International Studies Careers: Options and Requirements

Sep 21, 2019

With a degree in international studies, a career in postsecondary education or immigration and intelligence is possible. A bachelor's degree is required to become an intelligence agent or work in immigration, while postsecondary teachers need to complete their doctorate.

Essential Information

International studies programs are typically interdisciplinary and offer coursework from a number of academic areas, including business, political science, sociology, geography and economics. Graduates of international studies degree program can pursue a variety of international and domestic careers ranging from law to government. Since the career opportunities are so varied, degree requirements also vary based on position. Some careers require a Bachelor's degree whereas others may require a Doctorate degree.

Career Area, Ethnic, and Cultural Studies Postsecondary Teacher Immigration and Intelligence Agents
Required Education Doctorate degree Bachelor's degree
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 7% 8% (for all private detectives and investigators)
Median Salary (2018)* $74,440 $81,920 (for all detectives and criminal investigators)

Source: *Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options in International Studies

Government agencies and organizations, such as the Center Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security, can provide job opportunities to individuals with an international studies background. Some possible job titles include FBI or CIA agent, customs officer and immigration inspector. Career options exist in public service, like a foreign service official, social worker and foundation representative. Graduates interested in teaching abroad can often find work with non-profit organizations, which also seek out employees with an international studies background. Individuals with the appropriate graduate education may be interested in becoming international lawyers, communication specialists or researchers, to name a few possibilities.

Requirements for an International Studies Career

Pursuing a career in international studies involves earning a degree in the subject at either the undergraduate or graduate level, depending on the desired job. Whether students prepare for a Bachelor of Arts, master's degree or Doctor of Philosophy in International Studies, they may take courses in the following subjects:

  • Geography
  • Political science and theory
  • Economic development
  • World history
  • Foreign language

While an international studies degree can lead to numerous jobs, the positions themselves have varied responsibilities and requirements. Some careers in the U.S. government require applicants to be an American citizen and eligible to receive government-security clearances. Frequently, international studies positions also call for fluency in one or more foreign languages. Many careers require previous experience and other skill requirements; for instance, applicants may be expected to have a background in organizational leadership or a particular specialty, like global health or global security. Certain jobs require graduate-level education, such as a law, master's or doctoral degree.

Salary and Job Outlook Information

A background in international studies can lead to many careers, and the salary potential for these careers can vary greatly. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes careers like immigration and intelligence agents in the salary data for detectives and criminal investigators. According to the BLS, these workers earned a median annual salary of $82,920 as of May 2018. Those in academic jobs, such as postsecondary cultural studies teachers, earned a median salary of $74,440 as of May 2018. The BLS predicted that the occupational group including detectives and criminal investigators would increase by 8% over the 2018 to 2028 decade and that opportunities for postsecondary teachers of area, ethnic and cultural studies would increase at a faster rate of 7% over the same period.

In addition to working in education or immigration services, a degree in international studies can be beneficial to those planning to enter the field of international law or who want to work with non-profit organizations that work overseas. It's also an ideal option for those who want to teach overseas, and may be an asset to social workers in locations where there are a high number of immigrants.

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