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Focus and expand your knowledge of international policy and interaction with a graduate degree in international relations. A master's degree in liberal arts & humanities with a specialization in international relations offers students a strong theoretical background in the core disciplines of the field. Elements like history, economics, and political science are addressed in the context of public policy and other international concerns.

If you're considering entering the business world with an international relations degree, you may consider expanding your scope to include international business. This targeted business degree trains you on elements of international business that you won't find with a traditional Master of Business Administration (MBA).

How to Earn a Master's Degree in International Relations

Whether you intend to earn an international relations degree for academic, research, or public policy careers, or you're more interested in the applications of an international business degree, researching your options is essential. The research process takes time, but you are rewarded with the knowledge that you've chosen a degree that truly fits your lifestyle and goals.

Before you fill out your first application, you need to consider different degrees, specializations, and learning modes. You should think about coursework and your own personal preferences as you narrow your list of schools down to the strongest few. Start your educational journey in international relations today.

Step 1: Consider Different International Relations Degrees

The first step of your international relations degree process research is to consider the different degrees you can earn in the field. Whether you want to move into politics, public policy, research, teaching, or international business, you should find the degree that works with your career goals. Consider the following different international relations degrees:

  • Master of Arts (MA): For an international relations degree that extends beyond business, consider the master of arts degree. You can combine an international relations MA with other study for a dual degree or pursue one on its own.
  • Master of International Business (MIB): This hybrid business and international affairs degree gives students high-level business education while also offering a global context. Academically and professionally, consider the degree as similar to an MBA with a specialization in international business.
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA): This professional degree sets the standard for graduate-level business education. Find an MBA program that specializes in international business for the most targeted training.

In general, international relations is a social science degree, while international business is typically found in business schools. The MA is considered an academic course of study, while the MBA and MIB should been seen as professional degrees. However, each degree is considered equally academically rigorous. You can further focus your degree by applying a specialty.

Step 2: Consider Different International Relations Specialties

Personalize your degree program by choosing an international relations specialty that aligns with your career goals. Here are just a few specialties you might find in an international relations degree:

  • Specific regions (Latin America, Asia, Europe)
  • Specific industries or topics (forestry, technology)
  • International Business
  • International Management

If you choose to earn an international business degree, note that you may have more flexibility in your course delivery options. Weekend, part-time, and executive MBA and MIB degrees are designed for working professionals with experience in the field.

Step 3: Consider Coursework in International Relations Degrees

The major and specializations you choose determine the coursework you're required to complete. No two international relations degree are the same, and once you branch out of the major, the differences grow even greater. The international relations degree is designed to give you a global context of society within broad-based and specific coursework. Here is some sample coursework for an international relations master's degree program:

  • International Security
  • Global Economic and Development Policy
  • Political Reform in the Middle East
  • Civil Society and the State

An international business degree, on the other hand, is one way you can focus your international relations training to one specific concept. Here is a sample of coursework for an international business master's degree program:

  • Foundations in Financial Accounting and Corporate Finance
  • Financial and Managerial Accounting
  • Global Political Economy
  • Global Macroeconomics

As you can see, at the master's degree level you can find big differences between international relations and international business degrees. The type of degree you choose should depend on your career and research interests.

Step 4: Choose Between Campus and Online International Relations Programs

Next, it's time to think about your own learning style and the type of degree delivery method you'd like to use. Just like the type of degree you earn and your specialization are linked to your goals and personality, the way you earn the degree should be a personal choice. You may prefer the environment of a campus degree or the flexibility you enjoy as you earn a master's degree online. In the end, the degree method you choose is up to you. Think about the benefits of each style:

  • Online international relations degree: Earn a master's degree online and study while you're away from home. Log on from anywhere in the world to complete your international relations degree. This learning style is ideal for those already working internationally, along with self-motivated students and independent workers.
  • Campus international relations degree: Complete your international relations degree program on a traditional campus. You can enjoy face-to-face interaction with other students and professors. Students in campus international relations programs generally value hands-on learning and group work.

Your learning style, location, work schedule, and personality all play a part in which type of learning method best fits you. For more information on distance learning, check out WorldWideLearn.com's guide to online degree programs.

