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Graduate Degrees in International Affairs – Specializations and Career Paths

By Indhika, IvyWise Graduate Admissions Counselor

Are you passionate about making an impact on a global scale? Are you inspired to solve complex global challenges? Do you want to be part of an institution that shapes global policy and events? If so, careers in International Affairs highlight exciting opportunities in fields like diplomacy, foreign policy, security, and international development. As a practitioner and leader in these fields, you will have the opportunity to work globally – through international professional experience as well as interacting with leaders and colleagues from around the world.

If you are hoping to pursue a career path in International Affairs, graduate study will strengthen your resume and propel you to long-term professional growth. Graduate programs in international affairs span fields such as security studies, international development, diplomacy, and public policy. While there are some general degrees in International Affairs and many areas of overlap, it’s best to approach graduate study through the lens of specialization areas. While at the undergraduate level, International Affairs constitutes broad overviews of major themes, graduate study is most effective when it builds focused knowledge and technical skills. Whether it’s a thematic area of focus or regional concentration, take time to reflect on the type of international affairs expertise you want to develop at the graduate level. Below are sample areas of study and related career paths.


The study of diplomacy provides a baseline understanding of international relations, international politics, and the history of global institutions. In addition to these areas, core courses cover applied economics, quantitative analysis, ethics, and leadership. While the study of diplomacy might seem narrowly tailored to becoming a diplomat, there are many other areas that are covered within it. In fact, diplomacy can be the framework through which students pursue any of the areas of study listed below. When considering graduate programs in diplomacy, consider both the specific field of foreign service as well as the way diplomacy underpins other areas of international affairs, such as security and international business.


International public policy and public affairs degrees prepare students to address complex global challenges through the study of political processes, economics, quantitative analysis, and behavioral analysis. At this intersection of policy management and international relations, graduates take a changemaker mindset to working across industries, strengthening the public sector, and tackling interconnected policy issues. Career placements can include the civil service, diplomatic corps, military agencies, multilateral organizations, NGOs, and research institutions.

Security Studies

Security studies programs are interdisciplinary and highlight themes such as international security, diplomacy, military operations, strategic thought, and negotiation. Students are prepared for careers in the fields of security and intelligence, with an emphasis on synthesizing and analyzing information to provide tactical, strategic recommendation to governments, militaries, and industry leaders. Focus areas include defense, economics, energy, technology, and regional concentrations. While, traditionally, governments were, and to a large degree still are, the main employers in this field, other employers include the private sector, think tanks, and NGOs.

International Development

The study of international development is aimed at graduating practitioners and scholars who work to improve the lives of disadvantaged populations in communities around the world. International Development draws on a number of disciplines including political science, economics, statistics, and social sciences. Careers in international development include work in foreign aid, humanitarian assistance, gender equity, disaster preparedness, education, and health. Considering this diversity of thematic areas and career placements, it is important to think of international development as a context rather than a job. When pursuing graduate studies in this area, aim to build specific skills and knowledge within a thematic or regional area so that you graduate as a technical expert. International development job placements have broadened beyond working at a government agency or multilateral organization, and now include a growing number of private sector and local actors.

Conflict Resolution

Within international affairs, there are some emerging and niche specializations such as Conflict Resolution. In addition to the focus on understanding the root causes of conflict and mastering effective negotiation skills, graduate degrees in this field consider methods of sustainable peacebuilding and peace-making. While Conflict Resolution is an interdisciplinary field, pulling from anthropology to law, there are relevant skills and knowledge that students should look for in programs –facilitation, negotiation, community engagement, intercultural communication, and program design. There are some organizations and governmental agencies that are devoted to this field, such as The United States Institute of Peace, and UN Envoys for peacekeeping and negotiation. In addition, certain jobs within field likes diplomacy, security, and international development can benefit from the expertise built by this degree.

International Law/Human Rights 

International law and human rights law are specialized fields that can be pursued through international affairs degrees, law degrees, or dual degree programs. Because this is a niche area within international affairs and law, it is important to consider which broader discipline better serves your career goals. Within law programs it is possible to take courses in international law and human rights law as well as pursue internships in this area. Master’s programs focus on the theories and practice of international law/human rights, state and non-state actors, and implementation at the global, local, and regional levels. Outside of legal careers in international law and human rights law, other possible jobs include advocacy, research, program management, and journalism.

Regional Studies

Regional Studies (or Area Studies) present an opportunity to deeply explore the history, economy, politics, and culture of specific regional or cultural areas. Interdisciplinary by nature, core courses will be broad and can greatly vary in number depending on the institution. Developing a cohesive concentration area or technical skill set is key in Regional Studies and will enable more focused career opportunities. In addition, to demonstrating relevant language skills, it is important to gain professional or academic experience in the geographic area prior to graduate school.

As you can see, there is a great deal of overlap and interconnectedness within areas of study in International Affairs. Before identifying a list of schools, reflect on what specialized knowledge and technical skills will most benefit your future career. As part of your research, examine core courses in different programs and determine what area of International Affairs serves best as the foundation for your knowledge. Review concentration areas and affiliated research centers to determine how you will develop critical technical skills and specialized knowledge. Finally, visit the Careers and Alumni pages of graduate program websites to get a sense of job placements.

Careers in International Affairs provide enriching opportunities to create lasting positive impacts on communities around the world. Make sure the academic and professional training provided in a graduate degree matches the passion and commitment you are bringing to this important field!

At IvyWise, we work with students through every facet of their educational journey, including applying to graduate degree programs specializing in International Affairs. Our expert counselors can help you identify the programs and schools that are the best-fit for your career aspirations and goals, and work with you to craft outstanding applications that will set you apart during the admissions process. For more information on our Academic Advising and Graduate Admissions services, contact us today.

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