How to Get a Master’s Degree in International Business

Globalization trends of the past decade have erased the distinction between business and international business–today, all business is likely to have an international component. Businesses source materials, outsource workers, build partnerships, and sell their products abroad. International business experts negotiate the challenges of cross-border commerce, including language and cultural differences, regional business policies, and financial planning.

A master’s degree in international business offers comprehensive business training from the vantage point of global business, as well as courses in language, culture, regional politics, and local economies. Programs typically culminate in an international internship, designed to help students “live and breathe the business culture of another country,” as one leading program describes it. Designed for working professionals, most programs allow students to earn a master’s degree online.’s guide to master’s degrees in international business helps you make the most of your graduate education. Use this step-by-step introduction to build a foundation for your success.

Guide to Master’s Degrees in International Business

International business reaches beyond business fundamentals, taking into account politics, economics, geography, and cross-cultural communication. As an IB student, you develop an understanding of how political and cultural forces impact business ventures abroad.

Professional and Academic Master’s Degrees

Graduate international business programs come in two varieties: Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Science (MS). The MBA generally offers a more applied business education, while the MS features a more conceptual introduction to the discipline.

Master of Business Administration

The MBA is the most common graduate qualification in international business. The degree provides a comprehensive curriculum in business fundamentals, with courses in accounting, marketing, and finance. IB programs focus on these core subjects in a global context, graduating managers capable of handling the challenges of business abroad. The IMBA is geared for working adults, making it easy to earn a master’s degree online without putting your career on hold.

Master of Science in International Business

The Master of Science in international business is structured as an academic social science degree rather than a professional qualification. Designed for students just starting out in the workforce or transitioning into international business, the program focuses on the conceptual basis for a successful IB career including language and cultural literacy, global management principles, and quantitative methods.


Whether you earn a master’s degree online or complete a traditional campus IMBA, you have an opportunity to deepen your education in a specialized area. MBA program specializations typically include elective coursework, while the MS culminates in an independent research project in a specific topic.

Examples of international business specializations include:

  • International Marketing, which studies variations in markets worldwide, in order to adapt product marketing to regional conditions. Issues include product development, distribution, pricing, and localized promotion.
  • International Finance covers the financial issues related to doing business abroad, including taxation and legal entities, risk management, foreign exchange strategies, and capital markets.
  • International Trade Management focuses on comparative advantage in trade, including factor proportions and efficiency, factor price equalization, and tariffs, unions, and trade agreements.
  • Global e-Business investigates the value and business models of Internet-based global commerce. Learn about the technology infrastructure of an e-business, management issues, and global distribution.
  • Business Development focuses on strategies for expanding overseas, including establishing alliances with local businesses. This specialization also looks at negotiation and contracts in an international setting.
  • Information Systems specializations study the best means of globalizing an organization’s IT infrastructure, balancing the need to communicate and share data with security standards. Topics include business process improvement, database design, and decision support systems.
  • Global Business Sustainability studies the environmental and social impact of globalization along industry supply chains.
  • Entrepreneurship teaches students to identify and sustain new business ventures in a global context. Social entrepreneurship focuses on the establishment of non-government organizations (NGOs), nonprofits, and businesses with a social mission.

In addition to these functional specializations, many schools feature regional electives that allow you to focus on a specific region: emerging markets, Latin America, Asia, for example.

Career Track

An international business graduate degree qualifies you for a range of business careers:

  • Management: Become a manager in international business development, finance, marketing, IT, or operations.
  • Consulting: Graduates of specialized MBA or MS programs can lend their expertise as consultants, advising businesses looking to expand into new markets.
  • Localization Expert: If you have particularly deep knowledge of a region–its language, culture, and politics–you can lend value as a localization consultant.
  • Analyst: Put your quantitative skills to work as a research or IT analyst. Global ventures rely on risk management analysts, market analysts, finance specialists, and information systems experts to plan and develop business overseas.

While both master’s degrees can lead to any of these careers, MBAs may have a slight advantage in the management sector, which requires broad business knowledge. MS graduates, on the other hand, bring the advantage of specialized knowledge to consultant and specialist roles. The academic MS can also serve as a stepping stone to the PhD and an academic career.

Plan for a Master’s Degree in International Business

A sense of your ambitions and interests can help you plan your master’s degree in international business.

Step One: Find the Right Graduate International Business Program

Graduate international business programs have experienced a surge in interest in the wake of globalization. There are currently hundreds of programs to choose from. The following steps can help you focus your options and find the right program.

1. List Accredited MBA or MS Programs

Start by accessing accredited MBA or MS programs in international business. Accreditation is the key baseline criterion of any program search. This quality assessment by an independent accrediting agency ensures the quality of your education, the value of your degree, and your eligibility for financial aid. The U.S. Department of Education Web site posts a searchable database of approved accreditation agencies.

Resources offers a starting point for your research, with links to online business degrees and online MBA degrees. All educational partners are accredited.

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International) is the leading accreditation agency for business schools. Search the online database of graduate management programs by degree level, field of study, location, and campus or online format.

2. Choose Program Format: Campus or Online Master’s Degree?

International business degrees feature a variety of program formats to accommodate a diverse student body. Working professionals, who make up a high proportion of MBA students, can choose among flexible scheduling options such as:

  • Campus and online master’s degrees
  • Full-time and part-time curricula
  • Day, evening, and weekend schedules

The ability to earn a master’s degree online has made graduate education possible for mid-career managers looking to sharpen their international business skills. An estimated 75 percent of all MBA students and 61 percent of full-time MBA students work more than 35 hours a week while completing the master’s degree. For students with less impacted schedules, full-time campus programs offer unparalleled access to campus facilities, research groups, and professors.

