Best International Relations Graduate Programs & Schools
What is an International Relations Degree?
At the graduate level, an International Relations degree program might explore all the nuances of social justice, global economics, politics and foreign policy. International Relations is an academic discipline that zeros in on all types of interactions between actors at the global level. Topics of study may include diplomacy, international security, environmental policy, trade, and financial regulation.
An international relations (IR) degree may be pursued at three levels – Masters, Doctoral, and Graduate Certificates. Within each of these levels, there may be a large degree of variation. First, graduate schools may refer to their IR degree programs by other names. International Politics, Global Affairs and International Affairs graduate programs are examples. Often, too, an international relations major may be paired with a related field or area of emphasis. These could span peace studies, governance, politics, business, law, conflict resolution, or development.
Because of this range, students might look for a degree in international relations that mirrors several key factors.
- Research interests
- Educational level
- Professional goals
International Studies vs. International Relations: Is There a Difference?
While they may be used in some grad schools to refer to similar topics, International Studies (IS) and International Relations (IR) could cover distinct subject matter.
International relations (IR) or International Affairs programs are often rooted in political science. For instance, a student earning an International relations degree might explore global studies, as well as the political tensions or key issues that arise between nations.
Courses might touch on the topics that follow:
- Defense Policy
- Military Affairs
International studies casts a wider net to include ideas in economics, politics, and social sciences. Rather than highlight political relationships, an International Studies degree might take a holistic view of world dynamics.
As such, an International Studies graduate program may have a more cultural point of view. For instance, it might entail a focus on foreign language, comparative religions, or society.
Classes may address many key issues, as seen in the sample topics below:
- Global Problems (health, poverty, water supply)
- History of US Foreign Relations
- Comparative Systems of Law and Justice
- Environmental Law
- International Economics
Masters in International Relations (MAIR) Degrees
A Master of Arts in International Relations (MAIR) degree program may help students to develop their analytical and cultural skills. Applicants often need a bachelors degree and may need to be an adept speaker of English and another foreign language. Some coursework in political science, economics, history, and international relations may be expected as well.
Most masters international relations programs offer a strong dose of theory and may cover economics (both at a macro and micro focus), history, and culture. Also, students may gain a solid grasp of concepts, world organizations, and policy debates in the field of international relations.
Aside from their courses, masters students bridge theory and practice through a capstone project and practicum. Along with an ability to manage projects, this may broaden soft skills such as written communication and oral presentation.
Some international relations masters programs offer focused tracks where students might cultivate expertise in a subfield. This could be a regional focus such as the Middle East or Europe. Or a functional interest such as foreign policy analysis, international law, or human security and global health. Programs vary.
PhD in International Studies Programs
The PhD in International Studies is a research based degree in International Relations. Usually a rigorous program, applicants may be required to show their thesis from a Master in International Relations program. Other material, such as GRE scores, letters of recommendation, goals, and resume may also be needed.
Some PhD programs might cover core studies in international political economy, global politics and comparative politics. Students may then tailor their program to make it productive for them. For instance, they might choose to examine ethics or democracy and war more closely.
Also, a PhD international relations student may be able to select a field concentration. These areas of interest might include international trade, monetary relations or an advanced issue in political economy. With its strong emphasis on research methods and intense study, a doctorate International Studies degree may suit students who want to pursue a career in academia.
DID YOU KNOW? Most Ph.D. candidates choose to focus on one of four primary subfields of political science: national politics, comparative politics, international relations, or political theory.i
Graduate Certificates in International Relations
A Graduate Certificate in International Relations may provide students with a deeper grasp or insight into some political process, human rights, or geopolitics. In some schools, a graduate certificate may entail four courses.
How it often works is that a student may be given a long list of available topics. They may have to take one or two core topics then devote the other credits to electives. Which, in itself, might be a purposeful way to boost expertise in a specific area.
What four of these potential topics would fascinate you?
- Global Human Trafficking
- The Political Economy of Russia and China
- Domestic Politics
- The Politics of Sports
One of the potential perks of a certificate is that in some graduate schools, students may be able to apply their credits towards a masters degree. If a graduate degree in International Relations is not on your menu for the present moment, a certificate might provide a post-bachelors resume refresh.
We asked: How has earning a graduate degree in international relations pushed your career forward?
My graduate degree in international relations taught me how our global economy was connected, what made some democracies strong and others weak. The degree has also given me insight on how people see themselves and how it influences their political opinions. These are the very same insights informing my work as a writer.
What Does It Mean to Be an International Relations Major?
Graduate International Relations programs offer plenty of room for students to find their niche within the sphere of international studies. This could be a great differentiator when it comes time to select an individual International Relations degree.
Each school offers unique topics, tracks, and faculty, some of whom may bring to the table significant experience and perspective. For instance, in several universities, former ambassadors, diplomats, or United Nations officials and attorneys are on their roster of professors or speakers.
Taking into account your interests and career goals, consider some of the following international relations concentrations.
Students who focus their studies on global security might dive into the dynamics of peace, security, and war. Along with core theories, coursework might explore strategies to manage and mitigate conflict. Issues such as the causes of war, alliances, defense, and civil-military relations might also be covered.
