International Relations Major

International Relations Major

Students that are thinking of going to international relations programs are often thinking about what sort of requirements exist for an international relations major. This is an important question, since students want to be versed in expectations for their studies. In this article, we shall discuss the international relations major, offering information on the sorts of international relations courses, and paths of study that a student of international relations can take. We will discuss common curriculum, common international relations fields of study, as well as different requirements that go into the international relations major.

While there are many examples of international relations major requirements, I will be answering this question from my own experience of taking international relations courses as an undergraduate, and graduate student, along with referencing international relations courses at Butler University.

Many of the international relations majors can either be specific majors, or can be subfield majors within the political science major (or the political science degree). Or, there are instances where an international relations major might have strong similarities to an international studies major. In the case of Butler University, the international studies major has a number of requirements that are strongly related to international relations; many of the courses are offered around the country as international relations courses.

Here are some of the requirements for an international relations major.

International Relations Course Requirements

As mentioned above, the international relations major has different expectations depending on the school that you attend. However, there are some commonalities among international relations majors. For example, one of the common courses that students are expected to take is the introduction to international relations. This is usually a 101 course, and is a course that will expose students to a number of international relations topics. Similar to other majors, it is important and necessary to take such a course, as it will familiarize you with terminology, as well as key themes in the field of international relations.

From Introduction to International relations, the international relations major can vary greatly onwards. For example, some majors will require that you have thematic concentrations. Others will also require an introduction course in something like Comparative Politics.

In our International Studies Major at Butler University, students are expected to take introduction to international studies, as well one other introductory course. Then, students are also expected to take one research methods course, a course on the United Nations and Other International Organizations, as well as a Capstone course. Then, students are also expected to concentrate, which can be on regional courses, or language.

Many international relations major programs might also have students concentrate on either Foreign Policy, Regional issues related to international relations, Diplomacy, Human Rights and Development, or international relations theory. Students studying for the international relations major are often expected to take courses in these different fields. Then, there are also opportunities to take international relations internships (and take such courses for credit). Students can also write an international relations thesis, and sign up for thesis credits, so that they can write their thesis on an international relations topic.

Here are the requirements for the Butler University International Studies Major, which is very similar to many international relations programs around the country.

Requirements for the International Studies Major

Majors in International Studies must complete 42 credit hours, 33 of which must be fulfilled at the 300-level or above.  

I. Core 21 hrs
AIntroduction. Take IS101 and one of the following courses:IS 101 Introduction to International StudiesPO 141 Introduction to International PoliticsPO 151 Introduction to Comparative PoliticsSW 205-GE Cultural Geography: Regions of the World

SW 220-EC The Economy and Society

TI 250-RL Religions of the World

B. International Arrangements and Interactions. Take IS 390 and one of the following:AN 326 Youth Conflict Global CinemaJR 417 International CommunicationsIB 320 International Business Environment (additional prerequisite: permission of the instructor)IS 390 United Nations and Other International Organizations

PO 322 International Conflict and Peace Building

SO 355 International Crime

C. Research Methods CourseOne of the following research methods courses:PO 201 Research and AnalysisSO 393 Research Methods Seminar
D. International Relations and Diplomacy. One of the following courses:HST 353 The American EmpirePL 364 Ethics and International RelationsPO 320 International RelationsPO 355 US Foreign Policy
E. Capstone Course (to be taken in the junior or senior year)IS 410W The Global SocietyPrerequisites: IS 101, another course from A, and at least one 300 level course.(This course is cross-listed with SO 355 and AN 335)


II. International Studies Area Courses
  1. 18 hrs from two of the following areas (9 hours in each area-two disciplines must be represented.)
1. AfricaFR 334 Intro to Francophone CulturesFR 485 Topics in Francophone StudiesPO 350 African Politics
2. AsiaAN 322 Sex, Gender, & Sexuality – JapanAN 329 Japanese Popular CultureAN 366 East Asia Through EthnographyAN 368 Coming of Age in the Middle East

FL 320 Chinese Civilization

HST 305 Topics in History: Youth & Revolution Modern China

HST 305 Topics in History: Mao’s China

HST 371 Modern China

HST 373 China and the World

RL 353 Buddhism

RL 354 Islam

RL 363 Religion, Politics and Conflict in South Asia

3. EuropeFR 320 Topics in French and Francophone CulturesFR 345 France and the Francophone World: 1900 to presentFR 465 20th Century French NovelFR 475 20th Century French Drama

