Globalization has redefined where and how businesses can conduct business, with new market opportunities emerging constantly around the world. Navigating the complexity of a global marketplace is challenging, however, with myriad issues to consider, including politics, socio-economic considerations, religion and culture, economies, trade policy, information security, and more. For international business professionals, understanding these issues is just as important as proficiency in product management, finance, marketing and communications, and business strategy.

Classification of Master’s in International Business Programs

Through a blend of graduate-level study in global affairs and contemporary business principles, master’s degree programs in international business help develop well-rounded leaders, teaching them about the contextual nuances of today’s global marketplace, while expanding their knowledge of business, finance, legislation, politics, marketing, communications, and more.

While some schools offer the degree as a Master of International Business, students will also find Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S.) programs in the field. The majority of these programs are offered through a university’s school or college of business, but there are schools that offer them through other departments, such as schools of international affairs or management.

Some examples of master’s in international business programs can be found at the following universities:

Note: In addition to dedicated master’s in international business programs, there are also Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs that offer specializations in International Business. In these programs, students complete core courses in general business administration topics, such as accounting, economics, marketing, and operations/supply chain management, in addition to specialization courses. Students who are specifically interested in international business may find the dedicated curriculum in a master’s in international business program more ideal than the boarder coursework offered in an MBA program.

Online Master’s in International Business Programs

For students who have difficulties or obligations that prevent them from attending a traditional campus-based program, online master’s in international business programs provide greater scheduling flexibility and increased educational options. This includes busy professionals, who may not be able to commute to campus on a weekly basis for classes, as well as those who do not live near a campus-based program and do not wish to relocate to pursue a graduate degree. Before selecting an online program, however, it is important to understand the different types of instructional methods used in online courses, primarily the distinction between synchronous and asynchronous instruction.

Programs that use synchronous instruction require students to log in to a learning management system at specific times to participate in real-time lectures and class discussions via web or video conferencing. Students seeking structure and a more traditional classroom-type atmosphere may find synchronous instruction to be a better fit for their learning style. However, because they incorporate real-time instruction, these types of programs are not as flexible as those that mainly use asynchronous instruction.

Asynchronous instruction emphasizes independent, but guided learning experiences. In these programs, students are not required to log in to a learning management system at any specific time. Instead, they complete their assignments according to a class syllabus, and watch pre-recorded lectures and comment via discussion boards to engage with classmates – on their own schedule. Students that need greater scheduling flexibility may find programs that use asynchronous instruction to be more ideal. However, keep in mind these programs require more self-motivation and self-dedication to stay on pace with course assignments and submit projects by set due dates.

Curriculum Details for Master’s in International Business Programs

Master’s in international business programs are traditionally designed to be completed in 12 to 24 months of study, depending on how many credits a student takes each semester or term. Most programs require students to complete between 30 and 36 credit hours in total, including a capstone experience. Some programs also include an international immersion and/or on-campus learning experiences.

By developing familiarity with strategic skills and analytical techniques in international marketing, finance, and policy, students learn how to manage a variety of operational functions for multinational and global organizations including:

  • Understand and recognize institutions that shape the global marketplace
  • Analyze emerging and developed markets to identify risks and opportunities for international business strategies and activities
  • Develop decision-making frameworks through an analysis of socio-economic, legal, and political policies between countries and international organizations
  • Identify the challenges and complex issues between companies and their international partners through the lens of cultural and regional perspectives
  • Apply creative strategies to launch global opportunities that manage risk and deploy appropriate resources with international institutions, businesses, and partners
  • Use knowledge of international law, economics, and financial markets in day-to-day operation and planning in multinational organizations

Typically, these programs have an established curriculum divided between core (required) and elective courses. The number of core credits required varies by program, but is generally 12-21 credits. This core coursework serves as the foundational learning experience in master’s in international business curricula, introducing students to fundamental concepts in international law, global markets and corporate finance, international business strategy, international macroeconomics, and global trade and policy.

After completing core coursework, students generally take a series of electives. Elective courses vary by university, but allow students to develop an individualized program of study that best matches their career development needs. Example subjects include business communication, managerial economics, data analytics and statistical methods, environmental policy, international security, and international business law.

