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Careers in International Relations

CAREERS IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
By Roy Licklider and Edward Rhodes

Many Rutgers students are attracted to the idea of pursuing some sort of career in international affairs.  Such careers are possible – Rutgers graduates can be found around the world, in positions that affect the functioning of our national and global political, economic, social, and cultural system in a wide variety of ways.  Unless one is extraordinarily lucky, however, such careers do not just “happen.”  They are the result of serious thinking, serious planning, and serious preparation.  Indeed, it is difficult to get many interesting “starting jobs” in international relations with only a B.A. degree.  Many students find that either graduate education of some sort or direct job experience -- or both -- is necessary.

Anyone considering employment in international affairs should think seriously about the moral implications of their work.  Whether one is working for the United States government, for an international organization such as the International Monetary Fund or World Bank, for a nongovernmental organization such as Greenpeace or Doctors Without Borders, for a transnational corporation such as Exxon or Nestle, or for an international bank like Citicorp or UBS, one’s actions will deeply affect the lives of others, some of whom may live far away and some of whom may be relatively powerless.  Foreign activities may literally mean the difference between life and death for people. Rutgers faculty members have widely different opinions about how best to think about such issues and how work for various types of actors or agencies will raise these issues in your life and will be glad to talk to you about them.


TYPES OF CAREERS

It is not uncommon for people in international affairs to move from one type of career to another, from government to business, for example. Where one starts in one’s career is not a “forever” choice.  Nonetheless, it seems useful to at least sketch the outlines of some of the major alternatives.  A more detailed discussion of these possibilities is Careers in International Affairs edited by Laura Cressey, Barrett Helmer, and Jennifer Steffensen.

  • Foreign Service

The best-known international career is undoubtedly diplomacy. The lead institution here is the Foreign Service of the United States. This group of about 3,000 people staffs American embassies abroad and the State Department in Washington.  The State Department’s website offers a useful explanation of the Foreign Service:  https://careers.state.gov/work/foreign-service/officer.

The Foreign Service offers an attractive career, but several important observations are in order.  

First, while the number of new foreign service officers (FSOs) recruited each year varies dramatically according to the needs of the service, the selection process is always extremely rigorous and highly competitive. Admission to the Foreign Service is by examination.  There are no formal education requirements.  The first step in the examination process is a written exam.  Traditionally this exam was given only once a year; more recently it has been offered as frequently as three times a year.  Applicants who do sufficiently well on the written exam will be invited back for a face-to-face, oral examination process.  A full explanation of the examination process can be downloaded at:  https://careers.state.gov/downloads/download-center.

Second, even if one is eventually admitted into the Foreign Service, the admission process is likely to take much or all of a year.  Applicants will need to have something to keep themselves busy in the meantime, even if they are ultimately admitted.

Third, the Foreign Service is divided into several “tracks” – political, economic, consular, management, public information.  Entry into the Foreign Service in some of these tracks is much more difficult than in other tracks.  Or, looking at it the other way, entry into the Foreign Service in some of these tracks is much easier than in other tracks.  Students who are absolutely sure that they want to be FSOs may want, for example, to think seriously about preparing themselves for the economic track or the management track.  

Fourth, the Foreign Service seeks to be as diverse as America.  At least at times in recent years the Foreign Service has been particularly concerned about minority recruitment.

Fifth, being an FSO is, in important ways, like being a military officer.  Although one has some freedom in requesting specific postings, one goes where one is ordered to go.  Remember that the United States maintains embassies in places one doesn’t often think about – Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; Libreville, Gabon; Vientiane, Laos – and in places which may be violent – Mogadishu, Somalia; Rangoon/Naypyidaw, Burma; Kabul, Afghanistan.  While for nearly all postings, FSOs are allowed to bring their families, this is not always the case.  And postings are typically only for one to three years – which may seem either too short or too long.  Just about the time one is putting down roots, one is uprooted.  (Indeed this is deliberate – the Foreign Service doesn’t want its officers to feel too at home.)  Subsequent postings may – indeed are likely to be – in very different parts of the world.  And postings back in Washington regularly intervene.   This is a wonderful way to discover the world in all its complexities.  It is, however, also very hard on family life.  Spouses may find it difficult to pursue careers with these frequent moves; children may have to go to boarding schools.

Sixth, the Foreign Service will teach you the languages you will need to know – and, as already noted, it will decide where to post you, and this post may or may not take advantage of languages you already know.  This said, if you want a career as an FSO, you may want to study some languages, if only to get in the practice of learning them and to assure yourself that you do indeed have a facility for learning them.

Seventh, the process of applying for the Foreign Service is interesting and free.  So nothing is lost by pursuing this option.  But, realistically, one should also consider other options.

Eighth, many FSOs enter the foreign service in mid-life, after a successful (or not-so-successful) career doing other things, not infrequently as lawyers.  Useful books on the subject are Career Diplomacy:   Life and Work in the U.S. Foreign Service by Harry W. Kopp and Charles A. Gillespie and Inside a U.S. Embassy:  How the Foreign Service Works For America by the American Foreign Service Association.

  • Civil Service Positions in the State Department

Many of the people who work in the State Department are not FSOs.  They are in the Civil Service, just as individuals in other federal agencies are.  Most of these State Department employees are in Washington, but they also work in various other locations around the country and, in unusual cases, at embassies abroad.  The State Department describes this employment in its website at: https://careers.state.gov/civil-service. Applicants for civil service positions in the State Department apply for specific openings.  For an explanation of the application process, see:  https://careers.state.gov/faqs.

