The 10 Best International Relations Schools in the US

A degree in international relations offers a stimulating and invigorating curriculum. 

Students are challenged to examine real-world problems, propose solutions, and consider the intersection of various social, cultural, and political forces at play in global leadership, commerce, and health. 

It is not surprising that many international studies majors amplify their career and salary prospects by developing fluency in a second language. 

Many international relations programs actually require students to enroll in a minimum number of foreign language courses. 

Additionally, international relations programs often afford ample opportunities for undergraduates to study abroad.

We have compiled a list of the ten best international relations schools in the United States. Many of them are situated in major cities like Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Los Angeles, California. 

Proximity to major cities like these places students at the forefront of modern international relations

The methodology for our best international relations schools list was created as an aggregated ranking. We assigned a score to every school on the list based on its positioning in four other published ranking lists, then ranked the schools based on the aggregate score. The sources used for creating this ranking are at the end of this article.

Here are our picks for the 10 best international relations schools in the US.

10. American University School of International Service (Washington, DC)

American University School of International Service
Herrperry123, School of International Service Building, CC BY-SA 4.0

American University has the #9 ranked undergraduate program in international studies. One of the neatest aspects of its course offerings is that many of them are organized thematically. 

Themes include peace, global security, and conflict resolution; identity, race, gender, and culture; and, global and comparative governance. 

Undergraduates additionally complete a senior capstone experience and nine hours of a regional focus in the Pacific or East Asia.

The BA in global international relations (GIR) is a unique opportunity for international relations majors. 

American University home students spend their first and final years at American. Years two and three and spent at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan. All undergraduates complete a capstone project in their senior year of study.

American University boasts the largest school of international affairs in the United States. Washington, D.C. provides an ideal backdrop for observing and participating in real-world international negotiations, debates, and exchanges.  

9. University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)

The University of Pennsylvania’s international relations program is led by Professor Walter A. McDougall, who won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age.” 

The school’s international relations program is frequently positioned in the top five programs in the United States. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, the program organizes annual visits to two international hubs: New York City and Washington, D.C.

Recent course offerings include “The History of Economic Thought,” “The Sociology of Education,” and “Political Writing in the Blog Age.” 

All international relations majors are required to take the capstone experience, where they write a research-based paper on a selected topic. 

8. George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs (Washington, DC)

At George Washington University, undergraduates can earn a BA in international affairs, Asian studies, Latin American and hemispheric studies, and Middle East studies. 

A BS in international affairs is another option. How is the BA in international affairs different from the BS? The BA and BS both prompt students to focus their studies and research on a particular region or function; however, the BS also tacks on six advanced STEM courses to its graduation requirements.

All international affairs majors must meet third-year proficiency in a foreign language – most undergraduates achieve this through participation in a study-abroad capacity. 

In fact, over 70% of international affairs majors study abroad in places like Hong Kong, Taipei, and Seoul.

Of course, studying at home in Washington, D.C., has its advantages. Students have an up close and personal vantage point of the United States and international exchanges. 

7. Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD)

Johns Hopkins established the United States’ first research university in 1876. Today, the school offers three BA/MA programs where students have the opportunity to study in other countries. 

The five-year Sciences Po Paris program takes place at one of Europe’s top universities: Sciences Po. There, students pursue a master’s degree in journalism, communication, or law.

Prizes are available for outstanding achievers in international studies. The Pier Larson Prize, for example, goes to a member of the senior class who best embodies Professor Pier Larson’s passion for international affairs.

All students pursuing degree coursework in international studies at Johns Hopkins will complete a senior thesis, which is essentially a lengthy original research endeavor written in collaboration with a faculty mentor. 

Johns Hopkins has a few different options for international relations majors – the Kriger School of Arts & Sciences has a number of options for undergraduates, while the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, located in Washington, DC, is among the top international relations programs for graduate students.

6. Brown University (Providence, RI)

Brown University
Filetime, Brown Main Green at dusk 2, CC BY-SA 4.0

Brown University’s BA in international and public affairs consists of three tracks. Undergraduates will select one out of development, security, or policy and governance. 

