Major in International Relations

  1. Overview of the Major in International Relations
  2. Requirements for the Major in International Relations
  3. Checklist for Requirements for the Major
  4. How To Declare a Major
  5. Overlap Policy
  6. Course Recommendations for Freshman Through Senior Years
  7. Honors Program
  8. The Washington Semester and Undergraduate Political Science Research Fund
  9. Undergraduate Prizes

Overview of the Major in International Relations

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The major in International Relations introduces students to the complex and fascinating world of politics beyond the United States and provides them with essential tools for understanding and analyzing it. In an increasingly interdependent world of nations and international organizations, such understanding is important for a variety of internationally oriented careers, inside and outside the United States, as well as for its own sake as part of a liberal arts education. Rather than constructing a major that offers vague introductions to many different aspects of world affairs, this major draws fully on the Political Science Department's analytical tradition of undergraduate education. Students will gain great breadth in their understanding of world affairs, but with analytical rigor and depth.

The core of the major consists of four courses that introduce the concepts and theories of the subfields of international relations (relations between nations) and comparative politics (political processes and policymaking within nations). Students in the International Relations major also develop essential knowledge of cultures and contexts of politics outside the United States through a semester of Study Abroad (fall, spring, or summer) and through taking at least two courses taught in a language other than English. These basic theoretical and cultural tools are supplemented and applied with additional substantive courses in International Relations, Political Science, and related disciplines. Included in these additional courses is selection of a track focusing on one of the three important substantive areas of Global Security, Political Economy and Development, or Governance of Nations.

Students who are interested in the International Relations major may consult with any of the undergraduate advisors in the Department of Political Science.

Requirements for the Major in International Relations

The major in International Relations requires that students successfully complete at least twelve courses, achieving a minimum overall grade point average of 2.0 in these courses. To fulfill the requirements of the major, students must also complete two college-level courses taught in a foreign language and participate in a program of Study Abroad. None of the twelve courses or the two language courses may be taken on a satisfactory/fail basis. At least nine of these twelve courses must be in International Relations or Political Science. No more than four introductory courses may be included in the twelve courses for the International Relations Major.

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As described below (see also the IR Major Checklist), the twelve courses must include the four required core courses, five courses in the specialized tracks (at least three of which come from a single track), and three elective courses. The specialized tracks are: Global Security, Political Economy and Development, and Governance of Nations. International Relations majors must also take at least two college-level courses taught in a foreign language. All International Relations majors must also participate in a program of Study Abroad (in either the fall, spring, or summer).

Core Requirements (four courses)

All students must take four courses as specified below. Courses that appear in both categories can satisfy one or the other core requirement, but not both.

Comparative Politics Core

Students must take at least two courses from those listed below. PSC/IR 101 is strongly recommended as one of these two courses.

International Relations Core

Students must take at least two courses from those listed below. PSC/IR 106 is strongly recommended as one of these two courses.

Specialized Tracks (five courses, three of which must be from a single track)

Courses in International Relations fall into specialized tracks. Students must choose five courses from these tracks, at least three of which must come from one selected track. At least two of the three courses in the selected track must be in International Relations or Political Science. Courses applied to the Comparative Politics or International Relations core requirements cannot count toward the track requirements.

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Electives (three courses)

Students must select three other courses, which may be drawn from any of the courses in the three tracks, as well as from any other courses offered in International Relations, Political Science, Economics, or History. One elective course may be satisfied by earning a score of 4 or 5 on the Advanced Placement exam in American or Comparative Government.

Study Abroad

Students must spend a semester (fall, spring, or summer) in an organized program of Study Abroad. We encourage students to consider European Political Internships supervised by the University of Rochester, but students may also pursue other programs, including programs that do not involve internships. Students may count as many as three courses taken abroad in International Relations, Political Science, Economics, or History toward the specialized tracks requirement, provided that a Department advisor confirms in writing that the courses fit into one of the tracks and specifies which track(s) each course falls into. One or more additional courses, up to a total of four altogether, may be approved by an advisor as electives toward the major; these may be courses comparable to any of those in the three tracks, as well as any other courses offered in International Relations, Political Science, Economics, or History.

