Difference Between a Political Science and International Relations Degree

Oct 01, 2019

Political science and international relations programs challenge students to grapple with the most pressing problems in modern society. Despite a variety of similarities, there are important differences to consider when deciding which program is the right one for you.

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Comparing Political Science and International Relations Degrees

Political science and international relations are great fields of study for a student who wants to understand how the world works so that they can make a difference. While a political science major studies the structure and function of government, an international studies major explores the interaction between governments and peoples around the globe.

Degree Common Concentrations Possible Careers
B.A. or B.S. in Political Science Political Economy
Political Communication
Political Theory
Policy Analyst
Campaign Adviser
Intelligence Analyst
B.A or B.S. International Relations Foreign Policy
International Business
Development & Sustainability
Business Consultant
Campaign Worker
Aid worker

Political Science vs. International Relations Degree Programs

Both political science and international relations programs typically require students to analyze and engage with complex global problems. Both of these four-year undergraduate degrees are interdisciplinary and require students to study history, politics, culture, and research methods. Political science majors can choose to specialize in international and comparative politics. Likewise, international relations students can specialize in public policy or foreign relations. Despite the overlap, political science majors will still spend the majority of their focus on American politics, while international relations students focus more on global issues.

Political Science Degree Programs

In a political science program, students focus on learning how to write and analyze public policy. Students become experts in the American political system, social science research methods and international political systems. Many programs require students to participate in a semester or summer internship, putting their knowledge to work in a government, nonprofit, or research setting. Students learn the analytical skills to conduct research, engage in informed and complex debates, and formulate answers to some of society's most complex problems. After four years of study, graduates should be prepared to find entry-level positions in political campaigns, city management, policy analysis, journalism, or go on to a master's degree to continue research.

A political science degree may include coursework in the following areas:

  • American politics
  • Political science research methods
  • Comparative politics
  • Political philosophy
  • Fascism and Communism
  • The criminal justice system

International Relations Degree Programs

In this program, students study the complex network of political, cultural, and economic issues that make up our modern global society. It is an interdisciplinary program, meaning students can take classes from different departments across the university. In most programs students are required to take foreign language classes and complete a study abroad experience. Students choose a concentration in a specific region (like Asian studies or Latin American studies) or in a transnational topic (like immigration studies, human rights or foreign policy). Programs generally last 4 years and prepare students for work with nonprofits, in government, or as advisers for corporations with a global reach.

An international relations degree may include coursework in the following areas:

  • Sustainable development
  • Globalization and culture
  • Designing and analyzing political research
  • Migration and borders
  • Diplomacy in a changing world
  • Introduction to peace, conflict and identity studies

Related Fields

Political science and international relations are both great springboards to careers in development, business, and government. If you are interested in politics and want the chance to write policy, look into a career as a political risk analyst. If you are more interested in International Relations and want to share your knowledge of the world with others, you can try your hand at being a news anchor.

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