What Can You Do With a Political Science Degree?

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A political science degree can you lead you down several excellent career paths. The political science major offers a combination of history, political theories, policy concepts, and principles of governance. The result of this combination is a highly flexible degree, one that can help you pursue a wide range of political science jobs. Whether you want to spend your days practicing law, analyzing current events, or helping to craft legislation that will affect society as a whole, a degree in political science can help you get started.

A political science degree gives you a grounding in systems of government, the various political ideologies that drive policy and behavior, and how social, cultural, and economic factors intersect with both. Most hot–button issues are intrinsically political, including healthcare, education, the environment, law enforcement, class systems, military policy, taxation, and social justice. Since politics is such a broad field, someone with a political science degree could conceivably work for a political party, in a lobbying firm, in journalism, or as an academic. And if you’re thinking of parlaying your degree into law school, a political science degree is a great way to get started.

What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?

Accreditation is the process by which colleges and universities are evaluated and validated. Colleges and universities that have earned accreditation have met the standards set by accrediting organizations. These organizations are comprised of faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Legitimate regional and national accrediting organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Typically, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the same institutions, although CHEA recognition isn’t mandatory. A college or university must be accredited by a Department of Education-recognized accreditor in order for its students to receive federal financial aid.

For a detailed look at the differences between regional and national accreditation, check out What Do I Need to Know About College Accreditation?

What is Regional Accreditation?
Regional accreditation is the signifier of quality education; this includes the currency of curriculum, credentials of educators, and credibility of degrees. Regional accrediting agencies only accredit institutions in their geographical area.
The Six Regional Accrediting Agencies

To find out if a college or university on your list is regionally accredited, check the Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

What Is National Accreditation?
National accreditation is often perceived as a less rigorous standard than regional accreditation and is governed by educational accreditors agencies that are not restricted by region or geography. This means that one such agency can provide accreditation to any college or university in the U.S. that meets its criteria. National accreditation is commonplace among trade schools, religious schools, and for–profit colleges.
 
Most regionally–accredited colleges do not accept or recognize credits or degrees earned from colleges that lack regional accreditation. However, national accreditation may be a useful indicator of quality for students pursuing vocational training, competency-based education, or other education models that operate under a for-profit model.

To learn more about National Accreditation, check out Understanding National Accreditation.

For help safely navigating the For–Profit Sector, check out our Guide to For–Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.

What is Programmatic Accreditation?
Programmatic accreditation certifies that an institution’s program, department, or college has met the standards of the programmatic accrediting agency. While programmatic accreditation agencies often have national jurisdiction, programmatic accreditation is not institutional national accreditation. In fact, programmatic accreditation often coexists with regional accreditation. In some disciplines, a degree with programmatic accreditation may even be required to earn a license or enter professional practice.
 
The study of political science can lead to a lot of different professional outcomes, which means there is not a programmatic accreditation agency that is required of your undergraduate degree in political science. If 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 its stamp of approval to 203 schools. The ABA provides the definitive accreditation service for law schools. There is no way for a school to legally provide the doctor of jurisprudence (J.D.) degree without their approval. Of the 203 ABA schools, one is under provisional status. All 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 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?

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 degree is a good starting point. An associate political science degree 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 in political science degree, 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 Political Science Courses Will You Take in an Associate Program?

  • American Government and Politics
  • Civil Liberties
  • Comparative Politics
  • International Politics
  • Religion and Politics
  • State and Local Government

Bachelor of Political Science Degree

The bachelor of political science degree is the standard introductory degree in the world of politics, public policy, and the legal fields. As with an associate 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 social justice 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, political journalism, and a host of related fields. If you do intend to work in public policy research, higher education, or the legal profession, you will need to continue to the appropriate advanced degree program from here.

What Political Science Courses Will You Take in a Bachelor’s Program?

  • American Foreign Policy
  • Global Governance
  • International Conflict and Negotiation
  • Nationalism
  • Political Parties and Interest Groups
  • Politics and Mass Media

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 master’s in political science degree. This is an opportunity to choose a focus—whether your interest is in policy impact, campaign strategy, or geopolitics—to develop a thesis. This degree is particularly well–suited for a job in government administration or public policy development. Typically, a one to two year program, your master’s degree in political science can also be a steppingstone to a Ph.D. 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 Political Science Courses Will You Take in a Master’s Program?

  • Campaign Management
  • Contemporary Political Thought
  • Law and Ethics
  • Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Lobbying
  • Strategic Management in Public Service

Ph.D. of Political Science

The Ph.D. is the classic scholar’s degree. If you’re pursuing a career in academics, you’ll probably require a doctorate. This gives you the credentials to teach government and politics at the college level. The Ph.D. 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 Ph.D., although taking six or seven years is not uncommon.

What Political Science Courses Will You Take in a Ph.D. Program?

  • Conflict Resolution
  • Contemporary Political Thought
  • International Law
  • Marxism
  • Modern Political Thought
  • The American Founding
  • Urban Public Policy
  • Women and Politics

Doctor of Jurisprudence

The doctor of jurisprudence (J.D.) 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 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 in a students’ second and third year. Regrettably, law school 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 J.D. also opens doors to opportunities like service in public office, organizational leadership, and policy advocacy.

What Kind of Political Science Courses Will You Take in a Doctor’s Program?

  • Civil Procedure
  • Constitutional Law
  • Contracts
  • Criminal Law
  • Foundations of Law
  • Property
  • Torts

What Can You Do with a Political Science Degree?

If you are wondering what to do with a political science degree, there are plenty of options. A political science degree can be a great starting point for a 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
  • City Administrator
  • Communication Officer
  • Consumer Advocate
  • Corporate Legislative Issues Manager
  • Federal and State Agency Specialist
  • Foreign Service Officer
  • Government Affairs Director
  • High School Teacher
  • Human Rights Advocate
  • Journalist
  • Judicial Administrator
  • Lawyer
  • Legislative Assistant
  • Lobbyist
  • Overseas Diplomat
  • Policy Analyst
  • Political Consultant
  • Political Scientist
  • Pollster
  • Public Relations Manager
  • Speech Writer/Press Secretary
  • State Legislator
  • Urban Policy Planner

What Kind of Salary Can You Earn with a Political Science Degree?

Your earnings may depend on the professional direction you decide to take with your degree, as well as the level of degree that you choose to earn. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides data on the potential earnings for some of the leading jobs in the political science field. The following data reflects median annual salaries as of 2018:

Career Median Salary
Social and Human Service Assistants $33,750
Administrative Assistants $38,880
Reporters, Correspondents, and Broadcast Analysts $43,490
Paralegals and Legal Assistants $50,940
Survey Researchers $57,700
Public Relations Specialists $60,000
High School Teachers $60,320
Urban and Regional Planners $73,050
Postsecondary Teachers $78,470
Judges and Hearing Officers $117,190
Political Scientists $117,570
Lawyers $120,190

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Are There Professional Political Science Associations or Societies You 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 political science 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.
Think Tanks
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. To learn more, visit our article on The 50 Most Influential Think Tanks 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 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!

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