International Business Degree

Work in one of the world’s oldest professions with an international business degree.

Are you ready to compete in the global business arena?

Work in one of the world’s oldest professions with an international business degree.

International business majors are students who are preparing to work in a globalized business environment where enterprises interact, interconnect, expand, and transact across the world.

Globalization as a modern economic buzzword dates back to the late 1970s. Globalization as the trans-global flow and interchange of peoples, cultures, information, goods, and services primarily for the purposes of business and trade goes back at least to the third millennium BCE. That era was marked by the development of trade links between ancient Sumer and the Indus Valley Civilization.

Students who step boldly into an international business career are entering a field of endeavour that has been producing opportunities and delivering rewards to risk-takers for thousands of years.

Earning an international business qualification expands your reach when it comes to grabbing opportunity. Today’s leading international enterprises operate in multiple physical locations and economic sectors. These companies need huge human resources inventories. At any given time, at any major international company, job openings can easily number in the hundreds or even thousands.

Students who earn a degree in international business with a high-demand specialization build a broad set of hard and soft skills. They are ready to take on the future and whatever the global economy has to offer. As a general field of study, international business offers opportunities to match nearly every interest. Many positions in the field hold nearly limitless advancement potential for those with standout levels of talent and drive.

What is International Business?

International business is the exchange of goods, services, and capital across national boundaries for the primary purpose of making profits.  Strictly speaking, cross-border transaction and trade at any scale can be taken to comprise international business.

The small grocery store owner in Los Angeles or London who imports and a shipping container packed with snacks and packages of instant ramen noodles is conducting international business.

Sitting at home in your native country and ordering an online item sold by an individual in another country is engaging in an international business transaction.

Of course, when most people think about international business, major Fortune 500 enterprises come to mind. Massive operations that extend globe-spanning empires and move capital and influence around at sizes that can affect the function of entire national economies and the fortunes and fates of millions if not billions of humans. But the examples given above serve to highlight the ubiquitous nature of modern international business.

In an academic sense, International Business is a specialty major within the general business field. Degree programs in international business are typically run out of business schools and considered interdisciplinary in that they combine standard business curricula with internationally focused courses and foreign language study. Stand-alone associate’s, bachelor’s, and graduate degrees are offered in the major, and international business is also a very popular MBA specialty field.

Conducting business across national and cultural borders can be quite different from running a strictly domestic venture. International business majors learn about these differences and skill-up to handle the tasks and challenges particular to doing business on an international scale. As network technologies, high-speed travel, constant migration, increasing deregulation, and the free flow of capital take more business activities and enterprises global, the skills of international business degree holders are increasingly in demand.

What are the qualities and skills an international business student needs?

A happy law graduating student with books

An international business student should have the standard set of qualities and capabilities that make for success in any business school setting. Good communication skills, time management skills and self-discipline, the ability to collaborate well in multi-national team environments, multi-tasking skills, comfort with technology, dependability, and creativity are all important.

CEO’s of leading global companies report that technical know-how and hard skills are essential for success in international business, but a full range of soft skills is what makes the difference in employability and success. Patience, flexibility, emotional intelligence, good interpersonal skills, the ability to influence others, and the ability to work calmly under pressure are all character traits of the successful international business student.

Two more important qualities a prospective international business professional should have are comfort with uncertainty and the ability to rapidly adapt to change. The globalized, digitally-networked version of international business that has developed along with the spread of Internet technology and the rise of a multi-polar global power structure is a VUCA environment: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. Ideas and strategies that worked in the past are no longer dependable. Adaptive thinking, or the ability to problem-solve and innovate on the fly to turn the unexpected into opportunity, is one of the most highly-prized professional capabilities.

Resilience, or mental toughness, is a critical quality for success in a demanding international business degree program and in the world of international business. Frustration, setbacks, and failure are facts of business life that become even more prominent when gaps between time zones and cultures ramp up fatigue, communication difficulties, and stress levels.

