International Relations Core Requirements
The core requirements common to most IR Master’s programs are described below. Students in any IR MA program must satisfy all of these requirements, with some exceptions (noted below).
The General Core Course requirement described here provides the basis for the majority of the IR Master’s Degree programs. The programs that use the General Core Course requirement are:
- IR & Environmental Policy
- IR & International Communication
- IR & Master of Business Administration
- IR & Juris Doctor
- IR Mid-Career
- IR MA in Brussels
The International Affairs, IR & Religion, Global Development Policy, and Latin American Studies MA programs do not use this system. Please see the pages on those programs for details on the core course requirements specific to each of those programs.
The General Core Course requirement ensures that students gain exposure to a range of important facets of international affairs. The IR Department has established four core areas of study within international relations: Theory and Policy, Political Economy, Security Studies, and Regional Studies. A variety of courses are offered within each of those four core areas. All students must successfully complete (at least) one course in three of the four core areas to satisfy the core course requirement.
The core areas available to students are listed below with links to the lists of classes that fulfill each core area. The Regional Studies core area is subdivided into five categories; coursework from any of these five categories can be used to satisfy the Regional Studies core area.
These course lists are subject to change due to fluctuations in teaching schedules.
Functional Core Areas:
Regional Core Area Categories:
Track Course Requirement
Students in some degree programs choose one or more tracks and must satisfy the course requirements of those tracks. Track requirements vary substantially from one degree program to another. Students should see the pages for the specific program they are interested in to learn the details of the track requirement for that degree program. The programs that include a Track Course Requirement are:
The IR & Environmental Policy, IR & Master of Business Administration, IR & Juris Doctor, and Mid-Career IR programs do not require students to choose a track. The Latin American Studies program requires students to choose two issue areas, a similar, but somewhat different, system.
In addition to core and track coursework, students also take elective classes. The number of elective classes a student takes varies depending on the specific degree program in which the student is enrolled. See the page for the program you are interested in to learn the number of required electives. Approved electives include all graduate (500-level and above) courses offered in the IR Department, non-IR classes included in the lists of core/track courses, and the courses listed below. Students may also petition the Director of Graduate Studies to accept other non-IR coursework that is pertinent to international affairs.
When taking classes outside of GRS, students should bear in mind that no more than 25% of their coursework can be taken outside of GRS. (Exception: Students in dual or joint degree programs with other schools within BU (GDP, IRIC, IR/MBA, IRJD) may, of course, take as many courses as necessary for their degree requirements from the partner school.)
Most Law classes are not available to students outside of the Law School because of the substantial background knowledge in Law that is required to understand the course material. However, the Law faculty has identified a limited selection of courses, below, that non-Law students may register for, with the permission of the instructor. If interested in taking a Law class, talk with the IR Graduate Programs Administrator about the special registration process required for doing so.
Law classes are typically worth three credits (and sometimes only two) whereas GRS courses are normally worth 4 credits. Taking one or more Law classes will necessitate that students make up the lacking credits in some fashion, typically through a two credit IR directed study. Interested students should talk with the Graduate Programs Administrator about this.
Law JD 796 Climate Change(s)
Law JD 804 American Legal History
Law JD 846 Historical Perspectives on Law, Constitutions and Culture(s)
Law JD 917 The Constitution and Foreign Affairs
Law JD 942 English Legal History
Graduate School of Management (GSM) courses require registration through the GSM Advising Office. Talk with the IR Graduate Programs Administrator for details. Most GSM classes of interest to IR students are worth three credits; some may be worth fewer. Students may undertake a directed study to make up the credit deficiency.
Listed below are GSM classes that have been pre-approved by IR. Other GSM classes may be petitioned on a case-by-case basis.
GSM FE 882 Analysis of Political Economies
GSM MK 853 Global Strategic Marketing
GSM PL 849 Global Sustainability
GSM PL 870 Government, Society and Sustainable Development
GSM SI 847 Investing in Sustainability
College / Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (CAS/GRS)
GRS AR 815 Plunder and Preservation: Cultural Heritage in Wartime
GRS HI 689 History of International Relations, 1900 – 1945
GRS HI 690 History of International Relations since 1945
CAS MA 614 Statistical Methods II
MA 614 will satisfy the statistics requirement for most programs. IR students should select ‘package R’.
CAS PO 502 Political Analysis: A Primer
GRS PO 841 Quantitative Research Methods
GRS PO 843 Techniques in Political Analysis: Maximum Likelihood Estimation (Pre-req: PO 841)
Students must obtain the permission of the instructor before registering for PO 841 or PO 843. PO 841 and PO 843 will satisfy the statistics requirement for most programs.
