Master’s in international relations: Practical training in a volatile world

These days, commerce, trade, diplomacy and politics are ever more interdependent and fast-moving. War, arms deals, embargos and other scenarios dominate the headlines and ripple globally, affecting both public and private organizations. That’s why governments at all levels, as well as corporations and nonprofits, need employees who can anticipate, manage and react to worldwide events.

Educators in specialized graduate programs in international studies or relations are preparing professionals for such roles. The discipline equips students with the skills to help institutions chart a course through an increasingly unpredictable global environment.

For those who may want to further their education in this field, there is a broad range of options. Foreign Policy ranked the top five schools for master’s programs for policy careers in international relations: Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. The London School of Economics, Oxford University and the Paris School of International Affairs also offer renowned international programs.

Global opportunities

Professionals with advanced degrees in international relations are in demand in both government and private companies. Half of all 2014 graduates from Johns Hopkins’ Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) were employed privately, with 29 percent joining consulting firms. Banking and finance, energy, journalism and political risk analysis are also popular career destinations.

Ninety-two percent of SAIS graduates employed in the public sector work for the federal government, with the remainder working for foreign governments.

Think tanks, international development agencies, associations and foundations, as well as educational and intelligence agencies, are major employers of individuals with advanced degrees in international relations.

Beyond the general M.A., SAIS master’s degrees focus on international affairs, international studies, international economics and finance and international public policy. Students can further pursue studies at the doctoral level.

Classes are held at campus locations in several international centers, including Washington, D.C., Bologna, Italy and Nanjing, China. “Participants move through the program as a cohort and develop strong professional connections with accomplished and diverse colleagues who come from fields such as defense and intelligence, public relations, international development, advocacy and policy and media,” said Sidney Jackson, director, global enrollment and recruitment, Johns Hopkins SAIS. “A final Global Policy residency requires student teams to complete a project for an overseas client and travel abroad for site visits, interviews and consultations.”

Putting training to work

One of the best ways to secure a position is to visit on-campus employer presentations or career fairs. It’s a chance to learn more about which companies and organizations are hiring in international relations, and what specific roles are in demand.

Job market listings signal that employers are on the lookout for intelligence analysts, international trade services officers, foreign affairs officers, political affairs officers and humanitarian risk analysts.

The federal government does not track employment in international relations specifically, but it has some encouraging numbers on the parent discipline of political science. The median salary for 2015 was $99,730, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with a master’s degree being the typical entry level requirement.

Political scientists, including those focused on international relations, engage in a number of activities, including:

• Collect and analyze data from sources such as opinion polls, economic reports and public surveys

• Forecast social, economic and political trends

• Test theories using quantitative and statistical tools

• Monitor relations between U.S. and foreign countries

• Conduct political risk analysis on behalf of private companies or government agencies

Employment for political scientists and related occupations is expected to grow at 12 percent through 2024, compared to 7 percent for the overall job market. The BLS lists attributes that are essential to success, including strong analytical, communications and critical thinking skills, as well as intellectual curiosity and effective writing.

In the related discipline of public policy, master’s degree-holders are qualified to take on a number of key roles in the public and private sectors. They’ll often find jobs in consulting, public affairs, policymaking, urban planning and economic development.

The University of Maryland’s Master of Public Policy program offers courses in economic, security and public policy, as well as international development and globalization. “Situated in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, the School of Public Policy is able to draw on some of the world’s most experienced policy and management faculty,” according to UMD’s website.

Interdependence and volatility are permanent features of the global landscape, and demand for skills to manage a broad range of unpredictable situations should remain strong for the foreseeable future.

View Infographic:

Government hiring trends