How a Master’s Can Help Advance Your International Affairs Career


The study of international affairs is interdisciplinary, with fields such as health, economics, science, and politics all being transformed by current global challenges. A master’s degree can help develop analytic, written, and professional skills needed to be competitive in a changing workspace. In many cases, an advanced degree in international relations can increase your salary or future earning potential over the course of your career.

Jim Wylde has over 25 years of experience in global career and leadership development and is the current Director of the Graduate Student Services at the Elliott School of International Affairs. Mr. Wylde spent 16 years with the Inter-Development Bank, was a consultant to various NGOs and multilateral organizations, and founded WyldeFire Creatives, LLC, a leadership coaching and facilitation practice. He shares the advantages of a graduate degree in international affairs.

What does it mean to be a Master of International Affairs and related fields?

Our students are uniquely equipped to face the global challenges ahead with discernment, vision, and critical thinking. In a sense, they’ve been preparing for occurrences like COVID-19, social unrest, and climate change throughout their academic program. In a world of AI and robotics, our students have human cognitive abilities that allow for leadership and decision-making with an ethical lens. 


While for many years the Elliott School was known largely for diplomacy and public service, we have evolved to include more of the private sector and its opportunities, particularly in such disciplines as corporate social responsibility, political risk, and consulting. Our students have strong language and communication skills, as well as familiarity with key metrics and tech tools.

What are some common or uncommon careers associated with a Master of International Affairs graduates?

There are always a few surprises, but International Affairs grads span the full spectrum of international careers and employment. Statistics from last year’s grads show employment at 91%, of which 38%  is public,  32% private, and 24% non-profit. We usually have a number of graduates under the Program Manager, Program Associate, Analyst, or Research umbrellas, with titles such as Country Officer, Foreign Services Officer, Consultant, and Communications Director. Intelligence has a full sequence of its own. Recently we’ve had more in consulting roles with major firms, and in political risk, or fraud. We will also get unique titles like Scenario Developer and Illicit Trade Analyst. We encourage anyone interested to view all of the titles and data in the employment reports for the last five years, which are openly posted in the GSS section of the Elliott website.

What kinds of skills differentiate someone with a graduate degree in International Affairs? 

Our graduates meet the complexity of our times with a broader mix of skills, including critical thinking, verbal and written communication, analysis, and tech skills like Python, STATA, and R. By graduation, each student has created a toolbox of skills that allows them to think strategically, reach solid conclusions, and develop and oversee projects and programs. 

They can work in the pressured analytic world of Washington, D.C., or in the developing world, where they are able to bring their skills to the grassroots level in diverse countries and communities. We also try to make sure that students with a degree have gotten experience (through internships, jobs, projects) by the time they graduate.

A master’s degree is now required for most International Affairs career positions, so an advanced degree is important in and of itself, but students who continue their studies at the graduate level gain greater depth in their area of interest, or acquire new skills. In some cases, an individual may already have experience that isn’t directly related to International Affairs. In that case, a graduate degree is a perfect way to pivot, re-frame experience, and go into greater depth in an area of interest.


Who might benefit the most from a graduate degree in International Affairs?

In career services, we talk about the “T-shaped” student: one who has the necessary broad knowledge but can take a deep dive into a few critical areas. People who take a holistic view of their development can make good use of this degree. That’s what the 21st century requires, too: the ability to switch back and forth between the broad and narrow. Employers also benefit from this knowledge and flexibility and look to the Elliott School because of its outstanding reputation in the world of International Affairs.

Finally, one of the advantages of this degree is that it entitles you to continued coaching and support well after graduation. We work with alumni across the board, and their participation in employment and programming creates a community that graduates can tap into for years to come. We’re looking forward to welcoming our new students this fall so that we can begin a lifetime journey together!

What do you think of Mr. Wylde’s insights? Would you like to participate in the conversation and connect with the policymakers shaping the international landscape? Prospective students of the Elliott School of International Affairs are welcome to join our regular Information Session webinars.

The Elliott School offers 12 interdisciplinary master’s degrees with many specializations, as well as dual-degree and joint-degree options. Explore these options and our Master of International Policy and Practice accelerated degree programs designed specifically for mid-career professionals.