All students in the IR Department are required to demonstrate graduate level reading proficiency in a foreign language prior to completion of the degree program. Graduate level proficiency is the ability accurately to understand newspaper and professional journal articles in the field of foreign relations, using standard reference materials. For more details on the Foreign Language requirement, see our page on the Foreign Language exam.
In the case of non-native English speakers who were required to submit a TOEFL score report as part of their application for admission, knowledge of English fulfills this requirement.
Foreign language courses can not be used as electives toward an IR MA degree. Students may take foreign language classes at BU, but those classes cannot count toward the IR degree. Many students find that they have limited time available for language study during the academic year, due to the rigorous demands of their IR courses. The IR Department recommends that students work on their language skills prior to matriculation into the program and during the summers between regular academic years.
Exception: Students in the Latin American Studies program must satisfy a different, more rigorous language requirement. See the page on the LAS degree for details.
Students in IR programs are expected to have a reasonable facility working with statistical data. The IR Department requires that students in all of our programs take one course in statistics.
Several of our degree programs include required coursework that satisfies the statistics requirement. These programs, and the classes that satisfy the statistics requirement, are as follows.
- International Affairs (IR 702)
- International Relations and MBA (GSM QM 716 or GSM QM 717)
- Global Development Policy (IR 702, GE 516, or either SPH BS 701 or SPH BS 703, depending on the chosen concentration).
Students in those programs do not need to take an additional statistics course beyond the one that is required for their degree program. Students in other programs may satisfy the requirement in several ways:
- A dedicated two credit (or more) college level course in statistics. This course may be taken either prior to matriculation at BU or while studying at BU. At BU, either CAS MA 113 or CAS MA 115 can be taken to satisfy this requirement. Comparable courses at other universities may also be used (online courses, however, are not accepted). If the class is taken outside of BU, the student will need to present an official transcript to document that the class has been completed successfully. Please note that while a dedicated statistics class will satisfy the statistics requirement, the credits from the class, whether it is taken at BU or elsewhere, will not be applied toward the IR degree.
- Students in any IR degree program may take IR 702, Research Methods for International Relations Practitioners, as an elective toward their degree. Students who have not completed the statistics requirement prior to beginning their studies at BU are strongly encouraged to take IR 702 to satisfy this requirement.
- Students in the IREP and IRIC program have courses available to them that fulfill the statistics requirement and also count as a class toward their degree program. For students in the IREP program, GRS MA 614, GRS MA 684, GRS GE 516 or GRS GE 712 fulfill both the statistics requirement and a CEES elective. For IRIC students, COM CM 722, Communication Research, fulfills the statistics requirement and also counts as either a COM core class or a COM elective.
Please note that all statistics classes must be taken for a letter grade (A-F), and any class taken at BU will be reflected in the student’s grade point average. Online and correspondence classes will not be accepted. Students must receive a passing grade in order for the course to fulfill the requirement.
Exception: Students in the IR & Religion and Latin American Studies programs are not required to fulfill the statistics requirement.
Candidates for a Master of Arts degree in International Relations are required to write a Master’s Paper (commonly referred to as an MA Paper) as the capstone component of their degree. The paper may take one of two forms: students can choose to write either a traditional research paper or a policy paper. Students are given broad latitude in selecting topics and approaches, in consultation with their advisers. Additional information on the MA Paper may be found here.
All MA Papers must be defended orally in front of a panel of three professors, who are chosen by the department (one of the three professors will be the student’s adviser). The purpose of the oral examination is to test the student’s knowledge in the area of research related to the MA paper and the student’s ability to discuss that knowledge at length in a clear and organized manner. Oral Defenses are held three times each year, in September, December, and April. Further information as well as current exam schedules may be found here.
Students in the International Affairs and IR & Religion programs are expected to finish the MA Paper by the end of their second year in the program. Students in the other degree programs often do most of the work on their MA Paper after completing coursework. Therefore, many students will require one additional semester after finishing their course work in order to complete their degree program. While working only on their MA Paper, students register as a continuing student each semester until work on the MA paper is completed. See here for more details on continuing student status.
Students are not permitted to defend their MA Paper until all other requirements of the degree have been met. Exception: In the case of students defending in December or April, it is understood that the students’ current semester courses may not yet have concluded at the time of the Oral Defense.
Exception: Students in the Global Development Policy MA do not write an MA Paper. They fulfill a different capstone requirement, detailed on the pages for that degree program.