How to Get a PhD or DBA in International Business

Globalization has made nearly all business international. In today’s economy, enterprises of all sizes operate on an international scope, maintaining offices abroad and cultivating relationships with foreign partners and customers.

Doctorate programs in international business prepare graduates to address the unique challenges of conducting business on a global scale. Whether you pursue an academic PhD or a professional Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), you’ll develop the knowledge and research expertise to advance the practice of global business. Doctorate degrees in international business lead to careers in academic teaching and research, public policy, or business management.

A Guide to PhD and DBA Programs in International Business

International business as an academic discipline has steadily gained prominence in the past two decades, reflecting the globalization trend. In 1988, the U.S. Department of Education established an initiative to boost international business scholarship at the college and graduate level. The program’s mandate is “to advance the study and teaching of international business and to support applied research on United States competitiveness in the global marketplace.”

Globalizing Advanced Business Education

Many colleges and universities have responded by “internationalizing” their business curriculum to reflect the new rules of today’s global economy. Changes include adding international courses and degree concentrations, hiring international business faculty, and expanding advanced degree programs in the field. Some institutions host Centers for International Business Education and Research (CIBERs) to serve as a resource and forge relationships between the professional business community and academic scholars.

Exploring Online and Campus Doctoral Degrees in International Business

Today’s doctoral degree programs offer a broader array of options than ever before. You’ll find programs to suit every career goal and research interest. Before you embark on the application process, take a moment to consider the landscape of advanced international business degrees. A basic sense of direction can help you choose a program and prepare for graduate study.

Degree Type: PhD or DBA?

Business doctorates originated at the turn of the twentieth century in the tradition of social science PhDs. These academic degrees were designed to advance theoretical research and scholarship in the field. Since then, doctoral programs have expanded their scope to include professional practice degrees that focus on educating international business executives and consultants.

  • The PhD in International Business still favors the traditional mandate of academic training, with an emphasis on close faculty mentorship and original research. PhD candidates undertake research and teaching assistantships to apprentice for careers as university scholars and professors.
  • The Doctor of Business Administration in International Business emerged in the mid twentieth century as the professional answer to the PhD. DBA candidates keep one foot firmly planted in professional practice, with research projects emphasizing the application of existing theory to real-world global business problems.

As these programs grow in popularity, the distinctions between them are becoming blurry. DBAs may take faculty positions and PhDs may go into industry. That said, PhD programs generally offer more support for the academic career track, which DBA programs feature more opportunities to engage with private and public sector employers.


International business exists at the intersection of management and economic geography, with influences in sociology, psychology, and public policy. You may choose to focus on macro-level issues, studying finance, resource allocation, organizational behavior, or policy–“the macro phenomenon of global flows of expertise and capital,” as one program puts it. Or you may prefer to investigate micro-level phenomena relating to the strategies and practices of individual businesses–“the micro-level mechanisms used by firms in their internationalization.”

Specializations vary widely, as programs invent innovative new approaches to the study of global business. Broadly speaking, international business doctoral students may focus on a standard business function in a global context:

  • International Marketing
  • International Accounting
  • International Corporate Finance
  • Risk Management
  • Business Development
  • Information Systems

Or they may define their specialization in terms of a particular global business issue:

  • Global Business Sustainability. This relatively new specialization addresses some of the concerns related to globalization, such as the environmental and social impact along industry supply chains.
  • International Strategic Alliances and Management. This concentration focuses on multinational business alliances and issues related to managing a global workforce.
  • Emerging Markets. This specialization focuses on developing economies in Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe (such as the BRIC– Brazil, Russia, India, and China–economies) and their impact on global business development.

These are just a few specializations available to doctoral students in international business. Learn more about the field and the options available to you by researching online degrees in international business. Even if you have your heart set on a campus program, a little research online can go a long way.

Career Options

Understanding the international business career track can help you zero in on the right doctoral degree and specialization. Some of the careers available to PhD and DBA in international business include:

  • Undergraduate or Graduate Business School Professor
  • Economic Researcher
  • Senior Risk Management Consultant
  • Business Development Manager
  • Operations Consultant
  • Financial Economist

A BusinessWeek feature estimated that about two out of three PhDs go on to careers as professors and academic researchers. The remaining third pursue careers in business and government. International business PhD and DBA graduates can go on to non-academic careers as senior researchers, global operations consultants, or leaders of multinational businesses. Some doctoral candidates seek positions as researchers at United Nations agencies or international organizations such as the World Bank or International Monetary Fund.

Before you commit to a DBA or PhD program, find three or four career pathways that you feel fit your educational interests. Having a clear vision of where you’d like to be in five years can facilitate the selection of a doctoral program significantly. And if you’re not exactly sure which path you’d like to take, career planning and assessment tools can help you narrow things down.

How to Apply for PhD and DBA Programs in International Business

Armed with a vision of your intellectual interests and career goals, you’re ready to take the first step to realizing your ambitions: applying to doctoral programs. Doctoral programs take commitment and planning. These advanced degrees typically take three to five years to complete–you’ll want to make sure you invest your time, energy, and tuition dollars in the right PhD or DBA program.

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accredits nearly 600 business schools. Many offer the PhD and DBA in international business. Some programs emphasize matching your career interests. A select few match your specifications perfectly.

To find the right schools, follow these five steps.

Step 1: Find Accredited PhD and DBA Programs in International Business

The first step in your quest for the perfect graduate international business program is to obtain a list of accredited campus and online PhD and DBA programs.

