Deciding on the best school for a masters degree in international relations can be a difficult choice because it immediately prompts several other questions – chief among them, whether this is intended as a stepping-stone to further academic study for a PhD, or whether (as is increasingly the case) it is intended as an advanced qualification for the job market. Today, international relations graduates can find policy work in government, the private sector, and with non-governmental organizations, in addition to continuing academic studies and chasing a career in the Ivory Tower.
In terms of American schools, certainly by far the most prestigious from a job-market perspective are the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (Johns Hopkins University), the Walsh School of Foreign Service (Georgetown University), the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University), and the Kennedy School of Government (Harvard University). Harvard and Tufts are farther from the center of government power in Washington, but Harvard graduates can trade on the Harvard name and the school is also very well-connected despite the distance. About thirty universities with solid graduate programs in international affairs are currently members of the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA).
For students who are thinking of staying in the academy and going the PhD route rather than stopping with a masters and entering the job market, the choice of a top school in international relations may be somewhat different. This is because, while the above schools stress practical policy analysis and job skills (albeit to a premier level – none of these are easy schools to coast through), modern academic programs are typically looking for more theoretically inclined graduates. Harvard is still a top choice, as is Yale, but the international politics and political science programs at Columbia University, Stanford University, and Princeton University may be of more value to academically and theoretically inclined students.
Outside of the United States, quality graduate schools specializing in international relations also exist, depending upon the country. For instance, Britain’s London School of Economics produces quality professional students, while the international politics program at Aberystwyth University in Wales is the oldest in the world and one of the most prestigious academically. In Canada, the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University is the leading policy-oriented school, while more academically inclined students often go to the University of Toronto or York University.
In all cases, the top grad schools in international relations are intensely competitive. All applicants should carefully review application procedures for schools they are interested in, begin networking with former graduates of the schools (a reference letter from an academic supervisor who went to the school you are applying to is always a bonus, though not strictly necessary), and consider getting to know one or more faculty members at the school with similar research interests.