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Government vs. International Relations + Liberal Arts Colleges for International Relations

wordgeniuswordgenius 7 replies5 threads New Member
Hi everyone!

I'm interested in majoring in IR in college, but I've seen some schools with "Government" as majors while some schools specifically have IR. I wonder if there's a disadvantage with one or the other? I want to focus on East Asia.

I'm also wondering if LACs are good for IR? I've been looking at CMC (they're very strong in IR) and Williams but compared to research universities (e.g. Ivies, Georgetown), they seem to have less faculty members? Are their career services good for getting competitive internships? I know CMC's is.

Additionally, what should I be looking for when researching IR schools? Their faculty and experiences? The amount of papers they publish?
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Replies to: Government vs. International Relations + Liberal Arts Colleges for International Relations

  • OHMomof2OHMomof2 13001 replies244 threads Senior Member
    compared to research universities (e.g. Ivies, Georgetown), they seem to have less faculty members?

    Research Us have more students than LACs, generally speaking. So 30 at a school with 10k undergrads is different from 15 at a school with 2k undergrads. Look at student/teacher ratios, size of classes for first and second year, size of grad schools (where profs also direct energy - maybe most of their energy).

    IMO a career in IR can be launched from several majors, including Poli Sci and the relevant language(s).
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  • merc81merc81 10524 replies163 threads Senior Member
    edited October 3
    If you consider the sites with discrection, you might find helpful information by searching "Best Small Colleges for a Political Science and International Relations Degree" and "20 Best Value Small Colleges for an Asian Studies Degree."
    edited October 3
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  • waverlywizzardwaverlywizzard 159 replies0 threads Junior Member
    Look at Tufts.
    With the Graduate Fletcher School of Diplomacy on campus it is a natural.
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 34534 replies383 threads Senior Member
    Look at the courses offered. And not just number of faculty, but their own research interests, accomplishments, and how active in their fields.
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  • gardenstategalgardenstategal 5869 replies10 threads Senior Member
    edited October 8
    Definitely look at Tufts (especially for East Asian studies concentration.) Dickinson and Connecticut College might interest you as well.

    It sounds tedious, but for each school that interests you, look at the requirements for a degree in IR, government, political science, etc. You'll see as tremendous range of structure from school to school, from ones that require an area concentration to ones that have a "core" to ones that are more buffet style. Pay careful attention to language departments and foreign study options.

    There isn't really a best format but what you may find is that you can accomplish what you'd like just as easily with a major in x, possibly a minor, and a wide range of electives.

    IR tends to be interdisciplinary, so if you want to emphasize one thing over another, you may be better off majoring in that area and supplementing according to your interests.

    Ultimately, if you want to do something with your degree, strong language proficiency will be extremely helpful, so I would research that.

    edited October 8
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  • tk21769tk21769 10664 replies27 threads Senior Member
    "Government" (as a college department or major) generally is synonymous with "Political Science"; the two terms are more-or-less interchangeable. IR is a sub-field of Government/PS. Some colleges have a separate IR major, track, or even a entire "school" for something related to IR (e.g. Georgetown's SFS or Tuft's Fletcher School).
    Others have no such separate major/school, yet may employ distinguished scholars of IR/diplomacy in their Government/PS departments).

    There really isn't one "right" way to approach it (through a generic Government/PS program or a specialized IR major/school). It really depends on what you want. Georgetown has a great location for internships and often hires distinguished former diplomats and such. However, it doesn't (IMO) necessarily cover the same breadth/depth in Government/PS scholarship as Columbia or UChicago does. Maybe Princeton or Harvard would give you the best of both (cutting-edge scholarship and leading practitioners too), but you may not have a final choice of schools that selective.

    LACs, in general, will have fewer professors, more limited course offerings, and also may be located in rural areas that don't have many internship opportunities nearby. On the other hand, in some cases (for some students) their advantages might more than compensate for those limitations. Many of them have very good government/PS departments and also offer more personal attention (with, perhaps, better mentoring and even research opportunities) than you'd get at some universities.

    If you want to focus on East Asia, you'd do well to develop proficiency in Chinese/Japanese/Korean. All those languages are hard. IMO it usually is not practical for an undergrad to become proficient in more than one (unless you're already a heritage speaker). Look for colleges that offer a full 4 years of elementary-advanced courses in the one that interests you. Some LACs will; many won't. But the ones that do (e.g. Middlebury) may be at least as good in that area as a leading research uni.

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  • Techno13Techno13 224 replies8 threads Junior Member
    My D21 is also interested in IR--- schools we have been pointed to include: Tufts, Macalester, Bryn Mawr, Georgetown, University of Washington. A huge range with different pros/cons. UW almost certainly has good East Asian languages and culture courses (but no first hand knowledge here.)
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  • gardenstategalgardenstategal 5869 replies10 threads Senior Member
    ^in general, universities with graduate programs in languages will offer more languages and at a higher level than LACs. This often doesn't matter but for someone who has proficiency already, it can be frustrating to find that there are no courses available after a year or so. This is more common with the less common languages than French or Spanish. Some schools will bring in someone for 1 or 2 students (Stanford) but many cannot be so accommodating.
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  • Bromfield2Bromfield2 3589 replies35 threads Senior Member
    Also look at Johns Hopkins and American University for international relations at the undergraduate level.
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  • wordgeniuswordgenius 7 replies5 threads New Member
    Thanks for all the help! I'll definitely consider all of this :) That being said, is PoliSci a better major or IR? I want to concentrate on East Asia. I've noticed that LACs are usually in the rural areas, especially for Williams and CMC (two schools I really like). Is the mentorship and attention provided by professors worth it or do the internship opportunities matter more? Do year-round internships matter more, I think that would make going to school in the east coast/DC a very attractive option.
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  • merc81merc81 10524 replies163 threads Senior Member
    edited October 15
    The curriculum of a basic government major will -- depending on course choice -- often provide a grounding in international relations. You may not need to make a definitive distinction along these lines, particularly at this stage.