Step 5: Compile a List of Potential International Relations Schools

Now that you have a basic idea of the type of degree and specialization you want, along with the method by which you want to earn that degree, it's time to create your list. Use the following resources to create a list of potential international relations schools:

  • U.S. News & World Report maintains a list of top master's degree programs in political science with a specialty in international politics. Sort schools by name, rank, or enter your zip code and order by location.
  • U.S. News & World Report also maintains their rankings of top business schools related to international business. Use these rankings as a guide as you begin your search.
  • WorldWideLearn.com maintains a listing of online master's degrees in international management. Earn a master's degree online and make first contact with potential schools through the site.
  • For campus-based international relations degrees, see WorldWideLearn.com's listing of campus programs in international relations.

With these resources, you can begin to get an idea of the range of schools that offer master's degree programs in international relations and related fields. As you put together a list of programs, include every school that seems promising to you as a student--you'll have a chance to narrow your focus soon.

Step 6: Determine International Relations College & University Accreditation

Whether you choose to earn a master's degree online or on campus, it's essential to make sure that each school on your list is accredited. The accreditation process requires a third-party peer-review, and it helps to ensure the quality of your degree. Benefits to attending an accredited school include:

  • Accredited schools are eligible for federal financial aid, including loans and grants
  • The training you receive at an accredited institution is generally respected by hiring managers and other colleges and universities
  • You complete your degree with the confidence that your education is valued and valuable

Fortunately, it's easy to determine the accreditation of any school. Simply search for each school on your list using the U.S. Department of Education's searchable database, and find out which schools on your list make the grade.

Confirming a school's accreditation is important. In whichever international relations school you choose, you deserve to have confidence in your degree. For more information on accreditation, see WorldWideLearn.com's accreditation answers page.

Step 7: Focus Your Long List of International Relations Colleges & Universities

By now, you've used the resources above to create a list of potential international relations schools and weeded out the programs that didn't hold current accreditation. Next, it's time to focus your list even further.

Personalize your search by considering each school using the following categories. Consider different elements of each international relations program, and you may find you have learned much more about your future degree in general. Use the following to start focusing your options:

  • Requirements: You may need to provide undergraduate transcripts, GRE and/or TOEFL scores, work experience proof or resumes, letters of recommendation, and other requirements. As a rule, the most exclusive international relations schools require the most from applicants.
  • Location: If you're attending a campus program, consider the school's location. If you want to stay in the area after you've graduated or work there while you're in school, approach the location as someone searching for work--soon enough, you may be.
  • Funding: One international relations program may offer scholarships or teaching stipends, while another could waive out-of-state tuition and fees. The financial aid package you're offered says a lot about how the school values you as a student, as well as their available funds.
  • Faculty: Be sure to base your application on the general strength of a school's entire international relations faculty rather than one individual. Because professors do change schools or take semesters off, you want to make sure you are happy with the strength of the department in general.

Once you've thought about each international relations school in terms of the categories above, your top schools should begin to emerge. This step does take time, but it's worth it to learn more about your preferences as you find your top choices.

Step 8: Apply for International Relations Master's Degree Programs

By this step, you've thought about potential majors, accreditation issues, learning styles, and your own personal preferences. You've narrowed your list of international relations degree programs down to your best options. It's time to begin the application process. Keep the following in mind:

  • Requirements: Be prepared to provide all of the application required documentation. Every master's degree program sets different requirements for potential students. Contact each school's international relations department for specific details.
  • Deadlines: Once you've researched different schools and made your ideal list, don't waste your effort by missing an important deadline. Stay on top of deadlines for admissions applications, undergraduate transcripts, and financial aid applications.
  • Personalization: Make a statement in every application by personalizing each one to the school in question. Take each school's personality into account as you write each letter of intent. This extra touch could help you convince even the toughest application reader that you would be an ideal candidate.

Thoroughly research your international relations degree, and you could find it easier to personalize your application to each program. Research works to improve your chances of being accepted to the top schools on your list as it saves you time and money on applications. By taking the time to research, you can be one step closer to your goals.


  • Accreditation Search, U.S. Department of Education
  • International Relations (MA) Joint Degree, Yale University
  • International Relations Coursework, Boston University
  • Master of International Business, Tufts University
  • Rankings: International Business, U.S. News & World Report
  • Rankings: International Politics, U.S. News & World Report
  • Thunderbird School of Global Management

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