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How to Prepare for a Career in Human Rights

A career in human rights can be so fulfilling, but it can be a challenging field to enter. In order to prepare for a career in human rights, you’re going to need to work hard to develop your skills and gain a good base of knowledge about human rights issues, especially those issues affecting the part of the world in which you want to work.

Start preparing for your career in human rights in college by choosing the right major and involving yourself in the right student groups. Use volunteer work and internships to get experience and build your network. Educate yourself about human rights issues. Study abroad. Learn another language. Consider getting an advanced degree, or at least develop deep knowledge of the region in which you want to work.

Choose the Right Major

The first step towards a career in human rights is to earn a four-year degree in a relevant field. There are thousands of different jobs in the field of human rights, and there are many different areas you can focus on. You could work in women’s rights, economic development, policy issues, refugee rights, or advocacy, just to name a few. 

So it stands to reason that there will be several different majors you can pursue to prepare for a human rights career. Useful majors can include international development, nursing, communications, marketing, economics, journalism, social work, sociology, political science, or even software engineering or UX design. Useful minors can include English, a foreign language, environmental science, urban planning, statistics, education, or specific cultural studies.

Join the Right Student Groups

Student groups on campus offer you the opportunity to obtain leadership experience that you can put on your resume. Get involved with human rights groups on campus. Participate in your school’s Model UN. Take an on-campus job that can help you build skills in event planning, communications, social media, and fundraising to begin building the skills you’ll need to break into an entry-level human rights job.

Build Your Network Through Volunteer Work and Internships

Volunteer work and internships for organizations that support human rights give you the chance to gain more work experience while expanding your professional network. Don’t take a volunteer position or internship unless you’re going to have the opportunity to meet people in the organization, perform informational interviews, and glean information about the organization you’re working with and other organizations connected to it. Ideally, internships and volunteer positions will help you get to know people who are already working in human rights, and those connections could lead to jobs later down the road. You may even want to plan to take an internship in your final semester in case it leads to a job opportunity for after graduation.

Study Abroad and Learn Another Language

Studying abroad can give you insight into another culture. If you want to work in a certain part of the world, studying abroad in that area can give you the cultural expertise you’ll need as well as the language skills. You’ll need to learn French if you want to work in Africa, for example, or Arabic if you want to work in the Middle East. It can be helpful for your future career to choose a regional focus now and work on building your language skills and cultural knowledge in that focus.

Educate Yourself About Human Rights Issues

Take the time to educate yourself about the human rights issues you’re most passionate about. You’ll need to be well-educated in human rights issues and you’ll need to follow human rights issues in the news in order to make a career path in this field. Subscribe to human rights coverage in news outlets like The New York Times or The Guardian. Learn to think critically about human rights issues.

Consider an Advanced Degree

An advanced degree in law, international development, public policy, or international relations might be necessary to qualify for many human rights jobs. Many organizations now only want to hire candidates with advanced degrees. However, if you have deep regional knowledge and strong foreign language skills, an organization might be willing to overlook a lack of an advanced degree. 

Breaking into the human rights field can be challenging, but it’s worth it if you’re passionate about working to make life better for all residents of planet Earth. Begin preparing for your human rights career as soon as you start college, and by the time you finish graduate school, you should be more than ready for your first entry-level position.