  • Other Government Agencies

The bulk of people working in international affairs in Washington work for agencies other than the State Department. Unfortunately there is no single recruiting device such as the Foreign Service exam for these organizations. The biggest employees are the Defense Department (both military and civilian) and the intelligence organizations, particularly the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. Civilians hired by the Defense Department tend to be people with particular specialties; advanced degrees are usually required. Given the informal hiring process, actual job experience, which in practice means internships, is very important.  The Defense Department’s job website can be accessed through:  http://www.defenselink.mil/sites/c.html#civjobs.

Intelligence careers can be divided into analysts (people who work with secret material trying to decide its significance) and clandestine operators. Anyone interested in such positions may want to look at the books Analyzing Intelligence:  National Security Practioners’ Perspectives by Roger George and James Bruce and Careers in Secret Operations by David Atlee Phillips. The Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency both hire junior-level career people on the basis of exams; you should contact each agency separately to see what their current needs and procedures are. They also hire a lot of people with particular skills for analysis, usually with advanced degrees. They seem to be particularly interested in exotic languages, geographic area specializations, economics, mathematics, computer science, engineering, and physical science. Again internships are particularly useful here.  The CIA has a very useful job website at:  https://www.cia.gov/careers. This site gives a good sense of the range of skills that the intelligence agencies are looking for.  The NSA’s job website is at:  http://www.nsa.gov/careers/.  Other intelligence agencies also recruit, frequently for individuals with very specialized or technical skills.

A point worth emphasizing for Rutgers students who may be thinking about a government career like this is that the combination of a strong background in political science with some other set of skills or body of knowledge may be particularly valuable – whether it is the mastery of a “less commonly taught” language (for example, Chinese, Arabic, Farsi, or Russian – or one of the really unusual languages, like those of Central Asia), or of the economics needed to do sophisticated analyses of other societies, or of the biological, physical, or mathematical sciences associated with policy issues like pandemics, deforestation, global warming, rocket propulsion, or satellite imagery.  The combination of a strong liberal arts/political science education with some sort of additional knowledge/skill set often jump-starts a career.

For students with strong mathematical aptitude, training in economics is often valuable.

Many "domestic" executive agencies have international activities or offices; these are often small, but sometimes they offer interesting opportunities. Commerce, for example, is concerned with foreign trade, Agriculture with farm exports, Justice with international legal issues, etc.

  • The Military

The U.S. military services play an important role in the execution of American foreign policy.   Although the number of former military officers who have gone on to pursue other careers in government has declined with the retirement of the generation of officers who served in World War II and Korea, military service is still a not-unusual path to other careers in international relations.  Information about military careers can be obtained from the ROTC groups on campus, and the heavy responsibilities given to young officers are often valued by future employers.

  • Congress

The number of people on Congressional staffs concerned with international affairs has greatly increased in the past few years. There is no single recruiting process for such jobs; people are selected on the basis of contacts, past experience, and educational qualifications, roughly in that order. Internships are crucial for anyone interested in these sorts of positions.

  • The United Nations

The United Nations, located in New York City, is a fascinating place to work, and it has lots of employees. However, jobs on its permanent staff are allocated on the basis of national quotas, since it is clearly inappropriate to have most jobs held by citizens of one of its members, and therefore it is difficult for American citizens to get hired.  If you have dual citizenship, or hold citizenship in some nation other than the United States, this may expand the possibilities open to you.

UN agencies – some as large and as well known as the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), or the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), and some as small and unfamiliar as International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh or the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -- also employ individuals to work in locations around the world.  Again, most of these positions require specialized skills, but if you are looking to work outside the United States you may want to consider openings listed at:  http://unjobs.org/.

  • The IMF and the World Bank

While the bulk of the professionals working at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) are economists, these international organizations, which play critical roles in promoting international economic stability and development, also employ non-economists in a variety of roles.  Professionals working as economists typically have a Ph.D. in economics or intend to pursue one.  Both organizations are headquartered in Washington.  For information on careers at the IMF, see:  http://www.imf.org/external/about.htm.  For information on careers at the World Bank, see:  http://www.worldbank.org/en/about. The World Bank offers a highly competitive “Young Professionals” program for recruiting top college graduates into the Bank.   It also has a special “Junior Professionals Program for Afro-Descendants.”  Information on both can be found at Bank’s website.

  • The Private Sector:  Consultants

There are a large number of private research groups (often known as the Beltway Bandits, from their location on the Beltway highway around Washington and their dependence on government contracts) with interests in foreign affairs. Many of these specialize in working with particular government agencies, such as the Department of Defense.  Hiring is informal, so internships are important for anyone interested.

Major national and international consulting firms can offer a high-profile, intensive way to get experience dealing with the problems experienced by major transnational businesses, foreign governments, and other players on the world stage.  Some of the big names in this field include PricewaterhouseCoopers (http://www.pwc.com), Booz Allen Hamilton (http://www.boozallen.com/careers), McKinsey (http://www.mckinsey.com/careers/is_mckinsey_right_for_me/backgrounds_like_yours/bachelors_degree.aspx), and Bain (http://www.joinbain.com/). These consulting firms have offices in America and around the world.  Again, they are frequently looking for individuals with strong backgrounds in math and economics, or in business, or with special skills in languages or in the biological, physical, or mathematical sciences.

Lobbying organizations of every political stripe, with interests in foreign affairs, also operate in Washington.  Internships are likely to be critical in getting the foot in the door at many of these organizations.

