International Relations Salary and Career Outlook

International relations is a liberal arts area of study that may lead to a number of exciting careers in politics, foreign policy and government. But there’s more you can do with an international relations degree.

Many colleges and universities approach an international relations degree as a rounded education, with history, politics, economics and even language courses incorporated in the curriculum. This wide exposure to unique disciplines could prepare you for many different careers. Those who pursue advanced degrees in international relations, such as a master’s degree in international relations, may have the opportunity to work in various fields or even countries.

International Relations Degree Careers Overview

The types of courses you take while pursuing an international relations master’s degree will vary depending on the school you attend, but often courses will be in foreign policy, economics, political science, history and geography. This means you could be well suited for positions in many settings, not just government or politics.

An international relations degree is not a trade degree. There isn’t a job called “international relations specialist.” Instead, those with an international relations education will want to look for jobs that enable them to apply their education.

Those with international relations degrees often are drawn to careers as diplomats, but that can mean many things. Some diplomats take the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT), which is required for many government positions. Diplomats may work in embassies, foreign offices, diplomatic organizations or at the United Nations. There are also diplomats working with the World Bank or other international organizations. However, diplomacy careers are not the only option for IR degree holders.

If you’re looking for international relations careers, consider positions that allow you to use your knowledge of foreign policy and diplomacy in other settings, too. You may find career options in finance, nonprofits, corporations and humanitarian organizations.

5 Jobs in International Relations

As mentioned above, there is no international relations specialist role. There are, however, many jobs that can benefit from experience in international relations.

1. Foreign Service Worker Jobs

Foreign service workers, working for the U.S. State Department, work around the world connecting with the global community, conducting diplomacy by communicating U.S. foreign policy, and exploring different cultures while living and working overseas. As a foreign service worker, you may be asked to discuss, negotiate and mediate with local governments about issues such as peace and war, trade, commerce and economics. You may also discuss matters related to social and cultural topics.

2. Political Scientist Jobs

Political scientists study the changing political landscape in the U.S. and abroad. They may research political subjects, evaluate the effects of policies, forecast political and economic trends, and conduct research, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Political scientists usually conduct research in national politics, comparative politics, international relations or political theory. This could make an international relations degree holder a good fit for this role.

3. Economist Jobs

Economists collect and analyze data, research trends, and evaluate economic issues for resources, goods and services, according to the BLS. Some economists may focus on the U.S. economy, while others may focus on the global economy. A good grasp of international relations may help with this career when studying how the United States interacts with the rest of the world economically.

4. News Reporters or Analyst Jobs

Media workers such as news reporters and analysts frequently deal with issues outside U.S. borders. Having an international relations education could help you in these roles. As a reporter interested in international relations, you could work abroad as a foreign correspondent, a conflict journalist or a source offering an opinion on American events through a foreign affairs lens.

5. Social and Community Service Manager Jobs

Corporations need skilled workers to foster relationships with their local communities. This is one option for an international relations job. Social and community service managers coordinate and supervise programs and organizations that support public well-being, according to the BLS. As more corporations consider corporate social responsibility (CSR), they may look to someone who has learned about global initiatives.

International Relations Job Outlook

The number of jobs relevant for someone with an international relations background will increase from 2018 to 2028 for certain occupation categories, according to the BLS:

It’s more difficult to predict the job market for careers not categorized by the BLS, such as foreign service workers, diplomats and lobbyists. However, according to a State Department human resources fact sheet, there were 77,243 Department of State employees in 2019. Of those, 13,980 worked in foreign services. Generalists accounted for 8,165 of foreign service workers, while specialists accounted for 5,815. Additionally, there were 9,418 State Department employees overseas. The fact sheet said the United States has diplomatic relations with 195 countries.

What Is the Median International Relations Salary?

The BLS provides median annual pay figures—half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less—and salary information for the highest 10% and lowest 10% of earners. For reasons previously mentioned, it’s tough to say what the exact median international relations salary is. However, using BLS data of related occupations, you can get a sense of typical international relations pay.

The median annual wage for political scientists was $122,220 in May 2019, according to the BLS. The lowest 10% earned less than $60,960, and the highest 10% earned more than $164,210. The median annual wages for political scientists in the top industries in which they worked, as reported by the BLS, were as follows:

  • Professional, scientific and technical services: $133,200
  • Federal government, excluding postal service: $126,060
  • Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional and similar organizations: $80,800
  • Educational services; state, local and private: $79,640

The median annual wage for economists was $105,020 in May 2019, according to the BLS. The lowest 10% earned less than $59,450, and the highest 10% earned more than $185,020. The BLS reports the median annual wages for economists in the top industries in which they worked as follows:

  • Finance and insurance: $120,770
  • Federal government, excluding postal service: $119,580
  • Scientific research and development services: $114,140
  • Management, scientific and technical consulting services: $108,190
  • State government, excluding education and hospitals: $73,400

For social and community managers, the median annual wage was $67,150 in May 2019, according to the BLS. The lowest 10% earned less than $41,220, and the highest 10% earned more than $112,480. The median annual wages in the top industries in which they worked were as follows, per the BLS:

  • Local government, excluding education and hospitals : $85,550
  • Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional and similar organizations: $70,830
  • Nursing and residential care facilities: $62,020
  • Individual and family services: $61,920
  • Community and vocational rehabilitation services:$60,180

Based on these occupations, an international relations salary could be promising.

5 Best-Paying Places for an International Relations Career Path

The five best-paying metropolitan areas for political scientists according to the BLS, based on 2019 wages, are:

Metropolitan areaEmploymentHourly mean wageAnnual mean wage
Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD
Estimate not released
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC
Pittsburgh, PA

Top States for International Relations Jobs

There are a number of ways someone could define a “top” state for international relations jobs. Is it the money? The number of jobs available? Something more amorphous? Below, the top states were determined based on 2019 annual mean wages and employment levels reported by the BLS.

States with the highest pay for international relations jobs

BLS data for political scientists:

StateEmploymentHourly mean wageAnnual mean wage
New York
District of Columbia
Estimate not released

States with highest employment level for international relations careers

BLS data for political scientists:

StateEmploymentEmployment per thousand jobsLocation quotient
District of Columbia

Is a Career in International Relations Right for You?

Those who work in international relations get to see things from a unique perspective. Whether you work for the government or in a diplomatic capacity, or you are using your education to help inform other international relations careers, you may find satisfaction working with communities and departments outside the norm. When exploring international relations careers, be open-minded; look beyond job posting position titles to see what required skills you offer.

Last Updated July 2020