How To Ace Your Development Studies College Interview

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Most universities nowadays expect applicants to attend an interview. Development studies courses are no different. College admission interviews are designed not only to find the best students, but also candidates that are highly knowledgeable, and passionate, about the subject areas. So, if you’re applying for a development studies programme, how best are you to prepare for an interview so that you can get into the college of your choice? Well, read on…

Understand Why You Want To Do Development Studies

The first thing you need to do to pass your development studies college interview is really understand why you want to study international development in the first place. This will be one of most likely questions an interviewer will ask you.

When interviewing for a development studies course you need to think deeply about why international development interests you. Is it because you want to fight global poverty or become a humanitarian aid worker? Are you interested in how sustainable development can help poorer countries or do you want to work on refugee and migration issues? Whatever the reason international development inspires you, make sure you have it clearly defined before gong to your college interview for a development studies degree.

Development studies courses want students who are passionate about international development. When answering why you want to do development studies at college, make sure your genuine interest for the subject comes across.

You are always best to be honest in your college interviews, so when you’re asked why you want do development studies, think about the real reason why this subject area intrigues you. This is what the college admission staff really want to hear.

Be Able To Explain Why You Chose This Development Studies Course

A second thing that will be key for your development studies interview is being able to explain why you chose to apply to this specific degree programme.

As well as asking you why development studies in general interests you, one of the most common questions at college interviews for international development courses is why you chose this programme. To answer this well, pick two or three key reasons. Make sure to research the course fully before the interview and try and pick out specific areas that make the degree different to others.

College admission staff will want students that have specifically chosen their programme. By highlighting exact modules, particular staff or a part of the course that specifically interests you, it will show the admission team that you not only have researched the degree programme, but also that you’re dedicated to studying it.

As with the question regarding why you chose development studies, answer this question honestly. Its also good to show your passion here and describe briefly what really made you apply to this specific development studies programme.

Know Why You Applied To This College

A third thing you will need to do well at your college interview for an international development programme is know why you applied to this specific college. This is another very common interview question for development studies degrees.

College admission staff want to take students that have genuine reasons for choosing their school. It’s important for them that new students feel connected to the institution, but also that they are dedicated to studying there.

Take some time before your interview to research the college, it’s history and its mandate. Again, think of genuine reasons why this school is the one you applied to. Is it particularly well-known for development studies? Does it have opportunities for development studies students, such as access to industry talks or internships, that other schools perhaps don’t?

Ensure your answer to this question is well researched. Also take it as another opportunity to show your passion. Try and list two or three points for why you chose to study international development at this school.

Research The Main Challenges Facing International Development

Another likely question you’ll be asked at your development studies college interview is what challenges development actors face in achieving their aims.

International development has a long history. Today, there are also significant resources dedicated to helping poorer countries develop. However, many development outcomes have not been achieved, despite decades of work. Understanding why this is, and why international development is challenging, is important before your college interview for a development studies degree.

Development studies courses aim to equip the next generation of development workers with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the industry. Knowing why development projects often fail, and the issues international development agencies currently face, is key to this. Therefore, its an often-asked question at college interviews for development studies courses.

Take some time to think of a few major challenges facing international development. Some examples include climate change, lack of sustainability, poor governance in many developing countries and misuse of resources. Make sure you do your research and are able to name a few major issues development projects face before attending your college interview for a development studies programme.

International Development Online Courses

If you want to know more about international development, we highly recommend the online short course Sustainable Development in the 21st Century by Yonsei University. Delivered by former UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon, the course is a great introduction to the issues developing countries face. The link is to the course’s page.

We also think the online course Management of International Development: Towards Agenda 2030  is great. It looks at the current international development model as well as the trends that will be key to global development in the near future. Follow the link to the course’s page for more information.

If you are interested in the practical methods used on international development programmes, we recommend the online course How To Design & Fund International Development NGO Projects. The course teaches students the tools needed to establish and run impactful development projects. Click the link to visit the course’s page for more information.

Be Able To Explain Your Career Goals

Probably one of the most likely questions you will be asked at your admission interview for a development studies degree is what are your career goals.

College admission staff for development studies courses want to bring on students that aim to make a career of international development. Before your interview, take some time to think about where you want your career to take you. What is your dream position within the international development sector? Some interviewers will ask where you see yourself in five- or ten-years’ time, so this is another good way to think about this question.

As well as asking your career goals, some development studies admission staff may ask where you think this specific degree course will take you. As always with interviews, honesty is best here. Be sure to think before the interview about what your career goals really are, and ideally link them to the specific development studies programme you are interviewing for.

Understand The Major Trends In International Development

One question you are likely to be asked in a development studies college admission interview is what are the major trends currently shaping the international development sector.

Development studies is a constantly evolving field. Old ideas are regularly being replaced with new thinking. In addition, global events shape how development workers and organisations try and tackle the issues facing poorer countries. In order to do well at your development studies interview, make sure to take note of a few of the major trends the development sector is currently experiencing.

