International Affairs Degrees: PhD, Master's & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in an international affairs master's degree or Ph.D. program? Read about international affairs program requirements, the pros and cons of a master's degree and Ph.D. and potential careers.
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Studying International Affairs: Degrees at a Glance

International affairs, also referred to as international relations, is the study of how different cultures, governments and economies relate to each other. With a master's degree, you could potentially seek employment managing non-profit organizations, non-governmental agencies and jobs involving public policy, cultures around the world and diplomacy. With a doctorate degree, you could become a professional political scientist or academic professor or researcher.

From 2010-2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that the job growth for political scientists would be eight percent, which is below the average for all occupations. Job growth for administrative services managers was expected to be at 15% in the same time period, while postsecondary teacher and research jobs were projected to increase by 17%. This figure was slightly above the national average for jobs in all industries.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this Degree for? People interested in working internationally or in management and advisor positions that address international policy Individuals who want to work as political scientists or in academia
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Administrative services manager ($87,000)*
- Diplomat or foreign affairs advisor (unavailable)
- Non-profit director (unavailable)
- Postsecondary professor or researcher ($74,000)*
- Political scientist ($105,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full time 3-5 years after the master's
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 50-60 credit hours
- Master's thesis/research paper
- Master's exams
- Foreign language requirement
Most of the master's degree requirements, as well as:
- About 4-6 more doctorate level courses
- Ph.D. qualifier exams
- Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation
- Foreign language requirement
- Teaching apprenticeship (in certain cases)
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in international affairs or a related field Bachelor's or master's degree in international affairs or a related field
Online Availability Yes None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in International Affairs

A master's degree program in international affairs is typically designed to help you become an expert in global politics, history and economic systems. It's a broad degree that can potentially lead to a career in a number of areas such as international business, intergovernmental and governmental organizations, diplomacy, education and journalism. A master's degree program in international affairs typically offers smaller class sizes, more intense coursework and more one-on-one time with professors than a bachelor's degree program in the same field. Because many of these programs are so academic and broad, it can be difficult to determine precisely what type of career options you can expect and the difficulty of finding employment upon graduation.

Pros and Cons


  • In a master's degree program in international affairs, you could potential gain the skills and knowledge needed to help improve national and global public policies
  • The research skills that you'll obtain could lead to a career as a research associate in the public or private sector
  • Online master's degree programs are available in this field


  • Earning a master's degree in this field can take up a lot of time and cost a lot of money
  • Some public policy and most academic positions prefer or require a doctorate degree
  • Admissions into master's degree programs in international affairs can be competitive

Courses and Requirements

Although the courses you'll be required to take can vary from program to program, you'll most likely cover a number of similar topics. Some of your courses depend on your chosen area of specialization. In some programs, you can choose an area of concentration such as urban social justice, media culture, human rights or international conflicts. A handful of classes you could end up taking are:

  • Ethnic conflicts
  • Religion and geopolitics
  • Democracy and Islam
  • Economic policies
  • Human rights intervention
  • International organizations
  • Research techniques and methodology
  • The rights of women
  • Oil and globalization
  • Politics and art

Although you can typically expect a good deal of coursework and exams, other requirements exist as well. Many international affairs programs will require you to master a second language. You'll also take a number of elective courses based on your chosen region or theoretical area of expertise. In addition to this, you'll usually be required to research and write a master's thesis.

Online Degree Options

If you're currently employed or unable to attend an on-campus international affairs master's degree program for other reasons, then an online program may be the option that best works for you. Much like with an on-campus program, you'll usually be required to take a series of general international affairs courses before choosing a concentration.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

In a crowded job market, it can be helpful to determine ways that you can get ahead while still earning your master's degree in international relations. For example, if you're seeking a career in public service, completing an internship or fieldwork with work with human services and rights groups, humanitarian relief agencies, health organizations, non-government organizations and public policy analysts could be a solid way to beef up your resume. It can also help you gain some of the real-world experience required by many employers.

Ph.D. in International Affairs

Different Ph.D. programs in international relations can offer different focuses, so it's often best to look at several before choosing. It tends to be intensely competitive to get into a Ph.D. program in this field, with as few as six candidates allowed to enroll in one semester. You'll work closely with faculty members to conduct research and eventually move towards the completion of your dissertation. Some programs help you start a career or be granted an appointment after graduation with non-profit organizations, government service organizations and universities all over the world.

Pros and Cons


  • A doctorate degree in international affairs qualifies you to work as a political scientist for the federal government, political lobbying organizations, nonprofit organizations, various think tanks and universities
  • In academia, you'll have many opportunities to travel to conferences and seminars, as well as having access to research grants
  • If you have a teaching or research position in academia, you could potentially be granted tenure


  • According to the BLS, job growth for political scientists was expected to be significantly below average from 2010-2020
  • Academic job searches tend to be national and sometimes international, so you may be required to relocate
  • Tenure isn't easy to get and isn't guaranteed

Courses and Requirements

Your chosen area of research and expertise usually directly affects the courses you take in a Ph.D. program in international relations. Often, you'll focus on a certain region, issue or core strength. A few core strengths that you could choose are:

  • Political economics
  • International law
  • International security
  • Foreign policy
  • Public policy

Graduate-level exams and coursework tend to be only a fraction of the workload in a doctorate program in this field. You'll also typically be required to present a dissertation proposal before a board. Once it's been accepted, you'll research, write and then defend your dissertation.

Online Degree Options

Few, if any, online Ph.D. programs in international affairs exist. This is due to the fact that earning your doctorate degree in this discipline tends to be very hands-on and research heavy. It's usually necessary to meet with professors and advisors, and you typically need an on-campus program to complete the necessary fieldwork.

Stand Out With This Degree

You can plan to stand out while earning your Ph.D. in international affairs in a number of ways. For example, try to get research findings or passages from your dissertation and other writings published in a peer-reviewed academic journal. This could boost your resume and garner respect from potential employers and colleagues. Also, as is the case when earning your master's degree, internships and residencies in the field can be enormously helpful when it comes time to seek employment.

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