Politics Vs International Relations: Which Should You Study? | Top Universities

Politics Vs International Relations: Which Should You Study?

By Sabrina Collier

Updated April 20, 2021 Updated April 20, 2021

Are you unsure about whether you should study politics or international relations? These similar subjects suit different interests, and can each be useful for entering different political careers. Read on to find out more about how they compare, and which one could be the right choice for you!

What is politics? 

Politics degrees typically focus on national affairs, domestic policies, and the philosophical background behind political theories, concepts and ideologies. Politics also touches on other subjects such as history and economics – usually with a focus on a particular country, though courses are also available which focus on larger world regions or international policies. 

You should study politics if… 

Politics

  • You’re interested in the philosophical theories behind political ideologies, for example human rights.
  • You’re interested in the political affairs of a particular country or region.
  • You’re aiming for a political career which is focused on your home country, for example as a member of parliament or a civil servant.

What is international relations?

International relations (also known as international affairs or global politics, amongst other course names) focuses on the political issues and foreign affairs affecting the world today. It’s an interdisciplinary subject, touching on history, economics, anthropology and sociology as well as politics. You’ll gain an understanding of how relations between different countries are structured and maintained.

You should study international relations if… 

  • You’re more interested in acquiring contemporary political understanding on a global level, looking at issues which affect the world at large.
  • You want a political career related to this subject, for example in diplomacy.
  • You have an interest in specializing in a particular area of international relations, for example international security.
  • You’re interested in the interdisciplinary nature of the course.

Typical politics specializations 

Fields of politics you could study a specialized degree in, or study a module in as part of a political degree, include:

  • Public policy –Ideal if you’re interested in how political policies affect people, this subject focuses on the processes by which various forms of policies and regulations that affect members of the public are produced and applied.
  • Development politics – Focuses on the role of politics in social and economic development, including both national and international policies. 
  • Peace and conflict studies – This will appeal to students who particularly interested in how politics relates to domestic and international conflicts, and the strategies for avoiding or resolving conflict.
  • Democracy and elections – This specialization is for students who are interested in issues such as party and non-party engagement, associations between the elected and the electors, and the regulated foundations of democracy.
  • Human rights and social justice – This focuses on the ethics behind political practices and policies. It may also include the study of democracy.

Typical international relations specializations 

  • Environmental politics/ sustainable development – A good option for students who are concerned about global environmental issues, and who want to help bring about positive changes to increase sustainability and respond to global warming. 
  • Conflict resolution and mediation – This specialization enables you to gain an understanding of how to mediate, peace-keep and help find a solution to international problems and incidents.
  • International law – Focuses on the ways in which the law informs, guides or influences the world of global politics and international relations. This may appeal to students who want to combine law and politics in their career.
  • International security – This concentration will consider recent events to focus on how international security is affected by changes in affairs, and vice versa.
  • Cross-cultural communication – This specialization combines the study of language and linguistics with international relations, focusing on intercultural and international communications in politics.

BA/MA vs BSc/MSc

You may see different universities offer their politics and/or international relations degrees with slightly different titles – either Bachelor or Master of Arts (BA/BA) or Bachelor/Master of Science (BSc/MSc). There are often very few differences between the two, but BSc/MSc degrees are naturally more likely to include a strong focus on political theory, while BA/MA degrees might be more empirical.

Politics and international relations careers 

As mentioned earlier, if you’re sure you’d like your political career to be based in and focused on your home country, both degrees are useful, but a politics degree may be slightly more relevant for roles such as Member of Parliament (MP), political assistant, and careers in the civil service of your home country.

Careers more closely related to international relations include roles in organizations such as the European Union or the United Nations (you’ll need to gain a good deal of work experience for these), or in a role as a diplomat, representing your country in foreign affairs.

Studying either politics or international relations will also train you to research and analyze information from a range of sources, possibly in different languages, and these skills will make you attractive to employers in many sectors – beyond the traditional political sphere.

Other careers popular among both politics and international relations graduates include roles in human rights activism, political journalism, social research, charity, human resources, marketing and more. 

This article was originally published in February 2016 . It was last updated in April 2021

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Written by

The former Assistant Editor of TopUniversities.com, Sabrina wrote and edited articles to guide students from around the world on a wide range of topics. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and grew up in Staffordshire, UK. 

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