A reason why admission staff for development studies programmes often ask this question is to test an applicant’s understanding of the current state of the development sector. It also gives the candidate an opportunity to show how much they really know about development work, as well as the contexts in which international development projects are ran.

In order to answer this interview question well you do not need to go into extensive detail. However, do pick a few key areas where you see the international development sector changing and be ready to explain these during your development studies college admission interview.

Be Up-To-Date With Current Affairs

An important tip you need to be aware of for your development studies admission interview is that you should be up-to-date with what is happening in the world.

International development is directly linked to current global events. As the contexts change in which development actors operate, projects, ideas and even the foundations of international development must also change. College admission staff will know this, and it’s why they will likely ask you about ongoing global issues at your development studies interview.

To be honest, if you’re looking to study international development, you should have a genuine interest in global events. However, prior to your college interview for a development studies degree, take time to focus especially on what is happening in the world and think about how this could affect international development.

At your interview, you may be asked what current events you are following, or how major ongoing or recent events could have impacted international development work. You may also be just be asked how you keep up with current events, and what sources you use to get your information on what is happening globally. Take a minute to think about these points before your development studies interview.

Have A Basic Understanding Of How Development Projects Are Ran

Although you may not get directly asked in an interview for a development studies degree, having a basic understanding of how international development projects work can give you a real advantage.

Most development studies degrees focus on the theory of international development, more than the practical implementation of development projects. However, if you can show in your interview that you have some knowledge of the practical aspects of development work it can be a key way to differentiate yourself from other candidates. Even better, get a bit of an understanding of how the theory of development links to international developments practical implementation.

Before your development studies interview, look up areas such as international development project cycle management, grant management and humanitarian logistics. Think about how development projects are evaluated and how impact is measured. Take a quick look over how development work is funded and what types of roles are regularly recruited on development projects. Having this kind of knowledge can give you a real edge in your development studies college interview.

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Know The Major Actors In The Development Sector

Another thing you may not get directly asked at your development studies interview, but is still good to know, is the main actors within the development sector.

The international development sector is multifaceted. There are a wide range of organisations that work together towards international development goals. These include NGOs, international organisations such as the United Nations, as well as inter-governmental bodies such as the EU or African Union and donor agencies of national governments.

Being able to name some of the major organisations working on international development issues will help you differentiate yourself from other candidates at your interview.

Even better than naming some of the main development organisations, learn the main different types of international development agencies and understand how these work together. Being able to demonstrate this at your college interview for an international development degree will definitely give you an edge.

Try And Do Some Related Volunteer Work

A great thing to bring up in your development studies college interview is if you have done any volunteer work.

There are many organizations around the world that will take young people to volunteer on development projects. Although Volu-tourism is being critiqued in the development sector nowadays, you can find genuine and impactful ways to volunteer overseas. If you have overseas volunteer experience, definitely mention it in your development studies interview.

With that said, you do not have to volunteer abroad in order to get great experience that can help you get onto the development studies degree of your choice. Almost any volunteer work, but especially those helping less fortune people, will demonstrate to the college admissions team that you are passionate about tackling injustice and helping others – both core to a career in international development.

Demonstrate You Have The Soft Skills Needed For Development Work

So far, we have mainly discussed how you can demonstrate your technical knowledge of international development at your college interview. However, both on your degree, as well as when you’re working in the development sector, there are a range of soft skills that you will need. It can be good to mention these at your development studies interview.

Soft skills – or inter-personal skills, are how someone interests effectively, and with tact, with other people. Showing that you can work well with others is vital if you are going to succeed in international development.

Some soft skills that are highly relevant to the development sector include team work, initiative taking, stress management, leadership, decision making, organisation and communication. You may get asked in your interview for a development studies course what soft skills you have, or what you may need when working in the international development sector. Even if you are not directly asked, having knowledge of the soft skills required, and perhaps dropping them into some interview answers, could give you an advantage.

Show Your Passion For Development Work

A final, and hugely important, tip for your development studies interview is to be sure to show your passion for development work.

As we’ve covered a few times throughout this guide, do not shy away from showing your genuine passion for joining a development studies programme and eventually building a career in international development. Colleges want to take students that are keen to learn, interested in the subject area and want to apply what they learn when they enter the workforce. Showing your real interest in development issues is a key way to demonstrate this to college interviewers.

Everyone who applies for a development studies course has a reason why international development interests them. Many have specific causes or areas of interest that draw them towards building a career in international development. Let the college admissions panel know this! They’ll love to see someone who is genuinely engaged in the issues of the world and wants to use their course to learn how to affect real change.


Duncan is the founder of Humanitarian Careers. With over ten years experience in the aid industry across fifteen countries, Duncan set-up Humanitarian Careers to help people launch their own career in international aid.