What Can You Do with a Degree in International Relations? | Student Reviews & University Rankings EDUopinions

What Can You Do with a Degree in International Relations?


Do you have a passion for analysing complex problems? Do you find yourself keeping up with global politics? Do you enjoying working in international environments? If you answered yes to these questions, you should consider a degree in international relations!

Studying international relations can be an academically, professionally and personally enriching experience. As well, this programme can open many doors down the line. Read on to find out what exactly you can do with a degree in international relations!

What is international relations?

International relations (IR) is typically considered a field within the realm of social sciences. It branched off from political science after World War One and since then has grown in a variety of directions.

In the early days of international relations, academics were concerned with understanding the ins and outs of war. In particular, the Cold War served as one of the main focus points within the field. With time, scholars divided themselves into different theoretical approaches: realism, liberalism, Marxism, post-structuralism, feminism, post colonialism, queer theory and the list goes on.

In essence, all these theoretical approaches seek to understand international phenomena, just through different perspectives. This is part of what makes a degree in international relations so interesting. As a student, you are presented with the various perspectives. From there, you can pursue the one(s) you most agree with.

In this way, a degree in international relations can be very flexible. While you can expect to have plenty of core modules in your first year, this foundation sets you up to specialise in a subfield that interests you.

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Is it worth getting a degree in international relations?

International relations is a commonly offered course at universities across the world. Still, you may ask yourself, “Is it worth getting a degree in international relations?” The answer is yes! Though, this of course depends on your own personal and professional goals.

In terms of personal growth, a degree in international relations is a great way to expand your horizons, learn about the world and a nice combination of history, politics and economics on a global scale. Students who study IR often say their degree allowed them see the world in a new light and helps them break down complex issues into solvable problems.

As mentioned above, a degree in international relations can lead to several different career paths. Most people probably think of heading straight to the United Nations after studies in international relations. While many people who work in the United Nations do have degrees in international relations, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but these are certainly possibilities. We’ll explore these options below…

What do you do with an international relations degree?

A common career path to for graduates of IR programmes is in the international public sector—think United Nations, European Union, World Trade Organisation, World Health Organisation, etc. These positions are typically highly competitive, so having studied a degree in international relations can be an advantage.

Equally, working in charitable non-governmental organisation (NGO) is another very popular career path after an IR degree. Some well-known NGOs include Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), the Red Cross, Amnesty International and Greenpeace. Having studied IR is an also advantage working in organisations like these because they tend to directly involve themselves in highly complex, global issues. Don’t expect to individually solve these problems—rather, having a nuanced knowledge of their complexity is more so what NGO employers look for.

There are also many opportunities to work in the private sector after a degree in international relations. Consulting, which involves plenty of problem-solving, is a popular career field for IR graduates. As well, jobs like risk analyst, marketing managers, researchers, journalists and international bankers are possible after a degree in international relations as well.

Finally, plenty of positions within domestic governments are well-suited for IR graduates too. Working in the foreign affairs ministry, as diplomats or ambassadors is a dream for many who study international relations.

Which are the best careers in international relations?

Like the field itself, deciding on the “best” career in international relations is complex. What is best for you may be the worst for someone else! That said, there are a few highly coveted types of positions in the field of international relations which we’ll detail here.

Being a high-level civil servant in the United Nations or European Union is certainly something many young IR students aspire to. These jobs can be well-paid, fast-paced, dynamic and tend to give a real sense of purpose. As well, if you enjoy working with people from many different countries, this type of job may be perfect for you.

If you prefer the theoretical aspects of international relations, maybe academia is for you. Being a researcher and/or professor would allow you to delve into your field of interest and write papers to inform policy-makers. This type of work involves a lot of reading and writing and is less hands-on than work in the civil service or NGOs.

A highly sought-after position, typically reserved for the most experienced professionals later in their careers, is that of ambassador. For many, representing one’s country to another country is a dream appointment. To get there, you’d better have plenty of experience in both your country and the country you’re ambassador to.

Lastly, many take up a degree in international relations to enter work in the private sector. Consulting is a high-paid, project-based line of work that lends itself well to natural problem-solvers. Many people aim to work in a top consulting agency after a degree in international relations.

Which universities offer a degree in international relations?

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The first university to use the term “international relations” was the University of Wales after WWI. Since then, universities across the world offer international relations degrees.

According to the QS World Rankings, the best international relations programmes are offered by Harvard University, Sciences Po and the University of Oxford. These programmes are recognised around the world for the wide breadth and impressive depth of knowledge they provide students. Unsurprisingly, they are also highly competitive.

Luckily, you don’t have to go to Harvard, Sciences Po or Oxford to study IR nor have a successful career in the field! In fact, you may find a programme more suited to your interests that’s more accessible and less expensive than these three options.

For example, Leiden University in the Netherlands is an excellent place to study international relations. With a campus in The Hague, the capital of international law and peace, students are immersed in a global environment from the get-go. They offer plenty of intriguing IR-related courses in both Dutch and English at a relatively affordable price for European students.

Another excellent option for a degree in international relations is the University of Bristol in the UK. This institution has a long history of international relations thought and pedagogy. As well, Bristol is known in the UK for being a great student city, highly international and very open.

Wrapping up a degree in international relations

Are you ready to take on a degree in international relations? Want help finding the perfect programme for you? Maybe you’ve decided to look into another type of course? Whatever your situation, EDUopinions is here to help. Reach out to our free, individual advisors for help with all things uni-related!

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Check out these related articles on 8 great masters in international relations and the best masters in public policy in Europe.

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Drew Harper is a recent graduate of University College London, where he studied history, politics and economics. As a content creator at EDUopinions, he is passionate about broadening access to international learning opportunities for students around the world.

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