What Is a Political Science Degree?

by TBS Staff
• 6 min read
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The study of politics, government, and public policy, political science is a purposeful and rewarding field that equips students to help make the world a better place.

Political science majors learn about the inner workings of political systems, the role of political behaviors, and actions to bring about political and social change.

While earning a political science degree, students consider local, national, and international issues, such as social equity and climate change. They explore how these topics relate to past, current, and developing political systems and processes.

Students with a political science degree thrive in business, government, and public service settings. Keep reading to find out how a political science degree can work for you.

Is Political Science the Right Career Path for Me?

Career paths for political science majors embrace the core knowledge and skills developed during a political science degree. Students who want to work in public service, finance, business, and teaching benefit from developing writing, research, and analytical skills. Learning about domestic and international issues helps students who want to work in government and legal environments.

You Might Enjoy a Political Science Career if You...

Skills Learned as a Political Science Major

As political science majors, students develop human and hard skills alike. Human skills, also called soft skills, help learners interact with others and communicate effectively. Hard skills are more quantitative and are quite often technical. Both hard and human skills remain essential for successful careers in political science.

Human Skills

  • Interpersonal communication
  • Listening
  • Time management
  • Strong work ethic
  • Team work
  • Flexibility
  • Problem-solving

Hard Skills

  • Qualitative research
  • Quantitative research
  • Persuasive writing
  • Critical reading
  • Public speaking
  • Data analysis

What to Expect in a Political Science Degree Program

Generally, a political science program blends lecture coursework with seminars, group projects, and practical requirements. Introductory political science courses build foundational understanding of political theories, structures, and policies. Students apply these fundamental concepts and ideas to projects, real-world scenarios, and internships.

Political science classes include a significant amount of reading. Students are expected to apply learned concepts to classroom activities, assignments, exams, and other assessments. Learners need to be motivated and assertive to thrive in a political science program. These qualities are also necessary for the professional world.

What Kinds of Political Science Degrees Are There?

Individuals who want to know more about political science can earn an associate degree in two years, ideal for those wanting an introduction to public service, government work, or business. Bachelor's degrees offer more in-depth coursework to prepare students for advanced careers. They also equip learners to continue on to graduate school.

Associate Degree in Political Science

An associate degree in political science includes two years of coursework. Coursework prepares students for careers in government, nonprofit, and business. Students study:

  • Government systems
  • World politics
  • Political ideologies

Additional classes in public speaking, composition, and research develop the skills needed to work as a market researcher, political campaign staffer, or legal assistant. Learners can also continue onto a bachelor's degree in political science or a related discipline.

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Bachelor's Degree in Political Science

Bachelor's degrees in political science typically last four years. Introductory coursework in political theory, government, and international relations precede advanced classes in topics such as:

  • Global political economy
  • Comparative politics and government
  • Law, politics, and justice
  • Politics of development

With a bachelor's in political science, students can work as community organizers, foreign service officers, and public policy analysts. A political science program also prepares individuals for positions in journalism and media, law, and teaching.

What Is the Difference Between a BA and BS in Political Science?

Schools may offer a BA, a BS, or both degrees for political science majors. Much of the coursework in a BA and a BS overlaps, but the former often includes a foreign language requirement and includes more humanities courses. A BS emphasizes mathematics, statistics, and more quantitative aspects of political science.

Careers for a BA graduate include education, public relations, and political campaign work, while BS students often continue onto careers in political economics, policy analysis, and public administration.

Master's Degree in Political Science

A master's degree in political science includes roughly two years of coursework. A political science master's curriculum integrates lecture classes with research and writing requirements. Students often complete a thesis or project based on original research.

Learners earning a master's in political science may have opportunities to specialize in a subset of the field. Concentration areas include:

  • American politics
  • International relations
  • Comparative politics
  • Political theory

Professional roles available to individuals with master's degrees include political campaign manager, lobbyist, international business manager, and foreign service worker. A master's degree also prepares students for a doctorate in political science or a related field.

