So you want an MA in IR?
Every year this sub-forum gets a flood of IR wannabes pouring in and asking a bajillion questions about IR programs. Having applied to, been accepted to, and graduated from an IR program, I am at least nominally qualified to discuss this topic. I'm going to do do a general outline here, and then leave a post or two below for answering questions that come in. This way I can provide an "FAQ" to IR programs. Anyway, here is a brief overview of some of the common issues I see with IR MA applicants:
[b]Which program should I attend?[/b]
You know those rankings you see in Foreign Relations magazine? Or maybe on some website?
Forget them. That's right, forget them.
MAs in IR exist in a wide and wooly world where rankings mean relatively little and most people don't even know they exist. Don't expect anyone-- outside of the wonky policy circles who actually read the magazines that rank, of course-- to know the difference between most programs. It's the school's name that will usually carry you the furthest.
Note that I said "usually." That's because there are exceptions to every rule. This will apply to nearly everything I, and everyone else in this field, says.
My general rules for "which program to attend" are:
1. Best school/program
2. Cost (who is paying you the most/charging you the least?)
3. Location (don't go to Denver/UCSD if you want to work in DC/NYC)
In most cases, do not, do not, do not attend program X because of professor Y. It is very unlikely that you will get an opportunity to capitalize on any particular professor that much as an MA student to warrant choosing a particular school over another program unless all else is equal. This is rarely the case.
[b]I really want to be in the CIA/DIA/State Dept./NSA/any other "cool agency[/b]
I hear this one a lot. This was me in 2006, and is still me today (to a lesser extent.) Let me make something clear: DO NOT GET AN MA JUST TO GET A JOB AT ANY OF THE "COOL" AGENCIES." Here's why: Simply put, many of the agencies get too many applicants, don't care about MAs as much as people seem to believe, and have very capricious hiring practices.
I have seen many people get tentative offers only to lose them because of a parent's ethnic origin got in the way of getting a security clearance. I've also seen people fail a polygraph ("lie detector") for ostensibly unwarranted reasons. You don't want thousands of dollars spent to end up being for naught just because some 6-week trained voodoo test administrator didn't like your answers.
[b]What about foreign programs?[/b]
Do you want to work for the US government? If so, it is usually best to not do your MA abroad. Clearances are fickle, painful, and long. Being abroad for a degree will make them even more fickle, painful, and long.
Also note that most HR people don't know the LSE from Michigan State. Does that suck? Sure. But it's reality.
[b]How do I get into program X?[/b]
IR program admissions are pretty simple, and don't seem to differ much from program to program. The most important factors are generally:
1. GPA and GRE
2. Some language/international experience
3. Not being a total twit in your letters
That's really all there is to it. Admission to these programs is, otherwise, somewhat based on luck of the draw. There is no magic bullet. Just try to be "international" and apply to programs with similar median stats to yours.
[b]What are salaries REALLY like after an MA in IR?[/b]
This question was slightly edited for, uhh... brevity.
Here's the reality, guys: most recent MA in IR grads don't make a ton of money. I'd put the median for inexperienced grads (that's most of us!) at around $45K-50K. Those with experience might push $60K+. A few I know have landed $70K+, but they're rare.
Government isn't about big bucks. It's about job security and quality of life. Get over it.
However, let me make a point clear: that's starting. Many of the people who I know managed to enter fantastic positions down the road. As always, though, YMMV (your mileage may vary.)
[b]Will _____ look down on me for having an MA in IR?[/b]
Probably. But ______ is probably also a jerk who isn't worth associating with. Why do you care?
[b]Is work experience required for admission?[/b]
Helpful, not required. Generally, however, those with more work experience get more out of the programs at a personal level, and I recommend that everyone get at least 2 or 3 years of experience before pursuing an MA. The return on investment is usually much higher in the short- and long-run in my experience.
[b]Is an MA in IR only worth it if I go to a "top" program?[/b]
In short: No. However, note that top schools, being what they are, tend to offer greater opportunities than other schools. Does that mean you should only go to super top uber elite university? No, that's silly. Nonetheless, you should consider what kinds of resources you will get at your program, and if it's worth the price tag.
I'll add a filler post below to post more Q and A. Keep asking questions and I'll do my best to answer them!