Accreditation by an independent authority such as the AACSB should be a baseline requirement of any program you consider. Accreditation ensures the value of your degree and can help you qualify for financial aid programs. The U.S. Department of Education authorizes a number of international and regional agencies to evaluate business schools and verify their academic quality. You can find a list of all authorized accreditation agencies at the Department of Education Web site. Consult online resources for more information about the accreditation process. The AACSB also publicizes a list of accreditation standards.

Find Accredited PhD and DBA Programs using the following Internet resources:

  • maintains an online directory of accredited PhD and DBA programs. Search for online PhD programs in international business, campus international business programs, or find a list schools in your area through the degrees by location function.
  • AACSB International is the largest and most trusted authority in business school accreditation. The organization maintains an online database of accredited business schools, searchable by degree level, field of study, location, and campus or online format.

Step 2: Choose a Program Format

Once you have a list of accredited PhD and DBA programs in international business, consider which program delivery format best suits your circumstances and career goals–online, campus, or a hybrid of the two.

  • Online programs are a popular choice among business graduate students, many of whom are working adults seeking a doctorate to advance their professional careers. The online format permits self-paced work, allowing students to complete the online doctoral degree alongside work and family obligations. The online DBA in international business allows students to take advantage of this coordinated work-study schedule by developing research projects that apply international business scholarship directly in the workplace. Also, since online programs attract industry professionals from around the world, they offer a valuable networking resource for business careers.
  • Campus programs generally attract students interested in an academic career. The campus PhD in international business affords both immersion in an academic community and access to campus resources. A faculty mentorship is a crucial element of the campus PhD program, and faculty are often instrumental in facilitating the academic job search. You can also count on access to library collections, technology labs, and other research facilities.
  • Hybrid programs offer a good option if you have your sights set on an academic career but need the flexibility of an online doctoral degree. These programs combine temporary residency requirements with online courses and communication media.

Choosing the program that best meets your circumstances and goals can ensure that you get the most out of your PhD or DBA in international business. Learn more about online degree programs at

Step 3: Explore Academic Programs

Finding a match between your academic interests and the available doctorate programs in international business is a daunting process–you’ll find that each program features its own slant on the standard business specializations. The following strategies and resources can help you research individual academic programs that meet your initial criteria.

Take into account the following factors as you collect information about programs:

  • Specializations or Areas of Concentration
  • Curriculum
  • Faculty Research
  • Special Programs (internships, study abroad and international exchange programs, “clinics,” assistantships, etc.)

Gather the information you need using these resources:

  • features an automated system that matches you with schools that meet your specifications. Simply fill out a form indicating your preferences, and you’ll be contacted by representatives of the schools that fit the bill. These counselors will either answer your questions about the program, or put you in touch with an academic counselor or faculty member who can.
  • School Web sites offer a wealth of information. Look for faculty bios and curriculum vitae to get a sense of faculty research interests. Find course requirements and reading lists.

Step 4: Evaluate Schools

Once you have a sense of which campus or online PhD and DBA in International Business programs meet your needs, it’s time to weigh the relative merits of each school. Take into consideration the following factors:

  • Reputation and selectivity
  • Graduation Rate
  • Job Placement
  • Student/Alumni Support Resources
  • Student Body Profile

One of the best ways to acquire this data is through notable magazines and journals. Resources such as U.S. News and World Report release college and university data periodically, both in print and online. The most notable sources of college and university information include:

  • Financial Times
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • BusinessWeek
  • Forbes
  • EIU Economist Intelligence Unit

Becoming Part of the Academic Community

Prepare for your PhD or DBA in international business by networking with other academics. The following strategies can help you become part of the academic community–even before you start your doctoral degree.

Subscribe to international business journals. There are a number of academic and professional journals focusing on different global business issues, including:

  • Journal of International Business Studies (JIBS) is the most prominent academic journal, and the official publication of the Academy of International Business
  • Critical Perspectives on International Business
  • Cross Cultural Management
  • European Business Review
  • Global Finance Journal
  • International Journal of Emerging Markets
  • Journal of Global Marketing
  • Journal of World Trade
  • World Trade Review

For more titles, consult the following list of scholarly journals in international business.

Join Professional Associations. Joining international business associations can help you develop relationships with other academics and industry insiders. Check out the Academy of International Business and the Centers for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) to get started.

Applying for an online PhD or DBA in international business is the beginning of an exciting journey. Whether you choose to advance scholarship, educate the next generation of business leaders, or become a global executive yourself, the doctoral degree can open doors to a world of opportunity in international business.


  • AACSB International–The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, 2008-2009 U.S. Salary Report
  • AACSB International–The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, AACSB Accredited Business Schools Database
  • Academy of International Business
  • AACSB International–The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, Becoming a Business Professor
  • Brandeis University, Careers in Research, Teaching, and Policy, International Business School
  • Centers for International Business Education and Research
  • BusinessWeek, Business PhD Applications on the Rise, by Alison Damasat
  • U.S. Department of Education, Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs
  • Rutgers University, Global Business PhD
  • Journal of Teaching in International Business, The Development of International Business as an Academic Discipline, by David Laughton
  •, List of Scholarly Journals in International Business
  • Fisher School of Business, Ohio State University, PhD in International Business
  • University of South Carolina Press, International business: institutions and the dissemination of knowledge, by Brian Toyne and Douglas William Nigh
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