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International relations


International relations is the study of an international system composed of territorial states which acknowledge no superior authority over matters which they consider of vital interest. It deals with the nature of the changing relations between states and with non-state actors. It studies the functioning of the international system – the forces, factors and interests, the customs, rules, norms, institutions and organisations from which the theory and history of its development are formed.

Features of LSE courses

Our degrees aim to give you insight into how the international community works. You will study alongside students from a wide range of countries.

Questions of central interest to the programme are: Why, on the one hand, do states go to war and what impact does this have on the international system? Why, on the other hand, do they often cooperate and obey the law? What is meant by international integration and how do we explain regional developments like the European Union, or the re-emergence of the United Nations? We will also investigate the widely different characters and circumstances of states: the highly uneven distribution of money, welfare and knowledge has major implications for the foreign policies of states towards each other, and for the maintenance of international order.

Degree structure

You can take a single honours degree in our BSc International Relations, or study it as part of a joint honours degree in the BSc International Relations and History or the BSc Politics and International Relations.

What the selectors are looking for in an application

Selectors are looking for academic students with a genuine interest in and enthusiasm for the social sciences. There is no one “ideal” subject combination, however, as with all degree programmes at LSE, at least two traditional academic subjects are preferred. A high level of literacy is expected and this can be demonstrated by your choice of post-16 subjects.

Your personal statement should provide evidence of your genuine interest in international society, its institutions, governance, rules and relationships. We are also interested in your views and opinions on current and public affairs, reflections on wider reading as well as experiences, such as travel or personal involvement that have led you to apply. You could also include information on any extra-curricular activities.

Personal characteristics and skills that will be useful to students in their study of International Relations at LSE (as a single honours degree or combined with History or with Politics) include the abilities to read extensively; evaluate and challenge conventional views; communicate effectively; demonstrate creativity, flexibility and initiative; work independently and demonstrate attention to detail. In addition you should possess intellectual curiosity and have the motivation and capacity for hard work.

Please visit lse.ac.uk/ug/apply/inr for further information on admissions criteria.

Teaching and assessment

Each course is taught through a combination of lectures and classes. The lectures provide a broad overview of a topic. The classes are small group discussions and provide an opportunity to explore a topic in greater depth.

You will be assigned an academic adviser who will meet with you to discuss your academic progress and any problems which you might have. The total teaching time amounts to around ten hours per week, not including LSE100 teaching.

Over the course of the three years you will be assessed through a variety of means. In the first and second year, the majority of our courses rely on exams at the end of the year. In the third year courses are assessed through a variety of means: some through end of year exams; some through a piece of assessed coursework; and some through a combination of the two. In the third year you have the option of writing a 10,000 word dissertation on an approved topic of your choice.

Preliminary reading

If you wish to gain further insight into the subject we suggest that you look at one or more of the following books:

  • C Alden and A Aron Foreign Policy Analysis: new approaches (Routledge, 2011) 
  • J Baylis, S Smith and P Owens (Eds) The Globalization of World Politics: an introduction to international relations (6th ed, Oxford University Press, 2013)
  • C Brown, with K Ainley Understanding International Relations (Macmillan, 2009)
  • B Buzan and R Little International Systems in World History: remaking the study of international relations (Oxford University Press, 2000)
  • R Jackson and G Sorensen An Introduction to International Relations: theories and approaches (5th ed, Oxford University Press, 2012)
  • R Shilliam International Relations and Non-Western Thought: imperialism, colonialism and investigations of global modernity (Routledge, 2010)
  • J Steans Gender & International Relations (Polity Press, 2013)
  • T G Weiss and R Wilkinson (eds) International Organization and Global Governance (Routledge, 2014)
  • J Young and J Kent International Relations since 1945: a global history (2nd ed, Oxford University Press, 2013)

Graduate destinations

The degree programme does not prepare you for a specific career. It develops a range of intellectual and practical skills that a relevant across a wide range of career opportunities. Our graduates have found work with a wide range of employers including:

  • multilateral and intergovernmental organisations
  • non-government organisations (NGOs)
  • banking and accounting services
  • local and national governments
  • educational establishments
  • media and publishing companies

Many graduates have opted to continue their study of international relations and politics at postgraduate level whilst others have chosen to transfer the skills they developed at LSE to other disciplines. For example, each year several International Relations graduates go on to complete the Graduate Diploma in Law in preparation for careers in the legal profession.