International Relations Degree Programs

As an interdisciplinary study, International Relations can serve its students in a wide variety of ways.  The type of degree students pursue (undergraduate, master’s degree or PHD) depends ultimately on individual career goals. For those interested in becoming a professor or a high-level researcher, a Ph.D. is a more or less a prerequisite. A master’s degree in International Relations can lead to a career in NGO’s, government, journalism, international business, government and more. Many universities offer joint degrees of a master’s degree in International Relations with a degree in Public Policy, Law, an Area Study, or International Business.

Undergraduate Degree in International Relations

An undergraduate degree in International Relations helps to build a student’s knowledge and fluency in political science, international relations theory, economics, history, area studies, language studies (in some instances), anthropology, political philosophy and more. An undergraduate degree will likely not lead directly to a career, but will help student gain an understanding of international systems, institutions and politics — knowledge that could be useful in a wide variety of career paths. Students with an undergraduate degree in International Relations may go on to pursue a master’s degree or Ph.D. in International Relations.

Master’s Degree in International Relations

Receiving a master’s degree in International Relations may be a necessary career step for those pursuing a job in non-governmental organizations, governments, journalism, or international business. Master’s degree programs, usually 2 years in length, help students gain skills, knowledge, and the connections necessary for a career in International Relations. Programs often have extensive internships programs, aimed at helping graduates find careers. While scholarships may be available, master’s degree programs are less likely to be fully funded by the university.

Ph.D. in International Relations

A Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) in International Relations is primarily for scholars interested in a career as a researcher or a professor. A Ph.D. program takes usually around 3-5 years to complete, including coursework and a final dissertation, and is generally a full-time program. Ph.D. programs may be partially or fully funded by academic institutions and often have small incoming class sizes (Harvard usually accepts 10-26 students, NYU has less than 10 incoming students per year). A master’s degree in International Relations is usually a necessary prerequisite for a Ph.D.


International Development –  A concentration in International Development allows students to study social, political, and economic development in a wide variety of contexts. Students will analyze the role of international, national, and local actors in facilitating development processes. This concentration often entails a great deal of study in economics.

United States Foreign Policy- Students who concentrate in United States foreign policy will study the many components of U.S. Foreign policy, including history, intelligence, security strategies, diplomacy and more.

Peace and Conflict- A concentration in Peace and Conflict studies helps to give students the skills necessary to analyze conflict. Students focus on the intersection of various sub-disciplines, including mediation and conflict, human rights, development, gender studies and international law.

Environmental Policy- Students who select a concentration in environmental policy generally have the opportunity to take classes in environmental science and international affairs. Students study the global management of natural resources.

Sustainable Development- Students focusing in Sustainable Development will study ways of economic, political and social development that prevent environmental degradation and reduce poverty. This concentration generally includes studying a variety of disciplines, including development economics, earth sciences, and human rights.

International Communications/Media- A concentration in International Communications helps prepare students for a career in international journalism, marketing, business or public relations.

Area Studies- An Area Studies concentration (required at many programs) helps give a student fluency in the history, politics, language, culture, and economics of a specific region. This can prepare a student for a career in that specific region.

Related Degrees

If you are unsure as to which degree to pursue within the IR space, please visit our resources on related international relations degree programs: