Differences between International Business and International Relations


Friday, August 14, 2020

Many people think that Degrees in International Business and International Relations are practically the same or can be used interchangeably. Even though they have some similarities, they are certainly not the same. If you are considering a degree in any of them, then you should be aware of the differences between them in order to choose the one that best suits you.




What should you study?

It can be really hard to choose what career path to pursue. When you are young, you may like a pathway and then end up realizing you don’t like it anymore as you grow a little older. Your interests may change, you may end up finding out you are not made for that career path the hard way, or, if you are lucky, you can love what you do for the rest of your life.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to love what you do or otherwise you will be unhappy. There are a lot of people out there not liking what they do for a living that much but they are happy anyways because they separate work from other aspects of life and focus on the positive things.

However, enjoying what you do for a living goes a long way in making your life both at work and outside of work happier. For that reason, you need to be aware of the subtle and not so subtle differences between different degrees before choosing which one to pursue or you may end up choosing the wrong one.

Main differences between International Business and International Relations

First, let’s start by defining each one:

  • On one hand, International Business encompasses “all commercial activities that take place to promote the transfer of goods, services, resources, people, ideas, and technologies across national boundaries”.
  • International relations, on the other hand, can be defined as “the study of the relations of states with each other and with international organizations and certain subnational entities (e.g., bureaucracies, political parties, and interest groups). It is related to a number of other academic disciplines, including political science, geography, history, economics, law, sociology, psychology, and philosophy”.

Where is each degree offered?
  • Business Schools offer International Business degrees. The programme’s curriculum starts with the general management basics. Some modules are: Supply Chain Logistics, Global Finance, Emerging Markets, and International Currency. 
  • International relations degrees are typically offered by a college’s foreign or public affairs division at a School of Humanities and Social Sciences. The curricula generally range from topics political science, geography, world history, and social science. The modules of the programme could be: National Security, Immigration, Terrorism, Human Rights Law, Policy Analysis, among others. 

Potential Career Paths

These degrees also differ in the career paths you could expect to pursue:

  • International Business career prospects: International Business leads to careers like export officer, product manager, budget analyst, advertising manager, human capital consultant, logistician, global communications specialist, sales director, and controller. Climbing the corporate ladder to big titles like VP of Diversity & Inclusion or Chief Financial Officer might be the end goal.
  • International Relations career prospects: International Relations professionals are in charge of making sure that relationships between different states or cultures go smoothly in a way that both or all parts in the relationship are benefited from the bond. Their jobs include: diplomat, NGO administrator, political analyst, intelligence specialist, translator, foreign lobbyist, immigration lawyer, military officer, or demographer. If IR graduates have enough experience, they could even be appointed ambassadors or even Secretary of State. 

As you can see, International Business degrees lead to commercial jobs whereas International Relations degrees have a more political approach. Even though they are related somehow, they are quite different and it is important to be aware of those differences when considering pursuing any of them. 

Now that you know more about each pathway, are you interesting in pursuing any of them? Take a look at International Business and International Relations programmes offered by the best universities in South Africa.




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