What is an International Business Degree?

Students of international business study business from a global perspective. They learn how to work cross-culturally, how to manage multinational businesses, and how to turn local and national companies into international corporations.

The typical curriculum covers the following subject matter:

  • International organizational leadership and human resource management
  • International management consulting
  • Cultural sensitivity and cross-cultural communication
  • Global operations and logistics
  • Global sales and marketing
  • Global economics
  • Global financial markets
  • Researching competitors in the global business environment
  • Business plan writing

Coursework often includes some foreign language studies, as well.

Program Options

Associate Degree in International Business – Two Year Duration
International business degree programs at the associate level prepare students for entry-level/junior roles in the field. Many students who earn this degree, however, choose to apply the credits gained to further study in a bachelor’s degree program. In most cases, the associate curriculum is made up of classes in general education, international business, and business management. Here are some sample courses:

  • English Composition
  • Mathematics
  • Computer Basics
  • Communication and Public Speaking
  • Psychology
  • International Business Law
  • Strategies for International Business
  • Managing in Cross-Cultural Environments
  • Global Trade and Marketing
  • Financial Accounting Principles
  • Introduction to Economics

Bachelor’s Degree in International Business – Four Year Duration
Graduates with a Bachelor’s Degree in International Business may qualify for roles such as international sales manager, international marketing manager, international trade officer, human resources generalist, supply chain manager, and management consultant.

It is not uncommon for schools to offer program options in specific areas of international business. For example, students may be able to choose between concentrations that focus on:

  • Trade and finance
  • Import/export policies, trade controls, and banking in foreign markets
  • International business law and cultural diversity issues in global communications, management, and marketing

These are some core courses that generally apply to all concentrations:

  • International Business Environments – the specific concerns faced by international businesses in the areas of management, finance, and marketing
  • International Trade – national and international trade policies and practices
  • International Marketing – the challenges of international marketing, how culture influences marketing strategies
  • International Organizational Management – managing different cultures
  • International Banking and Finance – financial regulations and functions of multinational corporations
  • The Global Supply Chain – global purchasing and related issues
  • International Business Simulation – actual workplace scenarios that present the realities faced by global companies
  • Strategies for Competing in International Business – building competitive advantages in the global marketplace
  • Business Computer Applications – software used by business organizations
  • Designing and Delivering Multimedia Presentations – practice sessions

Master’s Degree in International Business – One to Two Year Duration
Graduates with a Master’s Degree in International Business are well equipped to take on senior roles in the field. Many master’s programs encourage students to complete part of their studies abroad. These global immersion opportunities allow master’s candidates to travel to developed and emerging economies to experience business environments in diverse regions.

Coursework at this level expands upon the topics addressed at the bachelor’s level and may also include subject matter like:

  • Research and data analysis for global business
  • Economic analysis for global business
  • Ethics and social issue in global management
  • Doing business in various regions of the world
  • Competition and cooperation in global business
  • Social responsibility

Here are some examples of master’s thesis topics in international business:

  • The effect of geography and culture on consumer behavior
  • Marketing plan for specific region
  • Creating a distribution network for a specific region
  • The role of language and culture in attracting customers

Doctoral Degree in International Business – Three to Six Year Duration
International business doctoral graduates often go on to teach the discipline at the university level or work in senior executive roles with multinational corporations. Many schools offer their international business degree as a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) with a concentration in international business. The curriculum is research-focused, allowing students to focus on their dissertation. Sample research areas at the doctoral level are:

  • Economic geography
  • The geopolitics of international business
  • International and comparative political economics
  • International finance
  • International strategies
  • International trade
  • Management of information and innovations
  • Market globalization
  • Risk management in international business

Regardless of their chosen research focus, Ph.D. students must typically also take some mandatory courses. These may include:

  • The Multinational Organization – Theories
  • Global Economic Governance
  • Quantitative Research in Management
  • Qualitative Research in Management

Degrees Similar to International Business

Area Studies
Students of this discipline usually focus on a specific area or region of the world and study its histories, politics, economics, languages, and cultures.

