now forming consortia to further research in policy and practice.

There is no common definition of “international education.” It may include cross-cultural education and communication; knowledge of peoples, cultures, and regions; skills in advising, immigration, education abroad, second-language learning, etc.; educational policy, procedures, and planning; comparative education; and more. I would want a program that is multi-disciplinary and covers as many fields as possible, such as anthropology, history, education, etc. International education is a broad field and can lead to multiple career paths beyond higher education, such as working in international relations, aid, development, and education at the primary or secondary level. Clarify your goal or goals before you start looking.

Is international education your best choice of a degree for your career advancement? That depends. With the diversity in our institutions of students, programs, and degrees, I’m not so sure. We are in institutions where students study everything and want to go everywhere overseas, and faculty come from all over the globe. Any degree can be useful. Some of the most talented international educators that I have known have degrees in physics, theology, English, and law. The diversity of degrees in an office will strengthen a staff.

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"Advice from the Field" is a bi-monthly online column that offers trusted career and professional development advice for international educators at all levels. The column is a joint initiative of NAFSA’s Phase II Member Interest Group (MIG) and the NAFSA Career Center, and is edited by Ellen Badger, coordinator of the Phase II MIG. For additional career resources, visit