International Studies, is an interdisciplinary field that combines studies in political science, economics, history and foreign language to develop an understanding of international political questions and to think critically about the economic, historical and cultural dimensions of various countries, cultures and conflicts. Those who study it seek to understand why events occur the way they do throughout the world and their impact on peace and stability, and the interdisciplinary nature of the field allows Hopkins undergraduates who choose the major to develop their own interests within the field.
International studies is the largest undergraduate major in the school of arts and sciences.
In addition to undergraduate and graduate degrees, the department offers two accelerated degrees for international studies students who intend to pursue a master’s degree in international studies. These five year, BA/MA programs entail three years at the Homewood campus and two years at either the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington D.C. or at Université de Sciences Politique et Economique (Sciences Po) in Paris. These programs are both competitive but interested freshmen and sophomores are encouraged to apply.
The discipline of international studies focuses on the importance of employing several approaches to understand world events. Students develop skills as undergraduates that will be marketable, rewarding and useful throughout their careers, regardless of whether they go into government service, international investment, law, education, business or non-profits. A few of these skills include:
- Communication skills – the ability to communicate ideas clearly in writing, verbally, visually and electronically
- Research skills – the ability to locate, gather and organize information efficiently and accurately
- Problem solving – the ability to use critical thinking skills to evaluate and solve problems with creative and innovative solutions
- Teamwork skills – the ability to work effectively in a group setting.
The International Studies department at Hopkins is renowned for the high quality of its faculty and students alike, and undergraduates who choose to major in the department will find a challenging but rewarding academic experience.
The interdisciplinary nature of International Studies allows students provides students with a well-rounded educational foundation in political science, history, economics and foreign language, along with the opportunity to focus on the areas and disciplines which interest them. Upon graduation, innumerable career opportunities are open to students of international studies, including:
- Foreign service – while extremely competitive, those who pass the foreign service exam join a group of 9,000 who staff U.S. embassies abroad, the State Department and the United States Information Agency.
- Government agencies – the majority of International Studies professionals in Washington work for agencies other than the State Department, such as the Defense Department, Central Intelligence Agency, Homeland Security and National Security Agency, the majority as intelligence analysts or and a few as clandestine operators. The Agency for International Development, which administers U.S. foreign aid, also falls into this category.
- Legislative staffing – as international economics and homeland security become an increasingly prominent political issue, the number of international studies professionals who work on Congressional staffs has increased dramatically.
- The United Nations – while difficult to obtain, administrative and communications positions within the United Nations are excellent opportunities for international studies graduates with strong language skills.
- Private research and intelligence contractors – Washington D.C. is home to a large number of these organizations that perform government work on a contractual basis.
- Non-profit organizations – these international organizations that work to distribute foreign aid, improve humanitarian conditions and tackle issues such as famine relief are largely staffed by international relations graduates.
- Academia and think tanks – international relations students with doctorates teach, research and write in a university setting, or research and lecture within think-tanks.
- Law/international law – international relations undergraduates are excellent candidates for law school due to their written and oral communications abilities, their knowledge of politics and international affairs and their research skills. International law is an extremely competitive field concerned with whether the behavior of governments corresponds with international laws, and increasingly, the behavior of international corporations. Prior to attending law school, students with undergraduate degrees in international studies can seek jobs as paralegals.
- The Peace Corps – the Peace Corps sends Americans abroad, typically for two year terms to developing countries are those in political or economic turmoil, to help the people of other countries work toward economic and social development. Volunteers often work alone in physically demanding conditions, and get independent management experience at a young age, making their experiences highly valued by employers hiring for international jobs.
- Journalism – with the increased prominence of cable and Internet news, there is increased demand for journalists with backgrounds in international affairs and business experience as well as foreign language skills to work as foreign news correspondents.
- International Business – the multidisciplinary nature of international studies graduates make them ideal matches for lucrative careers in international business, given their foreign language skills, political and cultural knowledge base, and background in economics.
- Finance – many international relations graduates use their foreign language and economic skills for global financial analysis: assessing the economic performance of companies and industries for firms and institutions to invest in a globalized market, working as security analysts, investment analysts, portfolio managers, fund managers, risk managers, financial advisors and wealth managers. A bachelor’s degree is acceptable for entry-level positions in this field, with most in finance eventually seeking an MBA.