  • The Private Sector:  Transnational Business

Transnational (or “multinational”) corporations play a prominent role in current international affairs. Most Americans tend to think in terms of working abroad for an American corporation, but in fact there may well be better opportunities working in the U. S., either for an American or perhaps even a foreign firm (of course, that may not be what you think of as an international job).

American corporations used to send significant numbers of Americans abroad, where they were often something of a trial. They were expensive, had a high failure rate (sometimes as high as 50%), didn't want to stay long, didn't know the language, and often alienated foreigners. Moreover, the corporations didn't know how to use the people with international experience when they got back and often essentially punished them for going abroad. Thus most corporations moved to develop indigenous managers (Norwegians to run Exxon Norway, Nigerians for the Coca Cola branch in Nigeria, etc.) and to reduce the role of Americans abroad.

Recently there has been something of a reaction against this trend, although different corporations have different policies. The number of Americans being sent abroad is certainly smaller than it used to be; better selection and training has reduced the failure rate. People with particular technical skills are often sent abroad. In addition many companies are re-developing international assignments for their fast-track managers because of the importance of foreign markets. It is unlikely that you will be sent abroad by a large American company unless you fall into one of these two categories.

The other side of the coin, of course, is that foreign companies doing business in the U. S. hire lots of Americans. Moreover, an increasing percentage of American corporations do business abroad, so much "normal business" in the U. S. involves international issues. In general, if you want to go into business, you need a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree from the best business school you can get into; this degree and some alternatives are discussed later. If you're interested in working for a foreign company, knowledge of its language and culture can be invaluable, but it is no substitute for business training. Nobody is going to hire you just because you know the appropriate language; they have to also think you will raise their profits.

Many transnational businesses also maintain large offices to evaluate business opportunities with foreign governments or in foreign markets, or to lobby governments, particularly the American government.

  • The Private Sector:  International Banking and Finance

Among businesses, international banks have been the most willing to hire people without business degrees; they expect to have to train you regardless of your background. Another alternative is analyzing the political risks of investments in particular countries.  An MBA degree is common.

  • The Private Sector:  Non-Profits, NGO's PVO's

There are literally thousands of private, nongovernmental organizations which work in international affairs.  Some of these call themselves nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), some call themselves private voluntary organizations (PVOs).  Some are religious in origin; others are entirely secular. Some are quite large, others are minuscule.  Some focus on a particular country or region; others are global in outlook.  Some focus on a particular, narrow, issue; others have more widely ranging interests.  Some principally lobby governments; others work in the field; others disperse information or promote research.  Some are associated with more radical politics; some are conservative in outlook or mainstream in approach.  They share a lack of direct government control and general concern for humanitarian issues. Prominent examples include Oxfam, Catholic Relief Services, Doctors Without Borders, Greenpeace, The Nature Conservancy, and Amnesty International. The American government administers some foreign aid through some of these agencies, and they have been prominent in such issues as famine relief in Africa. Many of these organizations employ small permanent staffs; recruitment is often based on previous performance as a volunteer. Salaries are low, but many people find the work extremely rewarding. A useful book is Working World:  Careers in International Education, Exchange, and Development by Sherry Lee Mueller and Mark Overmann.

  • University and College Teaching and Research

Universities serve, among other things, as repositories for international expertise. Faculty work within departments, usually organized around the major disciplines such as economics, political science, and history. Their job consists of teaching (communicating skills and knowledge to students) and research (creating new knowledge and communicating it to others). University faculty usually have a great deal of freedom in selecting what they will research and teach, enabling them to develop specialized knowledge in a wide variety of areas.

For the past twenty years or so, university teaching jobs have been quite scarce, making it hard to encourage undergraduates to aim toward such careers. In addition, increasingly colleges and universities are meeting their teaching needs by hiring “adjuncts” – often fully qualified academics who are being hired on a piecework basis so the number of full-time faculty positions becoming available may be small.  

For students interested in an academic career, the only relevant degree is the Ph.D.; go to the most famous university you can get into, and you won't go far wrong. (See also the discussion of Political Science graduate programs below).


INTERNSHIPS

Internships are a critical supplement to any sort of educational background to get interesting jobs in international affairs. Because of the informal hiring processes, personal contacts are indispensable. Most Rutgers students don't have close relatives high up in these organizations; internships are the next best thing. Internships give students direct experience in job situations. Students learn for themselves whether they like this sort of work and what is required to make a career in it. Often they also get direct job offers. If not, they make personal contacts and get recommendations from job supervisors; if nothing else, they have something on their record which distinguishes them from the thousands of other people who will graduate with B.A. degrees from state universities at the same time. Unfortunately the word has gotten out, and now internships seem to be necessary just to keep up with the competition rather than stand out.

Two general rules of internships: anything is better than nothing, and the longer the better. Summer internships are the most common, and if that's all you can get, take it. However, you should be aware of some limitations of summer internships. Moreover, summer interns are so common that they are often used by offices as clerical labor, people to run xerox machines, address envelopes, etc. Many students use the experience for socializing, which is fine but detracts from the image of those with more serious interests. Lastly, so many students take summer internships now that employers are less impressed than previously.

