Misconceptions about International Relations and International Business: What’s the difference?


Thursday, October 8, 2020

International Relations and International Business are generally mistakenly believed to be the same or lead to the same career. It is easy to see why this misconception has been established, since both degrees involve jobs in the international sphere, but it is important to make sure that their differences are highlighted. If you are interested in pursuing one of these degrees, you should be aware of the differences between them. 



International Relations vs. International Business


It’s compulsory to be aware of the differences between them and what each degree and future profession entails so that you choose the one that fits you. 

First, let start by establishing the most obvious differences by defining each of them:

International relations, on the one 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”.

On the other 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”.

As you can see, even in their definitions you are able to see the main differences between them: The former involves communication and relationship with international organizations whereas the latter is in charge of making commercial activities between countries possible.

Where to study each of them?


They are generally offered at different schools or departments of a University:

  • 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 such as political science, geography, world history, and social science. The modules of the programme could include: National Security, Immigration, Terrorism, Human Rights Law, Policy Analysis, among others. 
  • 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. 

Prospective Global Career Pathways


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

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
  • Foreign lobbyist
  • Immigration lawyer
  • Military officer
  • Demographer

If IR graduates have enough experience, they could even be appointed ambassadors or even Secretary of State. 

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
  • Controller

Climbing the corporate ladder to big titles like VP of Diversity & Inclusion or Chief Financial Officer might be the end goal.

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 in some ways, they are quite different, and it is important to be aware of those differences when considering pursuing any of them. 

If you are interested in pursuing a career in one of these degrees, take a look at the programmes available in South Africa by visiting Top Universities. 




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