International Affairs and Area Studies

Careers in international affairs tend to have a political science or interdisciplinary approach combining economics, sociology, education, political economy, program evaluation, policy analysis and public management from a global perspective. While most people tend to work in the public sector, there are some career options in the private sector that deals with international policy issues and analysis from an industry perspective.

Area studies is the academic focus on a specific region of the world and country.  For example: African Studies, Asian Studies, European Studies, and Latin American Studies.  Within the region, you generally will choose a specific country.  While area studies is interdisciplinary discipline, it tends to lean towards the social sciences.

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Explore the Profession

Get Experience

Confirm your interest, prepare academically and develop the necessary skills and experience:

  • Explore your field of interest through relevant classes, majors & minors at UCSD
  • Take any classes that specific schools might require, including economics, political science, area and cultural studies, foreign languages or urban studies
  • Strongly consider Study Abroad
  • Gain experience through Internships, Jobs, or other Experiential Learning opportunities. Search for opportunities via Port Triton
  • Consider the Academic Internship Program for service-learning and community engagement
  • Join an international or policy-related Student Organization or Professional Associations
  • Develop communication and leadership skills through the Center for Student Involvement
  • Gain leadership experience through Student Government or your College

Academic Preparation

Students interested in an international affairs career will generally major in International Studies, an area studies major focused on a specific region of the world or pick an international emphasis within a traditional academic discipline such as Political Science, Sociology, Anthropology, Education, etc.  It is also important to gain relevant skills and competencies that prepare you while pursuing a major you are interested in. Basic background in economics and statistics is highly recommended as well as strong analytical, writing, and communication skills. A secondary language is also important if you are pursuing an international focus.

Core competencies that are relevant to any international affairs position include:

  • analytical thinking
  • building collaborative relationships
  • communication
  • creativity and innovation
  • diagnostic information gathering
  • functional expertise
  • results orientation
  • strategic focus


Examples of employment (not inclusive)

Public sector

  • Federal agencies and departments (Foreign Service, FBI, Education, State, etc.)
  • State government departments, commissions
  • County governments and districts
  • City and municipal governments
  • Border agencies, sister city programs
  • Public and higher education institutions
Non-profit and non-governmental sector
  • Charitable foundations
  • International relief organizations
  • Think tanks and policy research
  • Special interest or lobbying groups
  • Educational agencies
  • Cultural exchange organizations
  • Human rights and civil rights groups
  • Economic development agencies
Private sector
  • Banking
  • Consulting firms
  • Manufacturing
  • Media
  • Investment Firms
  • Transnational Organizations
Examples of positions (not inclusive)
  • Program coordinator
  • Lobbyist
  • Program assistant/manager
  • Policy analyst
  • Statistician
  • Research associate
  • Marketing specialist
  • City manager/chief administration officer
  • Consultant
  • Analyst
  • Director of External Relations
  • Operations manager
  • Foreign Service Officer
  • Foundation fellow
  • Project coordinator/manager

Apply to Graduate School

Before applying to graduate school, you want to consider whether graduate school is right for you.  You want to ask yourself if you actually need a graduate degree to do your ideal job.  To explore that, try looking at some job descriptions of the types of positions you want and see what they are asking for in an applicant.  Once you've determine if graduate school is necessary then you want to select and apply to the program that best fits your professional goals.  Upon completing a graduate program in international affairs, you should aim to have the following basic skills: critical thinking, research, data analysis, qualitative, quantitative, spatial analysis, and communication skills. The competencies you need also depend on the types of position you are interested in.  Read the international affairs guide pdf_icon to learn more about the field.

  • International Relations Master's and Doctoral programs
  • Foreign Affairs and Foreign Service Master's programs
  • International/Foreign Policy Master's programs
  • International Management Master's programs
  • Area Studies Master's and Doctoral programs

Researching programs

Application Process 

Paying for graduate school

For additional help, come into the Career Services Center or schedule an appointment with a Career Advisor via Port Triton. Learn more about your Career Advisors and their specializations at the staff directory page.