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Best Online Master’s Degrees in: International Relations

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Editor's Picks: Online Schools for International Relations


The award for best online master's degree in international relations for value was given to St. Mary's University. This private not-for-profit institution based in San Antonio was ranked ninth on U.S. News & World Report‘s list of best value schools. A strong academic reputation, excellent faculty members, and generous financial aid packages all help to place St. Mary's first for our rankings in this category. In fact, according to's annual Return on Investment Rankings, graduates can expect an average ROI of 6.2%. This increases to an expected ROI of 8.2% once financial aid is factored into the equation.

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Troy University was selected as the best online master's degree in international relations for flexibility. This large public institution based in Troy, Ala., has expanded their distance learning offerings in recent years, including a master's program in international relations. The school's online courses utilize Blackboard, a popular and technologically advanced virtual learning platform. Students can access the online classroom, download course materials, complete assignments, and participate in discussion boards at whatever times work best with their personal and professional schedules. For these reasons, Troy University topped our list in this category.

Financial Support

Webster University was awarded the title of best online master's degree in international relations for financial support. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 97% of new students received some form of financial assistance. Additionally, 97% of aid packages included grant or scholarship funding. Approximately 75% of students seeking aid also took advantage of federal student loan programs. Statistics indicate manageable levels of debt for most graduates with only a 4% default rate in 2009.

Student Engagement

St. Mary's University's was recognized as the best online master's degree in international relations for student engagement. Ranked 22nd on U.S. News & World Report‘s list of the best regional universities in the West, St. Mary's is dedicated to providing a rich and well-rounded learning experience for all their students, whether they are learning on-campus or online. A highly interactive virtual learning environment, instructors trained to foster academic growth among distance learners, and a wealth of electronic resources help to place St. Mary's at the top of our list for this category. Students able to commute to campus can also attend a number of student organization meetings, school-sponsored lectures, or study group sessions.

Faculty Credentials

Troy University was chosen as the top online master's degree in international relations for faculty credentials. U.S. News & World Report ranked Troy among the top 30 public universities in the country. The foundation of this strong reputation is a group of well-respected faculty members who are both academically and professionally accomplished. Students enrolled in online courses will be taught by the same instructors that teach on-campus courses. Easy methods of communication, small class sizes, and professors trained to work with distance learners all help to ensure that students receive the level of guidance and instruction they need to succeed in this type of program.

Alumni Engagement

Troy University was also awarded the title of best online master's degree in international relations for alumni engagement. Graduates of Troy University will join an important network of professionals with a variety of backgrounds. Joining the school's alumni association not only helps graduates stay connected to this community, but also offers benefits such as insurance discounts, financial services, and an alumni email address. Additionally, graduates maintain access to lectures, seminars, and other events in and around campus.

New Online Student Orientation

The award for best online master's degree in international relations for new online student orientation was given to Troy University. Students considering online classes can complete the self-assessment on Troy University's website to see if they are prepared for this independent learning style. In addition, students can complete a self-paced online orientation course to help familiarize themselves with the virtual classroom, what will be expected of them as distance learners, and who to contact for help should they run into any issues.

Explore a Master's Degree in International Relations

International relations is the interdisciplinary study of history, political science, international law, sociology, and geography with the goal of better understanding global issues and events. Students interested in working as Foreign Service Officers, intelligence specialists, or diplomats should consider enrolling in an online master's degree program in international relations, which allows learners the chance to complete their course work from their home computers at a time of day that works best for them. An international relations master's degree program typically takes 36 credit hours to complete, although the length of the curriculum may vary by institution.

Class Curriculum

During their graduate studies, international relations students will examine national and international security issues, history, political science, environmental conflict, and other cultural issues. A student may take courses such as international relations theory, national security policy, American foreign policy, comparative national systems, and more. It's important to note that a proficiency in a foreign language is typically needed to be recommended for graduation from the master's degree program. Read below for a summary of three common international relations courses:

  • International Relations Theory. An international relations theory class may offer instruction in contemporary political issues, such as the definition and distribution of power, international institutions, and globalization. Students may also learn about international policy issues, the effects of terrorism, and national security.
  • Comparative National Systems. A comparative national systems class compares the ways in which different national systems have developed and how they obtain the goal of maintaining an accountable government. The course analyzes culture and history, institutions, political parties, economic development, and more to determine how a governmental system works.
  • International Public Law. The international public law course provides information on the creation of international law through treaties and general principles. The course covers how treaties are formed and the problems that come from international agreements. Students may also learn about methods of conflict resolution and how the international court system works.

International relations students typically must complete reading assignments and participate in class discussions to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the course material. In an online program, class discussions often take place in online discussion boards and forums. Students will also be required to complete in-depth research papers, projects, essays, and exams.

Building a Career

Similar to other liberal arts subjects, an international relations degree doesn't translate into any specific field. Instead, students may pursue numerous options that require expertise in international relations, including working as a Foreign Service Officer or diplomat for the government, a demographer, political scientist, or an intelligence specialist. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 53% of political scientists work for the federal government. Political scientists research political ideas and trends and analyze the structure of government, political trends, and legislative issues. The median annual pay for professionals in this field was $107,420. Employment of political scientists is expected to grow only 8% between 2010 and 2020, which is slower than average for all occupations. However, these statistics are no guarantee of actual employment or salary, which is determined by the state of the economy, the availability of jobs where you live, and your level of experience in the field.

Another option is to become a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State. The Department of States offers five different career tracks: consular, economic, management, political, and public diplomacy officers. Regardless of the career path, the goal of a Foreign Service Officer is to interact effectively with the populations of the host country and help advance American interests worldwide. However, competition for these positions is high.