Internships count for one course toward the major, even if students receive more than four credits in the internship toward their degree requirements. Business Internships supervised by the University of Rochester will also be approved for this major on a case-by-case basis, whenever the internship will enhance the student's understanding of international politics or international economics.

The Study Abroad requirement may be waived for students who have resided for at least two years in a non-English speaking country and who, while abroad, have taken formal education courses at the high school level or above taught in a foreign language.

Language Requirement

Students must take at least two courses at the college level taught in a modern foreign language. These may touch on any topic and be at any difficulty level, including introductory language courses. (However, if two introductory courses are taken, they must be in the same language.) Courses used to fulfill the College's requirement for a Cluster in the Humanities may be used for this purpose. Appropriate transfer courses may be used, subject to approval. Advanced Placement courses and exams may not be used to satisfy this requirement.

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This requirement, like the Study Abroad requirement, may be waived for students who have resided for at least two years in a non-English speaking country and who, while abroad, have taken formal education courses at the high school level or above taught in a foreign language.

Writing Requirement

International Relations majors fulfill the writing requirement by taking two courses for the major that are designated as writing intensive. These courses may include PSC 202 (which could count as one of the three electives) or any course for the major that carries a "W" designation. Ordinarily, "W" courses require students to write a term paper of 10-15 pages (about 3,500 words), with the term paper involving research that goes beyond the regular class material. Faculty are encouraged to have students submit a draft of a portion of the term paper before they turn in the final product. Students who double major cannot double count courses for purposes of the writing requirement. That is, a course used to fulfill the writing requirement for another major cannot be used to fulfill the writing requirement for the International Relations major.

Additional Guidelines on Courses in the Major

AP Credit. Students who received a 4 or 5 on the AP exam in American or Comparative Government or in U.S., European, or World History will be granted credit for one course toward the International Relations major. Students who received a 4 or 5 on multiple AP exams are not eligible for additional credit. This course will be classified as one of the three elective courses and will be considered a transfer course and an introductory course.

Transfer Courses. Except in extraordinary circumstances, no more than four courses in the major may be transferred from other schools, no more than three of which may be transferred from another university or college in the United States. Transfer courses may not be used to satisfy Core requirements. However, they may be used to satisfy any of the five specialized track courses or three electives. The Director of Undergraduate Studies or another International Relations advisor will determine whether courses taken elsewhere are track or elective courses. While abroad, students are urged to take courses related to the politics and international relations of the country or region in which they are studying.

Substituting Courses after Declaring a Major. The course plan approved by an undergraduate advisor must meet the requirements for the major. Students who substitute courses after declaring a major are responsible for ensuring that substitutions satisfy requirements. If in doubt about substitutions, students should check with one of the Department's undergraduate advisors.

How To Declare a Major

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// Pick up a blue Approval Form for Concentrations and Minors, available in the Center for Academic Support at Lattimore Hall 312 or in the Department of Political Science office at Harkness Hall 333.

// Collect information at this website regarding requirements for the major.

// Complete Part A of the Approval Form, following the information about requirements. List the relevant courses you have already taken, are currently taking, or plan to take before you graduate. You are not committed to following this course plan exactly, but you must fulfill the relevant requirements if you wish to graduate with a major in International Relations. If you ultimately substitute courses for those listed on your Approval Form, you may wish to check with an undergraduate advisor in the Political Science Department to confirm that the substitutions are acceptable.

In deciding which courses to take, you may wish to examine the course descriptions. You may also wish to consult with an undergraduate advisor in the Political Science Department for advice about courses best suited to your particular intellectual interests and career goals. If you would like advice, list only those courses you have taken, are taking, or know for certain you wish to take.

// Once you have completed Part A of the Approval Form as best you can, take it to an undergraduate advisor in the Political Science Department during his or her office hours. Your advisor will check the form, answer any questions you may have, and sign it. If you plan to double major, request that "permission to double major" be written and initialed by the advisor on the Approval Form.