  • Rutgers Washington Internships

A better alternative, if you can swing it, is the Rutgers Washington Semester internship program, run by the Political Science Department. You spend an entire semester (fall or spring) working 35 to 40 hours a week at your internship site. (The Rugers Washington Internship program also runs during the summer term – per above, this is probably less good than a full semester-long term, but much better than nothing.)  Rutgers does not have personnel stationed in Washington full time; the Program is run in conjunction with The Washington Center and the Washington Internship Institute, non-profit organizations which conduct internship programs for universities across the country. Once you state your specific areas of interest through your application essay, the Center or Institute will find several suitable internship sites from which you may choose including many private organizations concerned with international affairs. Unfortunately, because of the overwhelming obstacles presented by security clearance procedures for interns, Rutgers students will not be placed in the State Department, the Department of Defense, or AID. (The State Department has internships both in Washington and in large embassies around the world -- apply directly to them.) There are hundreds of other internship sites available. Generally, you will receive more responsibility and hands-on experience in these other organizations because they are not large scale bureaucracies and your work is not limited by your lack of a high level security clearance.

In addition to your internship work, you are required to take one of the academic courses offered by the Center or the Institute; attend several speaker series and small group sessions, and submit a term paper to the Rutgers faculty supervising the internship program. For the regular, fall or spring semester, you receive 15 credits for the program, 6 of which may be counted toward a Political Science major. You need not be a Political Science major to participate in the program. The one significant drawback to the program is that it is not cheap, although costs to the student have been recently reduced. Including housing provided by the Washington Center, fall and spring semester costs are approximately $10,000 for in-state students plus food, local transportation, laundry, and pocket money. For further information, click here.

  • Internships in the New Jersey/New York Area

While most internships in the New Jersey/New York area are likely to be less immediately or less visibly relevant to a career in international relations, at the margin any experience working in a governmental, political, administrative, or legal setting is likely to provide useful insights and skills.  Beyond this, though, with careful hunting it is possible that you may find an internship that may be more directly tied to long term interests – for example, with the state’s department of homeland security, with consulates in New York, or with organizations tied to the United Nations.  If an internship in Washington is not possible for you, at least consider getting internship experience in the New Jersey/New York area.

  • International Experience: Study, Work and the Peace Corps

Internships in Washington (or in the New Jersey/New York area) are extremely useful, but they are not the same as experience abroad, and such experience can be very valuable in getting jobs. Rutgers does not have an international internship program, but there are several options to consider. You can spend a semester abroad studying in practically any country you choose, either in one of the Rutgers Study Abroad programs or by participating in programs sponsored by other American universities. (Especially if you are studying abroad as part of a non-Rutgers program, be sure to consult with your deans before you go, to make sure all of the necessary paperwork is taken care and that the credits will transfer as easily as you think they will and will meet the Rutgers requirements that you think they will meet.)  It is also possible to work abroad, although this is sometimes difficult because of local laws: volunteer service is often a better bet. Extensive information on both of these options is available at the Resource Center at the office of the Center for Global Education, 102 College Avenue, CAC. For further information about the Rutgers Study Abroad program, click here.

Where should you go abroad?  There is no right answer to this question, but two factors to bear in mind are the value of getting experiences as different as possible from those you can acquire here in America and the value of creating in yourself a maximally designed piece of human capital.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with spending a semester or year abroad in Paris, London, Dublin, Florence, Madrid, or Australia.  But these are places where you will always be able to take holidays.  So at least consider other, more different places.  The world is large and exciting.  And, at the same time, think about the overall package of skills and experiences you are building into yourself.  If you are studying Japanese or Hindi, does it make sense to go to Florence (as lovely as Florence is)?  If you have been studying the problem of deforestation and issues of sustainable development in the tropics, is Oxford really the optimal choice?    

After college, the Peace Corps is an option worth seriously considering. The Peace Corps is an agency of the U.S. government which sends Americans abroad, usually for two years to Third World countries, to help the people of other countries toward economic and social development. Volunteers often work on their own in rigorous physical conditions. Aside from living abroad, Peace Corps people get independent management experience at a very early age. As a result, Peace Corps experience is highly valued by employers hiring for international jobs.  Admission to the Peace Corps is very competitive. For information see: http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=pchq.jobs.


POST-COLLEGE EDUCATIONAL TRACKS

There is no single educational path to international jobs; in fact, it's quite common for people in the same position to have very different sorts of educational backgrounds. Moreover, there are a lot of people in interesting jobs with only B.A. degrees (and sometimes without them). However, either graduate education or experience (preferably both) is usually essential to get access to these positions.

Graduate programs come in two general types:  professional and academic.  Professional study is, as the name implies, designed to prepare individuals for a profession.  If one wants to be a lawyer, one needs to go to law school.  If one wants to be a doctor, one needs to go to medical school.  If one wants to be a businessman or an architect or an urban planner, it helps to go to business school, or graduate school in architecture, or graduate school in urban planning.  Although there is some variation (the JD degree is, for example, a “doctorate,” and an MD is a “doctorate”), most professional schools principally offer master’s degrees; the course of study is typically fairly standardized; and the course of study typically takes one to three years.  

Academic degrees, by contrast, are designed to prepare individuals for a life in academia – in research and in college- or university-level teaching.  Academic degrees are most typically offered in traditional disciplines – for example, political science, economics, history, sociology.  While an MA degree may be awarded along the way, academic programs are typically geared toward the Ph.D. degree.  A terminal MA degree in a traditional academic discipline is often a “going away” prize for students who discover that they don’t really want to pursue the academic life, who have been strongly discouraged by their program from continuing, or who have decided to shift their studies to another university or field.  An MA degree in a typical academic discipline typically does not offer much market value.  Completion of a Ph.D. typically involves the completion of several years of coursework, successful passing of broad “general” or “comprehensive” exams, and then the completion of a major, book-length piece of independent research called a thesis or dissertation.  Total time to complete this work varies:  in rare cases, students manage to finish all their doctoral work in four years, but five to eight years is more common, and it is not at all rare for doctoral study to take ten or twelve years.

