Master of Arts in the Field of Security Policy Studies

The master of arts in the field of security policy studies (SPS) degree program is policy-oriented, focusing on international security issues, with a particular emphasis on the security challenges for the 21st century and how to respond to them. These challenges include, but are not limited to, weapons of mass destruction proliferation, transnational threats, terrorism, changing regional power dynamics, weak and failing states, international crime, effectively linking security and development, and ensuring U.S. national security.

The curriculum provides a strong grounding in international security challenges and the key concepts needed to understand and analyze them. Students specialize in one of four concentrations: U.S. national security, transnational security issues, conflict resolution, and science and technology. Students may use elective courses to focus on additional regional or thematic issues.

Specific admission requirements are shown on the Graduate Program Finder.

Visit the program website for additional program information.

The following requirements must be fulfilled: 40 credits, including 6 credits in core field courses, a 4-credit capstone sequence, 0 to 3 credits in research tool courses, 15 credits in a specialization, 3 credits in professional skills courses, and 9 to 12 credits in elective courses. Students may choose to fulfill requirements that demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language (see below). 

*See notes regarding special topics and skills courses, the capstone sequence, and the thesis option.

Required
Core field courses (6 credits)
IAFF 6161International Security
IAFF 6162Security Policy Analysis
Capstone (4 credits)
Students complete a two-course capstone sequence that most closely matches the thematic area of their project. The capstone sequence includes a 2-credit capstone workshop taken before the 2-credit capstone seminar. Students must have completed at least 18 credits of coursework prior to starting the capstone sequence. The two 2-credit capstone courses must be taken consecutively.
IAFF 6898Capstone Workshop
IAFF 6899Capstone Course
Research tool courses (0 to 3 credits)
Students may choose either a language or a statistical skills option to fulfill the tool requirement.
Language option—This option may be fulfilled by any of ESIA's non-regional programs language proficiency requirements.** Students should contact their academic advisors for more information about the language proficiency requirements. Students who test out of a language have three extra credits to apply to their electives.
Statistics option—This option may be fulfilled by demonstrating proficiency with a minimum grade of B in a graduate-level statistics course. It may be met by taking one of the following:
IAFF 6501Quantitative Analysis for International Affairs Practitioners
IAFF 6198Special Topics in International Trade and Investment Policy (Advanced Quantitative Analysis)
Specialization (15 credits)
Five courses in one of the following specializations:
U.S. national security
Required
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (U.S. National Security)
Specialization courses
HIST 6040Topics in Modern Military and Naval History
HIST 6330Modern U.S. Foreign Policy
IAFF 6118Special Topics in International Affairs (Nuclear Proliferation and Nonproliferation)
IAFF 6118Special Topics in International Affairs (International Law and the Use of Force)
IAFF 6145U.S. Space Policy
IAFF 6148Space and National Security
IAFF 6160Defense Policy and Program Analysis
IAFF 6163Transnational Security
IAFF 6165Fundamentals of Intelligence
IAFF 6169Homeland Security
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (U.S. Grand Strategy)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Political Violence and Terrorism)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Counter-Terrorism)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Countering Violent Extremism)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Identity and CVE)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Strategic Planning for the 21st Century)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (The Chinese Military)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Russia and International Security)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Cyber Threats and Policy)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Methods of Defense Analysis)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Nuclear Strategy)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Political Risk Analysis)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Emerging Threats)
IAFF 6521U.S. Foreign Policy Summer Program
Transnational security
Required course
IAFF 6163Transnational Security
Specialization courses
IAFF 6118Special Topics in International Affairs (Nuclear Proliferation and Non-Proliferation)
IAFF 6138Special Topics in International Development Studies (Human Trafficking)
IAFF 6138Special Topics in International Development Studies (Global Food Security)
IAFF 6169Homeland Security
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Non-State Actors)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Political Violence and Terrorism)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Political Violence and Terrorism)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Foreign Fighters)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Countering Violent Extremism)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Identity and CVE)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Cyber Threats and Policy)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (International Organized Crime)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Illicit Finance and Security)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Environmental Security)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Political Risk Analysis)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Emerging Threats)
PUBH 6003Principles and Practices of Epidemiology
PUBH 6004Environmental and Occupational Health in a Sustainable World
Science and technology
Required course
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Emerging Threats)
Specialization courses
CSCI 6534Information Security in Government
IAFF 6118Special Topics in International Affairs (Nuclear Proliferation and Non-Proliferation)
IAFF 6118Special Topics in International Affairs (Science of Nuclear Materials)
IAFF 6138Special Topics in International Development Studies (Global Food Security)
IAFF 6145U.S. Space Policy
IAFF 6148Space and National Security
IAFF 6158Special Topics in International Science and Technology Policy (Cybersecurity)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Cyber Threats and Policy)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Environmental Security)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Nuclear Strategy)
PUBH 6003Principles and Practices of Epidemiology
PUBH 6004Environmental and Occupational Health in a Sustainable World
Conflict resolution
Required course
IAFF 6171Introduction to Conflict Resolution
Specialization courses
IAFF 6118Special Topics in International Affairs
IAFF 6138Special Topics in International Development Studies (Care of Children in Complex Emergencies)
IAFF 6138Special Topics in International Development Studies (Climate Change and Community Development)
IAFF 6138Special Topics in International Development Studies (Human Trafficking)
IAFF 6138Special Topics in International Development Studies (Violence, Gender, and Humanitarian Assistance)
IAFF 6138Special Topics in International Development Studies (Global Food Security)
IAFF 6173Security and Development
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (International Peacekeeping)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Stabilization and Peacebuilding)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Early Warning)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Political Risk Analysis)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (International Law and the Use of Force)
IAFF 6186Special Topics in Security Policy Studies (Women, War, and Peace)
IAFF 6198Special Topics in International Trade and Investment Policy (Corruption, Development and Governance)
Professional skills courses (3 credits)
Three 1-credit skills courses from the following:
IAFF 6502Professional Skills I
IAFF 6503Professional Skills II
Electives (9 to 12 credits)
At least three substantive 3-credit courses. Students that have tested out of the tools requirement through fulfilling the language proficiency requirement will have to take a fourth 3-credit elective course.
Additional thesis option
Students wishing to continue to a PhD program or pursue a research-oriented job may consider writing a thesis, which is an independent, in-depth research project that takes a year or more to complete. Those students who wish to complete a thesis must do so in addition to the capstone requirement. Thesis credits will be counted as elective or specialization credits with Program Director approval. Students pursuing a thesis need a minimum 3.5 GPA and approval from the faculty member they wish to serve as their thesis director. Thesis students also need to complete at least one research methods course.
IAFF 6998Thesis
IAFF 6999Thesis

