"I am really interested in civics, politics, international affairs and related, but I don’t know what I can do if I major in it. My school offers an international studies degree, but what can I actually do with that? Would I be working in the CIA or the DOD or something cool like that, or would I end up in a classroom teaching? Or in sales or something like that? I don’t want to end up in a boring career because I majored in something interesting but impractical."
Asked by Dave from Gaithersburg, MD on December 26, 2013
A degree in international studies is actually pretty broad, so a lot will depend on the classes you decide to take and the route you pursue. An internship may also help you to get on the right track toward what you want to do. Fortunately you are in a great location to be studying international affairs. You are right near the nation’s capital, and you may be able to commute to an internship at a government agency. That may help you to snag one of those “interesting” careers you are thinking about. Keep in mind that government agencies like the CIA have a lot more requirements for their recruiting than just having a degree. You may need prior experience in a related field, and you need to have an absolutely stellar record in every respect.
Only a minority of international studies majors actually end up working in the CIA, DOD, FBI, and so on. There are all kinds of places you could potentially end up. According to Portland State University for example, graduates from the international studies program there have ended up working as news reporters traveling abroad, cultural specialists at healthcare companies, managers at various firms, international trade researchers, marketing consultants, and more. Numerous companies in many different sectors need advice regarding different cultures, languages, and political situations to market their products and services. Some graduates did go on to roles in the FBI, NSA, or United Nations.
Since you are very particular about what you are going to do after you graduate, I suggest that you come up with a specific game plan when you enter the program. Spend some time with an advisor discussing your options, and start investigating internships which are offered in your area. Geography truly is on your side, since you are physically within range of many exciting potential employers, some of whom may be looking for fresh recruits out of your college’s international studies program. Doing well in your academic program will help you stand out among the other internship candidates.
The more work experience you can get and the more professional connections you can make, the better positioned you will be to get one of those exciting jobs after you graduate. Keep in mind though that even if you do not get to work for the CIA, you may still find many travel opportunities open to you working for other government agencies and corporations.