10 College Degrees for Nonprofit Jobs


Though for-profit businesses have taken a hit in years past, crippled by downsizing and high unemployment rates, the nonprofit sector continues to shine. As the third-largest workforce in the U.S., many aspiring college graduates are gravitating toward injustice-fighting and social change-fostering employment opportunities. For university students specifically wanting to join the international fight against poverty, consider these often neglected majors below.

  1. Philosophy: Despite its reputation for being “impractical” or “frou-frou,” studying anything from Plato to existentialism will refine some well-needed job skills. Employers continue to deem an analytic and creative mindset as crucial to a collaborative work environment. And who knows? Perhaps in that brain of yours, sitting right next to Karl Marx’s ideologies, you have an interesting solution to youth unemployment.
  1. History: Reading about Gilgamesh and pouring over original documents could earn you a kick-butt job kicking poverty’s butt. Learning the historical context of political discord, jihadist movements or religious traditions will foster cultural awareness. Plus, the old adage of history repeating itself if gone unlearned must have some truth to it.
  1. Sociology: Understanding contemporary social issues and having a sociological imagination will not only please C. Wright Mills but also prospective employers. That SOC 235 Social Problems course could prove helpful when discussing the general U.S. opinion on foreign aid policy. The communication and number crunching skills will also impress.
  1. English: This degree will raise some eyebrows in the College of Business; however, Longfellow can jumpstart a philanthropic career. Being able to communicate, both out loud and on paper, is something few prospective employees can do. Plus, any grant writing experience will be considered a godsend by the director of fundraising development.
  1. Sustainability Studies: If windmills and solar panels are your thing, consider an interdisciplinary major that combines ecology and the humanities. Though environmentally-conscious nonprofits are popping up like mad, your background knowledge may offer solutions to water sanitation problems or food deserts for poverty-driven organizations.
  1. Theatre: After suffering through family dinners talking about the “future” and long nights of play practice, a thespian could make the nonprofit sector their stage. Confidence and an engaging persona are key when lobbying or birddogging for the cause. Online broadcasting, whether it be in podcast or video form, is also a great way to spread awareness.
  1. Women and Gender Studies: Delving into the racial and ethnic nuances of the patriarchy could actually have life-changing implications in the nonprofit sector. Taking humanities courses in anything from sociology to political science will shed some light on the feminism of poverty. And with organizations such as U.N. Women dedicated to solving just that, you will definitely find a niche.
  1. Graphic Design: Sans-serifs and color swatches may prove useful when perusing for job openings. When it comes to beautifying a website or creating an eye-catching advertisement, few have the expertise. From collaborating with a nonprofit’s communications specialist to creating a monthly newsletter, all you artsy grads will come in handy.
  1. Journalism: In the wake of recent cutbacks, digital news sites for nonprofit organizations are exploding across the U.S. From Color Lines in New York to our own Borgen Magazine in Seattle, an increasing number of “do-good” groups are recognizing the power of media. If composing a piece about Syrians living in abject poverty sounds up your alley, jump on the journalism bandwagon.
  1. International Studies: Though not for the foreign language-avoiding liberal arts undergraduate, this interdisciplinary major allows students to adopt a global view. Political science courses, study abroad and lots of broken Spanish could translate into a foreign relations position. Many nonprofits, especially those with a worldwide focus, need a multilingual and culturally-aware employee.

While stemming away from STEM majors may cause for a few disgruntled parents or skeptical classmates, nonprofit jobs can offer recent graduates a satisfying career. From thespians turned lobbyers to history buffs turned fundraising directors, the possibilities are limitless.

Lauren Stepp

Sources: NY Times, Urban Institute, Washington State University
Photo: Flickr