What a Graduate Certificate in International Relations Can Do for Your Career

In a world that is becoming smaller and smaller, understanding how different nations and cultures interact is becoming more and more important in both private industry and government, and just as much so for non-profits with an international scope. Commerce stretches across oceans and over the poles by way of air traffic and electromagnetic waves, passing through dozens of tax regimes and regulatory schemes along the way. Terrorism and environmental disaster stretch across borders, and aid agencies work across all kinds of lines to blunt the effects of disease and trauma.

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It’s a world that needs a lot more experts in international affairs. A graduate certificate in international relations is a way to put your name on that list.

Although there are many degree options in international relations, many people come to the field from other angles. Whether you are in a multinational firm and want to move up the ladder or work overseas, or are involved in non-profit work trying to better understand the challenges of assisting people in foreign cultures, a graduate certificate can give you the knowledge you need for advancement and success.

Career Options for Graduate Certificate Holders in International Relations

A graduate certificate in international relations opens up many of the same career options as obtaining a master’s degree in the field. You’ll find positions open for you in:

  • Government
  • Non-governmental organizations
  • Private industry
  • Research

There are a correspondingly broad array of job titles and salary ranges. A sampling of these, assembled from a variety of sources including job listings and salary surveys in early 2018, include:


FieldJob TitleSalary Range
GovernmentForeign Affairs Office, State Dept.$90,823-$118,069
GovernmentInternational Trade Specialist, Commerce Dept.$52,668-$118,069
ResearchResearch Fellow$89,000-$136,000
NGOCountry Director$43,800-$54,900
IndustryManagement Consultant$53,000-$128,000
IndustryOperations Manager$42,000-$117,000


In many cases, however, a master’s certificate is largely about improving your status in your current role and expanding your career potential. Whatever your field, you can expect a salary bump and a higher top-end with an international studies graduate certificate on your wall.

Selecting a Certificate Program in International Relations

The most critical thing to look at in evaluating certificate programs in international relations is the quality of the underlying graduate program. Certificates are almost always built upon longer and more complete master’s degree programs. The faculty and courses available in those programs will dictate the quality of your certificate.

The size of the school also has an impact on your selection. International studies programs often have very few fixed core requirements; the various specialties, based on countries, regions, or topics, can require vastly different courses to cover adequately. Finding a certificate program that covers the breadth of the subject you intend to study may mean finding a big enough school to cover all the bases.

Because this is a common challenge, many certificate programs come in specialized versions right out of the gate. You can find international studies certificates in many specific categories, including:

  • International Affairs
  • International Development Policy
  • International Security Studies
  • International Public Policy
  • Diplomacy
  • Defense Policy and Military Affairs
  • Intelligence and Counterterrorism

These types of programs will have a relatively fixed set of courses involved. Other graduate certificates might have no fixed requirements at all, but instead mandate a certain number of courses from within their field of study be taken to total the required credits.

Unlike other types of international relations degrees, language studies are not usually involved in certificate programs. Employers, however, will be most interested in graduates who are multilingual. You may also get more from the program if you have an additional language before enrolling.


One major advantage to graduate certificate programs is that many of them are offered online. Since they do not usually incorporate language class requirements, all of their teaching can happen remotely and asynchronously.

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This fits together nicely with the typical graduate certificate seeker, who is often already in the workforce and looking to improve their credentials in the subject. Since you likely already have a professional 9-5 position in this scenario, the ability to consume course material and work on assignments on your own schedule is a major advantage.

Online courses also afford you the opportunity to attend some of the most prestigious programs in the country without having to relocate to the cities where they are based. Most significant international studies departments are in universities in major urban centers and on the coasts… expensive places to live. But if you study online, you can avoid those costs but still get the same great education.

International Relations Certificate Core Curriculum and Electives

It’s difficult to generalize about the curriculum requirements of graduate certificate programs in international relations because the approaches to building courses varies widely from school to school. In fact, the courses that make up the certificate can be extremely different even between two different students in the same program!

A certificate program is restricted in the number of classes it can offer in a relatively limited amount of time. This is a challenge for programs in international relations, since there are so many speciality areas that can be covered in the field.

Because of this, the curriculum requirement are typically very broad in such programs, and those that do have fixed course requirements either declare their specialization outright, or keep them to a minimal number.

You can find yourself studying everything from the history of Western Civilization to micro financing in sub-Saharan Africa. A school with a lot of elective options in your specific area of interest allows an enormous amount of custom-fitting and specificity in your program.

Some schools abstract these topics for certificate programs into overarching courses. This type of program might have core classes covering issues such as global politics and global economics on a general level, then allow you to pick an elective element on regional studies in Asia or Europe, for example.

At a minimum, you can expect to have to take at least one general course in international relations, but even these can be very different from school to school or certificate to certificate.

Accreditation Standards for Certificate Programs in International Relations

Accreditation is a third-party evaluation of the school and course curriculum according to standards that are established according to generally accepted criteria and assessed by impartial investigators. In the United States, this is primarily conducted at the graduate degree level by one of six different regional accrediting agencies:

These organizations are recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the Department of Education (DOE) as maintaining strict pedagogical requirements and exhaustive evaluation standards in weighing diverse matters like:

  • Faculty selection and promotion
  • Curriculum development standards
  • Grading and graduation requirements
  • Student services and administrative processes
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These are all qualities you should want for your own benefit in a certificate program, but, more importantly, the accreditation status of the school is likely to weigh heavily with future employers and other people evaluating your credentials.