Each student identifies an area of study for his or her study program. The area of study may be a topic within the School of International Affairs, such as global innovation and international technology transfer; international economics and competitiveness; global governance and leadership, or international science, technology, and environmental affairs. Or, a student may choose to focus on academic areas in other Penn State graduate degree programs. Students may take classes in other Penn State academic units or pursue joint or concurrent degrees along with the master's in international affairs.

Upon completion of the core curriculum (18 credits), students work with faculty advisers and the SIA Academic Adviser to choose elective courses (21 credits, SIA Electives, PSU Electives) and a capstone experience (3 credits) suitable to their thematic interests. The capstone experience is either an internship, which enables students to experience the integration of their curricular studies in an actual professional environment, or a master's paper, which allows students to explore in depth their areas of interest and may also involve original research. 

Students who wish to take an elective(s) that is not listed on the SIA Electives or PSU Electives list, will need to submit an Elective Course Substition Form to the Academic Adviser prior to course enrollment.