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Careers with International Studies

A major in international studies (INST) prepares you to participate in the professional community in a variety of ways. The career possibilities are almost endless for students with INST majors, so please know that the list below is not exhaustive, but often, students who pursue either undergraduate or graduate international studies degrees go on to a diversity of positions in government and non-governmental organizations.

The jobs outlined below are specific to the international studies component of your college experience, but if you decide to pursue a career related directly to your second major at WCU, you should know that having international studies as your coordinate degree can only serve to strengthen your employment marketability. In the globalized society of the modern age, employers in every field are looking for people who understand global processes and cultures, and that knowledge is precisely what the INST major provides you.

Some of the best known career paths for INST majors include:

As a diplomat, you will travel to and live in countries across the globe, all the while representing your country. You will likely perform a variety of tasks in such a position, including working closely with local people and governments to issue visas, assisting your fellow citizens living overseas, and conferring with local and state policymakers. Diplomatic positions are HIGHLY competitive, so you must keep that in mind while choosing your classes here at WCU. Language skills, for instance, are an absolute must for diplomatic positions, and fluency is prized. If you have the chance to study abroad in an immersive language experience during your time at WCU – please do so! It will help you become more competitive for the diplomatic career path. This career path does not require a graduate degree.

E.g.: US State Department and United Nations

There are numerous positions for international studies graduates with the federal government. Perhaps the most common civil service position for international studies graduates is that of analyst or researcher. As an analyst, you will be given intelligence or policy-related information and asked to assess its consequences for your agency or for national security. This is the type of job where you can make a definite difference in U.S. policy, and many people find it personally rewarding. There are many other types of civil service jobs available as well. You may, for example, find work as a translator for one of the agencies listed above (language skills again!). You might also work as a project specialist for USAID helping people in other countries build infrastructure or develop policies for environmental sustainability (just to name a couple of options – there are many more). Civil service work calls for both undergraduate and graduate degrees, depending upon the specific position.

E.g.: CIA, FBI, NSA, Defense Department and USAID

Government contractors are likely to hire you as analysts or researchers, just as in the civil service, and in fact, you will likely be contracting to work with many of the civil service agencies listed above. Again, as an analyst, you will study intelligence information and make recommendations to policymakers on the basis of that intelligence. The good news is that government contracting often pays more than an identical job with the civil service. The downside is that contractors don’t experience the same level of job security as does someone employed with the federal government. Also, as with the civil service, contracting work calls for both undergraduate and graduate degrees, depending upon the specific position.

E.g.: Raytheon, Booze Allen Hamilton, SAIC, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, L3, CACI and General Dynamics

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of NGOs that advocate for international causes, and NGOs often work closely with the U.S. government to administer humanitarian aid in countries across the globe (among other myriad of other tasks). As a practical matter, you should know that these positions are often given to dedicated volunteers, so if you’d like to work for an NGO, accepting internships (often unpaid) and volunteering at your desired organization is important. Most work with NGOs will require only an undergraduate degree, although some of the more specialized positions may ask for a graduate degree.

E.g.: Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, World Wildlife Fund, International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch, Greenpeace and Red Cross/Crescent

Most often, research organizations offer positions as researchers or advisors. In essence, you would serve as an “expert opinion” on various regions of the world or on particular issues of international relations (for instance, environmental degradation, nuclear proliferation, economic development, etc.). Most of these positions call for a graduate degree in international studies/relations, so they are not aimed at new BAs coming into the job market. Something to think about for the future, perhaps!

Remember, this is by no means an exhaustive list of everything you can do with an INST degree. Attending graduate school, law school, joining the military or the Peace Corps after graduation – these all remain viable options as well. The possibilities really are endless!

E.g. Center for Strategic and International Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Foreign Policy Research Institute and Center for Global Development

 Useful Links

Career information related to the U.S. Government, international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and Teaching Abroad. Students should be sure to consult with their academic advisors before committing to any of the following programs.


Funding Opportunities

Office of National and International Awards

Western Carolina University’s Office of National and International Awards (ONIA) coordinates the institution’s support of students who wish to apply for competitive national and international awards, such as the Fulbright, Marshall, Truman, or Rhodes.

Awards programs provide significant financial assistance for high-achieving undergraduates and recent graduates who plan to further graduate study, continue research, or study/teach abroad.  The private or government organizations that fund awards seek to assist future careers for students who have demonstrated excellence in undergraduate/graduate research, service learning, and significant leadership.  These programs mean more than money—securing prestigious awards opens doors to top-ranked graduate schools and exciting careers.

Please see the list of available awards and scholarships as listed on their page.
For information, contact the Director Dr. Ingrid Bego

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