Best Master's in International Relations Degrees & Graduate Programs Online

Online International Relations degree programs provide a global view of the issues and interactions that impact and occur on the world stage. One of the key features of International Relations is its breadth. International Relations studies examine core theories, principles, and political strategies that are at play between states, non-states and organizations, such as the United Nations. Courses often cover foreign policy, conflict, and negotiation. Or, tackle terrorism, human trafficking, and national security. With its diversity, students who pursue their international relations degree online may be prepared to pursue a variety of career options.

Best  Master's in International Relations Degrees & Graduate Programs Online infographicwritten by Rana Waxman

How to Choose an Online International Relations Degree

When it comes time to choose an online International Relations degree, there are many similar programs such as International Studies and International Affairs. Sometimes a university uses the terms interchangeably, but not always. To really know what a program is all about, one of the best bets is to look at a syllabus. Then, consider where your personal and professional interests lie, and select an online international relations degree that aligns with them.
  • Choose a Concentration: Think about whether you hope to narrow your focus. Some programs offer a broad view of major international relations topics, while others zero in on one aspect of IR from the start. Or, they may have several areas of study or tracks  so that you can take courses that pertain to one theme, like global security or U.S. Foreign Policy for example. This may be the way to go if you want to shape a current career or even make a transition.
  • Course of Study: International Relations online programs also vary in terms of style of instruction and the type of work students are expected to complete. Some universities may offer internships as part of the degree requirements. Most entail some project work and independent research. However, for those with an intensive focus on research methods, statistics and analysis gear students up for research-based careers.
FUN FACT The most common occupation for International Relations & Affairs majors, by number of employees, are lawyers, judges, magistrates, and judicial workers.i

What Is International Relations?

International relations, or international affairs, is considered a section of political science that examines relationships among countries, the roles of sovereign states, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and multinational corporations. Students may explore topics such as diplomacy and negotiation, foreign policy, global security, or international economics and trade. International Relations is often taught as part of Political Science, although it may offer a variety of courses drawn from the social sciences. Economics, history, government, politics, and geography are several examples. Many online International Relations degree programs provide graduate students with key concepts and a grasp of the world organizations and policy debates. Students may explore major theories that could foster critical and analysis skills. Basic courses may draw from the sample below.
  • Intercultural Communication
  • International Economics
  • Forecasting
  • International Studies (history, theory, practice)

What Is International Studies?

International Studies (IS) is an interdisciplinary program that may also be referred to as Global Studies. Given the international scope, students may be required to be proficient in a foreign language. Aside from that, most International Studies programs are designed to foster critical thought and analysis skills. This may be done through an examination of case studies and an in-depth look at ethics and cross-cultural studies. Coursework often draws from core topics in global issues such as literacy, peace, politics, economics, and globalization. Also, there is often a component of ‘area studies’ where students take courses that pertain to a region. This might be the Middle-East, Europe or Asia, or another location. Also, students may be able to focus their studies around an area of emphasis, such as:
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Development and Global Health
  • Diplomacy
  • International Economics and Consulting
  • Global Education Issues

What Is International Affairs?

International affairs often takes on a public administration and business tone. Some online International Affairs degree programs are designed to provide students with both analytical and hands-on management skills. Along with a strong grasp of policy, students might be required to show a foreign language ability. Often too, coursework mixes economics, financial models and media with governance and public management. A common degree awarded in this field is the Master of Arts in International Affairs (MIA). See below for some sample topics in international affairs.
  • Microeconomics for International and Public Affairs
  • Enterprise Strategy
  • Nonprofit Administration
  • Accounting for International Affairs
  • Policy Research

Why Consider an Online International Relations Degree?

Whether you travel, work full-time, or live far from a university, an online International Relations degree may make graduate school more accessible.
  • Learn on the Go: The virtual classroom might be a mix of online methods video lectures, study guides, self-directed and guided reading, and a range of interactive online reflection and discussion activities. Some schools use dynamic live classes where students take part in face-to-face weekly classes without the commute. Then, the class is recorded so students can view the notes anytime. Other schools go by the motto ‘Study anytime from any place’ which usually means no set login times.
  • Connect and Collaborate: In some online International Relations graduate programs, group work tools and online office hours may help students to take part in a global community with students from many regions. Also, some online schools balance independent study with a brief residency. These intensives provide time to meet fellow classmates and professors. Plus, it may bring the digital courses to life through team exercises that are used to build practical and technical skills

