MBA in International Relations: Who It’s Right For

It’s a truism in the business world today that all business is international business. The ubiquity of global communication infrastructure and the plummeting cost of international shipping has caused overseas markets to open up over the past fifty years in ways that impact even the smallest company.

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Small mom and pop retailers in the American heartland stock their shelves with electronics from Asia and produce from South America. Manufacturing supply chain diagrams look like complex root systems, bringing together parts from around the globe for the production of even domestically manufactured goods.

TheWorld Trade Statistical Review, published by the World Trade Organization, showed more than 16 trillion in global merchandise trade in 2015. The growing category of commercial services expanded to just under 5 trillion. It’s a bigger and bigger slice of business affecting both domestic and international corporations.

In this environment, any businessperson who doesn’t have a strong understanding of international relations is operating at a handicap. This is exactly why an MBA with an international relations concentration is a valuable option, and one that’s becoming increasingly popular in the business world today.

What an MBA in International Relations Can Do For Your Career

An MBA will open the door for you at any business in the world and lay the path to any number of well-paid upper management and executive positions. The international relations focus only expands those options, making you a viable candidate for leadership positions in multinational corporations, while also making you more attractive to domestic companies with foreign dependencies.

There are many specialized positions in these companies that belong exclusively to MBAs who have either international experience, or a background that includes a degree focus in international relations. These job titles and typical salary ranges, include:

  • International Partnership Manager: $100,000 – $110,000
  • E-Commerce Manager: $70,000 – $90,000
  • Director of Global Financial Planning and Analysis: $136,000 – $183,000
  • Manager of Global Quality Systems: $79,000 – $122,000
  • Business Operations Analyst: $85,000 – $130,000

(From job listings in the summer of 2018)

Due to the nature of the business, you can find positions like these either stateside or based in foreign countries. If you have a taste for adventure and overseas living while still commanding a top dollar compensation package, this career path is right up your alley.

Things to Look for in an MBA Program in International Relations

You’ll find programs designed to prepare you to be a leader in international business or NGO administration with titles that include:

  • MBA in International Business
  • International MBA
  • MBA with International/Global Management Concentration
  • MBA with International Relations Concentration
  • MBA with a Major in International Relations

Picking an MBA program has a lot to do with the prestige of the school its offered through. According to GMAC, the Graduate Management Admissions Council, there are around 100,000 annual MBA graduates from almost 1000 programs in the United States. Of course, this makes the credential somewhat less than exclusive, but there’s more to the equation than the degree itself.

Since the world of business is all about who you know, the reality is that you need to earn your MBA from a respected school with some serious clout for that credential to really pack a punch when it comes to competing for executive positions.

Overseas Study Options

An international field seminar option that allows you to study abroad for some of your credits can offer invaluable advantages. It’s one thing to study international relations in the classroom, and another thing entirely to see it from a factory floor in Taiwan. The importance of culture and relationships will be driven home through overseas study options.

Business Relationships and Faculty

Many of your options as an MBA graduate will come down to the relationships you have forged during your time in business school. Those relationships, in turn, will be influenced by the companies that the school cooperates closely with and the background of the faculty of the program. And the two are likely to be closely related—businesses recruit from schools where they are familiar with faculty, and schools often hire professors and adjuncts from businesses they cooperate with.

Online and Hybrid Options

Your universe of MBA options is a lot broader with the addition of online programs. Now, you can find the perfect fit without relocating to another city. Online programs also give you a lot of flexibility in how you attend and complete the courses. Because classes are on-demand, you can take in the course material any time it’s convenient… lunch break, at your kid’s soccer practice, or after dinner.

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Hybrid programs provide students with a handful of intensive on-campus projects, with all regular course content delivered online. These options are now standard at most schools and perfectly combine the conventional classroom experience with online learning.

Dual Degree Options

Also very common are dual degree programs that combine MBA and Master’s in International Relations as a dual degree track. You receive a full master’s diploma in both programs, which naturally means more work, but the coursework is synchronized. Since electives on one track can sometimes count as core requirements on the other, this can allow you to earn the degrees in less time than it would take to earn them separately.

Core Curriculum and Electives Found in an MBA in International Relations

Your core curriculum will mirror that of any serious course of study in the business world: heavy helpings of data and numbers, providing a deep dive into the universal mechanisms by which business is conducted. It’s a language that transcends national boundaries and it’s a necessary base layer for your career in global business.

