Answer: Master’s in international communication programs can be split into three general categories: global business, global media, or international advocacy. The focus of each of these varies significantly, but common among them is a heavy focus on communication, whether it be international strategic communication or international journalism. In contrast, master’s in international relations programs are intended to turn students into policy makers and diplomats. As a result, these programs have vastly different coursework. International communication programs tend to include coursework focused on topics like marketing, public relations, media production, and journalism, while international relations program generally focus on economics, finance, history, and government.

Master’s degree programs in international communication generally take one of three approaches, focusing on either global business, global media, or international advocacy. Global business programs seek to develop international business leaders, with graduates typically pursuing roles at Fortune 500 companies, international agencies, or international consulting groups. The goal of global media programs, on the other hand, is to produce international journalists and media professionals. Graduates of these programs typically work for news organizations on an international level. Finally, programs with a focus on international advocacy consist of coursework intended to train students to become international nonprofit leaders and international advocates. Graduates typically end up leading social change efforts for international nonprofits.

As the name suggests, master’s degree programs in international relations teach students the skills they need to manage the relationships between different nations and cultures. Students often end up developing policy, working as diplomats, or earning roles in government. To help students prepare for these positions, master’s in international relations programs typically consist of courses in economics, finance, history, regional studies, national security, and more.

With these varying program goals and student outcomes, master’s in international communication programs are quite different from master’s in international relations programs.

Master’s in International Communication

Master’s degree programs in international communication, which are sometimes called master’s in global communication programs, prepare students to communicate across cultures with individuals from other countries. As mentioned before, the focus of this particular degree path varies, with programs generally specializing in one of three areas: business, media, or advocacy. Below is a brief description of these different types of international communication master’s programs.

Global Business: This program type focuses on global marketing strategies, developing partnerships between international organizations, and messaging within an international context. Students learn the skills they need to become international business leaders, and manage international communication and business strategy.

Global business programs typically include a curriculum that emphasizes strategic and integrated communication at a global level. Courses typically cover areas such as organizational leadership, change management, global strategy, globalization, international public relations, and crisis leadership. Through this coursework, students prepare to eventually take on roles like brand strategist, media buyer, communication director, marketing manager, or account executive. As expected, many find work after graduation at global agencies and multinational corporations.

Global Media: Programs that focus on global media generally revolve around in-depth study of international news media and how it influences relationships between countries and the organizations within them. There is typically a strong emphasis on international journalism, political communication, and diplomacy, as well as the role the media plays in globalization. Upon graduation, students might pursue a variety of careers, with many of them going on to work in media production, journalism, global strategic communication, or international public relations.

International Advocacy: This type of program typically has a social service focus, with students taking courses in multicultural journalism, global activism, social change, and social movements. The goal is to develop professionals who can affect social change on a global scale. Most often, graduates of international advocacy programs take on positions at international nonprofits, where they create communication programs, develop marketing strategy, and manage public relations.

To give students a better understanding of the differences between these three types of international communication programs, below is a list of example courses one might find in each specialization. Keep in mind, these course lists are merely meant to be an illustration of the type of coursework in each area. Actual course offerings will vary by school.

Global Business
Global Media
International Advocacy
  • Foundations of Global Strategic Communication
  • Global Leadership and Communication Change Management
  • Writing for Strategic Communication
  • Campaign Development
  • Strategic Communication Research Methods
  • Global Strategy and Management
  • Adapting to Globalization
  • International Public Relations
  • Communication for Multinational Corporations
  • Cross Cultural Communication
  • Developing Communication Strategies
  • News Media and International Journalism
  • Global Communication and Mass Media
  • Writing for International Affairs
  • Public Speaking
  • Op-Ed Writing for International Audiences
  • Negotiating Across Cultures
  • Advanced Multimedia
  • Advanced Web Publishing
  • Collaborative Design
  • Communication and National Development
  • Issues in Development
  • Nationalism and Ethnicity
  • Responses to Terrorism
  • Globalization and Conflict
  • Population Health
  • International Development Administration
  • Managing in Developing Countries
  • Political factors in Environmental Management
  • Crisis and Emergency Management

Master’s in International Relations

Master’s degree programs in international relations prepare students to become diplomatic professionals who work between nations and cultures. Students can expect to learn a combination of theory and practical skills related to managing international relations. The typical program will include a core curriculum aimed at teaching students fundamental skills in areas such as management, economics, international policy, and political communication.

After students complete their core courses, they usually progress to specialty coursework in areas like diplomacy, economics, national security, or governance. Students might also specialize in different world regions, like Europe or Latin America, for instance. Beyond selecting a specialty, students are typically expected to learn the basics of another language. This enables them to be more effective when communicating across cultures.

Master’s programs in international relations are typically offered through multiple departments within the same school, as opposed to most master’s programs that are located in a single school or department. This is unsurprising given the nature of these programs, as international relations students need knowledge from disparate fields like political science, economics, and communication to succeed in their future roles. Upon graduation, students often pursue careers as policy analysts for government agencies, think-tanks, or international organizations. It is also common for graduates to become journalists or correspondents who focus on international relations.

To help prepare students for these roles, master’s programs in international relations tend to cover a wide range of topics. This typically includes courses in regional studies, international economics, diplomacy, national security, labor economics, international law, leadership, nonprofit management, and more. For a better idea of what to expect in an international relations curriculum, check out the list of example courses below.

Example Courses in a Master’s in International Relations Program
  • Policy Building
  • Managerial Economics
  • International Economics
  • International Security
  • American Diplomacy
  • Principles of International Law
  • Political Elites in the Middle East
  • Homeland Security
  • Globalization and Trade
  • Finance and Policy
  • International Negotiations
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Leadership Methods
  • The Global Economy
  • Leadership in International Affairs
  • Applying Statistics to Innovation
  • Decision Making and Foreign Policy
  • Democratization as Foreign Policy
  • Economic Development in Asia
  • Chinese Foreign Policy
  • Analysis of International Trade Policy
  • Foundations of Statecraft
  • Multinational Enterprises
  • Contemporary Civil Wars
  • Intelligence and Security
  • Military Strategy and National Security
  • International Crisis Management
  • Religion and Politics in the Middle East
  • Africa in World Affairs
  • Human Rights in World Politics

Master’s in International Communication vs Master’s in International Relations Programs

There are vast differences between these two types of master’s programs, starting with their differing goals. Broadly speaking, master’s in international communication programs prepare students to become international business leaders, international journalists, or international social advocates. This results in a heavy focus on teaching students to be effective communicators in a way that is specific to their future role. For example, strategic communication, public relations, and business communication are essential skills for the business leaders of tomorrow. As a result, students who pursue a master’s in international communication with a focus on global business can expect to take courses in these subject areas.

In contrast, master’s in international relations programs have the primary goal of developing diplomatic and policy leaders. This requires an entirely different approach, with a heavy focus on political science, policy and relations history, economics, trade, finance, and foreign policy. This coursework is intended to develop graduates who understand the relationships between foreign governments, the history of governments and policy, and how policy affects economics, trade, and international relations.

Clearly, these programs have very different curricula, and graduates of either type tend to move into very different careers after earning their degree. As previously discussed, graduates of international communications programs might pursue a wide variety of positions, including roles like brand strategist, marketing manager, journalist, or non-profit program manager. Potential career paths will vary depending on the specific type of program a student attends (e.g., global business, global media, or international advocacy). In contrast, most graduates of international relations programs end up working in roles developing policy, whether it be at a think-tank or for a governmental body. It is not impossible for a graduate from one program to earn a position that would be typical of graduates from the other, but it is not very common.