Cross-cultural communication skills will be constantly in play in the diverse environments of international business degree program classrooms and workplaces alike. Effective communication across cultures takes sensitivity, respect, diplomacy, and tolerance for ambiguity. Good listening skills and open-minded willingness to understand and appreciate cultural differences in communication are essential. The inclination and ability to study and learn foreign languages is invaluable to cross-cultural communication.

Exceptional networking skills are critical to getting the most out of any business education. International business calls for the ability to build networks that extend beyond the borders of your home country. Technology has now made this a simpler matter, but excellent in-person networking skills are crucial for success in international business. Cross-cultural communication skills will play a role in such networking. Such skills include diplomacy, tact, and an intuitive understanding of what others are saying and how they are feeling.

Leading international companies are looking for people who can bring a complete package to the table – a solid academic background, technical skills, soft skills, cross-cultural and linguistic competencies, and a flexible, entrepreneurial attitude. The objective of your international business degree studies will be the enhancement of existing skills, remediation of weak points, and development of specialized new skills.

What is the best preparation for studying international business?

For studying international business at the undergraduate level, students need the preparation in English, speech communication, mathematics, and computer technology called for by most bachelor’s in business administration programs.  At least two years of foreign language study should be pursued. Any specialized study or experience in accounting, finance, marketing, and international studies fields will be valuable. Completion of a high school International Baccalaureate Diploma Program is a perfect pre-undergraduate preparation strategy.

Experience with foreign language study and proficiency in multiple languages is essential whether the objective is an undergraduate or graduate degree in international business. Participation in study abroad programs or otherwise spending some time living outside your native country is very helpful. And of course, any chance for work or internship with an international aspect should be capitalized on.

A range of undergraduate degrees can provide good preparation for graduate study in international business. Earning an international business bachelor’s degree in combination with a foreign language minor would be an excellent strategy. Any bachelor’s in business administration combined with some internationally-focused elective coursework and foreign language study or proficiency will also work well.

What coursework is required for an international business degree?

MBA Online studies

International business qualifications come in several forms. Along with on-campus programs, online international business degree programs can be found at all degree levels, reflecting the orientation of the degree toward working professionals and international students.

Some schools offer stand-alone degrees at the 2-year associate’s and 4-year bachelor’s degree levels. Other undergraduate programs offer international business qualifications in the form of certificates or second majors that accompany a business administration degree. The situation is similar at the master’s and doctoral levels.

There are many graduate-level international business degree programs available, but specialization or focus on a particular aspect of international business in combination with studying a master’s or doctorate in business administration is the more common path taken by those working toward advanced degrees.

Undergraduate degree programs will always include the school’s General Education Requirements. English composition, mathematics, and science/social science courses are taken along with courses on introductory business concepts. These include standard business program core topics like foundations of business, business law and ethics, critical thinking and decision making, financial accounting, principles of economics, and fundamentals of finance.

Specialization toward international business typically begins in the second year of undergraduate degree programs. At this level, students can expect to enroll in courses similar to the following:

  •       Introduction to International Business
  •       Introduction to International Marketing
  •       Comparative Economic Systems
  •       Cross Cultural Management
  •       Cultural Diversity in Organizations
  •       Intercultural Communication
  •       International Business Law
  •       Strategies for International Business Ventures

One aspect shared by nearly all international business bachelor’s degree programs is foreign language and study-abroad or international business internship requirements. Students are usually required to have intermediate level proficiency in a second language, including the ability to read and write. This can be satisfied by language study to the 200 or 300 level, or by passing a proficiency test.

Many programs waive language requirements for students who speak English as a second language. Study abroad requirements can often be fulfilled by participation in summer- or semester-long intensive travel and study programs arranged by the school.

Some schools offer master’s degrees in international business, and four types of degrees are commonly offered at American universities:

  1.     Master of Art in international business (M.A.)
  2.     Master of Science in international business (M.S.)
  3.     Master of Business Administration in international business (M.B.A.)
  4.     Master of International Business (M.I.B)

These degrees usually require at least two years of full-time study or four years of part-time study as well as a thesis, capstone project, or comprehensive exam.