*Specific subject matter covered in special/selected topics courses varies by semester. Consult the Schedule of Classes for each semester's offerings. Topics courses not listed here may, with permission of the Program Director, be used to fulfill program requirements.

Additional information regarding skills courses, the capstone, and the thesis is available on the Elliott School website. 

** Foreign language proficiency requirement

Students may fulfill this requirement in one of the following ways:

  • Having earned a minimum grade of B in a sixth-semester university-level advanced language course completed no more than three years prior to matriculation in the Elliott School's master's degree program.
  • Having earned a minimum grade of B in a sixth-semester university-level advanced language course at GW, or in an approved course taken at another institution of higher learning, including Elliott School exchange partner institutions, while enrolled in the Elliott School master's program. 
  • Passing the Elliott School-administered foreign language proficiency reading and speaking examination at the currently-required level of proficiency. The Elliott School administers foreign language proficiency examinations once in the fall and once in the spring semesters. Students should plan to take the language proficiency examination as soon as possible following their matriculation in the program. Students have three opportunities to pass the examination. Failure to pass the examination for a third time results in dismissal from the program.
  • Achieving the required proficiency level in a reading and speaking examination administered by an Elliott School-approved foreign language assessment institution, at the student's expense, while enrolled in the Elliott School's Master's Degree Program.
  • Demonstrating the required foreign language proficiency level in a foreign language professional skills course offered through the Elliott School. The instructor tests the student during the course to determine if the required proficiency level has been achieved.