    If you'd like the benefits of an undergraduate-focused environment with the option of studying in D.C. with associated internships, look into Hamilton: https://www.hamilton.edu/academics/offcampusstudy/washington-program.
    edited October 15
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  • gardenstategalgardenstategal 5869 replies10 threads Senior Member
    @wordgenius , take a look at the International Relations program page on the Tufts website to get an idea of the various directions your study can take and the courses involved in each. An IR major with a concentration in East Asia is one possibility.
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  • merc81merc81 10524 replies163 threads Senior Member
    edited October 15
    tk21769 wrote: »
    If you want to focus on East Asia, you'd do well to develop proficiency in Chinese/Japanese/Korean . . . Look for colleges that offer a full 4 years of elementary-advanced courses in the one that interests you. Some LACs will; many won't. But the ones that do (e.g. Middlebury) may be at least as good in that area as a leading research uni.

    Note that Middlebury -- at least as far as I know -- does not offer Korean during its regular terms.
    edited October 15
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  • PublisherPublisher 8517 replies91 threads Senior Member
    edited October 15
    For IR with an emphasis on East Asia, I suspect that National Universities offer better opportunities than LACs.

    If truly interested in IR, then Georgetown, JHU, UW-Seattle & Tufts should be considered. CMC has a stellar reputation in this field, but be sure to examine course offerings at all schools under consideration as some may lean toward government service while others prepare one well for work in multi-national corporations. Economics or policy focus ? Are adequate language courses available and offered on a regular basis ? Internship placements should be examined as well.

    I would avoid schools which do not offer an IR major as your career goals / area of study appear to be quite specific. You might be disappointed with a typical poly science or government major.

    P.S. Consider the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

    Also, check out St. Andrews in Scotland.
    edited October 15
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  • merc81merc81 10524 replies163 threads Senior Member
    For a school that would be good for the general area of international studies (they call their program Global Studies), but somewhat easier to get into than some of the colleges mentioned so far, look into the University of Richmond.
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  • waverlywizzardwaverlywizzard 159 replies0 threads Junior Member
    Tufts is not rural. It is in Boston.
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  • wordgeniuswordgenius 7 replies5 threads New Member
    I'm wondering why Tufts is recommended to me--from what I understand, they have a strong graduate school for IR/Polisci (I'm still in high school, not an undergraduate student).
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  • wordgeniuswordgenius 7 replies5 threads New Member
    Additionally, how important is location? I know summer internships are important but for IR, are year-round internships or jobs even better? (That would make Georgetown and JHU very good choices).
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  • merc81merc81 10524 replies163 threads Senior Member
    Tufts has been recommended to you on this thread based on the strength of its undergraduate programs in international relations.
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  • momrathmomrath 5985 replies39 threads Senior Member
    @wordgenius, I've lived and worked in Asia for about 30 years and though I'm in the private sector I have interacted extensively with "official Americans" in the foreign service and people involved in a wide range of NGO's. Though their graduate degrees seem to come from the same handful of Master's and PhD programs, their undergraduate educations vary widely -- from medium sized privates to LACs to big State Universities.

    The key I think to an international career is to start building a resume during your undergraduate years with summer jobs and internships and study abroad opportunities. You can do this at just about any college or university. To me, the location of the school is not a significant factor. School-year internships are less
    important than how you spend your summers and the people you network with during the school year. These will lead to post-undergraduate entry level positions which will lead to graduate school admissions and ultimately to a career in your area of interest and expertise.

    As mentioned by other posters, many colleges take a interdisciplinary approach to international relations and global studies with tangents involving development economics, finance, public health, education, arts programs, environmental sustainability etc. So, although it's too early to map out a career path, you should think about which aspect of working overseas appeals to you.

    My advice would be to attend the most academically rigorous college that you can afford, with an environment and culture that fits your personality and learning style. If you are attracted to the LAC experience, then by all means pursue CMC and Williams and some of the other schools mentioned in this thread.

    I don't know too much about CMC's programs, but I can attest that Pomona has an excellent track record in placing students in a wide variety of organizations in Asia. I would note Williams' Center for Development Economics which, though a graduate program, offers international networking opportunities, and Winter Study a chance to dig deeper into whatever interests you. Both schools have excellent reputations among graduate school admissions.

    Affordability is a big issue as those entry level jobs available to newly minted BA/BS degree holders are often unpaid or poorly paid. Especially in Asia, internships may offer a stipend but not enough to cover housing and transportation, and you may need to supplement your income to take advantage of the best opportunities.

    Fluency in at least one foreign language is a big plus, though for foreign service positions, having the aptitude to learn languages is more important than being multi-lingual. There are a lot of languages spoken in East Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia and career diplomatics and foreign service officers tend to move around as they move up. They need to be able to pick up the local language fast.

    I think the reason that you've received such diverse responses is that "international" work covers a lot of ground and there are many routes to success.
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