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International Studies is one of the largest majors at Hopkins, but it can seem a little hard to get the hang of because there is so much flexibility and so many things you can do with it. Everything from regional studies to International Relations to Security Studies and so many more things, there is a whole lot that goes into the major. So, here are some of the most important things to know about Hopkins’ 2nd largest major:

The Structure Behind the Major:

There is a ton of freedom in the IS major. All students have to complete courses in four different areas: Political Science, History, Foreign Language, and Economics, but even in these areas you have freedom. While there are some classes that are pre-selected for you (like Micro and Macroeconomics), for the most part, as long as you’re filling the requirements, you can take classes that interest you. For instance, my focus area is East Asian Studies, so when choosing Political Science and History classes, I took a lot of East Asian centered classes.

But wait… what is a focus area, you might ask? The focus area is the fifth component of the IS major, and literally everyone’s is different. Even people with the same concentrations do different things and take different classes: it’s all about what you’re interested in. There are a few tracks that are already set, like a double major in IS and German, but even for focus areas, you can craft and create your own with the help of your advisors. Which brings me to my next point…

The Heart and Soul of the Program

Sydney Van Morgan and Kate Bruffett are the absolute heart and soul of te IS program, and if you are involved in any way, you will be on a first name basis with these wonderful ladies! Everything from helping you declare a major to crafting schedules to creating focus areas, these are the ladies who get the job done. While you will also have focus area advisors, everyone is also taken under the wing of one – or both! – of these ladies, and we are all luckier for it. Besides heading the program, they also help the ISLC fund and create events.

I know, I know, you’re now asking, “What the heck is the ISLC??” Great question, and if you keep reading, I will tell you all about it.

ISLC and the IS Community

With so much freedom, and so many people doing so many different things, the IS major can easily start to feel very disconnected. To counteract this problem, the International Studies Leadership Council (or, ISLC) and the IS Advisors hold lots of events for the IS community. Having been a part of the ISLC, I know exactly how hard these students work to put together all of these events, and there are tons of them! Every few weeks, there is a Faculty Friday, wherein students can sit down over lunch with different professors and talk about world events, their research, or a topic of the professors choosing, and they are not something you want to miss. We also bring in several speakers to talk throughout the year – think, former and current politicians, world leaders, and big names in the academic fields we study. But, there aren’t just academic events either. Every semester there are several study breaks, when the office opens after hours and provides snacks and coffee during midterms and finals; we also have cocktail hours with the professors, IS Cream socials and many other events, which really brings such a huge department together.

Study Abroad

All of the stuff that happens on campus is great, but one of the best parts of the IS major is that nearly everyone goes off campus to study abroad. After all, we are International Studies majors, so what better way to learn than to go far and wide? For me, I got to spend a summer working on a campaign in New Zealand, but there are so many places you can go and so many things to do: whether it’s research, internship, language immersion, or a traditional study abroad experience, I have had friends go everywhere from London to Beijing and everywhere in between. The best part about studying abroad aat Hopkins is also that the sky’s the limit. Our Office of Study Abroad will help students get to wherever they want to go and do whatever it is the student’s heart desires, as long as the program is in a safe location and the program is legit.

But… What do you do with an IS major?

All of this sounds great, but I know one of the biggest questions is this: what do you do with an IS major? I wish there was a simple answer, but the truth is that people do literally everything. Some people want to work in policy, others in lobbying, still others are more interested in strict International Relations. Then there are less traditional paths, like students who are also pre-med and want to go into Doctors Without Borders, or students who want to do public relations and media at an international level. Like with study abroad, the sky is truly the limit for what you can do with this major, which is why I believe everyone should at least try it out!


Peyton B. is a senior at JHU double-majoring in International Studies and Psychology. She is from Knoxville, TN, but she describes Hopkins as “a home away from home.”