// Submit the completed and signed Approval Form to the Center for Academic Support at Lattimore Hall 312. The Center will send one copy to the Department of Political Science.

Overlap Policy

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Students are reminded that they are subject to the College's "overlap policy" with respect to double majors and a major and minor. The policy applies to all students in the College:

Major: No more than three courses overlapping between any two majors.

Minor: No more than two courses overlapping between a minor and either a major or another minor.

If a cross-listed course (such as PSC/ECO 288) is listed under two majors, it counts toward the overlap limit even if it is listed under the Political Science number in one case and a cross-listed number in the other case.

More Information

Course Recommendations for Freshman Through Senior Years

Freshman Year

We strongly recommend that students interested in International Relations take two courses in the field in their first year: IR/PSC 101 (Introduction to Comparative Politics) and IR/PSC 106 (Introduction to International Relations). These two courses fulfill part of the Core Requirements for the major in International Relations. Students might also look for other courses, including 100-level courses that count toward one of the Specialized Tracks and 200-level courses open to freshmen. Although it does not count for the major, freshmen might also choose a version of WRT 105 that emphasizes politics, government, or international issues.

The Political Science Department offers a number of courses that International Relations students might find interesting and useful. These courses introduce other aspects of political science through an exploration of American politics (PSC 103 and 105), positive political theory (PSC 107), political philosophy (PSC 104), and political economy (PSC 108). Students may count such courses as Electives toward the International Relations major.

We also recommend that students begin or continue courses in a foreign language. Not only will this help meet major requirements, but it will also allow students to consider opportunities for Study Abroad that require proficiency in a language other than English.

Sophomore Year

Most students formally declare a major in the sophomore year, and this is an excellent opportunity to map out, with the advice of an undergraduate advisor in the department, the course plan that meets particular intellectual interests and career goals. In the sophomore year, students should sample from courses in the Specialized Tracks to discover their interests. They should also complete the Core Requirements by taking a second course in both comparative politics and international relations. As well, students may begin to consider whether or not plans for the junior and senior years will affect their course plans for their International Relations major. For example, in thinking about Study Abroad, students may wish to choose, for the sophomore year, courses that satisfy Core Requirements, in the expectation that some courses taken while abroad will be counted toward Specialized Tracks and as Electives in the major.

Many students may wish to continue language study in their sophomore year. In the second semester, students should make plans for Study Abroad.

Junior Year

This is the year in which most students choose to spend a semester (or a year) abroad. Remember that courses taken abroad may, with the written approval of an advisor, count toward the International Relations major. We recommend that you seek advice about particular coursework before going abroad. During their junior year, students should also take a number of Specialized Track and Elective courses.

Senior Year

Ideally, the senior year is not characterized by last-minute panic about completing degree requirements. Rather, the senior year should be as much a beginning as an end--a time to engage in concrete preparations for your work or study beyond graduation, as you enjoy your last year of undergraduate study. Be warned, however: spring semester senior year is typically too late to begin these preparations. For example, applications to graduate school require carefully conceived and well-written statements of purpose. Successful applicants are not the students who submit first drafts or statements that have undergone no review by an outside person. Graduate schools and prospective employers alike usually require letters of recommendation. Students need to consider carefully who to approach for these letters; moreover, neither professors nor past employers can be expected to produce really substantive letters of support on very short notice.

Senior year should be the time in which students best use the resources available to them to take a variety of practical measures that open doors to opportunities beyond graduation. This should be done with an open mind about possibilities and a clear understanding that, for example, some opportunities may not materialize, some that look attractive in the abstract may be less attractive as concrete offers, and new opportunities may emerge in the process of pursuing options. Students are encouraged to talk to their professors, attend workshops organized by the department and the Undergraduate Political Science Council, and make good use, as early as possible, of the variety of resources provided by the Career Center.

Thinking about Graduate Studies?

We encourage students who think they may wish to pursue graduate studies in International Relations, Political Science, History, Economics, Anthropology, or another field to consult an undergraduate advisor or other professor in the relevant department about their plans. The beginning of the junior year is not too early to seek advice, and the senior year is usually late. We can offer students both general advice and specific information about graduate programs across the country. We can also help students better gauge their prospects for acceptance into graduate programs, opportunities for financial aid, and career prospects beyond graduate studies.