In development, undergraduates analyze human development issues within the context of regional and global settings. 

The security track encourages students to examine security issues within the same contexts. In policy and governance courses, international affairs majors develop, text, and evaluate public policies in response to regional and international crises.

Nearly 50 students graduate in each cohort, and all seniors complete a capstone project. Alumni work in fulfilling positions at organizations like Bank of America, Reuters, and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

5. University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)

University of Southern California
Sitao Xiang, USC VKC building, CC BY-SA 4.0

In addition to the standard BA in international relations, USC offers two additional bachelor’s degrees with tracks in global business and global economy. 

The flagship international relations program prepares students to thrive in the public policy and business realms. 

A global business concentration prompts scholars to choose one global business specialization from the categories of international finance, global marketing, and global management. They will also complete several classes within the Marshall School of Business.

USC boasts an exciting study abroad program: IR 374 Model Europe (Comparative Public Policy in France and the European Union). 

Undergraduate participants spend a month in Paris studying these global powers up close.

Many international relations majors may opt to attend the Annual Undergraduate Symposium for Creative and Scholarly Work. This event affords undergraduates a chance to present their research in an academic setting.

4. Tufts University (Medford, MA)

Tufts’ international relations department comprises 100+ faculty members within more than 20 departments – it is frequently named one of the best international relations programs for undergraduates in the nation. 

Graduates from the program pursue enthralling careers in academia, business, non-profit work, and international affairs.

The course sequence includes eight semesters of study in a secondary language. One exciting aspect of the curriculum is that it is organized thematically

Undergraduates will take seven courses within one concentration, which could be international economics, globalization, or international security, to name a few options. 

Majors can also focus on a particular region of the world, like Africa, Latin America, or East and Southeast Asia. 

Many notable alumni have graduated from Tufts’ international relations program, including figure skater Michelle Kwan, U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and former Nobel Peace Prize-winning President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos.

3. Stanford University (Stanford, CA)

Undergraduates have many international relations issues they can specialize in, such as human rights, climate change, or international trade and finance. 

The program prepares undergraduates for successful government, business, and journalism careers. 

Exceptional students can qualify for the IR honors program, where they have the opportunity to lead a significant independent research project.

Another fantastic component of Stanford’s international relations program is that all its students will spend a minimum of ten weeks abroad, usually through the Bing Overseas Study Program

Undergraduates can spend an academic quarter in locations like Istanbul, Santiago, and Oxford, among others.

All Stanford international relations majors also complete a minimum of two years in a foreign language of their choice, and there are over 30 choices from which to choose!

2. Yale University (New Haven, CT)

Yale’s Jackson School of Global Affairs is committed to building graduates prepared for service and leadership. 

It is the first professional school established at Yale since 1976, and its alumni include five U.S. presidents, various prime ministers, and leaders of organizations like the Peace Corps. In addition to global affairs, 

Yale also has programs in global health studies. Many undergraduates opt to spend a semester abroad conducting an independent research project or participating in an internship. In fact, the school has a partnership with the Graduate Institute of Geneva (Switzerland) that grants seniors the chance to earn a master’s degree in one year! 

The Senior Fellows program enables majors to get teaching and mentoring experience in a Yale classroom setting. 

Alternatively, seniors can complete a capstone course in the fall. Here, they travel to an actual client’s location to work with them on a complex public policy-related project. 

1. Georgetown University (Washington, DC)

Georgetown University
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

Georgetown offers several degree tracks that all fall within the umbrella of international relations. All of the programs emphasize an interdisciplinary approach, such as the program on justice and peace

The program promotes the pursuit of peace and social justice and encourages social activism and community involvement.

Other options include degrees in political economy or religion, ethics, and world affairs (REWA). 

The latter option prompts undergraduates to analyze faith and moral values within cultural, historical, and relational contexts.

Many noteworthy political figures and business leaders started at Georgetown’s international relations program. 

Alumni include several U.S. Supreme Court justices, poet and activist Amanda Gorman, and Nobel Peace Prize-winning former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

For our international relations list, here are the sources we used to create the aggregate ranking.

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