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Why Study International Relations? | A Student Guide

In today’s diverse and hyper-connected world, there’s never been more demand for individuals who show the greatest ambitions to want and make a positive difference for society as a whole.

Study International Relations and you’ll gain a deeper understanding of how the world works and the global issues that result from it. It’s a highly important and unique subject, which draws expertise on a number of avenues, including different cultures, economies, political divisions, and the impact they have on society as a whole. 

Think it could be a subject for you? We’re going to take a look at exactly what International Relations is, what its study involves, and how you can begin researching university courses for it.

What is International Relations?

From the nature of diplomacy to the causes of conflict, the study of International Relations attempts to explain how different countries and states interact with one another, as well as subnational entities (such as political parties or interest groups). 

International Relations is a multidisciplinary subject that often encourages students to expand their way of thinking and approach theories from a number of methods and perspectives. Although the subject’s topics will vary from one educational institution to another, common topics cover and address foreign policy analysis, international security, diplomacy, media, political economy, global governance, ethnic identities, social movements and more. 

With its rich and complex subject matter, this theory-based subject is closely related to a number of academic subjects, including; Politics, Geography, History, Economics, Law, Psychology, and Philosophy, with students often studying on combined degree programmes at university. 


Why Study International Relations?

International Relations seeks to make sense of an increasingly globalised world. Those who study it will deal with numerous issues, concepts and theories to expand their knowledge of the world around them, while developing a skill set that’s highly lucrative in almost all sectors of work. 

Let’s take a look in detail at 3 of the most common reasons why students pursue International Relations as a subject at summer school and at university. 

1. International Relations is more relevant than ever before

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected through trade, commerce, migration, and technology, so too does the frequency and complexity of how different countries and states interact with one another. A digitised world calls for trained professionals to dissect and understand complex interactions, helping to craft policy and find solutions which resolve common challenges today and in the future.

In this sense, those who study International Relations will have an adaptable toolkit with which they can use to navigate our rapidly changing world, giving them an advantage throughout their career and personal lives. 

If you choose to pursue a career in governmental or international discussion, you’ll be entering a field which is more vibrant, and more important than ever before - and you could be making a huge impact in the world around us.

2. You have the opportunity to make a difference

With a rich and detailed knowledge of cross-cultural awareness and communication, students who study International Relations have the ability to aid on policy and social change which can make a positive impact on the world.

Those who study the subject tend to be passionate about resolving disputes and combating injustice, which are essential foundations to making a positive social impact. So, if you have always wanted to change the world for the better, studying International Relations could be the first step to making that difference. 

3. Studying International Relations cultivates an abundance of transferable skills

As we mentioned above, studying International Relations is an interdisciplinary subject, which demands a combination of skills and approaches. Those who study this subject will leave education with a lucrative set of core skills that can help an individual excel in almost any field. 

For example, a significant portion of a student’s weekly study schedule will demand critical analysis skills, where they will need to observe and propose innovative solutions to highly sensitive situations, taking into account all sides of a view. 

Students attending our International Relations summer school will also participate in debate nights and communication workshops, which again, are both essential skills in the field of International Relations. In particular, debate skills can be critical when it comes to holding a particular organisation or group’s viewpoint, whilst accepting and understanding the needs of other arguments and participants.

Other skills students will excel in after studying International Relations include:

  • Flexibility
  • Compromise
  • Teamwork
  • Negotiation
  • Team management
  • Autonomy

Of course, these are all skills which can be highly beneficial in almost any field of work, even if students choose to pursue a career in something other than International Relations. Mainly, these skills centre around nurturing positive relationships, which are critical in both professional and personal aspects of life. 

So, whatever role you choose to pursue in the future, you’ll have a foundation of skills and knowledge which can be applied across a variety of roles and sectors. 


Applying to study International Relations at university

With International Relations being such a diverse subject, there are so many different courses and syllabi to choose from at each university.

Its close relations with subjects such as Politics, Law, History, and Economics means students can find themselves studying a number of cross-disciplinary subjects, such as Governance, Law & Order, Public Administration, and so many more. While its focus on international diplomacy and relationships means there is a whole world of travel and study abroad opportunities for students to take advantage of. 

We’re going to take a look at what subjects and grades are most typically required for university degrees, and which UK universities are considered amongst some of the best for International Relations degrees. 

What do you need to study International Relations?

As such a broad and multi-dimensional degree, the subjects needed to study International Relations vary between each university. However, some of the subjects which frequently appear on entry requirements include:

  • Economics
  • English Literature and/or Language
  • Geography
  • History
  • Mathematics
  • Modern Languages
  • Philosophy
  • Politics
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

Studying any of these subjects at A-level will give you a solid foundation of global knowledge and skills which can help you to excel as you study International Relations at university.