“International relations,” of course, is not a (single, unitary) profession.  Individuals working in the field of international relations may come from, and use the knowledge and tools of, a variety of professions.  Or they may be academics, or use academic training to work in international relations by advancing our general knowledge of the forces and behavioral patterns that may be at work.

  • Law School

A lot of very senior people in international affairs are lawyers, but in general law school is probably not the most efficient way to start a career in international affairs. Law school is three years of a curriculum which is mostly irrelevant to international relations. It is hard to get into good law schools, and there is usually no financial aid except for loans. It's true that you may be able to get an interesting non-legal job with a law degree, since employers figure you must be reasonably intelligent if you have survived law school, but there are other alternatives. If you want to be a lawyer, go to law school. If you don't, think seriously about the alternatives.

There is a good deal of confusion about international law as a career. It is convenient to divide international law into public and private. Public international law is concerned with whether or not the behavior of governments corresponds with international law, whether the American invasion of Panama was legal, for example. This is what the term international law means to most people, but there are very few institutions which will pay people to do such analysis. The State Department keeps about eighty lawyers on staff for this purpose, but most of the other people in the field teach in universities (probably as many in Political Science Departments as in law schools).  Other government agencies dealing with international matters also employ lawyers:  the Commerce Department or the Office of the Trade Representative, for example, may need lawyers to figure out correct legal procedures for handling anti-dumping complaints, and the Defense Department will use lawyers not only to review its own purchases of jet fighters from Boeing or Lockheed Martin but to review its sale of used equipment to foreign allies.  But, again, the number of such lawyers is limited, and the work is not likely to be as glamorous as, say, bringing peace to the Middle East.

Most international lawyers are concerned with private international law, how individuals and corporations can carry on transactions within different and sometimes conflicting legal systems. If a tanker registered in Liberia and owned by a company in the Bahamas carrying a load of oil owned by an American corporation hits a Russian submarine and dumps its oil onto Belgian beaches, who pays what to whom? Private international law is popular because people and organizations will pay money to get answers to these sorts of questions. This kind of work in turn sometimes leads to other things; international lawyers often serve as representatives for multinational corporations to the public and governments, a kind of business diplomatic corps. Nonetheless, international law is a fairly minor branch of law, and this is reflected in law school curricula; if you get two international law courses in three years, you'll be doing well. (The University of Iowa seems to be an exception; it is advertising a more extensive program in international and comparative law.)  A useful discussion is Careers in International Law by the Section of International Law of the American Bar Association.

On balance, then, law school is the best alternative for anyone who wants to practice private international law, but you must remember that you have to be a lawyer first and an international lawyer second. If you want to study public international law, you may actually do better in a Ph.D. program in Political Science specializing in international law, although there are very few places in the U.S. where this is a serious alternative; your career will presumably involve working in a university as a teacher-researcher, either in Political Science or, less likely, in law school.

One option for individuals who are absolutely certain that they want to work on public international law, or who would like to practice private international law with a possible eye to later government service, is to pursue a combined JD/MPA or JD/MPP degree.  More on the MPA and MPP degrees below, but this option involves gaining separate admission to the two programs.  Typically a semester is shaved from the law school curriculum and a semester is shaved from the MPA or MPP curriculum, and the entire process takes four years.

There is no pre-law curriculum in the United States; essentially law schools will take you regardless of your major if your grade point average and law board scores are high enough. Inasmuch as curriculum makes a difference, they prefer students with broad interests in the liberal arts and tend to frown on pre-professional degrees. In particular they recommend that you do not take law courses before you get to law school, arguing (probably correctly) that we will just teach you incorrectly and that they will have to undo all the damage we have caused. However, anyone interested in law school should take one course which requires intensive reading of cases, just to see if you can tolerate it for three years, since that is what you do in law school. Such courses can be found in the Political Science Department at the 300 and 400 level.

  • Graduate Business Schools

Law school is often attractive to students who want to get an "interesting" job but don't want to be lawyers. For such students business school is often a better bet. It takes two rather than three years, it is a little easier to get into a good one (being female helps in business school admissions; law schools admissions are mostly sex-blind), and there are still jobs for new MBA graduates (although for several years there have been rumblings that this market also will be saturated). The jobs aren't limited to corporations either; American business schools claim to teach management, the coordination of people and resources to accomplish a given goal, which is what all large organizations try to do. As a result, government and even non-profit institutions are hiring business school graduates for jobs which, twenty years ago, would probably have gone to lawyers. Most people now assume that MBA graduates, like lawyers, are intelligent, and as a bonus they may even have some useful skills.

Unlike law schools, most business schools have a separate department called International Business. However, these departments are not usually highly regarded within their own schools, in part because they do not rely heavily on econometrics and are therefore thought to be "soft." Moreover, there are very few jobs for new MBAs with International Business majors. As explained above very few young Americans are now sent abroad by corporations. Therefore you have to get hired by the corporation for your substantive skills; later you can try to develop a special interest in the international side of things. The recommended strategy is to take a double major in a substantive area (marketing, finance, management, etc.) and International Business.

