International Relations Major



Exceptional economic integration, unprecedented threats to peace and security, and an international focus on human rights and environmental protection all speak to the complexity of international relations in the twenty-first century. This means the study of international relations must focus on interdisciplinary strategies for anticipating, addressing, and ultimately resolving global issues. Learn more about earning a degree with a major in international relations.


International Relations Degree

The field of international relations is exceptionally dynamic, changing alongside an evolving global community committed to social justice, environmental sustainability, humanitarian aid, economic development, and effective diplomacy based on mutual respect and understanding.

International relations specialists of all kinds contribute to global cooperation through their work in governments, nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations, and private enterprise.

*International Relations Online delivers master’s degree programs from American University’s top-10 ranked School of International Service (SIS). These innovative, online programs give working professionals the chance to develop valuable relationships with classmates and build a foundational understanding of international relations principles that can be applied immediately to their careers.

International relations embodies the spirit of international cooperation. Without it, nation states would struggle to adequately promote trade and foreign investment, achieve international diplomacy, and enhance national security. The study and practice of international relations is both influential and instrumental, and its value is unquestionable in our increasingly connected world.

Applied International Relations

Professionals skilled in international relations possess expertise in the humanistic and social scientific disciplines, which include:

  • Global ethics
  • Languages
  • Transnational studies
  • Moral and political philosophy

Graduates of international relations degree programs are able to apply their scholarly training and proven skillset to such areas as:

  • Project Management: International project management, from nonprofit organizations to government agencies, requires professionals who understand the nuanced intricacies of international project collaboration.
  • Policy Analysis: Policy analysis requires professionals who are able to analyze international issues and communicate their findings to select audiences.
  • Trade and Economic Development: Governments and NGOs alike require international relations specialists skilled in trade and economic development, as well as the trends and challenges associated with the global economy and global development. Their work may involve everything from overseeing humanitarian aid projects to encouraging the growth of mutually beneficial trade relationships.
  • Global Communications: Professionals in global communications must possess an understanding of the impact of global technology and intercultural knowledge in order to effectively manage communications projects and the companies engaged in this type of work.
  • International Finance: International finance provides a unique insight into areas such as foreign monetary systems, international exchanges and trading platforms, as well as foreign economies and emerging markets.
  • Advocacy: International relations graduates possess the skills to serve as advocates for a wide variety of international issues, such as the environment, human rights, and public health.

Bachelor’s Degrees in International Relations

Bachelor’s degree programs in international relations prepare students to pursue entry-level careers in government, business, journalism, law, humanitarian organizations, and consulting firms. They also prepare students to pursue graduate studies in international relations or political science.

Bachelor’s degree programs in international relations may be offered as accelerated programs, distance-learning programs, and part-time programs. Many schools that offer these programs provide study abroad opportunities through collaborations with foreign universities.

Among the variations on the international relations major at the undergraduate level are:

  • International Relations and Diplomacy
  • International Affairs
  • International Studies
  • International Studies and Global Affairs

Program Concentrations and Coursework

At the undergraduate level, these programs introduce students to international political, economic, and social issues through a comprehensive core grounded in political science, history, and social science, among others.

Core coursework found in international relations programs at the undergraduate level include:

  • History of international relations
  • Introduction to political science
  • Political theory
  • Organizational management
  • Introduction to economics
  • Aid, development, and social entrepreneurship
  • Comparative politics
  • Research methods in international relationships
  • International law
  • International political economy
  • Diplomacy and foreign policy

Programs offering an international relations major often allow students to select a minor concentration so as to become proficient in a foreign language, specialize in particular area of practice, or develop expertise in a particular region of the world:

Regional concentrations:

  • Asia
  • Africa
  • Latin America
  • Europe
  • Middle East

Functional concentrations:

  • International political economy
  • War and peace
  • Environment and development
  • Foreign policy
  • International security
  • International business and economics
  • Global environmental issues
  • Global public health
  • Contemporary cultures and societies

Study Abroad and Internship Opportunities

Schools of international studies often partner with foreign universities to better facilitate study abroad opportunities and/or internships. In addition to classroom study, these undergraduate programs in international relations include case studies, debates and on-site visits, among other opportunities.

