Bachelor of Arts in International Relations


Program Description

International relations is an interdisciplinary major that combines courses from history and politics with the study of a modern foreign language. It is designed to prepare students either for further study of international relations or for future employment in government or business. Some alumni go on to graduate studies in law, international relations, history, and politics. Since the inception of the program in 1983, several graduates have been appointed as officers in the U.S. Foreign Service.

Recent international relations graduates have continued their studies at prestigious graduate schools such as Johns Hopkins, Cambridge, and Oxford. Six international relations majors since 2009 have also received the competitive Fulbright awards for research or teaching English as a second language.

Students have many options to study outside the United States. Cornell’s One Course At A Time curriculum facilitates courses that are taught off-campus, in countries such as Austria, Poland, New Zealand, Turkey, Spain, France, Argentina, India, Japan, and the Russian Federation. Students also perform independent research projects or take internships abroad; recent work has taken place in Indonesia, Tanzania, India, Austria, and China.

Benefits of One Course At A Time

Cornell’s One Course at a Time curriculum gives international relations students the opportunity to travel outside the U.S. on multiple, study abroad opportunities during their time at Cornell. Shorter trips are more affordable. It’s also much easier to fit study-abroad time into an academic plan with more than one major since students do not need to be gone for a whole semester to take a trip. Individual projects on campus are facilitated by the calendar since it lets students focus intensely on a project without having to divide their attention amongst other classes. Finally, students sometimes have the opportunity to take a block off during their senior year to prepare for graduate school entrance exams, the foreign service exam, or job applications.

Curriculum Highlights

Language Proficiency

Students must complete two years of study of a modern foreign language. Most students study abroad, though they have a choice of either taking at least one course outside the United States or pursuing additional fluency in a modern foreign language through a 301 level language class.


In addition to language courses, international relations majors are required to take courses in the history and politics departments. Students take four courses in politics, including International Politics, American Foreign Policy, and a choice of two of the following: International Organizations, International Political Economy, Political Economy of Developing Countries, Women and Politics, Gender and Development, and Strategies to Alleviate Poverty. Students take three courses in history, including Modern European History, Warfare and Society, and History of International Relations and Diplomacy. Students also have options in economics and other related departments.


The major consists of the following requirements, totaling at least eleven courses. Prerequisites are noted where they are not already part of the major. Before registration each year, the International Relations Committee will announce to majors which additional courses, if any, will count toward requirements.

  • 1. 205-level competence in a modern foreign language, as evidenced by completion of FRE 205, GER 205, JPN 205 , RUS 205, or SPA 205; or placement into the 300 level of a modern language on a Cornell language placement exam; or equivalent transfer credit.
  • 2. ECB 101 and one additional course in international economics or political economy selected from ECB 223 (additional prerequisite: ECB 102), ECB 261, POL 346 (prerequisite: POL 143), or POL 349.
  • 3. Four courses in international politics:
    • a. POL 142
    • b. POL 333 or POL 348
    • c. Two courses selected from POL 330 (prerequisite: POL 143), POL 331 (prerequisite: POL 143), POL 332, POL 333, POL 334 (prerequisite: POL 143), and POL 348.

  • 4. Two courses in the history of international relations selected from HIS 104, HIS 210, HIS 256, HIS 304, HIS 315, HIS 317, HIS 323, and HIS 324.
  • 5. One course having to do with how members of another culture/society view participation in the international community, selected from FRE 206 (France in the Maghreb), FRE 255 (Immigration in French and Francophone Film), FRE 303 (Cultures of France and the Francophone World), RUS 181 (Introduction to Russian Culture in Literature and Film), RUS 282 (Russian Spies and Statesmen in their Own Words) and SPA 385 (Latin American Culture and Civilization).
  • 6. A study abroad experience (class, internship, or independent study) that has to do with international relations, broadly conceived. Generally speaking, the committee will accept any study abroad class offered in Anthropology, the modern languages in Classical and Modern Languages, Economics, History, Politics, and Sociology. For courses in other disciplines, see below. As an alternative, students may complete FRE 301, GER 301, JPN 301, RUS 301, or SPA 301.
  • 7. As a capstone to the major, completion of an independent project (IRE 390) or senior honors thesis having to do with international relations, broadly conceived, with a core faculty member of the International Relations program. This should be completed after at least eight other courses (or equivalents) counted toward the major.
Last updated Jan 2020

About the School

Cornell College has been changing lives and changing educational norms since 1853. Located in Mount Vernon, Iowa, Cornell was the first college west of the Mississippi to grant women the same rights a ... Read More

Cornell College has been changing lives and changing educational norms since 1853. Located in Mount Vernon, Iowa, Cornell was the first college west of the Mississippi to grant women the same rights and privileges as men, and, in 1858, to award a degree to a woman. Read less