What Is The Difference Between International Studies And International Relations?

"I am looking into schools around D.C. which have degree programs in international studies. And then I started noticing a lot of schools had a degree for international relations but not a degree for international studies. I need to pick schools to apply to soon, so it’s really important I find out what the difference is before I start doing that. Are they synonymous? What is the difference between international studies and international relations?"

asked by Jim from Richmond, VA

For the most part, the degree names International Studies and International Relations (abbreviated IS or IR) are used interchangeably. Schools which offer both are rare. If they do, the difference generally has to do with political science vs. cultural studies. International relations programs tend to be geared more toward political science and the political tensions and issues which arise between nations.

International studies is the field with more of a cultural focus. Society and language are emphasized more in IS programs. That is not the rule, however. The programs may also be interchangeable, and often are.

There are sometimes programs which are called International Affairs (IA) as well. The only way to find out for sure what the exact focus of a given degree program is would be to call up the school offering the degree. Given that you have a number of choices in the area you are looking to attend school in, that is exactly what I would suggest that you do.

Get in touch with the heads of departments and see if they can give you additional information. Also check the program materials and course descriptions which are available on the websites. You should be able to piece together a mental image of what you will be learning each day in school and what jobs the coursework could prepare you for.

Some international relations jobs are growing quickly, while others are growing more slowly, so you will want to do some additional research to try and decide on a specific focus and career path. The sooner you start planning for the future, the better. You will have a chance to look for a great internship while you are still in college, which can facilitate your transition into the workplace.

So in summary, what is the difference between international studies and international relations? Not a whole lot. And at many schools, there is no difference whatsoever. Within either major, there are many different paths you can take, and many different careers you can aim for after graduation. This is a highly competitive field, so get yourself set up with an internship before you graduate, and do a lot of networking. That will help you to get a great job in international relations after school.

Career Spotlight: Foreign Affairs Analyst

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