Another popular option is to study an MBA (Master of Business Administration) or MIM (Master of International Management) with a selection from a variety of internationally-focused specialties added. Course topics encountered at the graduate level may include:

  •       Global Economics
  •       International Trade Policies and Practices
  •       International entrepreneurship
  •       Computer Applications in Business
  •       Essentials of International Marketing
  •       Global Corporate Governance and Social Responsibility
  •       Economic Analysis for Global Business
  •       Global Supply Chain Management and Logistics

Graduate programs often require a study- or work-abroad component, and may include international immersion programs in their curricula.

What are the benefits of an international business degree?

A positive occupational outlook and high earning potential are attractive aspects of the field. The international business major opens the door to a wide variety of career opportunities. The nature of the field affords the potential to move around internationally in order to take advantage of favorable, or avoid unfavorable, job market conditions.

Another nice benefit of some international business positions is the chance to enjoy paid-for travel opportunities. Building cross-cultural competence and an international network of contacts and connections is a valuable perk. And being able to learn and practice a second language on the job is a free professional development opportunity.


Jobs in international business tend to revolve around marketing and sales activities, with R & D and production roles present to a lesser extent. The main difference from work in domestic business is that “international” implies that these activities take place among organizations and people located in different countries. First impressions of the field may imply a lot of long flights to meetings in foreign cities, or maybe even life as an expat in some exotic locale.

Such an impression is partly accurate. However, it is important to remember that the majority of modern international business activities are simply typical office work roles. The difference is that work is now carried out with technology that makes meeting with distant colleagues face-to-face, presenting and discussing information, and handing over documents and data a matter of a few seconds and mouse clicks.

Job possibilities include many positions common to domestic business operations. Examples of occupations that reflect an international specialization include:

  •       Export Officer
  •       Foreign Exchange Trader
  •       Global Communications Specialist
  •       Import/Export Coordinator
  •       International Business Development Manager
  •       Supply Chain & Logistics Manager
  •       Trade Specialist

International business degree holders can look forward to expanding future career prospects. Degree level and specialty are influential factors, but latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predict continued job growth in most related occupational categories through 2026.

Some specialties will do exceptionally well. The number of positions available for actuaries is expected to grow by 22.5%. The job growth rate for financial managers is projected to be nearly 19%, while demand for cost estimators and financial analysts will increase by over 10%. As is typical for most study in the field of business, choice of specialty has a tight relationship with a graduate’s future career path.


Degree level, specialty, and position will determine your earning potential with an international business degree. The National Association of Colleges and Employers 2017 projected mean salary for graduates of international business bachelor’s degree programs is $54,446. A master’s degree moves that up to $69,964. An encouraging picture and adding the right specialty makes prospects look even brighter.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2018-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook, marketing is a hot specialty, with international marketing managers pulling down a median annual salary of $132,230. International financial managers earn $125,080; financial analysts $84,300. Another lucrative specialty is international banking manager, with a median salary of $130,081. At the highest end of the field, senior international business executives are compensated at a median rate of $331,932 per year excluding bonuses and stock options.

Competition is stiff, with numbers of MBA and other master’s degree holders climbing. Additional credentials such as certifications in accounting or finance, and valuable hard skills like advanced capabilities with technology and fluency in several languages are critical. But significant financial rewards are available to talented people who are willing to work hard.

Is an international business degree right for you?

Studying for a degree in international business is an ideal higher education option for students who have already gained some international exposure. People with experience living and working in multiple countries and high school students with backgrounds in language study and study abroad participation are all good prospects for an international business degree program.

The major is an appropriate choice for anyone who possesses the intelligence, interest, and drive required for completing a business degree with the open-minded, adventurous attitude needed to be effective in cross-cultural contexts. True enthusiasm for encountering diverse individuals and experiences along with the flexibility needed to undertake international travel and at least short sojourns in foreign countries are the universal prerequisites for studying an international business degree.

Those who fit the profile and are ready to take a business degree offering strong advantages going into the future should definitely consider a major in international business. The field offers a good salary scale, and rich rewards that go far beyond monetary compensation.



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