Honors Program

The honors program offers high performing political science and international relations majors the opportunity to pursue an individualized research project during the senior year under the supervision of a faculty member. Students in the program enroll in IR/PSC 393W in both the fall and spring semesters of their senior year. The end result is a written thesis, which is graded by the advisor and a second member of the department faculty at the end of the senior year.

Successful pursuit of an honors project requires a student to start discussions with members of the department honors committee and prospective faculty advisors during the junior year or earlier. The department holds an information session about the program each fall and spring semester. Students interested in the program should attend one of these information sessions in the junior year or earlier.

To be eligible for the program, a student must be an IR or PSC major, and must meet the following requirements as of the beginning of the fall semester of the senior year:

  • Have a GPA of 3.5 or higher, calculated using all IR and PSC courses plus any other courses the student plans to count toward the IR or PSC major;
  • Have completed at least one course on techniques of analysis (PSC 200, 201, 203, 204, or 205, or ECO 230 or 231);
  • Have completed a W course or another course that requires the student to write a research paper.
  • If an IR major, have completed two of the four core courses for the IR major.
  • If a PSC major, have completed PSC 202.

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Students who meet these requirements must complete and submit the honors enrollment form to the honors coordinator (currently Professor Niemi) by the 7th day after classes begin in the fall semester of the senior year. Note that completion of the form requires the student to secure agreement from a faculty member to serve as his or her thesis advisor and approval of the Political Science Department's honors committee. Each member of the faculty needs considerable advanced notice to be able to serve as an advisor. Students should not expect to find a faculty advisor if they wait until the beginning of the fall semester of the senior year to look for one.

More detailed information about the program, including the standards the department applies in grading the senior thesis, can be found in "Expectations and Standards for Senior Theses".

The Washington Semester and Undergraduate Political Science Research Fund

The Department has money available to assist undergraduate students with research projects of various sorts. This money could be used for those particularly interested in studying Congress, for students in the honors program, or for students engaged in other research projects. In all cases, the money would go directly to support the research itself; money is not available to provide a stipend to students. The maximum grant is currently $500, though, in exceptional cases, a second application will be considered. Application should be made in a letter to the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Undergraduate Prizes

The four prestigious undergraduate prizes described below are awarded annually and presented at the spring Political Science and International Relations commencement ceremony. A committee of faculty members in the Department of Political Science, appointed by the department chair, selects the winners.

James D. McGill Memorial Prize

The James D. McGill Memorial Prize was established in 1942 by former students and friends of Professor McGill, who came to the university in 1927 and was the first professor to head our department, a position he took up in 1934. In establishing the prize, Professor McGill's students and friends noted that "he saw his students as future participants in a living and dynamic democracy, and he prepared them for this service." The prize is awarded to the undergraduate student who is deemed to have shown the greatest interest and demonstrated the highest achievement in the field of political science or international relations. The name of the winner is recorded on a plaque displayed in Harkness Hall.

Jay F. Birdsall Memorial Prize

The Jay F. Birdsall Memorial Prize was established in 1967 by friends and relatives to honor the memory of Jay F. Birdsall III, Class of 1967, who graduated with high honors in political science, earning the respect of all for both his academic excellence and the involvement in public service that he showed as an intern in state government in Albany. The prize is awarded to a graduating senior in political science or international relations who has demonstrated an interest in--and a commitment to--practical politics. The name of the winner is recorded on a plaque displayed in Harkness Hall.

Helen S. Jones Award

The Helen S. Jones Award is given annually to a student who demonstrates significant achievement in the areas of sociology, international relations, and/or political science.

Laurin Taylor Frisina '06 Ventura Award

The Laurin Taylor Frisina '06 Ventura Award, established in 2014 in memory of Laurin Taylor Frisina, is given to "the graduating senior who, as a Political Science research assistant or in other research activities, best represents creativity and collaboration in pursuit of knowledge."