Cool Majors: International Relations

Cool Majors: International Relations

In our deeply interconnected world, where flows of goods and services, information and ideas and capital and people are all global in scale, today’s problems require nuanced, multifaceted solutions. For students who are eager to take their learnings outside the classroom and apply them to real-world problems, an international relations (IR) major provides a strong foundation in multiple core disciplines that are crucial to understanding global issues, along with the flexibility to tailor courses to a student’s particular area of interest. So, what exactly do IR majors study? Read on to find out.

What do IR majors study?

The biggest strength of the IR major is its interdisciplinary nature. Compared to the more well-known political science major, which focuses on the structure of a national government and its impact on the people it governs, IR encompasses a much broader scope. IR studies the relationships between nations and expands the inquiry beyond just political systems, but also economic, social and cultural, examining the complex interplay between all these different facets that make up our global community. As a result, IR necessarily draws on a wide range of disciplines to properly investigate these issues. In their first couple years, students are required to take courses in history, political science, law, economics and statistics, and many IR programs also require advanced study of a foreign language. Through these core classes, students develop a broad toolkit of frameworks and theories to analyze complex issues. They become well-versed in all of these disciplines and are trained to synthesize different approaches and think about problems from a variety of perspectives. 

In the latter half of the major, students apply the foundational knowledge from their required courses to the specific issues they care most about. IR programs provide a high degree of latitude for students to develop expertise in whatever concentration they choose. Topics of focus can include foreign policy, international trade, development economics, human rights, global health, climate change and environmental issues and international security, among others. Students also often specialize in one region of the world, and IR programs offer a wide range of study-abroad opportunities for students to acquire valuable firsthand experience in their chosen region.

What career opportunities are there for IR majors?

Contrary to popular belief, an IR major is not just for aspiring diplomats! The interdisciplinary nature of an IR major and the broad range of skills students develop through studying different fields open up many career paths. Depending on their chosen concentration, graduates are well prepared for careers in public service, international organizations, non-profits, think tanks, media, business and law. All of these fields value the strong communication skills and ability to analyze problems through a global, intercultural lens that an IR major provides.

Is IR right for you, and how should you prepare for it?

The flexibility of an IR major and the balance between theory and application make it a good fit for many students. For those who already know exactly what they want to do after college, students can pick a concentration that focuses on topics relevant to their chosen career path to gain practical knowledge and experience, while still developing a strong theoretical foundation in various disciplines. On the other hand, students who are undecided and interested in multiple majors and careers don’t have to commit to just one so early on and sacrifice their other interests. An IR major gives them the freedom to explore and gain competence in different fields and hone in on their area of interest over time. 

Given the wide range of disciplines studied in IR, students who are interested in an IR major should have a strong secondary school foundation in the core academic classes – English, social sciences, math and natural sciences – and pursue a rigorous courseload for these subjects. Students should study a foreign language throughout secondary school, as foreign language studies are an important, and often mandatory, part of IR programs. Courses that have an international focus, such as world history and comparative government, provide great preparation for an IR major and also demonstrate a genuine interest in international studies.

Quantum Prep is an education consultancy that focuses on placing their students at the best colleges or universities. We boast of diverse results. In addition to the traditional rap sheet of prestigious university acceptances, our consultants like to highlight the different paths they have sent students on. All of our students are different; we are proud of our one-on-one tailored approach towards university counselling. Contact us for a complimentary 30-minute initial meeting, where you can get tailored individualized advice on how to put your best foot forward. Read our reviews to see what our clients think of us.

By Prudence Ng, Admissions Consultant

Published 10-04-2024

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