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Careers in International Studies

An education in international studies can open an array of different career paths for students. These paths include government service, international organizations, the non-profit sector, business, health, and international education. In all these areas, employers value the knowledge, perspective, and language training that comes with a background in international studies.

HLS has several career advisors dedicated to helping students identify and pursue career opportunities. HLS faculty, who have a broad array of professional contacts and connections, also serve as important resources for students.

For general resources on careers in international affairs, please consult the following resources:

Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs, Guide to Careers in International Affairs

Kocher, Eric. International Jobs: Where They Are and How to Get Them. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

Learn more about career opportunities in specific areas below:

International & Regional Organizations

There are more career opportunities at international and regional organizations than ever before. These organizations provide a range of services--from hosting high-level political negotiations to managing detailed technical issues--and almost all of their professional staffs work directly for them rather than for national governments. In some cases, these staffs are quite small, but organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank employ thousands of people. Students who specialize in International Studies and possess strong analytical and communication skills are good candidates for these posts. For hiring information, please consult the following sites:

Association of Southeast Asian Nations

The ten member states of ASEAN -- Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam -- work together toward the greater prosperity and stability of the region and the maintenance and improvement of the region’s internal and external relationships.

European Union

A political and economic union of 28 member states in Europe run by three governmental bodies and unified under policies that aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital within an internal single market.

International Criminal Court

An intergovernmental organization and international tribunal whose jurisdiction encompasses war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

International Monetary Fund

A multilateral organization that seeks to ensure the stability of the international monetary system by keeping track of the global economy and the economies of member countries, making loans, and giving advice and practical help to members.


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a political and military alliance of 29 member states whose purpose is to guarantee the freedom and security of its members.

Organization of American States

The world’s oldest regional organization, the OAS brings together all 35 independent states of the Americas and constitutes the main political, juridical, and social governmental forum in the Hemisphere.

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is a security-oriented intergovernmental organization with 57 participating states in North American, Europe and Asia, that works for stability, peace and democracy through political dialogue.


A United Nations program that advocates for children’s rights and provides humanitarian and developmental assistance to children and mothers in over 190 countries and territories.

United Nations

An international organization that enables dialogue among its 193 member states in order to promote resolution of the issues confronting humanity.

World Bank

An international partnership of five financial institutions providing funding and knowledge to developing countries in order to reduce poverty, increase shared prosperity, and promote sustainable development.

World Food Program

A branch of the United Nations addressing hunger and promoting food security, environmental and economic stability, and agricultural production.

World Health Organization

A United Nations agency that works to improve health worldwide by promoting research and evidence-based policy, increasing access to medical products and technologies, addressing the social, economic, and environmental context of health, advocating for universal health coverage, and strengthening global preparedness with regard to communicable and noncommunicable disease.

International Business

The increasing ease which people do business across borders mean that a degree in international studies can prepare students for certain careers in international business. There is a growing demand within a range of businesses—including smaller and mid-size businesses—for cultural awareness, international experience, and foreign language ability. Individual company websites and contacts will be the most important starting place for many students, but the following general resources and organizations may be of assistance to students pursuing careers in this area.

Careers in Business

Organization of Women in International Trade


Students with an interest in business and a degree in international studies can also pursue certain positions in government and international organizations that are focused on the private sector. For example, the U.S. government has several agencies and departments devoted to promoting U.S. businesses abroad that may be of interest to students. These include the Export-Import Bank of the U.S.and the U.S. Department of Commerce. The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation seeks to facilitate connections between businesses and states in need of private-sector investment.

Nonprofits and Civil Society

International civil society and non-governmental organizations have become a major player in many different areas of international affairs. These organizations pursue a variety of agendas and issue areas and are often an excellent opportunity for students seeking to begin careers in international affairs. NGOs have become particularly active in human rights, humanitarian affairs, development, anti-corruption, and environmental issues.

A helpful starting point for students interested in NGOs is the organization Interaction, which lists a variety of job opportunities and classifies NGOs by sector. For students interested in humanitarian and development work, ReliefWeb can be a useful resource.


A career in government is an obvious but reliable option for someone with an international studies background. Whether it be at the state, federal, or international level, there are a wide range of opportunities for international interaction. Primary examples at the federal level include the U.S. State Department and the Agency for International Development, but nearly every federal department contains a division related to international affairs. The departments of the Treasury and Homeland Security are deeply involved in international issues, as are the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

At the state and local level, there are also a variety of opportunities that include international dimensions. State governments, for example, will often seek to encourage and promote international investment. Some major cities may also have offices that help with international contacts and services. At any level, excellent research and communications abilities and a strong commitment to public service are important skills for interested candidates.

Communications & Media

There is a growing demand for information beyond national borders. With more goods, services, and people on the move than ever before, governments, organizations, and individuals want to know what’s going on around the world. There is a similar growth in demand for international outreach in the form of communications,  outreach, and public relations.  International businesses and organizations that offer goods and services need to make sure that people know about what they are offering. Students with strong oral and written communications skills spanning multiple languages and a strong sense of cultural awareness will make good candidates in an expanding market.

Some relevant associations that expand on the opportunities available are The Society for Professional Journalists, The International Center for Journalists, The International Association of Business Communicators, and The International Public Relations Association.

International Law

For students considering a law degree, the international studies major can open up a range of job opportunities in areas that touch on international law. While many positions in this sector require a law degree, a background in international studies can open opportunities for intersecting with legal issues in a variety of ways, including through employment in government, civil society, and international organizations. Private law firms and corporations will in some cases hire undergraduate and graduate students to work as paralegals, an experience that can serve as a helpful introduction to legal practice. Below are several organizations that may be of assistance in thinking about how to pursue a career related to international law:

American Society of International Law

International Law Students Association