Online Degrees in International Relations

In a globally connected world, degrees in international relations can be valuable in a wide range of careers. From diplomats to foreign correspondents to international business workers, an increasing number of careers require familiarity with foreign governments, histories or markets.

International relations education is available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Most degrees in international relations cover a broad range of topics, from foreign policy to comparative politics to language study. At the graduate level, students typically specialize in a particular area of international relations or a particular region. Take a look at the most popular international relations training levels:

  • Online bachelor’s degree: This common degree qualifies students for many entry-level jobs in the industry, including business, federal government and media careers. Courses generally provide an introduction to all areas of international relations, including political science, economics and history. Many schools also require international studies students to take a foreign language and/or study abroad.
  • Online master’s degree: Master’s degrees in international relations go beyond the basics in the field and allow students to focus on one area of study, such as economic development or international security. Students can also specialize in a particular region such as South America, Eastern Europe or Africa. The specialized training allows students to gain skills relevant to careers such as foreign service officer, nonprofit manager or international business consultant.
  • Online doctoral degree: Reserved for those pursuing research and higher education, a doctoral degree in international relations requires students to conduct original research on a particular question in international relations.

Online education gives students a chance to log on from anywhere in the world to complete an education, making it the perfect education format for global professionals who may already have travel commitments with work. Online degrees in international relations also offer a global context for learning; students interact with peers and professors across the country and around the globe, gaining a valuable international perspective in their studies.

While foreign service officers, or diplomats, may be the face of international relations, possible career paths for international relations graduates are as broad as the major itself. According to the College Board, international relations majors can go on to careers in public relations, media or finance. Take a look at a few popular jobs which can feature international relations skills, plus mean annual wages as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Median Salary
Projected Job Growth
Financial Managers697,900$134,18015%
Marketing Managers314,900$141,4906%
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers88,000$118,4309%
Purchasing Managers526,200$72,270-7%
News Analysts, Reporters, and Journalists52,000$49,300-11%

Source: 2020 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2019-29 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Students can choose to combine their international training with their existing business, marketing or financial experience to pursue popular careers like the ones above. For example, financial managers might earn a bachelor’s degree in finance plus an MBA in international relations to round out their training and boost their hiring potential within international markets.

International relations at a glance:

  • Salary: International relations majors earned a median annual wage of $50,000
  • Graduate school: 47 percent of students with a bachelor’s degree in international relations went on to graduate school
  • Employment: 93 percent of international relations majors are employed
  • Common occupations: Management (21 percent), office work (19 percent), sales (12 percent), business (10 percent), finance (6 percent)

(Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce: What’s it Worth?)

A doctoral degree in international relations can help take graduates behind global headlines to learn in-depth about key players in world politics, explore possibilities for resolving conflict, and achieve cooperation through international diplomacy.

Although a Ph.D. in international relations is the most common doctorate offered by colleges and universities, some schools offer a Doctor of Science in international relations as an alternative. The Doctor of Science degree is primarily recognized outside the United States, an additional benefit for individuals planning to work abroad.

At the doctoral level, international relations programs can be highly competitive and often require a master’s degree in international studies or a related field for admission. Some programs also require incoming students to speak a second language.

Programs that do not require a master’s degree for admission generally favor applicants who have a strong background in the social sciences. Most schools also require applicants to submit their Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores.

Programs and Specializations

Specializations for international relations doctorates vary from one program to another and can include the following:

  • Topical focus: Areas of concentration could include democratization, nationalism and ethnic conflict, strategic intelligence, game theory, global environmental policy, international law, and peace and conflict resolution.
  • Geographical focus: Coursework covers historical and contemporary geopolitics in the area of focus as well as cultural development, international trade, and banking and finance for the region.

In addition, most programs require students to complete courses in research methodology and analysis. Programs that don’t require applicants to speak a second language may also include a language requirement in the coursework phase of the program.

Some schools offer international relations doctorates in an online format. Distance education programs typically follow the same structure as traditional, campus-based programs, with students completing coursework before moving on to independent research. Online programs often require a short, face-to-face residency period at least once a term so students can interact and network with fellow peers and professors.

What Does a Doctoral Degree Program in International Relations Entail?

Most doctoral-level graduate programs in international relations take between four and six years to complete for students attending full time. Students fulfill approximately two years of core and specialized coursework and are then required to pass comprehensive written and/or oral exams before continuing to the dissertation phase of the doctorate program.

In the final phase, students spend between two and three additional years researching, writing and defending his or her dissertation, culminating in a product of high-quality, original research relevant to the student’s specialization.

Choosing to pursue an online doctorate in international relations is a big decision. Start your research by browsing through the schools below and requesting additional information from prospective programs.

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