Business Administration
Business administration includes overseeing finances, staffing, and contract negotiations. A business administration degree program, therefore, teaches students how to plan, organize, and direct all the activities of an organization.

Economics asks wide questions about world economies, how governments should respond to financial crises, how stock prices and exchange rates are set, and how to help people living in poverty. Students of the field learn how to apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills to real-world issues.

Students of entrepreneurial studies learn how to build, promote, and manage their own or others’ businesses. Common classes are entrepreneurial finance, foundations of entrepreneurship, investor relations and funding, new product design and development, and business plans.

International Relations
Students of international relations learn about international politics and institutions and the principles of diplomacy and foreign policy. They examine interactions between governments on several levels: political, economic, cultural, and militaristic.

In the current U.S. political climate, they may deliberate questions like: How has the Donald Trump presidency affected the world view of the United States? How have allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election impacted diplomatic and trade relations between the United States and Russia?

This degree field is focused on activities undertaken by businesses to promote the buying or selling of products and services. Students study advertising and promotion, marketing communications, international marketing, marketing management, sales and sales management, consumer behavior, marketing research, and marketing strategy.

Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies
The focus of this degree program is the origins, resolution, and prevention of conflict between countries, communities, and individuals. Students study the components of peacebuilding; the history, theory, and practice of nonviolence; and international relations.

Political Science
Political science degree programs focus on the theory and practice of government and politics. ‘Poli sci’ students learn about the structures of politics and government and issues like the nature of political power, the causes of conflict, and globalization.

Public Administration
Public administration is the implementation of policy at various levels of government to support areas like economic growth, social and community development, environmental protection, and the building of public infrastructure.

Skills You’ll Learn

As its name implies, a degree in international business is concerned with teaching students how to do business internationally. This, of course involves understanding and working with a diversity of cultures within a diversity of political and social systems. It is not surprising, therefore, that graduates in this field come away from their studies with a particularly transferable set of skills:

  • Communication – knowing how to convey information to different kinds of audiences
  • A Multidisciplinary Approach – understanding that perspectives on issues may vary from country to country, region to region, and individual to individual
  • Flexibility and Negotiation Skills – open-mindedness that will secure the most desirable outcomes
  • Collaboration – capacity to work with many parties: government officials, business and organization leaders, and diplomats
  • Critical Thinking and Creativity – the ability to think critically leads to successful analysis, creativity, and ultimately to solutions
  • Cross-Cultural Appreciation – appreciation for different political values and cultural expectations facilitates negotiation and collaboration
  • Organizational Leadership / Project Planning and Implementation
  • Foreign Language Skills – the ability to communicate in one or more foreign languages is always valuable
  • Accounting and Finance
  • Business-oriented Computer Applications
  • Marketing

What Can You Do with an International Business Degree?

International business graduates are welcome in virtually every business sector because of the diverse coursework that they complete in their degree programs. What they learn can be applied in occupational categories of every kind. Below is an alphabetical list of some of them. The categories in bold text represent those in which international business professionals are most likely to find jobs.

  • Aerospace
  • Agriculture
  • Architecture
  • Chemical
  • Computer
  • Construction
  • Defense
  • Electronics and technology
  • Education
  • Energy
  • Entertainment
  • Financial
  • Food
  • Government
  • Healthcare
  • Hospitality
  • Information
  • Manufacturing
  • Management consulting
  • Mass Media
  • Mining
  • Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
  • Telecommunications
  • Transportation – shipping companies and airlines
  • Water

In each of these sectors, international business professionals may work in a variety of roles:

  • Sales
  • Import/export
  • Advertising
  • Marketing / business development
  • Trade and customs
  • Purchasing
  • Finance / investment
  • Human resources
  • Public relations / communication
  • Operations research
  • Foreign policy


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