Frequently Asked Questions
What is a human rights masters?
A human rights masters is most commonly a one or two year academic program that awards an accredited degree upon successful completion. Human rights masters tend to be interdisciplinary and draw on the expertise from multiple other disciplines such as law, philosophy, anthropology, history, sociology, psychology and religion. A masters requires the study of a bachelors degree first. Human rights masters can be offered on a full-time or part-time basis and are available in English and multiple other languages including Spanish and French. For many human rights jobs a master's degree is a requirement.
Examples of human rights masters:
- Master of Arts in Applied Human Rights
- Master of Laws in International Human Rights Law
- Master of Philosophy in Theory and Practice of Human Rights
- Master of Science in Human Rights and Data Science
What you will learn in a human rights masters
A master in human rights will equip you with foundational knowledge and skills to promote, defend and protect human rights. You will learn about the theory of human rights from a multidisciplinary perspective and develop practical skills for their application. While some masters are highly specialized on topics such as Child Rights, Women's Rights or Refugee Rights, others provide a more holistic perspective. In a human rights masters you will learn how to critically engage in current human rights issues and develop the tools and strategies to have a tangible positive impact on people's lives. This includes studying human rights laws, documents and protection mechanisms, and developing hands-on, practical skills to research human rights violations, analyze human rights cases and advocate for human rights.
Examples of topics a human rights master covers:
- The history, origin and evolution of human rights in theory and practice as well as human rights principles, standards and instruments.
- Scope and application of specific human rights such as the right to life, the right to liberty and security, the right to freedom of expression or the right to freedom from torture.
- Mandate and functioning of the International Human Rights Protection Mechanisms such as the UN Human Rights Council, UN Special Rapporteurs, UN Treaty Bodies and regional protection mechanisms such as the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights.
- Practical skills for Human Rights Education, Research, Campaigning, Advocacy, Policy, and Activism.
- The structure, management, methods, tools and strategies of human rights organizations.
- Scholarly values and the rules of scientific working and academic research.
Examples of skills you will learn and train in a human rights masters:
- investigate, analyze and apply human rights to cases of human rights violations.
- research and critically discuss current human rights issues such as climate change, refugee and asylum rights, gender-based violence or hate crimes.
- plan, develop, manage, launch and evaluate a human rights campaign for LGBTQ rights, gender, inclusion and diversity.
- mobilize others to advocate for the release of political prisoners and individuals at risk.
- develop a learning experience to equip people with the skills to take action for human rights.
What you can do with a human rights masters
A masters in human rights opens up a variety of career paths. Most commonly people work in advocacy, activism, campaigning, research, policy, education and law for intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, governments and social enterprises. Beyond the tangible career benefits, a masters in human rights will change how you analyze and see the world.
Examples of what you can do with a human rights masters:
- equip people with the knowledge and skills to claim and defend human rights.
- advocate on behalf of victims of hate crimes, discrimination and torture.
- fight for equality and justice for refugees and migrants.
- investigate human rights violations in a specific country or region.
- mobilize and engage supporters for a cause.
Where you can work with a human rights masters
Human rights graduates often work for intergovernmental organizations (United Nations, Council of Europe, ASEAN, OSCE), international NGOs (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Save the Children, International Committee of the Red Cross), governmental entities (UK Mission to the United Nations, Permanent Missions to the United Nations) or social enterprises. More recently also companies such as Facebook and Google employ human rights professionals.
Examples of employers for human rights graduates:
- Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
- Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
- Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) or Council of Europe (CoE)
- Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch or Save the Children
How you can fund your human rights masters
Most human rights masters offer a limited amount of scholarships for international applicants. These scholarships will cover the entirety or parts of the tuition fees. Scholarships can either be merit-based (e.g. good marks in your bachelor), which is more frequent in the United States or needs-based (e.g. financial aid). Because masters have limited scholarships available, you may want to consider applying for a scholarship offered by the government. A third option to obtain scholarships for a human rights masters are individual grants from organizations. We have compiled a list of a variety of scholarships here.
Examples of scholarships for human rights masters:
What you will earn with a human rights masters
Salaries of human rights graduates vary strongly. However, the general consensus is that human rights professionals earn less than their business counterparts. Recent graduates will normally earn between USD 30,000 and 50,000. Salaries of USD 45,000 to USD 70,000 are common for mid-career positions. With increasing seniority, and depending on the size and location of the organization, salaries can reach low to mid six figure compensation.
Examples of salaries in the human rights sector:
- Secretary-General, Amnesty International (≈ USD 190,000)
- UN Entry Level Jobs (≈ USD 70,000 - 120,000)
- Save the Children median pay ( ≈ USD 55,000)
- Human Rights Watch Associate positions (≈ USD 52,000)
What types of human rights masters exist
Human rights masters award a variety of degrees. Most frequently Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Laws (LL.M.), Master of Science (M.Sc.) and less frequently Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.), Master of Research (M.Res.), Master of Education (M.Ed.). Masters are offered as full-time, part-time degrees or both. Whilst most masters take 1-2 years to complete, part-time masters can take up to five years to finish. Human Rights Masters can be offered fully online, on-campus or in a blended mode.
Examples of degrees that human rights masters provide:
- LLM in Human Rights Law (Master of Laws)
- MA in Human Rights and Democratization (Master of Arts)
- MSc in Human Rights (Master of Science)
- MPhil in Human Rights (Master of Philosophy)
How to choose a human rights masters
With the broad variety of masters available, it can be difficult to choose. The first and most important decision is whether you study a LL.M or any other human rights masters. An LL.M will be required for a legal career. If you want to become a human rights lawyer you first have to become a lawyer and then specialize in human rights. All other human rights masters (M.A., M.Sc. M.Phil., M.Res.) will set you up for any other career path in campaigning, education, advocacy, research and activism. There are other aspects of a human rights master that you can include in your decision, such as the country where you study, the language in which you study, etc.
- Country: Studying in particular country can give you access to organizations, courts, culture, language and extra-curricular activities.
- Pace: Depending on your current schedule a full- or part-time masters will be the better choice.
- Regional Specialization: Masters with a regional specialization can give you an edge when you want to work in that region.
- Mode: Online masters are more flexible but on-campus masters enable you to build deeper relationships with your classmates.
- Internships: Some masters maintain relationships to human rights organizations making it easier to get internships.
- Field Trips: Occasionally, masters offer field trips to post-conflict countries or courts, which can be a very valuable experience.
- Legal Clinic: In a legal clinic students support on real cases and gain hands-on experience.
- Moot Courts: Some masters offer Moot courts that are simulated court or arbitration proceedings.
- Focus: Some masters are broad, others very specific. Choose the masters that suits your interests best.
Pros and Cons of a human rights masters
While studying a human rights master has many advantages, there are also some disadvantages you should be aware of before you make your decision. The biggest advantage of a human rights masters is that it qualifies you to work for a variety of intergovernmental organizations, international NGOs and government positions. Beyond the improved career prospects, a human rights masters will likely shift and disrupt your worldview.
Pros of studying a human rights masters:
- equips you with tools and skills to change the world
- opens career paths in campaigning, education, advocacy, policy, law, activism etc.
- enables you to meet educational requirements of human rights jobs
- may disrupt your worldview and influences your own behaviors
Cons of studying a human rights masters
- lower pay than in a comparable position in the for-profit sector
- many jobs require the ability to work under high pressure
- costs of human rights masters can be high
- exposes you to cases of immense human suffering and cruelty