Resources’s Online Degree Programs and Campus Education sections help you find programs with your chosen delivery format. Search Degrees by Location for campus graduate programs in your area.

3. Explore Academic Programs

The most important stage of your academic research takes you into the details of individual programs. Each master’s degree program offers a different landscape of resources, program emphases, and activities. The challenge is to identify the programs most closely aligned with your ambitions.

Investigate these features:

  • Curriculum. Core courses, electives, and specializations. Required courses can also reveal the program’s academic emphases.
  • Degree Format and Requirements. Activities can include lectures, case studies, group presentations, and capstone research projects.
  • Faculty. Check for the presence of faculty in your specialized field of interest. Also, take into account faculty background. Schools can hire industry professionals or academics, both of whom bring a unique perspective to the classroom.
  • Industry Relationships. A career-focused MBA or MS should maintain strong relationships with local employers. These relationships lead to opportunities such as internships, clinics, and corporate-sponsored competitions.
  • Career Support Services. A strong placement office offers access to resume and interviewing assistance, job search counseling, job boards, and corporate recruiting events.
  • Student Life. A supportive, collegial environment contributes to your learning experience and helps you build a network of professional peers.

Resources kicks off your academic program research by putting you in touch with schools that match your criteria. Fill out an online form indicating your preferences, and school representatives contact you to answer your questions about the program.

School websites publish detailed information about degree requirements, course descriptions, industry-sponsored programs, and campus facilities. You can also find links to faculty bios and publications.

Informational interviews with faculty, alumni, and current graduate students help you develop a sense of the academic experience and the value of the degree on the job market. If possible, visit the school’s campus to explore school facilities and local resources.

4. Evaluate Program Quality

Finally, narrow down your list by evaluating program quality and selectivity. Because the highest-quality schools are also the most selective, you may have to moderate your expectations according to your competitiveness as an applicant. Admissions committees evaluate candidates based on GPA, test scores, and other factors.

Take into account the following quality features:

  • Reputation
  • Selectivity
  • Job placement and salary statistics
  • Student background, including years of industry experience


Admissions Departments supply useful information about selectivity (average admitted students’ GPA and test scores), job placement (starting salaries, signing bonuses, and employer information), and student demographics (work experience, percentage of international students). Ask a school representative or admissions counselor for these information sheets.

Rankings give you a general sense of the program’s reputation. Influential publications include:

Step Two: Apply to Graduate International Business Programs

Once you have a list of five to ten master’s programs that meet your needs, you’re ready to start the application process.

1. Complete Prerequisites

Eligibility for graduate study generally requires:

  • A bachelor’s degree in business, economics, international studies, or a related field.
  • If your degree is in an unrelated field, you may have to complete basic prerequisite courses.
  • Standardized tests: the GMAT (for MBA programs), the GRE (for academic master’s degrees, typically), and TOEFL (an English proficiency test for international students).
  • Work experience (required by some master’s programs).’s Education Resources Guide helps you meet these requirements by connecting you with test preparation resources, prerequisite courses, and online learning tools.

2. Prepare Application Materials

Most schools provide a link to the application online. In addition to filling out the information form, you need to supply the following materials:

  • Academic transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Test scores
  • Personal essay
  • Resume

Because some of these documents rely on outside sources, it’s important to start your application well in advance of the deadline.

3. Finance Your Master’s Degree in International Business

The majority of graduate students rely on some form of financial aid to offset the cost of their education. Sources of school funding include the university, the federal and state governments, your employer, and private foundations. Investigate your options by:

  • Meeting with financial aid advisors at your top schools.
  • Filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This comprehensive application covers all federal financial aid programs.
  • Asking your company about tuition grants or other educational incentives.
  • Applying for private scholarships through civic organizations and nonprofits.
  • Applying for a low-interest student loan.

Online master’s degrees help you avoid some of the cost of going back to school–you can earn a master’s degree online and continue working while you work toward your degree.

Step Three: Build a Global Network

The value of a business education has as much to do with the people you meet as the knowledge you gain. Start building your professional network now by:

  • Joining Professional Associations. The Academy of International Business and the Centers for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) help you connect with peers and industry insiders.
  • Reading Journals. The Journal of International Business Studies (JIBS) is the most prominent. Niche journals include the Journal of Global Marketing, Global Finance Journal, International Journal of Emerging Markets, and European Business Review.
  • Attending Networking Events and Conferences. The International Business Forum (IBF) has the most name recognition, but also check out smaller niche events in your area of interest. For example, Harvard Business School hosts the Social Enterprise Conference for social entrepreneurs.

Relationships are the basis for many international business opportunities. Start building your network now, and create connections you can rely on throughout your career.


Your successful completion of a master’s degree in international business starts well before the first day of class. Build a strong foundation for your studies by focusing your career goals and finding the program that fits your ambitions. That alignment between your career trajectory and your graduate degree positions you to take full advantage of your resources and emerge as an international business leader.


  • “2009 Full-Time MBA Ranking,” Economist Intelligence Unit. The Economist.
  • AACSB Accredited Business Schools Database, AACSB International–The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
  • Academy of International Business.
  • Best Business Schools Specialty Ranking: International, U.S. News & World Report (2009).
  • “Business School Rankings and Profiles,” BusinessWeek.
  • Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, U.S. Department of Education.
  • Exploring Graduate Business Degrees, Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).
  • Global MBA 2009, Business School Rankings. Financial Times.
  • IMBA Program Overview, University of South Carolina, The Moore School of Business.
  • International Business Education and Research MBA, USC Marshall.
  • Master of Science in Global Management, Thunderbird School of Global Management.
  • MBA in International Management, Monterey Institute of International Studies.
  • “MBA Rankings and Executive Education Programs,” The Wall Street Journal.
  • Programs in Business and Management, The Sloan Consortium.
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