International Relations Major

What to Do With Your Degree

International relations majors can work in the United Nations
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The international relations major involves studying world societies and the interactions between them. Students with a concentration in this subject area develop expertise in diplomacy and foreign policy.

Many colleges and universities offer students an interdisciplinary approach which often includes coursework in history, politics, economics, world languages, and geography, or some combination of those disciplines. You can earn a bachelor's, master's, or doctorate (Ph.D.) degree in international relations. Master's and Ph.D. programs are usually more specialized than undergraduate ones.

Like other liberal arts degrees, a degree in this discipline will not give you entry into a specific occupation. It will, instead, provide you with a broad knowledge base that you can use to excel in a variety of career fields.

What Coursework Can You Look Forward To?

The interdisciplinary approach many colleges and universities favor means those who are working toward a degree in international relations take a diverse range of courses. Here are some of the general classes as well as those in each of the disciplines many colleges incorporate into their curriculum: political science, geography, economics, and history. Some programs also include classes in anthropology, international law, and religious studies. There is often a world language requirement as well. 

Specifics vary by school. It is important to investigate several colleges and universities to find the one that takes an approach to international relations that will allow you to reach your career goals.

International Relations

Students who major in this subject will take courses specific to this area of study as well as classes in other disciplines. Here are some international relations course titles at various schools:

  • International Relations: Theory and Practice
  • History of International Relations
  • Globalization and World Order
  • Non-Violent Conflict and Resolution
  • Peacemaking and Negotiation
  • Globalization and International Development
  • Challenges and Dilemmas in American Foreign Policy
  • Schools of Thought in International Relations
  • Global Security
  • Diplomacy and Statecraft

Political Science

Political science deals with domestic and international governance. It is essential for experts in international relations to understand the governmental structures of different countries. Your coursework will analyze government systems and political ideologies and behavior inside and outside the United States. These are some of the classes you may take:

  • Politics in the United States
  • International Politics: Methods of Analysis
  • Politics of Third World Nations
  • Comparative Politics
  • The Politics and Psychology of Persuasion and Prejudice
  • Money and Power in the International Political Economy
  • Middle Eastern Political Systems
  • Human Rights in World Politics
  • Electoral Systems
  • Failed States


The study of geography covers the physical features of the earth and the effects human beings have on it. International relations experts need a good understanding of this subject matter. For example, you must be aware of the locations of nations around the world and their proximity to one another. Some college and universities require international relations majors to take the following classes:

  • World Regional Geography
  • Cultural Geography
  • Political Geography
  • Disasters Preparedness and Hazards Mitigation


The study of economics is concerned with the allocation of tangible and intangible resources. An understanding of how this happens will go a long way toward having the ability to make sense of global interactions.

  • Introductory Economics Micro
  • International Trade
  • International Economic Institutions
  • Economics of Less Developed Regions
  • Economic Development in Latin America
  • Social Entrepreneurship and Economic Development
  • International Economics
  • China: Economic Development and Reform
  • Economies in Transition
  • History of Economic Thought


Without knowledge about the past, it is impossible to move forward. Many colleges offer these and similar classes to students in International relations programs:

  • Historical Intro to Latin America
  • History of Modern Mexico
  • Europe in the 20th Century
  • European Women Since the Middle Ages
  • History of Terrorism
  • History of Germany
  • History of the Modern Balkans
  • Modern Africa
  • History of the Caribbean
  • Traditional India

Master's and doctoral degree candidates take more advanced and narrowly focused coursework than undergraduate students. To prepare for writing a dissertation, they typically have to take classes in quantitative and qualitative data analysis and research design.

Where Do International Relations Majors Work?

International relations majors, in addition to graduating with an in-depth knowledge of world affairs, politics, economics, culture, geography, history, and language, also leave school with several valuable soft skills. They include listening, speaking, critical thinking, problem-solving, and writing skills. This strong foundation will qualify you to work both in the corporate and non-profit sectors. International relations majors go on to have careers in government, law, politics, business, education, media, and international affairs.

Possible Job Titles

Here are several job titles for which you may qualify after you graduate: 

  • Archivist
  • CIA Agent
  • Demographer
  • Diplomat
  • Economist
  • Foreign Affairs Analyst
  • Foreign Affairs Specialist
  • Foreign Service Officer
  • Immigration Specialist
  • Intelligence Specialist
  • International Lawyer
  • International Marketing Specialist
  • Journalist
  • Language Specialist
  • Lobbyist
  • Market Research Analyst
  • News Anchor
  • Non-Profit Program Coordinator
  • Politician
  • Political Analyst
  • Research Analyst
  • United Nations Worker

How High School Students Can Prepare for This Major

High school students who are thinking about studying international relations in college, should take classes in U.S. history, world history, government and politics, and geography. It is also essential to learn at least one world language.

What Else You Need to Know

  • Other names for this major are international studies and international affairs.
  • Admission requirements for master's degree programs vary. Candidates need a bachelor's degree, but it can be in any subject. Applicants must have completed some coursework in economics.
  • Doctoral programs, which are research-oriented, usually only admit candidates who have already earned a master's degree in international relations.
  • To become a more marketable job candidate after you graduate, consider studying abroad and becoming fluent in at least one language other than your native one. Internships are also invaluable.
  • To earn a doctorate, expect to spend at least five years studying full time. You will also have to prepare a dissertation, a written document that summarizes your research. It could take a few years to complete.

Employment Information

  • American Foreign Service Association: This site provides resources to help you learn about careers in the Foreign Service.
  • The Peace Corps: Get the facts on becoming a Peace Corps volunteer and apply online.
  • U.S. State Department Career Opportunities: Find out about career opportunities with the State Department.