U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security
Individuals who earn their International Relations degree with an emphasis in foreign policy and national security might focus on several key topics. Aside from the craft and implementation of foreign policy and national security, areas of study could include defense and intelligence. Also on the economic, historical, political, social, and strategic bedrocks of United States foreign policy.
As an area of emphasis, international negotiation tends to look at how to assess, negotiate, and resolve disputes that involve transnational issues and peoples. Also, courses tend to cover methods that might be used to prevent armed conflict and understand early warning concepts.
Through a course of study that may rely on case studies, students may develop their own capacity to strategize and figure out various tactics and solutions.
International Development graduate programs might provide students with a more solid grasp of what needs to be done to drive positive change for low-income communities. Often, coursework looks at the economic, political, and social challenges of economic development.
Along with studies in opposed points of view on how to achieve development, several key issues may be highlighted. Global health, poverty, organizational strategy, financial policy, and demographic trends are a few possible areas.
Diplomacy and International Relations
Diplomacy is the art and practice that may refer to a process of negotiation between representatives of groups or states. Diplomatic relations are often used to discuss peace, trade, war, economics, climate change, and human rights. An International Relations degree with a focus on diplomacy is likely to cover both topics in-depth through courses, research of policy analysis, and internships.
While core diplomacy courses examine IR theory, students might choose electives to develop their own interests. These may be drawn from any area within international relations, for instance, public international law or comparative foreign policy.
Also, to further refine their diplomatic niche, some diplomacy graduate programs may offer a choice of regional and functional areas of study. A regional emphasis could mean more courses in the Middle East, Africa, or Asia. Functional areas might explore global negotiations, international organizations, or post-conflict state reconstruction.
International Policy and Development
A graduate degree in International Policy and Development is usually a mix of economics and politics courses. Coursework might cover, trade, investment, policy analysis, or micro and macro-economics.
Often, aside from core topics, students are required to take advanced language courses and may need to pinpoint an area of interest. For instance, more courses in trade, investment, and development or, more courses in human security and development.
Some International Relations Graduate Programs focus on Global Challenges and the issues that affect people worldwide. This type of program might look at development through the lens of economic, social, and political inequalities. It may examine human activity from the standpoint of how it changes the natural environment. Or, consider links between local and global health issues.
Another way to approach International Relations is through International Communications. A graduate degree in international communications might take a deep look at the global media landscape. Students might explore media strategies, public policy, and public relations.
Coursework might also address various types of communication. International advertising, political communication, and advocacy are several potential topics.
What Might I Do With an International Relations Degree?
A degree in International Relations does not necessarily prepare all students to pursue the same type of career the way accounting or medicine might. Most likely, along with an International Relations degree, you are a person of other talents and passions. These may help to shape the type of career you choose to pursue.
For instance, you may be drawn to research and statistics. Your love of the outdoors may combine with a desire to work on climate change policy. Or, your people skills might make you lean towards PR, marketing, or peace-making. Below is a sample of related career paths.
- International Economist ii
- Media Relations Specialist iii
- International Affairs VP iv
- Financial Examinerv
- Policy Analyst vi
- Interpreter or Translatorvii
Build A Variety of Skills
International Relations programs may help students integrate theories and points of view from multiple sources. This might help overall to refine their ability to analyze, problem solve, and think critically.
In addition, students might come away with skills in quantitative research methods. Other professional abilities such as how to negotiate, interpret conflict, or navigate another language may also be within reach.
Accredited Graduate Programs in International RelationsGraduate International Relations degrees may be offered by regionally-accredited universities. Accreditation is a stamp of approval from the Department of Education and may allay fears of ‘degree mills’.
Also, some schools may be members of the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA). APSIA is not an accreditor but does have criteria for program standards.
Online or On-Campus IR Degree?
Do you prefer to earn your International Affairs degree online or on-campus? Is it in your mind to study abroad?
If you prefer face-to-face interaction and the idea of a brainstorm session with classmates appeals, think about where you want to go to international relations school. Then, refine your search by location – city, state, or country.
If you need to schedule your life a certain way, travel, or full time work, an online International Relations degree might provide that flexibility.
Sources: [i] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/political-scientists.htm |[ii] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/economists.htm | [iii] onetonline.org/link/summary/27-3031.00 | |[iv] onetonline.org/link/summary/19-3094.00 | [v] onetonline.org/link/summary/13-2061.00 | [vi] onetonline.org/link/summary/13-2031.00 | [vii] onetonline.org/link/summary/27-3091.00 |
|State||Employment||Annual Mean Wage|
|District of Columbia||3,670||$123,070|
|Metro Area||Annual Mean Salary||Employment|
|New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA||$122,500||90|
|Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC||$118,430||30|
|Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX||$85,990||0|
Schools with Best International Relations Graduate Programs
GradSchools.com offers 165 Best International Relations Graduate Programs
Seton Hall University
Lille University of Science and Technology
American Graduate School in Paris
Brooklyn College Of The City University Of New York
Old Dominion University
Michigan State University
University of Denver
Texas A&M University
Institute for Cultural Diplomacy