Among the "regular" business schools, the best by reputation are Harvard and Stanford; New York University has been cited as the best in international business, and Yale's School of Organization and Management is an interesting attempt to combine training in business and public affairs. The Rutgers Graduate School of Management in Newark is a good, although not outstanding, business school at the national level. There are also a couple of programs especially geared to students interested in international business. The American Graduate School of International Business, just outside of Phoenix, more familiarly known as Thunderbird, is the only major business school in the country not affiliated with a university, and it has developed an impressive reputation for training high quality personnel in international business. The University of South Carolina business school has developed a program which requires a foreign business internship. Both of these programs stress language competence. Their reputation also attracts recruiters looking for people with these sorts of interests. However, they offer a Masters degree which is not an MBA, which is usually a drawback. Outside of these programs, an advanced business degree that is not an MBA isn't worth much.

For many undergraduates the major drawback of graduate business school is its heavy reliance on economics and mathematics. Anyone interested in business school should take microeconomics and macroeconomics (the order doesn't matter) and several advanced economics courses to see how well they do and whether or not they are comfortable with that mode of analysis. An economics major is not necessary for graduate business school, and an undergraduate business degree is usually not recommended. Note that graduate business schools have their own standardized test, the Graduate Management Admissions Test.

  • Graduate Schools of International Affairs

Graduate schools of international affairs should not be confused with graduate programs in political science.  The distinction between a graduate program in political science on the one hand and a school of international affairs (or public policy or management, discussed below) on the other hand is sharp. Graduate programs in political science are designed to provide academic training: the required coursework and research are aimed at preparing students to become professors of political science.  Usually one of the fields of study with a graduate program in political science is “international relations.”  The study of “international relations” within a traditional, disciplinary political science department, however, focuses on understanding competing theories of international relations, learning the methods one might use for empirical testing of such theories, and mastering the extensive literature by earlier scholars dealing with various central questions of international behavior.  In other words, it is designed to prepare young scholars to do their own, independent research as university professors.  

International affairs schools, by contrast, provide professional training. Much as law schools teach their students the practical knowledge needed for a career in law, and business schools teach their students the practical knowledge required for a career in business, schools of international affairs aim to teach the management, communications, economics, statistics, and foreign language skills needed in a professional career involving international affairs. The precise name of the degree offered by these schools varies from place to place: Master's of Public Policy, Master's of Public Affairs, Master's of Public and International Affairs, Master's of International Affairs, and so forth.  The degree typically takes two years to complete (some mid-career programs are designed to be completed in one year).

Originally, some of these schools were designed to produce candidates for the Foreign Service. However, since so few applicants are accepted into the Foreign Service and since admission is now by examination, these schools have altered their focus and now try to prepare students to work for other government agencies and for international businesses as well. 

In some cases, schools of international affairs are merged with or are part of schools of public policy or management (see below).  Examples of this include Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School and Harvard’s Kennedy School.  Within these schools, there are typically one or more tracks that focus on international politics, international development, international security, and other similar international issues.

In general, the curricula at schools of international affairs stress international politics, history, and economics. There are, however, substantial differences in emphasis between various schools of international affairs. Some put relatively more stress on management skills and economic and statistical training, seeking to train generalists who can comfortably move into a variety of jobs or fields. Others put relatively more stress on language or area skills, or on specialized training in a particular policy problem (for example, international trade or arms control), in an effort to prepare students for a more narrowly-defined career track. In addition, different schools offer different geographic or policy specializations. If you are considering this educational route, you should, therefore, write to particular schools for their catalogs and compare the curricula offered.

These schools take placement seriously, an important point to consider. Typically they require (and help arrange) an appropriate internship in the summer between the two years of the program. The older and better established schools also have a considerable alumni network upon which to call. If you're interested in working for the government in international affairs, one of these schools may be your best bet. To varying degrees these schools also provide training that is useful (and is seen by potential employers as useful) in the business world, particularly in the world of international banking and finance. Certainly many graduates of international affairs schools get jobs with major corporations. It is less clear, however, whether this training is optimal for a business career and whether or not graduates of international affairs schools may have to go back to business school later on.

There are relatively few schools of international affairs. All of them are competitive for admission and the best are extremely competitive. Increasingly, the top schools strongly prefer admission candidates who have already had some relevant career experience -- for example, who have worked in Washington for a few years, have been in the Peace Corps, or have worked with an international charity, PVO, or NGO. Financial aid varies substantially from school to school typically and is based on merit rather than need.

A 2009 survey of international relations scholars by the journal Foreign Policy ranked the following programs as the top ten:  the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University; the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins; the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard; the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts; the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia; the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton; the Elliot School, George Washington University; American University, Chicago, and Syracuse.  In some specialties, however, other schools are extremely strong.  The School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IR/PS) at the University of California, San Diego, for example, is an excellent choice for anyone interested in the Pacific Basin.  The University of Texas at Austin, not surprisingly, is strong on Mexico and Latin America.  The University of Maryland has a very good program for students interested in security studies.  For students particularly interested in intelligence work, a new program, the George H.W. Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University is rapidly developing a good reputation.  The Rutgers Division of Global Affairs in Newark is a good but not outstanding school of this type.

