Masters in International Relations – A Lovely Guide

As international connections, communication and collaboration become increasingly important across all areas of life, it’s unsurprising to find a corresponding increase in demand for graduates from the field of international relations. The most-coveted international relations careers – such as positions in high-profile international organizations – are hotly contested, and studying a specialized Masters in International Relations is a definite asset, particularly if combined with international experience.

Demand for IR has existed throughout recorded history – for as long as distinct human communities have sought ways to communicate, to control or conquer one another, and to trade and collaborate. But the field was only formally established as part of the higher education portfolio within the last century. The first dedicated department for international relations was founded in the UK at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in 1924.

Today, common international relations topics and specializations include conflict and peace-making; comparative foreign policy; environmental policy; human rights; trade and financial regulation; international law; diplomatic tools and processes; migration and refugees; international security; and the role of international organizations such as the European Union.

A wide-reaching and interdisciplinary field, international relations is explored through a variety of program types. A Masters in International Relations may be offered as either a Master of Science (MSc) or Master of Arts (MA), and the subject may be referred to as international relations, international affairs or global affairs (to name just a few variations). Often, international relations is paired with a related field or specialization, such as diplomacy, governance, politics, business, law, conflict resolution or development. As detailed in the “specializations” section of this guide, a growing number of highly focused programs are also available.

Entry requirements

In accord with the subject’s broad range of specializations, international relations programs tend to attract students from a fairly diverse range of academic backgrounds. However – while it is possible to cross over from the natural or life sciences or technology – it’s fair to say that the majority of applicants are from the arts, humanities and social sciences.

Some Masters in International Relations have more specific requirements. For instance, students may be required to have completed at least some basic courses in economics before enrolling. And for some programs, standardized tests such as the GRE are required. If this is the case, you should be able to check the median scores of accepted applicants, to get an idea of whether your scores are high enough.

Professional experience may also be considered, especially if acquired in a relevant role. However, many international relations programs focus mostly on assessing applicants’ academic background, considering grades attained and relevant skills and knowledge acquired. The exact set of criteria will depend on the individual institution, as well as norms in the country you’re applying to study in.

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.


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