Disclosure: Human Rights Careers may be compensated by course providers.

Should I Get a Master’s in International Relations or Human Rights?

After you earn a bachelor’s degree, you can go on to a master’s degree. This postgraduate certification gives you more advanced knowledge of a topic and skills that help you qualify for certain jobs. Even if a job doesn’t require a master’s degree, having one can help your odds and open up more opportunities down the road. Depending on where you’re studying, a master’s degree can take about 1-3 years and might allow you to study part-time or remotely. International relations and human rights have some overlaps but also many differences. Which degree should you get?

Getting a master’s in international relations

International relations, which is also known by names like international affairs, global affairs, or global studies, encompasses the relationships between states and cultures. Many factors affect these relationships, such as politics, geography, economics, law, resources, human rights, and more.

What you can expect

When you go into a master’s program for international relations, the courses will cover topics like history, diplomacy, conflict resolution, political science, security, anthropology, international law, religious, cultural studies. Students earning a master’s in international relations usually focus on something specific within the field, like law, business, migration, trade, security and so on. You will most likely need to study another language, as well, especially one or more of the six official United Nations languages will be useful: French, English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and Russian. In a international relations master’s you will specifically learn about the relationships between governments and states, how they function, how they can be influenced and how they are maintained.

Examples: What can you become with a master’s in international relations

  • Diplomatic Officer for a country or multi-national organization
  • Intelligence Specialist for a governmental entity
  • Lobbyist for a cause in global politics
  • Non-profit Coordinator at an international NGO
  • Counter-terrorism Officer in a National Security Entity

Getting a master’s in human rights

The human rights field encompasses the promotion, protection, and enforcement of human rights such as the right to life, right to vote, right to work, and right to an adequate standard of living. Everyone has a part to play in human rights, but earning academic certifications is important if you want to expand your career opportunities in the field.

What you can expect

Human rights master’s programs have grown in popularity over the last few decades. If you want to work in human rights, most jobs (beyond entry-level jobs) will likely require at least a master’s. Coursework is interdisciplinary and often includes topics like history, sociology, anthropology, legal studies, political science, and psychology. Many programs offer specializations, as well as the option for part-time study or distance learning. In a human rights master’s you will learn about the international and regional protection mechanisms of human rights, you will study important human rights documents and how they are applied, and you will develop some hands-on skills in research, campaigning, communication, education, law and advocacy. Explore more about master’s programs in human rights on our dedicated page.

Examples: What can you become with a master’s in human rights

The human rights field is broad, so you can find jobs with international organizations (like the UN, OSCE, EU), humanitarian non-profits, law firms, advocacy groups, and more. For more career paths check out our dedicated page

Should you get a master’s in international relations or human rights?

If you are aiming for using human rights as your primary tool to create change in this world, a master’s in human rights is a great fit. If you are more aiming for a diplomatic or political career, you might prefer a master’s in international relations. A master’s in human rights might prepare you better for a career in Non-governmental organizations advocating specifically for a human rights cause. A master’s in international relations might be a better fit if you want to join diplomatic services or work as delegate for your country. Both degrees are a good fit for becoming part of the United Nations and other intergovernmental entities like OSCE or the Council of Europe.

About the author

Human Rights Careers

Human Rights Careers (HRC) provides information about online courses, jobs, paid internships, masters degrees, scholarships and other opportunities in the human rights sector and related areas.