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College of Letters & Science

International Studies

Requirements for the Major
Option I: Global Security
Option II: Politics and Policy in the Global Economy
Option III: Culture in the Age of Globalization
Completing the IS Major
Honors in the Major
Distinction in the Major
Study Abroad

333 Ingraham Hall, 1155 Observatory Drive, Madison, WI 53706; 608-265-2631 ; fax 608-265-7817; ismajor.wisc.edu

Director: Professors Jo Ellen Fair (Journalism)

Undergraduate advisors in the major: 

Kirsten Brown, 333 Ingraham Hall, 608-262-8431, krbrown7@wisc.edu 

Csanád Siklós, 333 Ingraham Hall, 608-262-5006, siklos@wisc.edu

International Studies (IS) offers an interdisciplinary major with a broad background in international and transnational political, social, economic, commercial, and environmental affairs, together with a comparative study of politics, economics, security, and culture. The goal is to provide students with the necessary tools to understand global processes in their totality and how they are situated and lived in specific regions. The major provides an integrated program of courses that lays the foundation for professional training in a wide variety of areas. Such a foundation can be invaluable in securing a place in competitive graduate or professional schools, which, in turn, prepare students for government service, or for other careers with an international focus, including those in multinational corporations, international finance, non-governmental organizations, and institutions of teaching and research.

The IS major complements numerous majors across campus. Many students choose to double major or enhance their studies with one or more certificates, such as the global health certificate or those offered by the area studies centers.

This major is interdisciplinary, offering a wealth of options. Careful planning and consultation with the IS advisor is especially important.

Requirements for the Major

To be accepted as a major in international studies, a student must have a GPA of 2.0 both in the major and overall, must complete (or be in progress of completing) prerequisite coursework, and file major declaration form with an International Studies advisor. While there is no deadline for declaring the major, students are advised to declare the major by the end of the sophomore year and/or before studying abroad.

The following courses are prerequisites for declaring the international studies major. A student must make good progress toward completion of these requirements before the major can be declared:

1. Introduction to International Studies (Intl St 101)

2. Economics—Choose one of the following three options:

  1. Econ 101 and Econ 102
  2. AAE 215 and Econ 102
  3. Econ 111 (accelerated version of Econ 101 & 102)

3. Complete fifth-semester college course in a foreign language. This requirement must be completed before graduation.

IS Majors specialize in one of three options:

Option I: Global Security

In this option, majors explore conditions that challenge the ability of people and societies to survive. Students consider the causes of and solutions to political crises and violent conflicts in interstate, transnational, and domestic settings. Using historical and regional approaches, students develop a better understanding of the dilemmas the state and the global community face when confronted by threats to peace and stability.

Option II: Politics and Policy in the Global Economy

This option offers a multidisciplinary survey of international economic and political institutions and transactions, as well as the policy issues pertaining to international commerce and trade, international finance and monetary relations, international macroeconomic policy coordination, U.S. trade imbalances, aid and development, and related environmental and natural resource problems.

Option III: Culture in the Age of Globalization

In this option, majors investigate cross-cultural interactions at different levels: local, national, and transnational. Students engage in such issues as cosmopolitanism; international and global flows of images, ideas, and people; questions of identity; changing assumptions of what it means to be indigenous and foreign; globalization and technology; and the impact of globalization on cultures.

Completing the IS Major

IS majors must complete 35 credits (10–12 courses) beyond the prerequisite courses. There are four (4) parts to the IS major:

  • Area studies (one course)
  • Core courses (two courses)
  • Issues courses (15 credits)
  • Electives (2–4 issues courses from any of the three IS options).

Students may take area studies, core, issues, and elective courses while completing prerequisites.  See the International Studies website for specific and updated course offerings.   

The variety of courses from which to choose and the flexibility of the major are premised on the wide range of students interests and preparation. Therefore, students should bear in mind:

  • There are restrictions on overlap between majors. See IS advisor for details.
  • No course may be applied to more than one requirement for the major.
  • Students are cautioned to take into consideration prerequisites when choosing courses. Levels of preparation are particularly important in options involving language, economics, and environmental studies.
  • Students selecting courses outside the College of Letters and Science (e.g., agricultural and applied economics, international business) are advised to keep in mind the free elective rule.
  • All students must fulfill the L&S requirement of at least 15 credits of upper-level work in the major completed on the UW–Madison campus. 

Honors in the Major

Students wishing to earn Honors in the Major in International Studies must declare Honors in the Major in the second semester of the junior year and meet the following requirements.

1. A minimum of 16 upper-level honors credits that fulfill requirements in the major.  Those courses that would count for honors would include courses specifically designated honors in the Schedule of Classes (Course Guide) along with appropriate and preapproved special topics courses (e.g., Pol Sci 401 and 695, Intl St 601).  

No blanket statement can be made about the suitability of topics courses for the major.  They will be designated as fulfilling honors credits on a case-by-case basis.  Professors occasionally invite undergraduate students to take graduate-level courses.  When this occurs, candidates for Honors in the Major should seek preapproval from International Studies advising staff to count those courses towards Honors in the Major requirements.  These request will be reviewed and approved on a case-by-case basis and a DARS exception will need to be entered.  Students who both study abroad and pursue Honors in the Major must also work closely with the advisor to determine which, if any, courses taken abroad will fulfill honors credits in the major.  

2. A 3.5 grade point average in the major and an overall GPA of at least 3.3 in all courses taken at UW–Madison at the time of graduation.

3. Complete the following upon consultation with the international studies advisor: two senior seminars (6 credits) such as the International Studies topics seminars.  For those students who are invited to take graduate-level courses, an individual exception will need to be made.  Students may also choose to do an interdisciplinary senior thesis, which is a two-semester commitment.  

Advising for Honors in the Major is through the International Studies Program.

Distinction in the Major

Students not enrolled in the Honors Program may apply for Distinction in the Major. Criteria include:

1. A 3.5 grade point average in the major;

2. At least one of the following: senior thesis, senior seminar, graduate course, or "substantial extra work" in an advanced course within the major.  Professors occasionally invite undergraduate students to take graduate-level courses.  When this occurs, candidates for Distinction in the Major should seek preapproval from the International Studies advising staff to count those courses towards distinction requirements.  These requests will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

3. A letter of recommendation from a member of the UW faculty to the International Studies advising staff three weeks before the date of graduation.

Study Abroad

International studies and studying abroad are a natural combination. While study abroad is not a requirement for the major, all IS students are strongly encouraged to pursue a significant international experience during the course of the undergraduate career. Whether through a study abroad program, an internship, or service learning, the experience of studying or working in a foreign culture is invaluable. Many courses taken abroad will count toward the IS major. See the IS advisor for specific guidelines. More information about study abroad and internships is available through International Academic Programs.

This page was updated 2/1/17.