Global issues are becoming increasingly complex – from sustainable development to transnational trade, cybersecurity to terrorism. Master’s in international affairs are multi-disciplinary graduate programs that prepare students to become the next generation of diplomatic professionals, able to navigate those interwoven and challenging issues on a global scale.

Students learn to apply practical, analytical thinking to international relations theory in areas such as diplomacy, global economics, cross-cultural communication and more. Armed with understanding of the global economy and politics, graduates can pursue careers across international settings, such as national governments, non-profits, multi-national corporations, intelligence agencies and technology organizations.

Classification of Master’s in International Affairs Programs

International affairs is a field of study that covers an array of wide-ranging topics, including diplomacy, public policy, international finance and security and global political theory. While graduate programs in international affairs provide a foundation in international scholarship, many also require students to complete coursework in a functional specialization. These specializations are focused in career-specific areas, allowing students to develop practical, real-world knowledge that can be applied to their future employment paths.

Common specializations include the following:

  • Diplomacy
  • International Communication
  • International Affairs and Religion
  • Region specific (e.g. Middle East/Africa, Europe, China, Latin America)
  • International Economics
  • International Security
  • International Governance
  • International Relations

These programs are typically not concentrated in a single department (e.g. journalism), but are spread across various schools and departments in universities across the country. Examples include:

Curriculum Details for Master’s Programs in International Affairs

Curricula for master’s in international affairs programs blend theoretical study with practical instruction in quantitative analysis and communication. Typically, these two-year programs progress through a core curriculum designed to introduce students to the fundamentals in areas including management, economics, communication and policy, and political theory.

After progressing through their core curriculum, students move into specialized areas specific to their future career needs. Examples range from diplomacy to international economics, international conflict resolution to international relations. Specialization tracks generally require between 15 and 18 credit hours to complete. In most cases, students are also required to complete foreign language proficiency in their specialization, through coursework and testing.

Below are example courses students may take in international affairs master’s programs.

  • Introduction to International Relations: Focuses on how global politics are shaped, underscored by the fundamental concepts on transnational relationships, state-society relations, international conflict and political anthropology.
  • Fundamentals of Global Policy Analysis: An overview of the underlying concepts of global policy, focusing on policy creation through the study of power dynamics, transitional interests, policy regulation and evaluation.
  • Global Development: An examination of how media and communication can shape public policy, highlighting their historical role as a driver of advocacy and change.
  • International Communication: Emphasizes the multi-faceted nature of communication in global settings, stressing how socio-economic, political and cultural forces impact intra- and international communication and the networks that deliver that communication.
  • Public Media and Diplomacy: Considers public diplomacy in international settings, assessing how media is used by and for nation-states as a channel to soft power in cultural and political diplomacy through specific outlets such as news.
  • International Finance and Trade: An overarching study of the complex roles of financial institutions, measuring international economic structures and how those institutions (e.g. IMF and WTO) influence policy development on a global scale.

As discussed above, most master’s in international affairs programs require students to complete coursework in a specialization and complete a foreign language requirement. Course requirements vary by program, school and track of study. However, most programs require between 60-64 credit hours of study and take between 24 and 36 months to finish.

Below is a sample curriculum plan for students interested in completing a master’s in international affairs, with a specialization in global economics.

Fall Term
Spring Term
Summer Term
Year 1
  • Foundations in International Politics
  • International Finance Theory
  • Economics for Global Policy

  • Quantitative Analysis for Public Affairs
  • Financial Risk Management and Public Policy
  • International Capital Markets
  • International Communication
  • Sustainability Management
Year 2
  • Linear Regression Models
  • International Trade
  • International Finance and Monetary Theory
  • International Finance Institutions
  • Quantitative Methods in Program Evaluation
  • International Macroeconomic Analysis

Master’s in International Affairs versus Master’s in Global and International Communication

Although communication is a common theme shared by master’s in international affairs and master’s of international communication programs, they are divergent programs that offer distinct curriculum tracks. A master’s in international communication is designed for students seeking to work in international settings across media, journalism, public relations and other related fields, such as global media technology. In these programs students are introduced to courses such as multicultural communication, communication research, international communication, global corporation communication, and communication ethics.

Conversely, students in master’s in international affairs programs are exposed to curricula that prepare them for opportunities in public policy, diplomacy, international economics and security, trade, manufacturing and more. In these programs, fundamental courses explore issues and topics related to globalization and international affairs, including foundations of international relations, global policy and economics, quantitative analysis, negotiation, and intercultural communication.

Career Paths for Graduates with a Masters in International Affairs

By definition, international work is a broad area of employment that spans four major sectors: private, non-profit, public and multinational. The interdisciplinary nature of international affairs master’s programs provides graduates with flexible skills that allowthem to tackle challenging problems across diplomacy, manufacturing and banking, politics defense and security, communications and journalism, environment and disease, education, energy and more. Whether it is working at the State Department or in a refugee camp for Greenpeace, at the World Trade Organization or in an international private equity branch for Citicorp, graduates with a master’s in international affairs can pursue meaningful work in a range of professional areas.

Below are several roles students with a master’s in international affairs may want to consider:

  • Political Officers: Typically employed in foreign service, political officers are stationed in international locations and monitor and assess foreign groups (e.g. European Union) and issues (e.g. Brexit) and provide analysis as it relates to U.S. policies and interests. Communicating with foreign officials and domestic policy makers, political officers build plans for communication with international governments, write recommendations on how to further U.S. political interests, and conduct analyses that are used by domestic governmental leaders on the best course of U.S. actions abroad.
  • Public Diplomacy Officers: Public diplomacy officers traditionally work within the State Department, tasked with promoting U.S. interests abroad through strategic multi-cultural relations. In this role, they take broad steps to communicate American interests, values and traditions when it comes to foreign policy. These steps may include using social and traditional media to explain American values, develop information sharing programs to engage local communities on American goals, or launch exchange programs to improve cross-cultural relationships.
  • Policy Analysts: Policy analysts work throughout local, state and federal government agencies, conducting research into foreign countries, including their governments and politics, culture and religious beliefs, infrastructure, financial resources and more. Tapping into their nuanced understanding of specific areas, such as international finance, terrorism, international law, or the environment, policy analysts develop assessments that can be used domestically by legislators and policy makers to protect, broaden and enhance U.S. interest globally.
  • Banking Analysts: Banking analysts are employed throughout the financial industry, from private equity to commercial banking. They employ an understanding of global finance and specific markets (e.g. European debt markets) to provide a range of diverse services. For example, banking analysts may conduct research for clients seeking to sell credit products to foreign investors, create leveraged buyout models for international private equity clients, or develop predictive analytics for potential mergers between domestic and foreign subsidies.