Politics is a messy business but it's also forms the basis for nearly every society both past and present. People get pretty passionate over the subject of government, which makes sense when consider that the government has a lot of say in things like gun ownership, military policy, legislation, law enforcement, wealth redistribution, and taxation. Add healthcare, education, retirement, the environment, and even the national holidays to the list of responsibilities and you can see just how complicated the study of political systems can be.
To make matters more complicated, humans have developed a plethora of options for dividing up power. History is replete with monarchies, clans, communism, socialism, fascism, oligarchy, democracy, republicanism, anarchy, and any number of crossovers, hybrids, and experiments in governance. We are at constant debate over one particular system of government versus another.
If you choose to study political science, it will be your job to navigate this minefield in order to gain a better understanding of how governance works, how policy is created and implemented, how social, cultural and economic factors intersect with political systems, and how various political philosophies have evolved—either to success or failure—over the course of human history. A degree in political science can opens the doorways to a career in public service, lawmaking, politics or academia. It could also be a sensible point of entry into law school and work as an attorney or public office-holder..
If you already know what you're looking for, go ahead and jump to our ranking of The 25 Best Online Bachelor's in Political Science Degree Programs.
If you need a little more information, continue on.
Covered in this article:
- What do I need to know about accreditation?
- What kinds of Political Science degrees are there?
- What can I do with a Political Science degree?
- How much can I make with a Political Science degree?
- What Professional Political Science Associations or Societies should I join?
Let's start with the one thing you absolutely must be sure of before you proceed: accreditation.
What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?
The last thing you want to do is waste time and money on a degree that won't be taken seriously by future employers. That's why it is absolutely imperative that you make sure your school has the proper accreditation before you proceed.
As with most other higher education disciplines, accreditation is of critical importance in determining where to obtain a political science degree. Program accreditation is granted by accrediting agencies that are formally recognized by the Department of Education. Only accredited colleges or universities are eligible for financial aid. Moreover, accreditation typically indicates that an institution is not only maintaining its standards but that it continues to advance and remain current within its field. As you proceed in your search, you'll find both institutional accreditation and program accreditation. The former refers to school wide accreditation and the latter refers to the accreditation conferred upon your specific discipline and degree program.
Regional Accrediting Agencies
The institutional accrediting sector is divided into regional and national accrediting agencies. Generally, regional accrediting agencies confer greater credibility and merit. When you’re investigating a college or university, you’ll want to look for the “stamp of approval” from one of the following regional accrediting agencies:
- The Higher Learning Commission
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
The easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice, or visit the website for any of the above accreditation agencies. Each provides a searchable database of accredited institutions and degree programs.
To learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who's Accrediting the Accreditors?
The study of political science can lead to a lot of different professional outcomes, which means there is no one particular programmatic accreditation agency that is required of your undergraduate degree. As long as your school is accredited by one of the above regional agencies, you should be good to go.
However, the rules do change if you plan to transition from a political science major to a law degree. If you will be pursuing an advanced law degree, accreditation from the American Bar Association (ABA) will be absolutely mandatory.
At the time of writing, the ABA has lent is stamp of approval to 205 schools. The ABA provides the definitive accreditation service for law schools. There is no way for a school to legally provide the J.D. degree without their approval. Of the 205 ABA schools, three are under provisional status. All of these schools offer a J.D. with the exception of the Army Judge Advocate's General School, which is a specialized program that offers additional training beyond the J.D.
The easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice, or visit the website for any of the above accreditation agencies. Each provides a searchable database of accredited institutions and degree programs. You can also take a look at the Department of Education's database of all recognized accreditors within its purview.
Or, to learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who's Accrediting the Accreditors?
Now that you get the idea, let's take a look at some of your degree options.
What Kinds of Political Science Degrees Are There?
Associate Degree in Political Science
If you are working toward a career in public policy, or you are interested in attending law school, the associate's degree is a good starting point. An associate's degree in political science will provide you with introductory level courses in government and its history, as well as the various competing theories behind how government operates. In addition to saving time and money on the way to a bachelor's degree at a four-year college, this two-year program can also be a pragmatic and affordable way to start working immediately upon graduation as a paralegal or at an assistant level position in a law firm.
What Courses Will I Take?
- American Government and Politics
- Comparative Politics
- International Politics
- Civil Liberties
- State and Local Government
- Religion and Politics
Bachelor of Political Science Degree
The bachelor of political science is the standard introductory degree in the world of politics, public policy, and law related fields. As with an associate's degree, your bachelor's degree program will provide introductory-level education on policy development, government and the history of political systems. This traditional 120-credit course of study will also provide you with opportunities to explore advanced topics including Civil Rights movements, race relations, and the emergence of complex global political dynamics. These studies could provide an immediate point of access into careers in campaign management, public service, think tank research, political journalism, and a host of other related fields. If you do intend to work in public policy research, higher education or in the legal profession, you will need to continue into the appropriate advanced degree program from here.
What Courses Will I Take?
- Political Parties and Interest Groups
- International Conflict and Negation
- American Foreign Policy
- Politics and Mass Media
- Global Governance
What's the Difference between a BA and a BS in political science?
A Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Political Science is a traditional liberal arts education, pairing your focus on policy and governance with various electives and humanities. This is a good path if you're interested in a broader educational experience. A Bachelor of Science (BS) in Political Science provides a greater emphasis on the mathematics behind political systems. Today, electoral politics and patterns are better understood through increasingly sophisticated statistical methods. A BS gives you the chance to understand and master these methods.