[b]Insight from others[/b]
I think that with IR MAs, the best thing is to have ALOT of people in the department versus a few well recognized heavyweights. That way, you can always find someone working on what you are interested in, and there will be connections to be made as a result. Most undergrads are pretty clueless about what is out there, so breadth is key. PAY ATTENTION TO REGIONS. If the really highly ranked program that you are interested in has no one that works on your area of the world, and doesn't have funding for language training/research in that area of the world (FLAS, Internships, State Department in resident, and national security language funds), don't go.[/quote]
I want to work for the World Bank in African development and live in a penthouse in Manhattan for six months every year (the warm ones!) and travel all over the world the other six months while making $85,000 right out of my MA. What program should I choose?
Collegeconfidential IR applicants
$85K? A penthouse in Manhattan?
Maybe Harlem. Maybe.
I realize this. The point was to outline, in all its glory, the disconnect from the real world I've noticed from many hopeful IR applicants.
Where are you working, by the way? Did you get a sweet job?
There is certainly a misperception about salary. Where it comes from I think is that people with advanced degrees in these fields do actually end up not only getting sweeter jobs, but also more unique ones that can earn a lot of money. No, you will probably not get a great job coming out of school, but you will also have been given plenty of opportunities to enter companies and government offices that you wouldn't have dreamed to have looked at before.
But I think jmleadpipe's usual bashing of this misperception is also unfounded, particularly for the reason that jmleadpipe is not even a graduate student yet or (correct me if I'm wrong) has even worked in a related field, if at all.
So question your source. UCLIri certainly is an alumn so has put in the time and has been in the field.
What I know for sure is that the alumns I know who have been working for a while have absolutely the most awesome jobs I've ever heard of, and it's a result of them having very quirky degrees that bring out their generalist qualities.
Sweet job? Not quite. I'm just doing some temp office space gig and trying to keep the paycheck flowing until a few other things I have in the pipeline come through. Let's just say that I'm glad to be doing mundane crap work, considering that at least a few recent MA grads I know are at home playing PS3/360 right now.
I only aim to offer a more "honest" view of the field. Some of what jmleadpipe says is true, and I'm sure that some of what I say is not perfectly accurate. However, the problem with the IR programs is that they are all generally very good at advertising themselves, but fall short when it comes time to deliver their product.
In the long run, no IR grads I know are starving and miserable. But let's be fair: you're at G'Town, and most of my friends are KSG, SAIS, SIPA, IR/PS, Fletcher etc. grads. After the "top 10" or so, which incidentally nearly all belong to high-ranked universities, the dropoff in ROI is probably pretty high.
I'd rip on you but you missed the point of my post so badly, I actually feel bad for you. As such, I'll let you get to work on your reading comprehension and then, when you're good and ready, you can take another crack at it. Deal?
For everyone else who got the gist (and I'm guessing that is everyone aside Volscio) you'll know that I wasn't ragging on MA students in IR programs or their future job possibilities, but simply making fun of kids who think MAIR=Jet setting job with UN Agency of choice.
I'm sorry if I offended anyone who, like Volscio, happens to have paper thin skin.
This thread needs to be a sticky. Moderators, you know what to do.
Moderator: Done. Thanks for the heads up.
I want to pursue further study in IR, and I want to get a job at Amnesty Int'l or Human Rights Watch after graduation, because I know that I need more work experiences to get a job at UN (YEs, I want to work for UNHCR in future) I also thought of taking exam, but I heard that its really or should I say almost impossible to get a higher position in UN. I know this because I've had chances to meet people from UN.
Anyway, my question is, if I'm applying for schools out of US (I want to focus my study in Africa) will I need full-time job expeirences? i've done internships for 2 yrs in related orgs, but it is almost impossible to find a job in related field in my country. Even getting internships require MA.
Best schools are in the U.S. regardless of where you want to work.
Additionally, everyone take what they read here with a grain of salt. I graduated from UNT, a crappy state school, and got a job at Ernst & Young (Business Week’s best place to launch a career). Don't let anyone tell you want you can't do. A degree is a tool, it is all in how you use it (which explains why some Harvard grads don't find jobs...because they sit at home playing 360).
Of course you should. My point is not to say that a degree in IR excludes you from anything in particular, but to give a sort of "ground-level view" of the IR MA experience.
A classmate of mine my first year at IR/PS went to Blackrock. Last year a lot of people went to Big 4. It's not unheard of. But the point is that the applicant should be realistic about the return on investment.
You can get to wherever you want to get eventually. The question is really whether you feel like you're ready to work for a bit, or go to school for a bit. It's a question you should really take seriously. It's not either/or necessarily -- it might just be your sequencing...or pursuing what you just REALLY WANT TO DO.
Of course. But the question should be, inevitably, "how does this degree help me, if at all?"
Degrees are products, and should be paid for accordingly.
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