Note: Just as how different universities list different subject requirements for their International Relations degrees, each university will also list its own set of specific grade requirements. Remember to check individual entry requirements for each university you are considering applying to. 

Choosing where to study International Relations

When it comes to choosing an International Relations degree - or any degree for that matter - there are a number of evaluations you should make, including the quality of education you will receive, the price of the course, the cultural experience of where you will study, along with many others. 

However, if you can, and think you would enjoy the experience, it’s a good idea to try and study International Relations abroad. This will give you a first-hand experience of living in a different culture, where you will have the chance to interact with people who come from different backgrounds and experiences. What better way to understand the relationship between different nations?

Of course, choosing if you want to spend three or more years studying abroad can be a hugely daunting experience. Before making this decision, you could experience life away from your home country on a short summer school, where you will have the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture and get a taste of student life away from home. 


Best universities for International Relations

Many UK universities offer International Relations degrees, either as a full degree or as a major/minor accredited programme where you study another related subject in conjunction with International Relations, such as Politics or History.

Some of these often include optional integrations, such as a ‘sandwich’ year where you can go and gain a years’ worth of professional work experience; or a four-year programme which will allow you to earn a Master’s degree without having to take a break from your studies. 

But how do you know which university is the best for studying International Relations?

Each year, the Complete University Guide compiles a list of the top universities for studying International Relations. Currently, the rankings for 2021/22 courses are as follows:

  1. University of Oxford
  2. University of Cambridge
  3. University of St Andrews
  4. University of Warwick
  5. London School of Economics and Politics
  6. UCL (University College London)
  7. University of Sheffield
  8. University of Exeter
  9. Durham University
  10.  University of Bath

This list is a great way to get started with your research and look at some of the best courses available on the market. Spend some time thinking about what global topics interest you the most, and then use this to inform your research as you start looking for courses that appeal to you. 

Once you’ve collated a list of a few universities and courses that spark your interest, make sure you book your place on their open days. All universities offer open days for prospective students, which give you the opportunity to find out more about the course and meet the lecturers who will be teaching you. These are hugely important in helping you get a feel for the place you could be studying, and help you narrow down your options. 

Remember that when comparing universities, it’s important to always check their entry requirements. Any course you apply for needs to be at your skill level and ability, so that you can excel to the best of your abilities. 

What to write in a personal statement for International Relations

In the UK, students are required to apply to study at university via the official Universities and College Admissions Services, which is more commonly known as UCAS. 

These applications require a supporting personal statement written by yourself, outlining your passion for the subject, including; why you want to study, and why you are the best student for the International Relations university course you are applying for.

All universities will be looking for a coherent and well-written statement, with evidence that demonstrates your motivation and interest in studying the subject at a higher level. Often, students choose to include what extracurriculars they have done to build on their knowledge and commitment to the subject, as well as any other skill-building opportunities they have participated in, such as volunteer work, work experience, or any part time jobs they may have had.

For further detail and guidance on what to include when writing a personal statement for UCAS, please refer to our UCAS personal statement guide.


What jobs can an International Relations degree get you?

Whilst studying International Relations at university, you’ll discover the many routes your degree can take you and where you may want to direct your career. 

The beauty of the subject is that your skills will be valued by both national and international employers across almost all sectors, meaning you can pursue roles in almost any industry that interests you. 

An example of some of the career paths you could find yourself in include:

  • Aid or development work
  • Corporate consultancy
  • Charity sector
  • Diplomat
  • Government jobs, such as the civil service
  • Journalism or foreign correspondence
  • Intelligence or policing
  • NGO (a non-profit organisation)


Cyber security; the rise of social media; climate emergency; international health pandemics; the vitality of colonialism - the 21st century is a complex place to be, and one which needs international perspective for you to even begin to understand. 

A degree in International Relations, with its examination of global partnerships and relationships between states and organisations is a great option for students who have a desire to help understand and develop solutions to complex social issues and make use of global opportunities.

Even if you don’t pursue a career in a political field, studying International Relations will equip you with a lucrative skill set which is fully transferable to a number of job roles and sectors. 

So, even if you’re unsure what career path you may wish to pursue in the future, if you have an interest in the subject, you should definitely take the opportunity to explore what studying International Relations at university could mean for you.

Discover our International Relations summer courses

As an award-winning short course provider, we are committed to delivering the very best study abroad programs for International Relations students. Adopting the same award-winning teaching practices and educational systems of the University of Oxford and Cambridge, we work with some of the UK’s best tutors to provide a truly authentic and high-quality learning experience. 

If you’re thinking about pursuing an International Relations degree in the future, or simply want to get a taste of what the subject has to offer, take a look at our available International Relations summer courses and see how you could set yourself apart from other university applicants.

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Want to study International Relations on a summer course or even as a degree subject? Take a look at our comprehensive guide for prospective students.

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