What should I study at university if I want to work for a charity?
Keen to work for a charity after you graduate? Trying to choose the best possible degree subject for your future career? You can get into charity work from any degree background and work experience is likely to be regarded as just as important as your academic achievements. However, some subjects could be an advantage for specific roles.
Which degrees are good for which type of job?
The more thought you’ve given to the kind of charity job you want, the better placed you’ll be to choose a degree that could act as a springboard for your future career. Our advice on types of jobs and employers in charity work will help you get to grips with your options. Here are some examples of types of charity jobs and degree subjects that might be helpful:
- Charity administration/fundraising/event management: finance, business, marketing, PR.
- Coordinating volunteers/community work: a degree in social work, youth work or community work could be helpful.
- Financial management: a degree in business or in a numerate subject could be an advantage.
- Scientific research, including administration and funding: some charities support research initiatives and recruit staff to help with this. A background in science is likely to be essential.
- Technology: an IT or computer science degree may be required.
- International development: degrees in medicine, nursing, teaching or engineering will give you hard skills that could be of use. Courses in public policy or logistics could also be relevant, as could language skills and the study of economics or law. This is a particularly competitive area, so you might improve your chances by studying for a masters in international development.
Work experience will help you get hired
Charity employers will want to see that you have relevant work experience, so if you’ve set your heart on a charity career, make sure you look out for volunteering and internship opportunities when you’re a student. Getting involved in organising events and fundraising could help you when it comes to applying for jobs, as will taking on leadership positions.
On the whole, charities tend not to have the resources to invest in training programmes for school leavers or graduates, so you may need to apply for entry-level jobs whatever your credentials. Alternatively, you could gain skills and experience working for another type of organisation before seeking a role with a charity.
Choose a subject you’ll be good at!
Remember, it’s important to play to your strengths when you choose your university course. It’s better to choose a subject you enjoy and hope to do well at than one you think might give you a small leg-up in your pursuit of a charity job further down the line. There are relatively few structured graduate schemes in this area, but those there are tend to ask for candidates to have at least a 2.1.
If your degree course includes modules that could be relevant to the career you want, make sure you take them. For example, if you are studying marketing you might be able to take a module on non-profit marketing. If you are studying a business or finance-related subject and have the opportunity to choose a charitable or non-profit organisation for a case study, this could deepen your understanding and help you to convince employers of your commitment.
Charities’ graduate schemes
Charity graduate schemes are few and far between and likely to be highly competitive. You’ll need to stand out to be in with a chance, and that means having both plenty of work experience and a strong academic record. These graduate schemes all ask for candidates with at least a 2.1 and are open to those from all subject backgrounds:
- Cancer Research UK: applicants must have 280 UCAS points and GCSE maths and English at grade C or above. There are five options: fundraising and marketing; scientific strategy and funding; policy information and communication; finance; and technology.
- Charity Works: 12-month graduate scheme designed to find and develop the future leaders of non-profit organisations.
- The Wellcome Trust graduate development programme.
- British Council future leaders scheme.
Do I need to study for a masters to work for a charity?
There’s a range of postgraduate courses available for those pursuing charity careers, some of which are designed to fit in with working for a charity. It is advisable to build up your work experience in the sector first so you can choose a course that will support your future professional development.
In some specialist areas, such as international development, a masters degree may be an advantage. If you wish to go on to work for the United Nations development programme, for example, you’ll need a masters in a development-related discipline to be considered for a junior professional officer role. You can find out more about postgraduate study at targetpostgrad.com.