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Gaining work experience without a BA in IR?


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Hi,

  When I was in undergrad, I spent a year studying and teaching English abroad that started my interest in IR. Problem was, I was going into my senior year and my scholarships were going to run out after my 4th year, so I couldn't switch anything. I completed my BA in Psychology and French and am now preparing for my GRE so that I can apply to grad school next fall. But as I'm researching different programs, I'm noticing that most of the really competitive students have lots of relevant professional work experience. I'm thinking about delaying grad school to get more work experience, but I can't seem to find any jobs in IR that don't require a BA in IR. So I've realized that I'm in a bit of a conundrum. It seems I can't get work experience in IR without a BA in IR, but to get into grad school, I need work experience.

 

   I think that other parts of my application are strong, like my GPA (3.99) and language skills. I also do have some work experience. I was a research assistant in 2 psychology labs, tutored French through my university, and am now teaching English in Japan through the JET program. But these experiences don't seem very relevant to IR, especially in comparison with people who've worked as policy analysts and research assistants for think tanks.

 

  The schools that I'm looking into applying to are very competitive and I'm not sure if I'd really be qualified for them, but don't know how to get the experience to qualify for them. Is there anyone who has gone through this same problem and has some advice? What entry level jobs are there that I can get without a BA in IR and with experience teaching English?

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Hey there!

 

I don't see why you think you're not competitive for these programs -- JET is great preparation for an IR program. People in my Fulbright ETA class (this year and years past) routinely get accepted to places like Harvard Kennedy, Tufts Fletcher, SAIS, Georgetown, etc etc without any other work experience other than ETA-ing. Many of them are coming from non-academic IR backgrounds as well. That said, if you're looking for more work experience to save money for grad school or get more experience, there's lots out there for you to do. Look into international education organizations or non-profit organizations focused on education or i-dev places with an education bent. Try poking around idealist.org to see the kinds of entry-level positions available in those fields. You can either look for research-focused positions  (e.g. http://www.idealist.org/view/job/Hk2cWcZwGCH4/) or an administrative/operations-focused position (http://www.idealist.org/view/job/3259FdKbPmKh4/). 

 

Hope that helps! Good luck!

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That's great to hear that people with a similar background are getting into those schools. Really takes a load off. Do you think that working for an education-focused non-profit would hurt my chances of getting into foreign policy? I don't want to lock myself into specializing in a field that I don't want to pursue. 

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I definitely echo hj2012. JET is going to be great preparation for a number of programs. I'd say with this sort of experience, you're well on your way towards an international career of some kind. Especially on the graduate level, it doesn't matter so much what undergrad degree you received.

 

The point is really to take your job experiences and make sure it's something you're interested in. Working for international education organizations can be a way of getting into foreign policy, after all, but it depends on your particular interest in IR and foreign policy. Once you kind of have a good idea of what you want to do after graduate school, you can start working toward it now. If you're interested in international public health, then maybe education wouldn't be as relevant. If you're interested in developmental economics, maybe that's where you should look further. 

 

I know being a teacher can really suck up all your time, but if you're in the middle of your time at JET, it could easily be a great chance to start up a blog or your own side projects or maybe try volunteering for an organization in Japan that is policy-based. I don't know about the possibilities on the ground, but I'm sure that if you clarify the direction further, you can find something to expand your experience and knowledge. Good luck!

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Before I started JET, I talked with admissions at both Johns Hopkins and Georgetown. Both told me that JET is highly respected at their schools. I'm not sure if more of the accepted students are CIR's rather than ALT's, but even so, you can make up for that. As was suggested by chocolatecheesecake, start a secondary project. What any school wants to see is initiative and leadership. If you identify a need in your community and help to address it, that will go a long way towards making you a competitive candidate. 

Edited by gradytripp
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