Accounting and Finance

In the business world, you keep score with money—how much you spend versus how much you bring in. If you don’t have a strong understanding of the calculations that go into that sometimes complex equation, you won’t get far. So a study of accounting principles and the uses of financing to fund and expand businesses is a vital first step in your business education.

Business Statistics and Information Systems

Information technology has revolutionized business over the past fifty years. Not only are all those accounting numbers crunched instantly and accurately inside a silicon brain now, but the delivery of services, the tracking of resources, and the interactions of customers has completely changed across industries around the world. Classes in statistical theory and technology systems will help you wrap your head around these changes and the possibilities they offer.

Strategic Planning and Management

The top-level positions that MBA graduates end up in come with some weighty responsibilities. When you end up running a multimillion dollar company the implications of the decisions you make can affect thousands of people. So you could say there’s a little bit of pressure to get them right. Classes in management theory and business strategy will give you the skills you need to make the right calls.

Global Marketing

Marketing is always a vital function for business. If customers don’t hear about your product, they don’t buy it. But many of the fundamental principles that marketers rely on are heavily influenced by the culture of the market. When you’re selling around the world, you have to understand linguistic and cultural obstacles and find ways to weave together messages that have universal appeal. Global marketing is a specialty of its own, but classes you take in your MBA program will give you a strong taste of what you need to know.

International Finance and Emerging Markets

Finance is a complicated topic you’ll study in depth in any MBA program, but the international banking and financial industry is a complex system with tax and transfer implications far beyond what you find in domestic markets. Courses in the movement of money across national boundaries and how the international finance systems operates will give you the skills to understand these transactions. The role and availability of financial instruments in emerging markets is also covered. Whether you are targeting them for sales or as supply or manufacturing centers, understanding local banking systems will be of paramount importance.

Global Supply Chain Management

Taxation and financing implications can also impact complex, globalized supply chains, but the logistics and management of international supply lines is worth covering in separate courses. You’ll look into the unique ethical questions that come with sourcing materials and components overseas and get a review of some of the regulatory structures that apply to overseas shipping. The uses of technology to track goods moving through the system and the different modes available to move them are also covered.


You often have a broad selection of elective courses to help round out your MBA with specific subjects that apply to the career trajectory you’re on. These can cross the boundaries between international studies and business and include:

  • Sociology or History
  • Political Science
  • Managerial Economics
  • Entrepreneurship and Innovation
  • Insurance


An internship is a traditional and important part of many MBA courses. This involves being placed with an actual working business to take on real responsibilities and get a view of how things are done in the real world. It can also set you up for future positions in the company or industry where you intern, and creates valuable networking opportunities.

Capstone Project

Increasingly, MBA programs are coming with a capstone project course designed to bring together all of the other subject matter in a real-world scenario you will address with a group of other students from your cohort. In many cases, this is done in cooperation with an outside business and will result in a real solution to a genuine challenge they face. It’s a way to get practical exposure to the business environment to put your skills into practice. In some cases, the capstone project is replacing traditional internships.

A Look at Institutional and Programmatic Accreditation for MBA Programs

Institutional accreditation is pretty much a given these days. There are six major regional accrediting agencies that review and sign off on colleges and universities in the U.S., and another few that exclusively deal with accrediting schools that primarily offer online programs.

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Each of these bodies evaluates, through a combination of document review and on-site visits, the way that each school in their region handles matters related to:

  • Faculty hiring and tenure grants
  • Curriculum development standards
  • Academic evaluation and testing
  • Administrative matters and admissions

Universities are only granted accreditation after proving that they meet or exceed national requirements in these and other matters. It’s safe to say that any school you’re likely to be considering has checked all the boxes for basic institutional accreditation. Still, it’s worth verifying to make sure that the university offering your MBA has been fully accredited by the relevant regional or national body.

Since MBAs are granted by business schools, there is an additional accreditation level that you should look for in these programs. Business programs with specialized program-level accreditations through one of these agencies certainly fall on a more exclusive list:

Although they have nothing to do with international relations, they do evaluate the quality of the program in a business context. They go deeper into the curriculum, faculty standards, and academic policies that influence business training so graduates can be sure they are getting an education that meets the real-world requirements of business today.