Can You Get a Humanitarian Job Without a Degree?

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Getting a job in humanitarian aid means you work responding to disasters and conflicts in often hostile and difficult environments. Due to the demands of the work, humanitarian organisations often look for highly qualified staff. However, if you don’t have a degree, can you still get a job working in humanitarian aid?

In general, you need a university degree to work in humanitarian aid.  Jobs in the aid industry almost always ask for a relevant master’s degree when advertised. However, there are some humanitarian aid jobs you may be able to get without a degree, if you have strong previous work experience.

So, if you don’t have a degree, what is your best routes to securing a job in humanitarian relief?

Get Non-Degree Qualifications

Although most jobs in the humanitarian aid sector require a degree, there are other qualifications that are relevant for work in international aid. In general, non-degree qualifications that will help you get a job in humanitarian aid focus on technical areas such as supply chain management or shelter building.

Diplomas in logistics or construction may be more relevant to some jobs in the aid industry than a university degree. Although university degrees can provide a basis in theoretical knowledge for humanitarian work, many NGO’s need people with practical skills and often these can be learnt without doing a degree.

Another area where qualifications can be obtained without completing a degree is in the armed forces. Many humanitarian workers begin their careers in the Army, Air Force or Navy and develop relevant skills and gain qualifications that they then take into their aid career.

The most common areas where the armed services can provide relevant qualifications for humanitarian aid include logistics, transportation, warehousing and security management. Humanitarian organisations often look for people with previous experience working in difficult and hostile environments, combined with relevant skills, and the armed forces can be a great place to get this without going to university.

A final place where you can get qualifications that will help you start a career in humanitarian aid, without doing a degree, is by doing short courses online or in-person.

There are many organisations offering relevant courses and taking these can help you gain practical skills in international aid. Often these are best used to accompany more substantial qualifications such as a diploma or armed forces certificate and doing these courses will help you get a better understanding of the humanitarian industry as well as develop key skills needed to work in humanitarian aid.

Humanitarian Aid Online Courses

If you are looking to work in humanitarian aid, we highly recommend the online course International Humanitarian and Development Careers. We think it provides one of the best overviews of the humanitarian sector and gives valuable insights for those searching for jobs in humanitarian aid. Follow the link to the course’s page for more information.

We also think the Humanitarian Action Response and Relief online course offered by Coventry University is a must for anyone looking to become a humanitarian aid worker. It only takes around three weeks to complete and would be a major addition to the CV of anyone looking to work in the aid sector. The link is to the course’s page.

The Enhancing Development Effectiveness and Poverty Alleviation online course provides students with a theoretical basis for working in complex humanitarian settings. We think it’s one of the top online courses for those who want to understand how humanitarian aid works. Click the link to visit the course’s page for more information.

Get Relevant Work Experience

If you want to get a humanitarian job but don’t have a degree, it is important to have professional experience related to humanitarian aid. Crucially, this does not need to be actual international aid experience, it is more important to have transferable skills that the aid industry needs.

Often people who get jobs in humanitarian aid who do not have degrees have worked for several years before joining the industry and therefore have developed a lot of professional experience. There are several examples of ways to develop relevant work experience without completing a degree linked to humanitarian work.

Firstly, working for other NGOs and charities can be a good way to develop relevant skills to the humanitarian industry without doing a degree. You can then transfer across into international aid work. Smaller and more local charities, often focusing on causes not related to humanitarian aid, can sometimes take people who do not have degrees.

Many of the skills that can be developed working for these charities, such as grant writing, finance, project management or event management can be relevant to humanitarian work and can be transferred after getting a few years of experience. If you want to work in humanitarian aid and do not have a degree, this is an advisable career path.

The second area where it is possible to get relevant work experience without doing a degree, before making a career move into humanitarian aid, is in the private sector.

Working in businesses focused on logistics, water and sanitation or construction can get you relevant work experience that you can then take over to jobs in humanitarian action. Many of these private companies will take people who do not have degrees and could allow you to gain several years of relevant work experience that can then help you get a job in international aid.

Another relevant sector that you may be able to join without a degree before switching to working in humanitarian aid is the police and law enforcement. In some places you can join the police force, or work within a police department, without having gone to university.

The experience that can be gained working in law enforcement is often relevant to humanitarian aid work and specifically peace keeping operations. After several years in the police it would be possible to move into humanitarian work without having completed a degree.

A final way you can get relevant work experience that can help you get a job in humanitarian aid when you don’t have a degree is to volunteer. Aid agencies are looking for people with previous practical experience, as well as those with educational qualifications, and a way to gain relevant aid experience can be do unpaid work.

Although one option could be to volunteer abroad, often it is preferable to volunteer locally as this is cheaper and more practical. If you want to do humanitarian work but don’t have a degree, seek out local organisations working with refugees in your community. These groups are often seeking volunteers to help with their work and it can be a great way get relevant work experience for humanitarian relief without going to university.

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Develop the Skills Needed

The most important thing to do if you want to work in humanitarian aid but do not have a degree is to develop skills the aid industry needs.

Alongside practical skills that can be developed without going to university, such as finance, logistics and construction, humanitarian agencies are looking for people who have the skills and experience needed to run effective aid programmes. Examples of skills that are needed to work in humanitarian relief and can be developed without going to university include team work, flexibility, adaptability and being able to work with people from different cultures.

Another highly relevant skill that can be got without having a degree is languages. Humanitarian organisations are always looking for people who can speak multiple languages and being flaunt in a foreign language can sometimes be seen as more valuable than academic qualifications.

The main languages of the aid industry are English, French and Arabic. Becoming fluent in these would help you get a job in humanitarian aid even if you haven’t been to university, but it would still be advisable to develop practical work experience and complete some non-degree qualifications as well.

Although the main languages of the aid industry are more common languages spoken by large numbers of people around the world, another good way to get a humanitarian job if you do not have a degree is to be able to speak more obscure languages that the aid sector needs.

Examples of these languages include Urdu from Pakistan or Farsi from Afghanistan – countries where a lot of aid is delivered but humanitarian organisations struggle to recruit flaunt speakers internationally. Also being able to speak some local dialects such as Hausa from Nigeria or Dinka from South Sudan could make it possible to get a humanitarian job without a degree.

If you want to learn more about how to become a humanitarian aid worker, explore our list of the top humanitarian aid online courses here.


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.