Most of the best-known, most highly regarded, most established graduate schools of international affairs are members or (less prestigious) affiliate members of the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA).  The APSIA website (http://www.apsia.org/apsia/index.php) provides helpful information and links about its members.  There are 34 universities that are full members of APSIA, 21 of these in the United States: American, Columbia, Duke, George Washington, Georgetown, Georgia Tech, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Syracuse, Tufts, California at San Diego, Denver, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Southern California, Texas at Austin, University of Washington, and Yale.  Affiliate members include Boston, DePaul, Florida International, Fordham, George Mason, Howard, Monterey, North Carolina State, Pepperdine, Rutgers-Newark, Seton Hall, Stanford, Texas A&M, Thunderbird, Miami, and Oregon.

Many of these schools also offer combined international affairs/law degrees with selected law schools; admission to combined programs requires separate admission to both the school of international affairs and the law school.

  • Graduate Schools of Public Policy

As noted above, many graduate schools of international affairs are part of or integrated into graduate schools of public policy.  Graduate schools of public policy typically offer very similar training to graduate schools of international affairs, but may not have a clear international relations focus or international relations track. That is, they offer professional training in public policy or policy management designed to prepare students for a career in government or dealing with government but do not offer as much specialization in the particular problems of international affairs. As with the schools of international affairs discussed above, many of these are highly competitive and, again, there are curricular variations between schools so you should read their catalogs carefully. Again like the international affairs schools, the Master's programs at these schools are typically a two years long, with an internship in the intervening summer.  Combined MPA/JD or MPP/JD degrees are usually possibility.  Graduate schools of Public Policy, too, tend to take placement very seriously. If you are interested in a career in government and are interested in domestic policy issues as well as international ones, this may be the right educational track for you.  

Graduate schools of public policy vary substantially in their breadth and focus.  Some, for example, focus nearly exclusively on urban policy and urban planning; others are geared very much toward “public administration” – that is, toward training on how to carry out or implement programs efficiently, rather than on how to design optimal programs.  Before selecting a program, students should not only review the program description carefully, but discuss the program with administrators and faculty members at that program to make sure the program will actually meet the student’s interests and career aspirations.

The professional organization to which most graduate schools of public policy belong is the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM).  The APPAM website provides a list of APPAM members, links, and useful brief program descriptions: http://www.appam.org.

  • Political Science Graduate Programs

Most major American universities have a Political Science graduate program awarding a Ph.D. degree, and international relations is a field within almost all these departments. The departments also award a Masters of Arts degree, but this is not particularly useful. The Ph.D. requires two to three years of coursework, followed by comprehensive examinations and a thesis, which usually takes another year or two full-time; obviously the time will be longer if you have to go part-time because of limited resources.

The Ph.D. degree is basically a research degree. It is essential for anyone who wants to teach at a college or university, and it is often found among researchers and analysts working for the government as well. On the other hand, the degree is given in Political Science; you can concentrate in international relations, but you are required to take courses and examinations in other fields such as American government and political theory as well. Moreover, it takes longer to get than any other option discussed here, and it's not clear that it's worth the extra effort and money unless you're going into college teaching. One group of Foreign Service examiners, when asked how useful graduate school would be, said that the two to three years of coursework would be useful, but that the candidate would do better spending a couple of years in the Foreign Service than working on a doctoral dissertation. Several programs retraining people with Ph.D. degrees to go into business have been fairly successful, but this is a pretty roundabout way to get into business; if that's what you want, try for graduate business school.

A major in Political Science is not required for admission to graduate programs in the discipline, but you should take at least enough courses to decide if you want to do this full-time for a long time; the biggest difference between graduate and undergraduate work is that you have to live one subject twenty-four hours a day. Admission is usually based on grade point average, Graduate Record Examination (yet another standardized test) scores, and faculty recommendations. In general the best departments are found in the leading universities. If you want more specific guidance, talk to Political Science faculty; this is one subject they know something about, and they will be current on the varying reputations of Political Science programs around the country.

In a 2009 survey conducted by Foreign Policy magazine, professors of international relations ranked the following ten programs highest for Ph.D. study in international relations:  Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Columbia, Yale, Chicago, California at Berkeley, Michigan, California at San Diego, and MIT.


PREPARING FOR THESE CAREERS AT RUTGERS

Unlike medical school, none of these different types of schools has a very specific set of undergraduate requirements. In fact you can quite reasonably apply to all these of them at the same time with the same set of undergraduate courses, although you will wind up taking a lot of different standardized tests. This in turn means that you don't have to make any drastic choices until your senior year.

For any of these tracks, a general liberal arts background is probably the best preparation. A pre-professional degree such as business may make you somewhat less attractive but will not be a major obstacle if you do well on your standardized tests. Within liberal arts, your major is probably irrelevant, which is unfortunate since it's one of the few things you can control. You should major in the subject you like the most; you will do better in it, and you'll learn more.

There is no formal international relations major at Rutgers. Our view is that it makes sense to study international politics within the larger context of political science as a whole – that to understand in international politics it is useful also to have a solid grounding in political thought and in American politics.  Most students find they can get the courses they want by majoring in one discipline and minoring in another, related one; Political Science-History and Economics-Political Science are common combinations. There is also a combined History-Political Science major. Double majors in related areas are usually not worth the trouble because students with such programs have no room for anything else, which is silly in a liberal arts institution. It is not unusual for students interested in international affairs who know what particular region of the world most interests them to double major in Political Science and a language.  (Perhaps counter-intuitively, a double major makes most sense in areas with very little intellectual connection; several years ago a student double majored in Political Science and dance, for example, and Political Science and Biology is an unusual but occasional – and quite sensible -- combination.)