GR 340 Germany 1871 to the present

GR 342 Major Trends in Modern German Literature

GR 475 Seminar in 20th Century German Literature

HST 322 20th Century Europe

HST 324 Modern Germany

IS 301 Model European Union

SO 333 European Societies

SP 340 Spain: 1700 to the Present

SP 345 Analysis of Literary Genres

SP 440 Contemporary Spanish Studies

4. Latin AmericaAN 362 Peoples and Cultures of Latin AmericaPO 360 Political Regimes in Latin AmericaSO 331 Latin American SocietiesSP 355 Spanish-American Culture: South America

SP 360 Hispanic Film (will count when at least 3/4 of content focuses on Latin America)

SP 365 Hispanic Short Story (will count when at least 3/4 of content focuses on Latin America)

SP 370 Topics in Contemporary Hispanic Societies

SP 450 Topics in Spanish-American Studies

SP 460 Topics in 20th Century Spanish-American Studies

5. Foreign LanguagesNine hours at the 300/400 level in one modern foreign language. Classes in French, German, Spanish, and Chinese are offered at Butler University.  Classes in other languages such as Arabic, Italian and Japanese can be taken at other universities in the area.
  1. One elective (3hrs.) to be chosen from the following or any course in I or  II-A above:
AN 320 Gender and Sexuality in GlobalizationEC 433 International Economics (Prerequisite or permission of the instructor)EN 321, 322/421, 422 Comparative World LiteratureEN 394 Special Topics: Global CinemaIB 367 Legal Aspects of International business (additional prerequisite: permission of instructor)

MK 491 International Marketing (additional prerequisite: permission of instructor)

SO 323 Racial and Ethnic Relations

SO 343 Popular Culture: A Comparative Study

III. Special International Studies CoursesMay include:IS 401, 402, and 403- Independent Study in International Studies (1,2, or 3 hours)IS 404, and 405- Internship in International Studies (3 or 6 hours)IS 470-Selected Topics in International Studies (3 hrs); Prerequisite: consent of instructor

IS 499- Honors Thesis (3 hrs)

IV. Study Abroad – Highly recommendedExperience abroad is strongly encourages or all International Studies students. This may be in the form of attendance at a foreign college or university, an international internship, independent travel connected with an approved independent stud project, or participation in approved foreign study tour. Credits from those experiences abroad usually count toward fulfilling the requirements of the major or minor.
V. Model United Nations, Model Arab League and Model European Union – Highly recommendedInternational Studies majors can participate in the Model United Nations, Model Arab League and the Model European Union.  These three events play a very important role in the formation of students interested in international issues, because they learn the rules of negotiation and diplomacy as well as the workings of the United Nations, Arab League and the European Union. The cost for participating in these events (registration, airfare, and lodging) is covered by the International Studies budget.

Masters in International Relations Major Course Requirements

Let’s also take a look at the international relations major at the masters level. Many students who are looking for a career in international relations choose to study international relations, international affairs, international studies, or political science in graduate schools.

Here is an example of the international relations program at American University. For American University, the international relations major (at the masters level) requires 39 credit hours. Of those courses, they require nine core credit hours. Here, students are expected to take a course on International Studies, an Intercultural Communication course, as well as a Global Governance course. Along with these nine courses, students are also expected to take at least one economics course, which is international economics, and also Introduction to economic theory. Then, there is a six hour research methods requirement. Here, programs that have such methods requirements for the international relations major might require a qualitative methods course, a quantitative methods course, a mixed-methods course, or two separate courses in which students have to take both.

Some programs also have specific quantitative courses such as an introduction to statistics, and then possibly a regression analysis course.

In the case of American University’s masters program in international relations, they then also require concentrations in either “Global Security,” “International Development,” “US Foreign Policy and National Security,” or “International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution.” Then there are also language expectations, as well as a “DC immersion” credit course.

Some school require languages, whereas other strongly recommend language courses.

For the undergraduate international studies major at Butler University, we have the option for students studying foreign languages, and there is a University requirement of two language courses, but students are not required to take additional language courses for the major.

As one can see, there are many different formations of an international relations major. The recommendation would be to be familiar with the specific programs, and what sort of expectations exist for the international relations major.

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