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How do I Earn an International Relations PhD?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2016
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An international relations PhD is attractive to many students due to its diverse career potential. With a strong emphasis on study and research, many PhDs in this field choose careers in academia, but there are certainly other options that include working as diplomats or in high-level jobs that concern international business relationships. Exactly how to earn an international relations PhD is usually dependent on each individual school’s requirements. A summary of typical requirements for admission to PhD programs and for completing a degree shouldn’t replace the information that each university offering such a degree provides.

For any form of doctoral studies, minimum requirement for entry is a completed undergraduate degree. Colleges offering the international relations PhD accept some students that possess only a bachelor’s degree, but may be more likely to take students with a master’s. The specific field of any bachelor or master studies is important. Students usually will have studied in a related field, such as political science, business, law, economics, and finance. Again, applicants should refer specifically to each college to determine eligible degrees.

In addition to degree suitability of any graduate or undergraduate study, applicants to an international relations PhD program generally are required to have competency in at least one foreign language. Universities may test competency via examinations.

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Other admissions requirements from most schools include strong grade point average (GPA), usually exceeding 3.0, and letters of recommendation of a professional or academic nature. Students might need to prove readiness for PhD studies by taking standardized tests, like the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Most schools also ask for a personal statement, which should be very well written, to showcase writing strengths.

After students have successfully been accepted to an international relations PhD program, the work really begins. Two to three years of classes, generally followed with comprehensive exams, are expected. Doctoral candidates complete a lengthy piece of original scholarship called a dissertation. This usually takes a couple of years to prepare from the first proposal of a topic to the final presentation. Students present their final work to a faculty committee and must orally defend it before it is accepted as completed.

Between classes, dissertation preparation, and other possible requirements like working as a teaching or research fellow, finishing the international relations PhD program can take at least four years. Many students need more time, and might take five to six years to complete all of their work. In most cases, the last thing completed is the dissertation, and once the faculty committee has approved this, students are eligible to graduate and receive their degree.

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