How do the world’s countries interact with each other? How do factors like history, culture, national security, and economics influence interactions? What can improve the relationships between states? International relations seeks to answer these and many other questions. Why is the study worth pursuing? Here are fifteen reasons:
#1. Many schools offer excellent international relations programs
International relations have been important for many years, so many schools have established excellent programs. When you choose to study international relations, you gain access to expert lecturers, experienced professionals, and programs that help you launch a successful career.
Stanford University in California offers a few ways for students to study international relations, such as a dedicated international relations degree for undergrads, an international relations track with the Political Science major, and regional studies for post-grads. In France, Sciences Po’s Paris School of International Affairs offers a suite of options, such as a 2-year master’s degree and dual degrees. These are just two examples of the many schools with renowned international relations programs.
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#2. You’ll study lots of topics
When you study international relations, you’re not learning about one thing. International relations is a multidisciplinary field that educates you on international history, technology, health, climate change, national security, and more. As an example, Brown University’s International Relations concentration has courses like “Principles of Economics,” “The Making of Modern East Asia,” “International Law,” and “War in Film and Literature.” Required courses vary based on the university and the track a student takes, but all IR programs pull from a range of disciplines.
#3. You’ll develop excellent communication skills
Communication is the bedrock of international relations. When you study the subject, you’ll learn how to negotiate, bond over shared beliefs and values, and manage conflict in different scenarios. You’ll study theories and practices and get opportunities to apply what you’ve learned through papers, presentations, workshops, and more. When it’s time to find a job, communication skills are usually the first thing an employer notices during your interview process. You’ll get lots of practice during an international relations program. With excellent communication skills, you’ll be a highly-valued job candidate.
#4. You’ll learn about cross-cultural management
International relations goes beyond basic communication skills; it teaches students how to apply them in cross-cultural environments. Cross-cultural management can be complex and challenging without training and experience, so the study of international relations prepares the next generation of diplomats and other professionals. You’ll learn about cultural differences in communication, how history impacts relationships, and how to work with even the most intense political and cultural differences. Cross-cultural management is a highly-desirable skill in any organization with international capacity or a diverse workplace. By studying international relations, you can become a good cross-cultural manager and competitive job candidate.
#5. You’ll develop strong analytical skills
Analytical skills, which include critical thinking and excellent problem-solving, are essential to any successful career. They’re especially relevant to international relations as you’re often taking in lots of information quickly, dealing with complex situations, and working with different types of people. You’ll need to think analytically to process information, communicate effectively, and come up with innovative solutions. Whether you end up in international relations your whole career or eventually switch to something new, strong analytical skills will serve you well.
#6. The skills you develop are transferable
Studying international relations helps you develop field-specific skills, but the “soft skills” you build – good communication, cross-cultural management, critical thinking, problem-solving, and cooperation – are just as valuable outside of international relations. This matters because strong soft skills broaden your career options and help you move easily through different kinds of jobs. Organizations know they will likely need to train people on specific systems and processes, but they don’t want job candidates with poor communication, weak collaboration, or problems with analytical thinking. Studying international relations lets you build the kind of foundation you’ll need in any career.
#7. There are many career options
International relations is an interdisciplinary field, which means people who study it aren’t locked into one specific job. You get access to a variety of careers, like political scientist, diplomat, foreign policy analyst, translator, international aid worker, and intelligence analyst. You may work in national security, humanitarian aid, trade, agriculture, journalism, law, and so on. During your schooling, you’ll have opportunities for more career-specific specializations based on topics (like economic development or international security) or regions, like European Studies, Asian Studies, and Latin America studies.
#8. You get to work with interesting people and organizations
Because people who study international relations have so many careers they can go into, they also have opportunities for working with fascinating people and organizations. Governments, NGOs, universities, and private businesses hire people with international relations degrees, so you may find yourself switching between the public, private, and nonprofit sectors during your career. You’ll work with people from all over the world in organizations like the United Nations, foreign governments, international NGOs, grassroots groups, and more.
#9. You’ll have opportunities for travel
International relations students and professionals often travel a lot. Opportunities can start early while you’re still in school. As an example, if you’re earning a dual degree, you may be required to spend half the program at a university and then the next half at a partner university. Berkeley (in California) and Sciences Po (in France) have a dual degree program where students take courses in topics like economics and political science at a Sciences Po regional campus. After two years, students then move to Berkeley where they select a major and complete their Berkeley degree. At the end of the 4-year program, students get both degrees.
Once you’ve graduated from a program, your career can take you around the world. You’re especially likely to travel if you know multiple languages. International aid workers, diplomats, consultants, and international sales workers also travel frequently.
#10. You could live in another country
International relations professionals often travel a lot, but there are also opportunities for living abroad. Unlike travel, living abroad immerses you more deeply into a new culture. Cultural immersion can come with a steep learning curve, but there are also many benefits. People often develop higher self-esteem as they learn to become more independent. People also report feeling more connected to others as they learn to communicate across cultural differences and gain new perspectives on the world. Living abroad can open more job opportunities down the road, too, as you’ll build a larger network and develop new skills.
#11. International relations jobs pay well
Because there are so many jobs within the international relations field, salaries vary significantly, but generally, jobs in IR pay well. ZipRecruiter reports an average salary of $61,826 for international relations specialists in the US, though some are earning as much as $92,500. According to Glassdoor, international relations professionals in the US are earning the most in Aerospace & Defense with $107,265. The wide salary range suggests lots of room for growth, so those earning salaries on the low end have opportunities for higher salaries depending on where they live, how much education they have, and how much experience they have. The more education and experience you have, the higher your salary will be.
#12. You can have a humanitarian impact
Do you want to make the world a better, safer place? International relations is a good field to go into. People who earn degrees in IR have gone to work in both humanitarian and development aid, focusing on areas like hunger, disaster preparation, healthcare, and more. Humanitarian careers that overlap with international relations include social worker, foreign aid worker, health officer, program director, data analyst, and security officer.
#13. You can work on structural issues
The world is made of countless structures and systems. Even countries with similar structures and systems vary in significant ways, making international relations essential to functional relationships across borders. As an international relations professional, you have the chance to work on these relationships and systems. Whether that’s as a data analyst, diplomat, consultant, foreign policy analyst, or something similar, you can tackle the complex global issues impacting the billions of people alive today.
#14. International collaboration is vital for global health
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. In the following years, the need for international collaboration became clear as researchers around the world worked on treatments and vaccines. International relations includes healthcare and its political and cultural intersections, so if you’re interested in science and health, international relations could be a great field to go into.
#15. International relations is a growing field
The world is more connected than ever through commerce, technology, trade, and migration. There are also tensions as authoritarianism rises around the world. International relations professionals are essential to managing these complex environments and situations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, political scientist employment is expected to grow 6% between 2021-2031. This is about as fast as the average for all occupations. The BLS does not categorize foreign service workers, lobbyists, and diplomats, so it’s harder to project how much these careers will grow. Given globalization’s relevancy, however, we’re sure international relations will remain relevant, too.