The point of a major is to provide an intellectual focus for a number of courses. An interesting alternative to the usual disciplinary major is the individual major, in which students select their own central topic, choose courses from a number of disciplines related to it, get a faculty member to supervise it, and get it approved by the appropriate committee. This is often useful, although it tends to be a little cumbersome bureaucratically, since you have to list all your courses for the rest of your college career, and then every semester some of them aren't offered or you change your mind, so you have to fill out a substitute form and get it approved. The approval is routine, but it all takes time and effort. The pattern of the Latin American studies major in the catalog is a useful guide for anyone who wants to construct an individual major in international affairs.

However, majors are not really very important; the critical thing is to get experience in a number of different areas and be able to read, write, and think well. A student seriously interested in international relations should develop a curriculum which includes the following as a minimum:

  1. Proficiency in writing English by consistently taking courses, regardless of discipline, which require paper writing;
  2. Mathematical skills, preferably through calculus;
  3. Introductory and advanced history courses;
  4. Relevant courses in Political Science;
  5. Economics at least through international economics (which will include micro and macro), preferably through international trade and finance; and
  6. Mastery of at least one foreign language, through 300 level language and literature courses.

In addition, there are a number of options which individual students may also wish to consider. One is an in-depth knowledge of a particular geographic area; the Rutgers catalog describes majors or minors in Latin American, Middle Eastern, East Asian, South Asian, African, and Russian and Eastern European studies. Cook College has a number of courses about the international environment. The language houses offer an excellent way to develop a working knowledge of a foreign language, a rather unusual ability in the United States. Disciplines like sociology, geography, comparative literature, classics, art history, philosophy, religion, and the various foreign language and literatures should not be overlooked, and people who are competent in science and international affairs are also at a premium. In general a diverse curriculum is more likely to be useful in the future than narrow specialization; you can specialize later if you choose, but at the undergraduate level it is very difficult to get any single topic in great depth.

This said, it is useful to think about your curriculum as an entirety, and to think about the package of skills, knowledge, and experiences you will be able to offer to a prospective employer or graduate school.  Not everything has to be – or should be! -- connected.  But you will be better prepared if there are some clear themes in your education and experiences, and if some of your preparation builds on itself to get you past a beginner’s level.  (For example, it probably makes sense to take two-to-four years of one language, rather than one year of two-to-four languages.)  

In many cases, it is also useful to be able to present an unusual package of skills, knowledge, and experiences.  This doesn’t (necessarily) mean weird combinations, like pre-Columbian art and rocket propulsion.  But a combination of fluency in Arabic and coursework on international security; or a knowledge of Chinese or Korean and a solid grounding in economics; or the study of Portuguese and some coursework on tropical deforestation and environmentally sustainable economic development – particularly if coupled with appropriate study abroad or internships – might jump-start a career.  Extracurricular activities, like study abroad and internships, should also be viewed as part of this entire package of preparation.  (Again, not everything needs to be done for a career reason:  if you are interested in Shakespeare or Baroque Art or Buddhist philosophy, for goodness sakes take the course!  And if you love playing the violin or field hockey, or collecting stamps or butterflies, don’t give it up simply because it doesn’t seem related to the career in Arctic conflict resolution you are dreaming about.  It is the whole person – yourself! – that you are creating.)

Don’t be hesitant about taking advantage of the special skills, knowledge, or experiences you already have, or those that, by chance, luck, or fate are easily open to you.  Many Rutgers students are blessed by being exposed to multiple languages or cultures in their families.  This is wonderful, and students should realize the very special possibilities this may open up for them.  (A few years ago, there was a young woman studying Political Science at Rutgers, with a 4.0 average.  When asked if she had any special skills, her response was “no.”  In fact, however, her family spoke Burmese at home, and she was fluent, in both spoken and written Burmese.  That’s pretty special.)  One doesn’t need to feel constrained or limited by the special skills, knowledge, or experiences one already has:  just because one is fluent in Kyrgyz doesn’t mean one has to study Central Asia, and just because one already has a pilot’s license doesn’t mean one has to use it.  But it makes sense to be aware of the special capacities one has, and to think carefully about keeping these skills up to date or polishing them.

As you think about possible careers in international relations, remember that just about any career – so long as it is legal! – is possible and open to you.  You may find it interesting to browse the Political Science Department’s website and read about the careers in international affairs of some recent Rutgers alums.

Lastly, don't be afraid to ask questions of the faculty and other professionals such as the people at Career Counseling. We may appear distant, grumpy, and unfriendly.  But if we really didn't like students, we probably would be in different jobs.


SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING

American Statecraft: The Story of the U.S. Foreign Service by J. Robert Moskin

Analyzing Intelligence: National Security Practioners’ Perspectives by Roger George and James Bruce

Careers in International Affairs edited by Laura E. Cressey, Barrett J. Helmer, and Jennifer E. Steffensen

Careers in International Law by the American Bar Association Section of International Law

Careers in Secret Operations by David Atlee Phillips

Guide to Careers in World Affairs. Foreign Policy Association, New York.

Inside a U.S. Embassy: How the Foreign Service Works For America, American Foreign Service Association

Inside the World of Diplomacy: The U.S. Foreign Service in a Changing World by Seymour Finger

International Jobs: Where They Are and How to Get Them by Nina Segal.

Outpost: Life on the Frontlines of American Diplomacy: A Memoir by Christopher Hill

Volunteer! The Comprehensive Guide to Voluntary Service Abroad. Council on International Educational Exchange, New York.

Work, Study, Travel Abroad: The Whole World Handbook. Council on International Educational Exchange, New York


Last Update: 06-02-16

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