Two journalists meet together to discuss foreign relations

Comparing Educational Paths: International Studies vs International Relations

International Relations

While similar in origin, international studies and international relations are two distinct fields of study. International relations emphasizes global affairs related to politics, economics and law on an international basis while international studies explore the social and cultural aspects of countries.

More specifically, international studies programs provide an exploration of the cultural, social, political and economic issues that affect the people of different countries and regions. International relations programs look at nations through the lens of their place within the community of nations.  Each offers an understanding of the many nations and cultures of the world and how they interact with one another.

International relations started as a subject within political science.  After the early 1920s, immediately after the end of World War I and with the establishment of organizations such as the League of Nations (the forerunner to the current United Nations), international relations established its field.  University programs formerly classified international relations as part of the field of international studies; but, now, it demands its specialized area of study.

International Studies vs. International Relations: What Skills Are Necessary?

Individuals require core competencies when pursuing roles in international studies vs. international relations. While distinct areas of study, both have the same fundamental motivation: learn about new places and understand the people who live there. Among the skills necessary for these roles include:

  • Analytical: Professionals in this field must use data analysis tools and critical thinking to leverage solutions.
  • Communication: Individuals must know how to communicate effectively to successfully deal with individuals across cultural and geographical borders.
  • Teamwork: As many in the field of international affairs operate in teams, they must understand how to use communication tools and technology that support collaboration.
  • Cultural Competency: Anyone involved in the international arena must know the specific culture of their work.  Sensitivity to the nuances of that culture can result in a more successful relationship among people. Individuals pursuing these international programs must learn about cultures and apply that practical knowledge in the field.

Jobs Suited for International Relations Graduates

After completing an advanced degree in international relations or international studies, graduates can follow different career paths and leverage their newly acquired knowledge of global relations and international law to benefit their country or an international organization. Available career options include:

Intelligence Analyst

Intelligence analysts work to gather information from multiple sources, including international criminal databases, intelligence networks, and geographic information systems, and compile it into information that field agents can use. The BLS notes that the median salary for this profession is $81,920 per year and projects average growth in this position.

State Government Adviser

A state government adviser applies his or her expertise in international relations to inform decision-making at the level of state government. PayScale reports that a government adviser on a policy may make as much as $71,999 yearly and projects average growth of jobs in the field.

Foreign Ambassador

Ambassadors are representatives sent by a government on a diplomatic mission to establish good ties with the host country by encouraging economic, cultural and social exchange between the nations. According to the Houston Chronicle, the average salary of a U.S. ambassador is $155,703 per year, but job growth is limited to available postings.

Jobs Suited for International Studies Graduates

Graduates of international studies often pursue career paths that apply their knowledge of the different social, cultural, political and economic issues of other nations. Available career options include:

Research Analyst

Research analysts apply their expertise in international relations to areas such as domestic security and international trade. Glassdoor reports that research analysts can earn as much as $62,153 per year, and projects an average the market growth for these positions.

Policy Advisor

Policy advisors can work in either the national or international sector, aiding governments or organizations in crafting beneficial policy measures. Glassdoor states that a policy advisor could potentially make as much as $83,873 per year and that the number of jobs will grow significantly in the future.


A journalist with a focus on foreign relations deals with news from other countries that could potentially impact both the country and the world. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), journalists reporting from the field can earn a median salary of up to $64,600, while the job outlook increasing for the profession.

Concentrations in Foreign Studies

Norwich University's Online Master of Arts in International Relations offers concentrations that students can earn critical skills when pursuing international relations or international studies career. These include:

  • Cyber Diplomacy: how cyberspace applies to international relations and policy.
  • International Security: security through the lens of foreign policy and world politics.
  • Regions of the World: different world locales and their cultural identities.
  • International Development: globalization and economies and how these interact with a nation's development.
  • National Security: how countries protect themselves and how world politics influences policy measures for the security of a nation.

Why Pursue a Degree in International Relations?

Those focused on having a career on the world stage need advanced skills and competencies to effectively perform their job. The Norwich University online Master of Arts in International Relations helps develop a more well-rounded world view, teaching skills such as how to untangle intricate international relations problems and apply a leadership mindset to dealing with international affairs.

International relations is a varied field and there is always a need for clear-thinking, sharp-minded professionals in both governmental and nongovernmental services. As more companies seek to expand overseas into international markets, international relations professionals will become ever more critical.

As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University maintains a leadership position in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and communities.

Recommended Reading

Becoming a Global Leader: 6 International Relations Careers
Is There a Difference Between International Relations and International Politics
Political Science vs. International Relations: What's the Difference?


Essential Skills for a Career in International Relations, Norwich University
What Jobs Can I Get With an International Relations Major?, Houston Chronicle
Master of Arts in International Relations, Norwich University
Reporters, Correspondents, and Broadcast News Analysts, Bureau of Labor Statistics
Research Analyst Salaries, Glassdoor
Policy Advisor Salaries, Glassdoor
How Much Do US Ambassadors Get Paid?, Houston Chronicle