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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
Choosing a Masters in International Relations
One key point to bear in mind when choosing a program is how specialized you want to be. Some programs offer a broad overview of major international relations topics, while others are clearly focused on a particular area from the start. Programs also vary in terms of teaching style and the type of work students are expected to complete. Some offer internships as part of the course, while most will include project work and independent research. Some have a particularly intensive focus on the latter, designed to prepare students for research-based careers; this may be reflected in a course title such as MSc International Relations (Research).
As you may expect, IR is a discipline in which a large proportion of students are keen to study abroad, gaining first-hand international experience to enhance their studies and future international relations career prospects. As a result, many IR programs are particularly internationally diverse, offering the chance to study as part of a truly multicultural and multilingual community.
Popular Schools with International Relations Degrees
Top U.S. Undergraduate Institutions to Study International Relations
- 1.Harvard University51.10%
- 2.Princeton University49.14%
- 3.Stanford University41.67%
- 4.Georgetown University39.46%
- 5.Columbia University32.97%
- 6.Yale University21.08%
- 7.University of Chicago20.96%
- 8.George Washington University17.40%
- 9.American University15.20%
- 10.University of California—Berkeley11.64%
- 11.University of California—San Diego9.68%
- 12.Dartmouth College9.56%
- 13.Tufts University9.07%
- 14.University of Michigan8.58%
- 15.Johns Hopkins University7.23%
- 16.College of William & Mary6.86%
- 17.Massachusetts Institute of Technology6.37%
- 18.Cornell University5.76%
- 19.University of Pennsylvania4.53%
- 19.Ohio State University4.53%
- 21.Williams College3.68%
- 22.Brown University3.31%
- 23.University of Virginia3.19%
- 24.Swarthmore College3.06%
- 24.University of California—Los Angeles3.06%
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.