Now that you know a bit more, check out The 20 Best Online Political Science Degree Programs.
Master of Political Science
If you hope to conduct more intensive research into a specific area of interest within your discipline, you may want to move on to a masters program. This is an opportunity to choose a focus—whether you're interest is on policy impact, campaign strategy, geopolitics—to develop a thesis. This degree is particularly well-suited to work in government administration and public policy development. Typically a one to two year program, your master's degree can also be a stepping stone to a PhD program, or to law school. (Though you can get into law school with just a bachelor's degree, a strong master's degree performance can help put the sparkle on a less-than-stellar undergrad transcript).
What Courses Will I Take?
- Contemporary Political Thought
- Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Lobbying
- Law and Ethics
- Campaign Management
- Strategic Management in Public Service
Now that you know a bit about the program, check out The 5 Best Online Master's in Political Science Degree Programs here!
PhD of Political Science
The PhD is the classic scholar's degree. If you're pursuing a career in academics, you'll probably require the PhD. This gives you the credentials to teach government and politics at the college level. The PhD usually involves two years of advanced coursework, including comprehensive examinations, teaching responsibilities, and the completion of a book-length dissertation. Only those who love the subject enough to spend years writing should even consider this degree. It usually takes at least five years to complete a PhD, although taking six to seven years is not uncommon.
What Courses Will Will I Take?
- The American Founding
- International Law
- Conflict Resolution
- Women and Politics
- Modern Political Thought
- Contemporary Political Thought
- Urban Public Policy
Doctor of Jurisprudence
The doctor of jurisprudence (JD) is the standard path to entry for the legal profession. This degree consists of 90 credits and three years of work. The law degree is more regulated and standardized across the field by the American Bar Association. The entire first year of law school curriculum is consistent across the nation, but unique elective opportunities open up in a students' second and third year. Law school regrettably has a reputation for being extremely expensive, but for those who earn scholarships or can afford the cost, this degree can create an exciting and well-paying array of opportunities. The JD also opens doors to opportunities like service in public office, organizational leadership, and policy advocacy.
What Kind of Courses Will I Take?
- Civil Procedure
- Constitutional Law
- Criminal Law
- Foundations of Law
If you're interested in learning about other advanced legal degree options, click here and find out everything you need to do to earn a Legal or Criminal Justice Degree.
You might also want to check out 10 Top Affordable Recognized Law Schools in the U.S.
What can I do with a Political Science degree?
A degree in political science can be a great starting point for a pretty wide-ranging set of career opportunities. From public work in politics, lobbying or journalism to more behind-the-scenes work in policy research, statistical research, or rights advocacy, your political science degree can be the path to a wide range of exciting career opportunities. Here are a few of the top careers in your field:
- Campaign Director
- Political scientist
- Foreign Service Officer
- City Administrator
- High School Teacher
- Legislative Assistant
- Policy Analyst
- Public Relations Manager
- Overseas Diplomat
- Judicial Administrator
- Speech writer/Press Secretary
- Government Affairs Director
- State Legislator
- Federal and State Agency Specialist
- Consumer Advocate
- Corporate Legislative Issues Manager
- Political Consultant
- Urban Policy Planner
- Human Rights Advocate
- Communication Officer for Politician
What kind of salary can I earn with a Political Science degree?
Your earnings will depend very much on the professional direction you decide to take your interest, as well as the level of degree that you choose to earn. As you sharpen your educational focus, consider these median salaries—as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics—for the following popular professions in your field:
- Political scientist: Median Salary, 2016—$114,290
- Administrative Assistant: Median Salary, 2016—$37,230
- Lawyer: Mean Salary, 2016—$139,880
- High School Teacher: Median Salary, 2016—$58,030
- Public Relations Manager: Mean Salary, 2016—$58,020
- Judge and Hearing Officer: Median Salary, 2016—$109,940
- Journalist: Mean Salary, 2016—$49,770
- Pollster: Median Salary, 2016—$54,470
- Legislator: Mean Salary, 2016—$44,820
- Urban Policy Planner: Median Salary, 2016—$70,020
- Paralegal: Median Salary, 2016—$49,500
- Human Rights Advocate: Median Salary, 2016—$31,810
Are There Professional Political Science Associations or Societies I should join?
Professional Associations are a fantastic way to make connections in your field, learn about valuable seminars or certifications, and improve your own credentials. The association or associations you choose to join will depend to an extent on the career path you take. Look for political science associations that correspond with your academic or professional concentration.
American Political Science Association: Founded in 1903, the American Political Science Association is the leading professional organization for those interested in the field. It has over 12,000 members spread across 80 countries and serves as a focal point for scholarship and constructive dialogue about politics. It runs regular conferences and several prestigious journals.
Numerous Think Thanks: Washington D.C. by itself has a cottage industry of think tanks continuously pouring out research and policy proposals about virtually every political issue imaginable. These centers are great places to network with sympathetic thinkers. They are also very willing to provide free, or at least very affordable, education for anyone willing to invest time in their cause. Click here for a list of the 50 most influential think thanks in the United States.
Political Parties: Most Americans who affiliate with a political party identify as either Republicans or Democrats. Other notable parties in the U.S. include the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, and smaller niche parties like the Constitutionalists, Communist Party and the Reform Party. Reaching out to the political party that best represents your ideals. This is a great way to begin networking in your field and the best way to start working on an actual campaign. If your political party doesn't have a chapter in your locale, you may be the perfect person to start one!
Now that you now a bit more about how to earn a political science degree, check out The 25 Best Online Bachelor's in Political Science Degree Programs and find the best school for you!