What Is The Difference Between Political Science And International Relations?

"What is the difference between a Political Science and International Relations degree program?"

asked by Michael from Bangor, ME

For those looking into university education this is a common question. Political Science and International Relations both fall under the category of the Social Science and even though they both are very similar, they are also very distinct. While some academics do continue to debate how distinct they are, I will provide you with what I can.

While debatable, most consider Political Science as an umbrella term that consists of various branches such as Comparative Politics, International Relations, Public Policy, and Political Philosophy. While each branch can be considered separate academic areas of study, there is no denying that the core concepts of Political Science can be found within all. Often when beginning any university program with a focus on politics you will first learn the basics of Political Science (in the US this generally consists of the first two years of your Bachelor’s degree).

During this time students in the US will focus their studies on the US government, branches of government, types of government, political history, political process, political theory, legislation, policy, economics, etc. Students will also be introduced to the various branches of political science, but after about two years is where the programs will become noticeably difference.

Political Science graduates will continue to take a deeper look at government, where as those students International Relations will take that core knowledge and apply it to the world at large.

International Relations students will study foreign policy, different types of government, various nations, inter-governmental organizations such as the United Nations (UN), supra-national organizations such as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Non-governmental organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, human rights issues, international conflict, terrorism, global trade, international relations theory, globalization, democratization, and many other topics.

The almost overwhelming number of topics available allow the focus of university programs offered to students of International Relations vary from outer space policy to environmental issues. You will use the knowledge gained from the core Political Science classes and expand that knowledge applying it to social, political, environmental, and economic issues allowing students diversity in their learning and a greater understanding of the world stage.

Political Science and International Relations programs have a great deal in common. Political Science focuses on all aspects of government and International Relations will apply that core knowledge to the world stage. Both degree programs offer students similar career opportunities International Relations students may have a greater chance of working aboard depending upon the focus of their study. Both programs have their merits and if you are having difficulty choosing between the two do your research, ask current students if you can, and go to the open days if possible.

If you are still having difficulties choosing try not to worry, the first few years of both programs tend to be similar so you can always change your major later if you feel you made the wrong choice.

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Join The Discussion - 2 Comments

  1. Neva says:

    Thank you so much! This was very helpful to me.

  2. Alex says:

    Thank you very much for your explanatory notes, as well as clear explanation. of between International Relations and Political Science. This is really invaluable.

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