Doctoral Degree in Political Science

The length of a political science doctoral program varies depending on how long it takes students to complete their dissertations. Some learners earn a degree in as few as four years, while others need eight or more.

Coursework in a political science doctoral program emphasizes theory and research in general fields like American, comparative, and international politics. Alongside successful completion of comprehensive exams, students choose an area of emphasis and develop a dissertation proposal. Specializations include political economy, environmental politics, or minority and race politics.

With a doctorate in political science, students can teach at colleges and universities, work as research specialists, and undertake political careers of their own. A doctoral degree also leads to advanced roles in public administration, government service, and international relations.

Accreditation for Political Science Programs

When considering a political science program, students should check its accreditation status. Institutions should hold regional or national accreditation.

While no specific programmatic accreditation exists for political science programs, some degrees may hold accreditation from bodies such as the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration.

What Can You Do With a Degree in Political Science?

A political science degree leads to opportunities in government, business, and education. The breadth of a political science curriculum establishes a solid foundation for roles in politics, public relations, and foreign service. Political science students possess knowledge and skills to work anywhere in the world, an exciting prospect for individuals who want to experience new cultures and peoples.

Learners are also equipped to advocate for individuals and groups who cannot advocate for themselves, to function within existing political and social structures in the interest of positive change, and to take on key issues facing global communities. Many political science majors continue to law school, while learners with interests in quantitative aspects of the field can pursue careers as analysts and researchers across industrial sectors.

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Political Science Degree?

Salaries for political science students vary by degree, experience, and industry. Top-earning positions for political science majors require advanced degrees in the field or additional schooling in another area.

Lawyers and judges earn the highest median annual salaries for political science careers. Both of these roles require completion of a law degree. Among other roles within political science, paralegal work requires additional certification in many states.

Political Science Career Outlook
Career Median Annual Salary (2020) Minimum Required Education
Lawyers $126,930 Professional doctorate
Political Scientists $125,350 Master's
Judges and Hearing Officers $124,200 Professional doctorate
Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators $66,130 Bachelor's
Survey Researchers $59,870 Master's
Paralegals and Legal Assistants $52,920 Associate
Reporters, Correspondents, and Broadcast News Analysts $49,300 Bachelor's
Legislators $33,200 Bachelor's
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Political Science Professional Organizations

American Political Science Association

APSA unites more than 11,000 political scientists in its mission to promote scholarship and teaching in politics, policy, and civic participation. Individual members receive access to journals and publications, fellowship and grant opportunities, and career resources and professional development programs.

International Political Science Association

Established in 1949, IPSA links academic networks of political scientists from around the world. IPSA provides members academic services and collaboration opportunities, career resources, and access to the IPSA World Congress events and awards.

National Conference of Black Political Scientists

NCBPS celebrates scholarship, teaching, mentorship, and community engagement to enhance and promote the political aspirations of people of African descent worldwide. Benefits to members include publications, networking opportunities online and in person, access to publications, and a community of support from scholars and activists alike.

League of Women in Government

The League supports local and state organizations that seek to advance the role of women in government leadership. The League provides educational programs, mentorship opportunities, and general encouragement. Membership to The League is free.

Common Questions About Majoring in Political Science

What Is the Difference Between Political Science and Public Administration?

Political science is theoretical, and public administration is practical. Political science focuses on the policies, individuals, and happenings that lead to social outcomes, while public administration actively engages in the processes that cause those outcomes.

What Jobs Hire Political Science Majors?

Political science majors can work as political campaign workers, market analysts, legal assistants, and community service workers.

Is Political Science a Competitive Major?

Political science is not a highly competitive major, but it is one that can lead to continued study and professional opportunities in numerous settings.

Can You Be a Lawyer With a Political Science Degree?

A political science degree will help you along your way to becoming a lawyer. On its own, a degree in political science is not enough to be a lawyer. Lawyers need to earn a juris doctor (JD) degree in order to practice.

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