Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What can you do with an I.S. major? What do IS majors do after graduation?
This is an excellent, and very frequently asked question. The short answer is "many things!" But let us also supply a slightly longer answer.

First, undergraduates - and even more frequently prospective college students - overestimate the link between an undergraduate major and one's future career. The world is full of math majors who run public relations firms, Spanish majors who run banks, and political science majors who end up applying to medical school at age 28. Furthermore, experts suggest that most future professionals will have three or more distinct phases in their careers, not necessarily doing the same thing their whole lives.

That said, it is important to know what Macalester International Studies graduates do after graduation. To be sure, the great majority are involved internationally. Some go into banking, finance and consulting. Others go into international social service, most classically with the Peace Corps but even more frequently with a broad range of development and aid agencies around the world, often (but hardly always) in New York or Washington DC. Still others have pursued careers as diverse as police investigation, organic flower farming, advertising, medical technology, and telecommunications.

Many I.S. graduates have gone immediately from the B.A. into various programs designed explicitly for recent B.A.s., including the Leland Congressional Hunger fellowship, Watson travel fellowship, Fulbright scholarship, Teach for America, Peace Corps, and Vista-Americorps. Others have gone to work for Human Rights Watch, the World Bank, Goldman Sachs, the United Nations, Alliance Française, and a broad range of other organizations large and small.

Geographically, our graduates go quite literally all over the map. We have had students from Sweden and Zimbabwe get married and end up in Chicago. Home-to-post-college moves have included the state of Washington to Senegal, Siberia and Boston; Maryland to Guatemala; Wisconsin to France; Oregon to South Africa; Illinois to Israel and then Fiji; Ohio to Manhattan and Egypt; elite suburban New Jersey to deeply urban, globally multicultural New Jersey; and rural Minnesota to seacoast Mozambique. Other International Studies graduates have, immediately after Macalester, moved from Cyprus, Sweden and Zaire to London; from Poland and Brazil to Washington DC; from Indonesia to San Diego; and from Bulgaria and Nepal to New York.

A significant majority go on to graduate school within five years, in a broad variety of fields. In the past two years alone, Macalester International Studies alumni have begun Masters programs in international affairs, environmental studies, international public health, public policy, architecture, business administration, teaching, and divinity; PhD programs in anthropology, economics, clinical psychology, political science, French, and cultural studies; as well as medical and law schools. These students have attended a broad range of schools: some far-flung at universities in Cairo, Singapore, or Cape Town, others quite local, and still more among the most prestigious institutions in the world, including the universities of Cambridge, Chicago, Columbia, Georgetown, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, the London School of Economics, Princeton and Yale.

Professor Moore has written a general advice page on graduate school decision-making, tailored to Macalester I.S. majors but readable by all.

In sum, the answer to the question "What can one do with an International Studies major" is limited only by one's imagination, focus, and capacity for hard work.

How do I become an IS major?
We've got a full page on this subject.

Is there a list of approved classes for the major?
We have posted on our website a roster of "Acceptable Courses for the International Studies Major." Please note that this is a flexible, tailorable list, and that Macalester's dynamic curriculum changes faster than our ability to keep track of it. Final approval results from conversations with the student's IS advisor.

Acceptable Courses for the International Studies Major

What is a Disciplinary Focus?

We've Got A Full Page On This Subject

What is the most popular disciplinary focus for IS majors?
International Studies majors take a five-course focus in any one of over twenty disciplinary departments. Our majors range very broadly in their choices. Still, within that broad range, Political Science, Economics, and, as a group, the foreign languages are quite popular. But "popular" does not mean "right." Select the disciplinary focus that's best for you.

Are most IS majors double majors? Should I be a double major?
Since most IS students complete five courses in a given department as part of their IS majors, adding the extra few courses for a full double major is common, but by no means obligatory. This is a rich opportunity rather than an iron necessity. Double major only in the context of your overall academic and possible career plans.

How can I get in touch with current majors to talk about their experiences?
Faculty are always ready to offer references. Make use of informal student networks too. If you're not sure who to ask, stop by the department or email one of us for direction.

Can I study abroad if I am an IS major and an international (i.e. non-U.S.) student?
Because of resource constraints, and because international students at Macalester are of course already studying abroad, typically heavily funded to do so, opportunities here can be limited. However, this situation varies somewhat from year to year: please contact the International Center for the current update. Any student, regardless of status, majoring in a department with specific study-abroad requirements, such as the foreign-language departments, will have the right to funded study abroad.

What types of study abroad programs does the department recommend?
This depends heavily on the given student's academic focus, geographic interests, and language preparation. This can range from direct-enrollment study of economics at the national university of Singapore, to a focus on literature and culture in Santiago de Chile, to a fieldwork-based program in Cameroon or Madagascar, to say nothing of all the great European opportunities. International Studies places great value on programs in languages other than English, on programs of high academic rigor, and on programs which maximize locational contact, such as programs for direct enrollment in foreign universities or which involve homestays and well-structured fieldwork experiences. Over the past decade, I.S. majors have studied for a semester or more in over fifty countries in every corner of the planet. For more guidance, see the International Center.

Who can serve as my IS advisor?
I.S. majors often choose either Professors Samatar, Moore, Nedelsky, Ciafone, or Von Geldern. Students are also encouraged to choose from among the "I.S. Program Advisors" listed in the catalog, especially when there is a disciplinary or personal affinity. Quite often, students with double majors choose their primary advisor from their other department, and tap I.S. faculty for more IS-specific advice.

What are the differences among the various IS Intro courses (110-114)?
International Studies 110, typically taught by Prof. Samatar, takes a social science / political economy approach. International Studies 111, typically taught by Prof. Moore, is based in contemporary global literature but ranges broadly beyond. IS 112, with Professor Ciafone, has a media focus. IS 113, with Professor Nedelsky, ranges across the social sciences, while Professor Von Geldern's 114, "Codes of Conduct," focuses on legal arrangements in their broadest sense. Still, every one of these courses provide full introduction to International Studies, crossing both disciplines and geographies. All are suitable for every student, and only one is needed. There is zero obligation for IS majors to "stick to their core." IS/Econ double majors can readily go with Moore, just as literature types can readily go to Samatar. Indeed, we encourage such crossing.

How do I start the Honors Project? What are the guidelines?
You can find guidelines for the honors thesis here on the web. It is acceptable to have somebody in another department advise a thesis for the IS major. Indeed advisor choice is a key early step in the process. Begin thinking about this early in the junior year if at all possible, and discuss it with a range of faculty.

How can I become more involved with the IS department?
For starters, ask in the IS office about helping with the International Roundtable held every year in October. Sign up for the major as soon as you are ready: then you will be on our mailing list, and will receive invitations to candidate lectures, special seminars, social events and more. The department also seeks to fund select innovative student activities and to co-sponsor quality programming. If you have a strong vision and a willingness to work, please don't hesitate to ask!