Whether you intend to pursue a career in government, business, non-profit organizations, international media, or law, careers with an international scope require a conceptual grasp of history and contemporary events, the ability to relate specific cases to general patterns, basic skills in economic and political analysis, knowledge of other cultures and languages, the ability to analyze events across cultural or national lines, clear presentation of ideas both orally and in writing, a professional vocabulary and creative problem-solving skills. Consequently, stellar academic credentials and writing samples, such as the senior thesis written about the area in which you would like to specialize, are crucial to beginning a successful career in international relations.
Undergraduates should also take full advantage of the internship opportunities provided by Johns Hopkins’ close proximity to Washington D.C. Internships of all kinds are a necessity to demonstrate practical experience in a professional setting. Extra-curricular activities such as Model U.N. and Mock Trial are also well-regarded by employers and admissions officers at graduate school, as are all extra-curricular and volunteer activities that demonstrate teamwork, time management skills and concern for the community at large.
Hopkins International Studies alumni go into a variety of career fields. Since 2003 the Career Center has surveyed recent graduates about their academic and career plans 6 months after graduation. Here is a summary of their responses.
Hopkins Alumni in International Studies
Audrey M Reynolds- Director of College Counseling, Friends Seminary, International Studies, Class of 1993
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - Actually through my volunteer work with admissions. I loved the work and the people in the office; it was a natural fit.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I have worked in college admissions and counseling my entire career. CMU, JHU, NYU, Dwight-Englewood School, Friends Seminary. Every movement was an advancement in title and responsibility, and every school added cache to my resume.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - After graduation I was hired as an admissions counselor at CMU in large part because of my experience in admissions at Hopkins, which is a similar school in many respects.
- What advice do you have for current students, especially freshmen and sophomores? - Try different things academically and in your extracurricular activities; find what you love to do/ what you enjoy spending time doing; get real experiences to build a resume; it is never too early to start networking.
- What is your typical day like? - My hours are usually 8am-5pm. I have a lot of evening commitments though and during the fall I am writing recommendations constantly at night and on weekends. I work year round even though I am in a school, but summers are pretty mellow and the hours are shorter and no evening or weekend work.
- What's most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Rewarding: I get to work with young people as they make the transition onto higher education, to greater independence, to their future. I find that exciting and rewarding. Challenging: There is actually a great deal of pressure being a college counselor, particularly one at an independent school in NYC. Managing student, parent, and board expectations can be challenging in these unusually competitive times.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Admissions Counselor or Assistant College Counselor. I recommend starting on the college side, particularly for people interested ultimately in becoming counselors in independent schools. Volunteer in the admissions office now.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - As the demographics change, the field will change. As the number of HS seniors rises and falls, competitiveness will follow, making the field easier or harder depending on which side of the fence you are on.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Relevant experience in college admissions. Outgoing, good with students, strong analysis skills, strong writing skills, good listener, diplomatic, organized, a sense of humor.
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - Depends on which side of things. College- 2 yrs assistant director, 5 yrs sr assistant.
- Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - Employment- Carney, Sandoe. Career- NACAC, local organizations.
General Counsel, Tribeca Enterprises LLC,
International Studies, Class of 1992,
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - My original plan was to pursue a 5 year BA/MA at SAIS, but I decided sophomore year that a career in the foreign service was not for me. Law school was a natural fallback
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - In retrospect, a few decisions were pivotal to my ending up the General Counsel of an entertainment company--the common thread between them is that in each case, I followed my own instinct/interests rather than the safer course:
(1) I chose to attend NYU Law School over other schools, even though the other schools had offered me full or partial scholarships (the other schools were well-reputed, but they did not match the caliber of students and diversity of media law courses as NYU).
(2) While other law school students took summer associate positions at BIG, top-tier law firms, I spent my 2nd summer as an associate in a SMALL summer program at a respected NYC entertainment law boutique (the perks and paycheck weren't as good, but I got more hands-on experiences)
(3) Early on in my career (after practicing for < 1 year), I made the switch from litigation to transactional law and from practicing in NY to practicing in CA; even though the lateral move meant I had to take a 2nd bar exam and also resulted in losing a year of seniority, it lead me to a practice I (still) love
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - I went straight to law school; I still practice law
- What advice do you have for current students, especially freshmen and sophomores? - Try courses outside your comfort zone; figure out what study habits work best for you and stick with them even when everyone else is telling you to try something else (that is, some people learn more by listening at lectures, others--like me---need to actually read the course materials)
- What is your typical day like? - It is rare that I have a dedicated day (or even a block of hours) to concentrate on one project---each day is a constant juggle of calls, deal analysis, drafts, office meetings, long-term strategy planning and management/admin work. Since my company is so diverse, I also probably research a new (to me!) area of law every couple of weeks.