Students of bachelor’s degree programs in international relations often pursue volunteer/internship experiences in such organizations as:

Nonprofit Sector

  • Peace Corps
  • World Vision International
  • World Wildlife Fund
  • The Heritage Foundation

Federal Government

  • S. Department of Commerce
  • S. Department of Defense
  • S. International Trade Commission
  • S. Agency for International Development

Multilateral Sector

  • World Bank
  • United Nations
  • International Finance Corporation
  • International Monetary Fund

Master’s Degrees in International Relations

Master’s degree programs in international relations are multidisciplinary, policy-oriented programs aimed at producing 21st century leaders. Students in these programs learn about global processes related to diplomacy, economic development and humanitarian aid, along with at least one theme of global significance as determined by the concentration they select.

Program Structure

Traditional master’s programs in international relations consist of two years of full-time study, although a few institutions offer accelerated programs that are completed in one year of full-time study. Others offer students the option of studying at a partner school in another country, and many encourage internships and overseas job opportunities during course breaks.

A number of international relations master’s degree programs are for mid-career professionals who already possess significant experience in the field. These programs, often called executive master’s degree programs, allow for part-time/flexible scheduling, designed to cater to working professionals.

The name of the master’s degree program in international relations will largely depend on the institution offering it. Just a few variations on international relations majors available at the graduate level s include:

  • Foreign Service
  • Global Affairs and Management
  • International Relations and Development
  • International Service
  • International Studies
  • International Affairs
  • Global Studies and International Relations
  • International Affairs
  • Diplomacy

The study of international relations at the master’s level may also be combined with other disciplines. A number of dual-degree options exist, many of which are the result of collaborative efforts with partner schools:

  • Master of Arts in International Relations/Master of Business Administration (MA/MBA)
  • Master of Arts in International Relations/Juris Doctor (MA/JD)
  • Master of Arts in International Relations/Master of Science in Public Health (MA/MSPH)
  • Master of Arts in International Relations/Master of Public Affairs (MA/MPA)
  • Master of Arts in International Relations/Master of Theological Studies (MA/MTS)

Program Concentrations and Coursework

The core coursework of a master’s degree in international relations covers the fundamentals of international relations theory and provides students with an advanced understanding of the workings of the global economy.

The core of an international relations program includes study in:

  • History and theory of international affairs
  • Economic policy and analysis
  • Laws and regulations governing international organizations
  • Leadership and ethics
  • Economic policy and analysis
  • Globalization
  • Negotiation and conflict resolution
  • Quantitative and research methods
  • Policy development, implementation, and analysis

Because international relations is a broad, interdisciplinary field, master’s degree programs allow students to explore areas of study within the field by choosing one or more tracks, or concentrations. International relations concentrations allow students to develop substantive research, management, and policy-oriented knowledge in such areas as:

  • Peace and Conflict Resolution
  • International Trade and Finance
  • International Security
  • International Politics and Diplomacy
  • International Political Economy
  • International Management
  • International Law and Organizations
  • International Health Policy
  • International Environmental Policy
  • International Development
  • International Communication
  • Human Rights/Social Justice
  • Comparative and Regional Studies

Many larger graduate schools also offer students the opportunity to select electives that would allow them to further specialize their education in such areas as:

  • Trade and investment
  • Money and finance
  • International politics
  • Comparative and regional studies
  • S. foreign policy
  • International business
  • Regional or country-specific studies (Africa, Middle East, Europe, etc.)

Master’s degrees in international relations generally culminate in a capstone project or thesis. A capstone project consists of a paper and presentation that addresses a real-world international relations issue. A thesis, on the other hand, is an extensive research paper that covers an in-depth issue related to the area of concentration.

It is also common for graduate schools to strongly recommend international work or volunteer experience during the course of the program. Many programs offer fellowship opportunities to study abroad, both during and after college.

Doctoral Studies in International Relations

PhD programs prepare students for international relations careers in teaching, research, or government. In addition to core coursework, these graduate programs require written and oral examinations and the successful completion and defense of a dissertation.

External fellowships are sources of funding for many PhD programs in international relations. Many programs also provide full funding. These competitive programs provide tuition for all admitted students and provide them with stipends for living expenses for the duration of their doctoral studies, which typically take between four and six years.

PhD programs in international relations include:

  • PhD in International Relations
  • PhD in Sustainable Development
  • PhD in Public Affairs
  • PhD in Political Science, with a focus on international relations
  • PhD in International Studies
  • PhD in International Development Studies

Resources for Students of International Studies

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