International Studies Degree Program Overviews

Oct 22, 2019

Essential Information

Degree programs in the field of international studies are offered at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral level. Students in international studies programs choose areas of focus in preparation for obtaining entry- and mid-level positions, though doctoral program learners conduct research, and are prepared for the highest leadership roles. The areas of specialization will vary according to region or theme of the program. Students learn how humanitarian organizations, multinational corporations, and government agencies affect relationships between nations. Those interested in more advanced topics in global business, government agencies, diplomatic offices, international organizations, and academia may receive interdisciplinary training through a master's program. Many doctoral programs take a wide, interdisciplinary approach with a focus in fieldwork and research.

Applicants to bachelor's degree programs only need a high school diploma, although preparatory social science classes can also be helpful. To enter a master's program, a student must hold a bachelor's degree in international studies or a related major, such as humanities or political science. For doctoral programs, it is not uncommon that a student must be fluent in at least one second language to apply, as well as holding at least a bachelor's or master's degree in a related field of study. A student's prior academic performance and professional or scholarly references are critical for acceptance.

Bachelor's Degree in International Studies

Bachelor degree programs in international studies explore how countries relate to one another socially, economically, and historically. Students must choose a thematic focus, such as trade relations, or a regional specialization, such as the Middle East or Africa. Several courses provide students with a general background in geography, social sciences, and humanities, as well as international relations topics. The curriculum also consists of electives specific to a student's chosen focus, such as American foreign policy. Course topics include:

  • Global politics
  • World literature
  • Cross-cultural management
  • Developing nations
  • Child labor and human rights

Master's Degree in International Studies

Master's programs in international studies are designed to prepare students for international political, corporate, and humanitarian environments. Depending on the area of concentration, students are required to participate in research or field work. Like bachelor's degree programs, graduate studies require a specialization based upon region or theme.

The admissions process in a master's program is limited and only accepts new students annually. Most master's degree programs in international studies combine a core curriculum with a specialty chosen by the student. Specialties relate to global issues or specific regions. Examples of concentrations include:

  • Comparative political theories
  • Terrorism and diplomacy
  • International economics
  • International trade relations
  • Foreign policies

Doctorate Programs in International Studies

A doctoral program in international studies is designed to prepare students for careers in academia and research. However, some students choose to continue their careers in governmental and non-profit sectors. Most doctoral programs also have limited admissions and are fiercely competitive. Doctoral programs in international studies require intense research in both coursework, and the defense of a dissertation. Areas of study include:

  • Military policy and strategy
  • Theoretical politics
  • International economic trends
  • Statistical methods
  • Law and international migration

Popular Careers

A plethora of careers in multiple fields and industries await master's graduates in international studies. Where bachelor's degree holders often qualify for entry-level or support jobs, advanced degrees typically open a field to professional positions. Some possibilities include:

  • Foreign policy researcher
  • College professor
  • Economist
  • International peace worker
  • Trade analyst

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Career options span many different industries for a graduate with a bachelor's degree in international studies. Publishing, marketing, government, business and banking are just a handful of possibilities. Listed below are a few different careers open to people with bachelor's degrees in international studies, along with their median annual salary, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2018:

  • Market research analyst: $63,120
  • Operations analyst: $$83,390
  • Paralegal: $50,940

Although careers in many different industries are possible for individuals with doctorate degrees in international studies, the degree is a common avenue to teaching positions in colleges and universities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for professors of political and social sciences was $83,370 as of May 2018. The BLS predicted an 11% increase, faster than the average for all occupations, in demand for university professors between 2018-2028 (

Continuing Education

Most jobs available to graduates with a bachelor's degree in international studies are entry-level. For this reason, individuals may choose to pursue master's and doctorate degrees in the field. A more comprehensive education and an advanced degree is necessary to enter most careers in academia and may provide advanced opportunities in business and politics.

International studies programs take a critical view of global politics and relations, often preparing students for careers that involve researching foreign policy or possibly teaching. As many of these careers are only open to graduate degree holders, many bachelor's degree students may choose to continue their education after graduating.

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