The Guide to Online Master’s in International Relations and Business Programs

A master’s in international relations can prepare you for a career in government, politics, business or nonprofits. This degree provides a comprehensive education regarding the myriad factors that influence foreign policy and national relations, including history, economics and security. This can also provide leadership skills, including written communications, media strategy and public speaking. Long gone are the days when you had to be a full-time student on a university campus.

There are many online master’s in international relations programs you can complete while working to advance your current career or begin a new career path. 

Build Int'l Expertise with AU's Online Master's

The online master’s programs from American University’s School of International Service allow professionals to build international and business expertise in 12–24 months. GRE/GMAT scores not required.

  • GRE not required
  • Concentrations: Global Security, US Foreign Policy & National Security, International Development, International Negotiation & Conflict Resolution
  • Washington, DC -based school with large network of connections


What Is International Relations?

International relations is the study of the relationships between nations, as well as between nations and international organizations, like the United Nations, or subnational groups, like political parties or special interest groups. 

International relations encompasses: 

  • Governance
  • Economics
  • National and ethnic identities
  • Intercultural identities
  • Foreign policy
  • Diplomacy
  • Communication
  • Security
  • Cybersecurity
  • Environment
  • Terrorism
  • Cyberterrorism
  • Social movements
  • Media 

With nations becoming more connected and dependent on one another through the global economy, there are dozens of different career options for within this space, whether  you’re an MBA grad looking to focus globally or an IR grad looking to enter the business world. Professionals who have studied either international relations or international business can analyze history, foreign policy, business decisions, political discourse and more. They may use these analytical skills in business, politics and the nonprofit sector to prevent conflicts and improve relations between nations, political and cultural groups and international organizations. They also can use their knowledge and skills to drive change within a country or for certain populations. 

The master’s in public administration (MPA) is a related degree that also prepares students for leadership roles in government. Typically, an MPA program focuses more on domestic issues, although it does address some international matters as well. Both the master’s in international relations and a master’s in public administration should prepare you to work in government roles, but which one you may wish to earn depends on your career goals.

Can You Earn an International Relations Master’s Online?

Yes, there are master’s in international relations programs that you can complete entirely or partly online. Many accredited and well-respected universities have created remote learning opportunities. There are full-time opportunities as well as part-time programs for working adults 

Online Master’s of International Relations Admissions Requirements

Requirements for acceptance into a master’s of international relations program include: 

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college. You must provide official transcripts. You don’t have to have a degree in a certain field, though political science is common.
  • Letters of recommendation. The number of letters of recommendation you need depends on the program. Plan to get two or three from current or previous employers, professors or mentors.
  • Statement of purpose. Also known as a personal statement, a short essay on why you wish to pursue the degree is required by many programs.
  • Resume or CV. Many programs are geared toward working adults. They want to see your resume to determine if you are a good fit for the university and degree program.
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score. Some online programs require a GRE score, while others don’t.
  • Prerequisites. Some universities require you to have completed certain types of courses, such as macro- and microeconomics, before you can be admitted or start the program. 

Online Master’s in International Relations Programs With No GRE Required

Whether or not you need to take the GRE and get a certain score depends on your preferred master’s degree program. Some programs require a GRE score or a certain number of years of professional experience to waive the requirement.

For programs that require a GRE, a specific score might not be necessary. Instead, you should look at the median or average scores for the previous admissions classes. This information gives you a goal score range. If you wish to avoid spending time and financial resources on taking the GRE, you can seek out programs that don’t require any test scores. Instead, they’ll take a close look at your previous education and work experience to see if you’re a good fit and will likely succeed in the program. 

Master’s in International Relations Online Program Curriculum

The specific curricula of international relations master’s online programs vary, but there are common threads among them: 

  • International relations theories
  • Intercultural communication
  • Global governance
  • Economic theory
  • International economics
  • Global markets
  • Quantitative research methods
  • Statistical analysis
  • Leadership
  • Global security
  • Foreign policy analysis
  • U.S. foreign policy
  • International negotiation and conflict resolution
  • Diplomacy
  • Corporate social responsibility 

When searching for the right program, take a close look at the degree curriculum and who teaches these courses. It can be beneficial to find classes that both reflect your career goals and are taught by professors with great experience in the field. 

