Best Master's in International Relations Degree Programs

Apr 29, 2021

What Is a Master's in International Relations Degree?

Master's degree programs in international relations are widely available. Students can pursue international graduate programs in Washington D.C. to California. These programs focus on critical global issues and usually include hands-on learning experiences. While there is some overlap, the difference between a political science degree and an international relations degree is that the latter offers a broader perspective in global communication, not just as it pertains to politics.

Students typically explore aspects of economic development, politics, finance, global conflict, and more. Master's degree programs in the field are most commonly offered as Master of Arts in International Relations (MAIR) degrees, but there are some Executive Master's in International Relations programs available for mid-career professionals. International relations programs are designed to further expand students' critical and analytical thinking skills, as well as their leadership and communication skills. Find out more about these degree programs below.

Common Undergraduate Degrees for International Relations

Applicants to master's programs in international relations are required to hold a bachelor's degree, but not necessarily in any particular field. It can be common for students to have a background in international relations, international affairs, political science, business, or other related fields. It may also be beneficial for students to have experience (or even a degree) in a foreign language. These different areas generally help introduce students to global perspectives and cultural differences that form the basis for master's level study. For students who are interested in a career in global politics, it is possible to double major in political science and international relations.

Admissions Requirements for International Relations Master's Programs

Some master's degree programs in international relations are very competitive and students will need to meet or exceed admissions standards. Although standards vary slightly from school to school, in general, applicants to these programs are required to have at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Some programs have a minimum GPA requirement and some require the GRE; others make the exam optional. Students wishing to apply to an executive master's program in international relations may need to have additional work experience, such as a minimum of 5 to 7 years. Applications for master's programs in international relations commonly require transcripts, letters of recommendation, a resume, a personal statement/statement of purpose, and some may also require a writing sample.

How to Choose a Master's in International Relations Program

Which master's program in international relations a student chooses can come down to factors of personal preference and need. Students should always first look for a program at an accredited institution to ensure that they are receiving a quality education and can qualify for financial aid. Students can then begin comparing program formats and features. Some students need to have a part-time program, while others want an accelerated program. Some programs provide unique learning opportunities for students, such as study abroad experiences or internships. The cost and location of a master's degree program can also play a role in a student's decision.

International Relations Master's Degree Courses

Master's degree programs in international relations commonly require between 30 and 40 credits of coursework. Part-time students may finish these programs in 2 to 3 years, while full-time students can finish in 2 years or less, with some programs allowing students to finish in 12 to 16 months. Some executive programs can be completed in 18 months when taken part-time. Master's degree programs in international relations are usually on-campus programs, but some are available in blended formats. Students in these programs typically take core courses and electives and some programs include a culminating experience. Find out more about the curriculum for these programs here.

International Relations Foundational Courses

Master's programs in international relations are usually non-thesis programs but may conclude with a capstone experience. Depending on the program, students can be required to complete a foreign language requirement and/or an internship. Some internships or travel courses in a program provide students the chance to study/work abroad to gain international experience. Other core courses focus on international topics, research, and theories. These core courses are designed to give students an overview of the field and provide advanced knowledge in main concept areas, such as government, politics, and economics. Course titles vary greatly from institution to institution, but students in these master's programs are likely to take courses in areas such as:

  • Foreign policy
  • Culture
  • History of international relations
  • Research methods
  • Comparative politics
  • Theories in international relations
  • Economics, environment, and geography
  • Development and sustainability

International Relations Specialist & Elective Courses

Students typically round out their degree with elective courses, which allow them to pursue various areas of interest. These courses may also help students focus their degree and prepare for a specific career. Some programs offer specific career tracks that allow students to take courses and study areas such as international political economy, development and humanitarian assistance, peace, security, and conflict and others. Elective courses can include topics such as:

  • Communication
  • Geography
  • Human relations
  • International law
  • Regional politics
  • Sociology
  • History

Licensure & Certification in International Relations

There's no specific license or certification for students wishing to work in international relations. However, depending on the industry and job that students pursue, there may be training, licenses, or certifications that are required or recommended. For example, students wishing to serve in law enforcement as FBI agents or other officers who work on an international level must undergo additional training. FBI agents, in particular, must have at least a bachelor's degree and 2 years of work experience or 1 year of work experience with an advanced degree and then complete training at a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center or the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia.

Internships in International Relations Master's Programs

Many master's degree programs in international relations include a global component. Some programs may offer study abroad experiences or a travel course that allows students to study outside of the U.S. Other programs offer internship experiences that can take place stateside or abroad. These internships give students practical training to help prepare them for international work after graduation. Usually, these programs include coursework and professional development experiences. Depending on the program, students may be able to work in areas such as Africa, Latin America, Europe, and Asia. Programs that offer career tracks have internships and practical experiences that are open to students of specific career tracks to help better prepare them for a future career in their chosen area.