Online Masters in International Relations

Online masters in International Relations programs often combine theory, principles and strategy which may foster breadth of knowledge and real-world skills. Applicants need a bachelors degree although they may come from a variety of backgrounds – business, government, or the military for instance. Many come with an interest in research, which can be a major component in their course of study. Some online master of arts in International Relations (MAIR) degree programs entail about 33 credits, which might be completed in about 18 months of full-time study. Usually, these are divided between core courses such as world politics, U.S. foreign policy, and international security. Other issues could range from nuclear proliferation and conventional arms trade to narco-trafficking, trade imbalances, environmental conflict, and religious issues. One way to personalize masters studies is through an area of emphasis. You may choose where you go to earn your international relations masters degree online based on whether they offer the concentration you want. These tracks require specific courses and tend to help students prepare for their masters research paper. Concentrations may include:
  • International Development: Do you hope to improve the lives of low-income communities across the world? Coursework in international development may help students to grasp the economic, political, and social challenges at the heart of this issue. Possible topics of study could include global health politics, climate change, gender inequality, and policy
  • Global Challenges: Are you drawn to solving worldwide issues such as poverty or sustainability? A focus in Global Challenges might allow students to broaden their points of view about problems such as climate change, health, and human rights.
  • International Negotiation: Would you like to develop the skills to apply strategic negotiation tactics? Coursework in international negotiation and conflict resolution might help students to evaluate post-war transitions, to give one example. Topics of study in negotiation might include concepts of war and disaster prevention, international alliances, or the application of cultural sensitivity to the negotiations process.
  • International Security: Are you concerned about global security? International security courses might look at the dynamics of peace, strategy, and civil-military relations. Students might find course topics that explore the causes of war, regime types, and conflict prevention.
  • U.S. Foreign Policy & National Security: Does the area of national security policy draw you in? U.S. Foreign Policy courses might provide a historical backdrop to current debates. Coursework is likely to draw from security studies, domestic politics, and intelligence policy.
  • Cyber Diplomacy: Do your interests blend computer science and political science? Closely tied with Information Security and Assurance, Cyber Diplomacy is likely to address world politics, law, and computer forensics courses. Students might also build skills in database security and forensic accounting.
  • Regions of the World: Are you drawn to comparisons? Regions of the World is likely to explore world politics, American foreign policy, and world views in international relations. Students usually choose a region to focus on. Latin America, Eurasia, Africa and Europe are some possibilities.
  • International Political Economy: Are you passionate about politics and economics? International Political Economy (IPE) usually takes on both. Course topics might cover specific regions, underground finance, investment, and law.

Online Graduate Certificate in International Relations

An online Graduate Certificate in International Relations often takes a narrow lens to one issue or theme. Many online certificate students are full-time professionals who seek a stand-alone credential for career advancement. One that has the bonus of transferable hours that might count as credit toward a graduate degree. Other students may be full-time students on track for their masters who want to add the notation of certificate completion to their transcripts. Or, post-graduate students who want to infuse their resume with new skills and know-how. While no two programs are alike, some certificates require students to complete about 12 credits. Within them, there may be an option to choose an area of emphasis. For instance, in a Graduate Certificate in International Affairs, the choices could be on diplomacy, defense policy, intelligence, or counterterrorism.

Online PhD in International Relations

Online PhD in International Relations programs provide research degrees that might enable graduates to pursue academic- and research-based career paths. In some schools, to be considered for admission, a bachelors degree is needed, but this does vary. Some universities may want to see an example of written work and research such as in the MAIR degree thesis. Since they do tend to be scholarly programs, PhD students might find they engage in analysis of cross-national issues through rigorous coursework. To that end, some doctoral programs in international relations may entail about 39 credit hours of approved graduate coursework. For instance, students might start out with an international relations theory core. These courses are likely to cover comparisons between region and points of view. Other courses usually form the research methods part of the program, and could include policy analysis. Not uncommon are field concentrations. These areas of emphasis require specific courses and help anchor the work of the final dissertation. U.S. Foreign Policy, Global Climate Change, and Security are several possibilities.

Find Accredited International Relations Graduate Programs Online

Universities that offer International Relations graduate programs online may be regionally accredited and approved by the Department of Education. Some schools could also be members of the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA). The world is largely interconnected. An online International Relations degree might help you weave together the various strands of trade, media, health, policy, and security. Aside from a grasp of regional concerns and global trends, graduates may take away new skills, whether it is the ability to manage complex projects, take part in team efforts, or perform analysis.

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