The curriculum may also include a capstone learning experience, meant to assess students’ ability to synthesize and apply what they have learned in the program to a real-world international business issue. For example, students might work with an advisor on a corporate consulting project, developing an international entrepreneurial venture or devising a solution to a complex international policy issue. Capstone assignments and project requirements can vary, and might be assigned on an individual or group basis, depending on the program.

In addition to this, most international business programs require an on-campus or international immersion experience. International immersions are typically four-to-five-day trips to international locations (e.g., Europe Asia, etc.), during which students participate in site visits to international companies and academic discussions, helping them to gain a broader understanding of the global marketplace.

To help students better understand the type of subjects typically covered in an international business master’s program, below is a list of sample courses that could be included in the curriculum:

  • Managerial Economics: An overview of management issues within the field of economics, introducing students to functional strategies for how companies approach and interact with foreign consumers and partners.
  • International Business Law: Explores the fundamentals of international laws that govern global business transactions, covering topics such as international taxation, trade, intellectual property protection, foreign investment, and more.
  • The Global Economy: Considers the governance and shifting landscape of the international economy through an examination of geo-political theories of power dynamics, wealth distribution, migration, technology, and trade.
  • International Macroeconomics: An in-depth exploration of global economies in terms of goods, assets, and services that provides students with an understanding of global capital markets and exchange rate policies.

The table below provides a sample curriculum outline for a one-year international business program built around eight-week modules, that requires 30 credit hours to complete and includes a culminating capstone experience:

Module 1Module 2Module 3Module 4Module 5
  • Fundamentals of International Business
  • International Business Law
  • Global Markets & Corporate Finance
  • Global Trade & Policy
  • International Finance
  • Organizational Behavior
  • International Marketing
  • Global Supply Chain Strategy
  • Developing World Markets
  • International Finance Management
  • Global Economy Politics
  • Global Immersion Experience

Master’s in International Business versus Master’s in Global/International Communication Programs

On the surface, it can be hard to distinguish between a graduate degree in global communication and a master’s degree in international business. Both concentrate in areas such as political and social advocacy, global media and marketing strategies, and international law. However, master’s programs in global communication emphasize communication skill development, teaching students how to become effective communicators that work with multicultural audiences. Courses in these programs tend to focus on topics such as how to develop international marketing campaigns, manage public relations, and craft messages that influence global audiences.

Conversely, the curriculum of international business programs is interdisciplinary in nature, drawing from diverse fields such as foreign policy, international politics, economics, law, and sociology. Coursework combines the study of traditional business practices and skills with international affairs to help students develop a global perspective useful across industries, from real estate to multinational corporate law.

Career Paths for Graduates with a Master’s in International Business

Today’s global marketplace is complex and dynamic, influenced by diverse political, economic, social, cultural, religious, and legal factors. An understanding of how business can and should be conducted at a functional level in different countries is vital to international business practice in both established and emerging global markets. Multinational organizations, governments, and nonprofit agencies deal in a wide range of industries, from development banking to technology.

These businesses and organizations require professionals that understand and can navigate the nuances of international business practice. Whether that is analyzing social policies of a specific country to create a strategic framework for production facility expansion, or identifying potential risks with prospective foreign business partners, individuals with a graduate education in international business can bring a much needed skillset to their employers.

With that multifaceted skillset, graduates can pursue a variety of career paths in international business across functional areas such as marketing, management, law, market research and analytics, operations, sales, and more. Below is a sample list of potential career paths for individuals with a master’s degree in the field:

  • Policy Analyst: An expert in specific facets of international issues, ranging from foreign trade to cybersecurity. Identifies areas of foreign policy and regulations to monitor, research, and analyze, developing strategic approaches or recommendations based on employer’s goal.
  • Foreign Service Officer: A diplomat that serves in different capacities, including management, consular, political, economic, and public diplomacy, with varying responsibilities, such as analyzing political events, developing economic partnerships in foreign countries, protecting borders, and more.
  • Marketing Manager: Works for multinational corporations in different verticals (e.g., sales, product management, marketing) and has an understanding of how to develop strategies aligned with the culture, economy, and social practices of international countries.
  • Foreign Exchange Trader: Works in finance with expert knowledge of foreign economies and their rates of monetary exchange, buying and selling currencies in foreign exchange markets for profit.
  • Financial Analyst: Develops financial forecasts and models for companies operating internationally, reviewing financial performance and making recommendations for bottom line improvements.