Capstones in International Relations Master’s Online

Some master’s degree programs will require you to complete a capstone in order to graduate. More advanced programs may even require you to complete a policy analysis or national security analysis capstone, which you must defend to a panel of experts. This intensive project is meant to put your knowledge and skills into action. In some cases, a capstone can be used as a portfolio piece when you’re seeking employment after completing the program.

Immersion Experiences for Online International Relations Master’s Programs

Some master’s programs require you to take part in an immersion experience or internship. These experiences help you use your new knowledge and skills and let you network with other students, faculty and professionals in the field. 

Specialized Master’s in International Relations Concentrations

Many international relations master’s online programs allow you to choose a specific concentration, such as: 

  • Global Security: Learn to prevent, manage, mitigate or solve global conflicts.
  • International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution: Learn negotiation tactics that can be applied to global conflicts.
  • U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security: Learn about the historical, economic and political elements of creating policy.
  • International Development: Learn about working with developing communities regarding economic growth, sustainability, political reforms and public health initiatives. 

Master’s in Business Administration and International Relations Concentration

Instead of pursuing a general Master of Business Administration, you can complete a master’s that’s geared toward a specific aspect of the field. A master’s in international relations and business offers insight into the connections between business, foreign policy and global affairs. It might be the right path for you if you wish to work in the private sector or already have business experience. 

Master’s of International Service

If you have several years of experience in international affairs, an online master’s in international service may help you achieve roles that require a higher level of education. This program might be right for you if you wish to move into high-level positions in the private or public sector. 

What Can You Do With a Master’s in International Relations?

An online master’s in international relations can prepare you for many career paths, including in corporate, nonprofit or government sectors. Some individuals choose to go into local, state or federal politics, which could mean running for office or applying for positions in government agencies. A career in foreign service could lead to a position as a diplomat. Another option is to go into the military or a government intelligence agency where you can rise in the ranks as an intelligence officer or analyst. 

Instead of working for a government agency, some choose to participate in politics by working as a lobbyist or working with an intergovernmental organization, such as the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the International Human Rights Commission or the International Criminal Court (The Hague). Though there are many intergovernmental organizations with branches and employees in the United States, as an international relations professional, you can look for career opportunities abroad. 

Another way to work in or near politics is with a nonprofit. Many nonprofits deal with U.S. and international political and human rights issues. With an international relations degree, you’d be well-versed in handling developing communication strategies and handling written and internal communications. 

You can avoid politics, too. An international relations degree can be useful in a business setting, particularly at a multinational corporation. Anlalytical and Economics courses may provide you with a strong grasp on global markets and economics, as well as leadership and communication skills. 

Master’s of International Relations Salary and Career Outlook

Salary and career outlooks vary depending on your profession. Initial salaries for political careers are not high. However, government salaries increase steadily. According to the U.S. State Department 2020 Foreign Service Salary Schedule (PDF, 351 KB), salaries for the foreign service range from $47,439 to low six figures, depending on your level of education, professional experience and years of service. 

Starting salaries for Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analysis careers (PDF, 353 KB) range from mid-$50,000s to $90,000s or higher depending on the position and your experience.

Why Pursue an IR Master’s Degree Program?

Whether your goal is a career in business, the nonprofit sector or politics, an international relations degree offers you knowledge and analytical skills related to global affairs. You’ll have unique insights into history, the global economy, national relations and policy. If you choose to obtain a master’s in international relations and business, you’ll feel prepared to use your knowledge regarding global markets and policy to make favorable business decisions. 

A master’s in international relations or a master’s in international business can offer the knowledge and skills needed to pursue a career in politics, government, business and more. Which program is right for you depends on your previous education and experience, as well as your career goals. For example, a dual degree in IR and business might be more appropriate for a private-sector career. A more traditional international relations program may be appropriate for a career as a political analyst, intelligence officer, diplomat or public servant.

Last Updated August 2020