The Master of Liberal Arts, International Relations degree program is offered online with 1 course required on campus at Harvard University. Weekend options are available for the on-campus requirement.
Required Course Curriculum
Online core and elective courses
On-campus Engaging in Scholarly Conversation course
Capstone or thesis
12 Graduate Courses (48 credits)
The degree is highly customizable. As part of the program curriculum, you choose either a thesis or capstone track as well as the international relations courses and electives that meet your individual learning goals.
With online courses offered in both synchronous and asynchronous formats, you can participate in some courses on demand and others live that offer real-time engagement with faculty and peers.
- SSCI 100B Proseminar: Introduction to Graduate Studies in Government, History and International Relations
- 4 international relations courses
- 1 Engaging in Scholarly Conversation (see on-campus experience)
- This 4-credit requirement is fulfilled by completing 2 two-credit Active Learning Weekends or 1 three-week summer course. Learn more about the on-campus experience
- 1 international relations seminar
- 1 research methods course
- 1 international relations elective
- EXPO 42b Writing in the Social Sciences is an elective option
Tip: Seminars offer small-class discussions as well as ample opportunities to connect with faculty and peers while engaging in research. We encourage you to complete multiple seminars.
The thesis is a 9-month independent research project where you work one-on-one in a tutorial setting with a thesis director.
Additional courses include:
- Thesis proposal tutorial
- Master’s Thesis (8 credits)
Recent Thesis Topics:
- The Potential Impact of Artificial General Intelligence on Preventive Diplomacy from a Balance of Threat Perspective
- Iceland’s Accession to the Atlantic Pact 1948-49: A Strategic Path Forward for NATO
- Identity Politics in Morocco: The Implications of Indigenousness, Feminism and Nationalism within the Ongoing Western Sahara Conflict
- Business as Mission in North Korea: An Investigation of an Alternative Strategy to
- From the Plaza to the Parliament: Evaluating Anti-Austerity Governments in Greece and
The capstone track focuses on a research project and includes the following additional courses:
- An international relations elective
- Precapstone and Capstone (choice of topics below):
- Policy Writing and Analysis
- Deliberative Justice
- Equity and the Struggle for Justice
- National Security Writing and Analysis (this capstone requires an additional weekend on campus)
Capstone experience. First, in the precapstone, you gain foundational preparation through critically analyzing the scholarly literature. Then, in the capstone, you execute a semester-long research project with guidance and support from your instructor and fellow candidates.
Capstone sequencing. You enroll in the precapstone and capstone courses in the same topic, in back-to-back semesters (fall/spring), and in your final academic year. The capstone must be taken alone as your sole remaining degree requirement. Capstone topics are subject to change annually.
Harvard Instructor Requirement
For either the thesis or capstone track, 8 of the above courses (32 credits) need to be taught by instructors with the Harvard-instructor designation. The thesis course is taught by a Harvard instructor.
Choose between the accelerated or standard on-campus experience.
Learn and network in person with your classmates.
Nearly all courses can be taken online, but the degree requires an in-person experience here at Harvard University where you enroll in Engaging in Scholarly Conversation (ESC).
Join your fellow degree candidates for this interactive course that highlights the importance of true graduate-level analysis by training you in the skills of critically engaging the scholarly literature in your field of study.
You register for ESC after completing the proseminar with a grade of B or higher and prior to either the Crafting the Thesis Proposal tutorial or the precapstone to support your final research project. Ordinarily, students wait until they are officially admitted before enrolling in this course, as it does not count as one of the three, 4-credit courses required for admission.
You have two attempts to earn the required grade of B- or higher in ESC. A withdrawal grade (WD) counts as an attempt.
Choose between two on-campus experience options:
- Accelerated on-campus option: ESC is offered in two 2-credit Active Learning Weekends. We strongly advise you complete the two weekends in the same academic year with same instructor (part one in fall and part two in spring).
- Standard on-campus option: ESC is offered in one 3-week Harvard Summer School (HSS) session. This option is ideal for those who want a more traditional on-campus experience. HSS offers, for an additional fee, housing, meal plans, and a prolonged on-campus experience here at Harvard University. Learn more about campus life at Harvard.
International Students Who Need a Student Visa
To meet the on-campus requirement, you choose the Standard on-campus option and study with us in the summer. You can easily request an I-20 for the F-1 student visa for Harvard Summer School’s 3-week session. For more details, see International Student Study Options for important visa information.
In-Person Co-Curricular Events
Come to Cambridge for Convocation (fall) to celebrate your hard-earned admission, Harvard career fairs offered throughout the year, HES alumni networking events (here at Harvard and around the world), and, of course, Harvard University Commencement (May).
Confirm your initial eligibility with a 4-year bachelor’s degree or its foreign equivalent.