Post-Graduate Options After a Master's in International Relations

Students wishing to continue their studies can pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in International Relations. These degree programs are available on campus and online and typically require a dissertation. Graduates of these degree programs are prepared for advanced leadership and research positions and may go on to teach at a college or university. They're also highly customizable and allow students to choose different concentrations or courses based on their interests and goals. Students can complete some of these degrees in as little as 4 years.

International Relations Professional Organizations

There is a variety of professional organizations with an international focus that may be beneficial to professionals working in the field of international relations. These groups can connect professionals or students with helpful resources, professional development opportunities, events, and more. International groups also help professionals connect with other professionals in the field from around the world, which can provide new perspectives and insights. A couple of examples of international relations groups include:

  • International Studies Association- The ISA aims to connect students, scholars, and practitioners in international studies from around the world. The organization offers membership and is broken up into sections, regions, and caucuses. Professionals can access journals and news updates, teaching and employment resources, and information concerning upcoming conferences.
  • Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs- The APSIA is a group of graduate schools and programs that works to provide students in the field of international affairs and relations with a wide range of resources. Students can search schools to find the one that is best for them, as well as explore career, internship, and fellowship options.

What Can I Do with an International Relations Master's Degree?

There are many available jobs involving international relations as more and more fields and industries take on a global perspective. Potential jobs and salaries for a master's in international relations vary by students' interests, job title, location, and other factors. Graduates of these programs will most likely work for an international agency or in the realm of foreign relations, but can also work for the military, government agencies, or federal law enforcement groups, such as the FBI. There is also a lot of available work in the private sector as consultants, strategists, bankers, and more. Other specific job title options include:

  • Professor
  • Military operations analyst
  • Diplomat
  • National security agent
  • International trade specialist
  • Human rights activist
  • Foreign service officer
  • Strategy consultant

Job Outlook for a Master's in International Relations

As globalization continues, the need for those who have studied international relations will likely continue. Graduates with a master's degree in international relations should have a positive job outlook in general, as these degrees help prepare students for various types of leadership and advanced positions within the field. However, the specific job outlook for jobs varies by job title and industry. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the job outlook for a political scientist was 6% from 2019 to 2029, which is faster than average, while the job outlook for operations research analysts was 25% during the same time period, which is much faster than average (4% for all occupations).

How to Become an Operations Research Analyst

Operations research analysts need to have at least a bachelor's degree, but some employers prefer or require a master's degree. Usually, these analysts have a degree in operations research or quantitative fields, such as mathematics or computer science. Those with an interest in international relations may work as operations research analysts for the military or other international organizations. These professionals typically need continuing education to stay updated on current analytical methods and software tools. Some analysts may have a military background and/or need special security clearance for their position.

The BLS stated that as of 2019, operations research analysts made a median annual salary of $84,810. Those working for the federal government, in positions that may have international components, made a median annual salary of $113,940. These analysts help organizations solve problems by analyzing various sources of information. Using statistical methods they analyze data and create reports of their findings. Their findings also help organizations make better decisions based on recommendations for ways to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

How to Become a Political Scientist

Most political scientists need a master's or doctoral degree in areas such as political science, public administration, international relations, or other political science specialties and related areas. Those with only a bachelor's degree may qualify for some government jobs or other entry-level positions as assistants. Internships and volunteer experiences can help students gain practical experience to prepare for a career in the field. Aspiring political scientists need to have great communication, critical thinking, and analytical skills.

As of 2019, per the BLS, political scientists made a median annual salary of $122,220. Those working for the federal government made a median annual salary of $126,060 the same year. Political scientists focus on studying the operation of political systems, but some can focus on international relations. They collect data, test theories, examine current events, and observe the effect of laws on people, governments, and more. Their findings are typically reported in presentations and articles.

Master's in International Relations Program Financial Aid & Scholarship Resources

The cost of tuition, fees, books, and materials for master's programs in international relations can start to add up. Many students need financial assistance while earning their degree and should always start the financial aid process with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form helps notify students of any potential loans or grants they may qualify for at the federal and state levels. After exploring loan and grant options, students may also decide to apply for various types of scholarships.

Scholarships are available from a variety of sources for a wide range of reasons. For instance, Syracuse University, which offers both a MAIR and an Executive Master's in International Relations, provides multiple undergraduate, graduate, language, and study abroad scholarships for students. Some of these awards are based on academic merit, academic interests, work experience, and other factors. These scholarships may be awarded by the institution or other outside organizations, with some being specific to international relations and others being more general.

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