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? -
Rewarding: The type of practice I have feels very productive, and also collaborative since I work with the business team so closely
Challenging: TIME ---especially balancing work with family/friend time
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Positions: legal intern, paralegal, associate.
I don't believe universal tips work --everybody has their own special strengths/weaknesses they bring to the equation. Maybe the tip is just to try to recognize what those are and highlight the strengths/work on the weaknesses
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - No change, same benefits but same obstacles too
- What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Transactional lawyers need to be able to draft/communicate--that is, to tell the story of the deal as they want it to appear, both on paper and to the business teams on each side. Actual research abilities are less important (but are essential for litigators)
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - Assuming entry level means 1st year after law school, a 2nd year attorney in NYC at a big law firm makes $200,000+/year. After that, career progression as well as pay is usually lock-step: colleagues the same "year" make the same salary, up until partnership (which in NYC, generally occurs around your 10th-12th year). An alternative path, like the one I took, is to go "in-house"--that is, work in the legal department of a company or government agency rather than a law firm. In that case, the pay is less but there are in my opinion more than enough other "pros".
- Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - The entertainment law sections of the American Bar Association and their respective state and city bar associations; the American Corporate Counsel Association
- What related occupations and industries would you would recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Journalism, business development, product/project management
Linda S. Mirsky- Brenneman,
International Studies and Spanish, Class of 1990,
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? -
Love travel, foreign languages.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - Went to law school right after college, earned my law degree, clerked for a judge and then went into private practice. Ultimately became partner in my firm
- What advice do you have for current students, especially freshmen and sophomores? - College is time for exploring lots of areas of study, find what interests you, be passionate about the area that ultimately focus on, you'll hopefully be in it for a long time so make sure you really enjoy it. Take advantage of all the clubs, activities that JHU has to offer, don't get pigeon holed in one thing, for example if you are in a sorority or fraternity, sometime go beyond that group and see what else is going on campus or get to know others who are not in your sorority/fraternity.
- What is your typical day like? - BUSY - long days, typically 12-14 hours. Providing clients legal counseling in all aspects of environmental law, whether it be litigation, contractual or regulatory.
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? -
Rewarding: Helping people, solving problems.
Challenging: Dealing with adversaries, demanding clients, long hours.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Associate - do well in law school, take advantage of internships or externships to gain experience
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Many new areas of environmental law - energy for one will grow.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Good analytical skill, good writing skills, interest in helping people, ability to deal with difficult people.
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - Still an associate. I think the average partnership track is 8 to 10 years.
- Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - ABA,
State Bar Association; But these are geared toward practicing attorneys.
- What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - The great thing about a law degree is that you can do almost anything with it.
Additional Alumni Profiles
Networking with alumni and other professionals who work in these fields can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Use Johns Hopkins Connect to contact alumni to ask for their advice. You may also find professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family.
For more information on what you can do with an International Studies Major go to What can I do with a major in International Studies.
Want to know more? Read our Hopkins Career Profiles on Public Policy, Finance, Journalism, and Nonprofit.
If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.
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The Career Center is here to help you navigate the graduate school search process. Click here for guidelines and preparing for Graduate School and Professional School.
For information on the specific programs, the best people to talk to are the experts in your field you wish to study, faculty members and graduate students in that specific discipline. We strongly encourage you to talk with your advisor and other faculty members with whom you have a good working relationship. This will also help when you request letters of recommendation. The Career Center has a handout to guide you in asking for letters of recommendation.
Johns Hopkins maintains an active chapter of Sigma Iota Rho, the International Studies Honors Society, dedicated to promoting and rewarding scholarship and service among students and practitioners of international studies, and to foster integrity and creative performance in the conduct of world affairs.
There are innumerable professional associations devoted to certain areas of international relations, given its interdisciplinary and multicultural nature. Some of these include the American Foreign Service Association, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Foreign Policy Association.
General International Studies Related Websites