Take three courses in our unique “earn your way in” admissions process that count toward your degree.
In the semester of your third course, submit the official application for admission to the program.
Below are our initial eligibility requirements and an overview of our unique admissions process to help get you started. Visit the Degree Program Admissions page for more details.
- Prior to enrolling in any degree-applicable courses, you must possess a 4-year regionally accredited US bachelor’s degree or its foreign equivalent. Foreign bachelor’s degrees must be evaluated for equivalency.
- You cannot already have or be in the process of earning a master’s degree in international relations or a related field. Check your eligibility.
- If English is your second language, you’ll need to prove English proficiency before registering for a course. We have multiple proficiency options.
Earning Your Way In — Courses Required for Admission
To begin the admission process, you simply register — no application required — for the following three, four-credit, graduate-level degree courses (available online).
These prerequisite courses count toward your degree once you’re admitted; they are not additional courses. They are investments in your studies and help ensure success in the program.
- SSCI 100B Proseminar: Introduction to Graduate Studies and Scholarly Writing in the Social Sciences — Government and History
- Before registering, you’ll need to pass our online test of critical reading and writing skills, or earn a B or higher in EXPO 42b Writing in the Social Sciences.
- You have two attempts to earn the minimum grade of B in the proseminar (a withdrawal grade counts as an attempt). The proseminar cannot be more than two years old at the time of application.
- One international relations course
- One international relations course, research methods, or elective (e.g., EXPO 42b)
While the three courses don’t need to be taken in a particular order or in the same semester, we highly recommend that you start with the proseminar (or prerequisite EXPO 42b). All three courses must be completed with a grade of B or higher, without letting your overall Harvard cumulative GPA dip below 3.0.
Applying to the Degree Program
During the semester of your third degree course, submit the official application to the program.
Don’t delay! You must prioritize the three degree courses for admission and apply before completing subsequent courses. By doing so, you’ll:
- Avoid the loss of credit due to expired course work or changes to admission and degree requirements.
- Ensure your enrollment in critical and timely degree-candidate-only courses.
- Avoid the delayed application fee.
- Gain access to exclusive benefits.
Eligible students who submit a complete and timely application will have nine more courses after admission to earn the degree. Applicants can register for courses in the upcoming semester before they receive their grades and while they await their admission decision.
The Office of Predegree Advising & Admissions makes all final determinations about program eligibility.
Search and Register for Courses
The Division of Continuing Education (DCE) offers degree courses all year round to accelerate degree completion.
- You can study in fall, January, and spring terms through Harvard Extension School (HES) and during the summer through Harvard Summer School (HSS).
- You can enroll full or part time. After qualifying for admission, many of our degree candidates study part time, taking 2 courses per semester (fall/spring) and 1 in the January and summer sessions.
- Most fall and spring courses meet once a week for two hours, while January and summer courses meet more frequently in a condensed format.
To Complete Your Degree
Maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher.
Complete your courses in five years.
Earn your Harvard degree and enjoy Harvard Alumni Association benefits upon graduation.
Required GPA, Withdrawal Grades, and Repeat Courses
GPA. You need to earn a B or higher in each of the three degree courses required for admission and a B– or higher in each of the subsequent courses. In addition, your cumulative GPA cannot dip below 3.0.
Withdrawal Grades. You are allowed to receive two withdrawal (WD) grades without them affecting your GPA. Any additional WD grades count as zero in your cumulative GPA. See Academic Standing.
Repeat Courses. We advise you to review the ALM program’s strict policies about repeating courses. Generally speaking, you may not repeat a course to improve your GPA or to fulfill a degree requirement (if the minimum grade was not initially achieved). Nor can you repeat a course for graduate credit that you’ve previously completed at Harvard Extension School or Harvard Summer School at the undergraduate level.
Courses Expire: Finish Your Coursework in Under Five Years
Courses over five years old at the point of admission will not count toward the degree. As stated above, the proseminar cannot be more than two years old at the time of application.
Further, you have five years to complete your degree requirements. The five-year timeline begins at the end of the term in which you complete any three degree-applicable courses, regardless of whether or not you have been admitted to a degree program.
Potential degree candidates must plan accordingly and submit their applications to comply with the five-year course expiration policy or they risk losing degree credit for completed course work. Additionally, admission eligibility will be jeopardized if, at the point of application to the program, the five-year degree completion policy cannot be satisfied (i.e., too many courses to complete in the time remaining).
Graduate with Your Harvard Degree
When you have fulfilled all degree requirements, you will earn your Harvard University degree: Master of Liberal Arts (ALM) in Extension Studies, Field: International Relations. Degrees are awarded in November, March, and May, with the annual Harvard Commencement ceremony in May.