Best Online Master’s in Political Science 2021

| TBS Staff


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If you dream about working on political campaigns, running for office, or teaching college courses, an online political science master's degree can help you get there.

Political science graduates can excel in many industries. As public policy increases in complexity, the demand for experts who can understand and analyze the laws and language should similarly grow. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data projects 6% job growth between 2019 and 2029 — 50% faster than the rate for all occupations.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted political science professions, like many others, but it also inspired a renewed focus on public policy, especially health policy. Many political scientists now work remotely as they help governments and organizations create and adhere to guidelines that protect the health and safety of employees and consumers.

Political science is most popular social science concentration, and it leads to careers in management, business, and law. Most political science roles require at least a master's degree.

To help prospective political scientists choose their ideal program, we ranked the best online master's in political science programs and outlined what students can expect from the profession.

The Best Online Master's in Political Science Programs

The University of West Florida true View School Profile $ Pensacola, FL 44% 64% 63% University of West Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

A public university founded in 1973, UWF offers an online master of arts in political science. Students complete all coursework 100% online.

Learners complete 18 credits of required coursework, including the study of politics, political science research methods, a seminar in comparative politics, and a seminar in international relations. From there, thesis-track students complete 15 credits for thesis-track work, and non-thesis track students take 15 credits in department-approved electives.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission. Students must also possess GRE or MAT scores in the 50th percentile for eligibility.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University true View School Profile $$$ Blacksburg, VA 84% 39% 28% Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

A public land grant university founded in 1872, Virginia Tech offers an online master of arts in political science.

Students take required courses such as contemporary political theory and research methods. Elective options include contemporary political theory, transnational migration, critical security studies, and environmental politics and policy. Students complete research courses and write a thesis to complete the degree.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission. The department recommends students send GRE scores.

Sam Houston State University true View School Profile $$ Huntsville, TX 52% 48% 53% Sam Houston State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of College and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Founded in 1879, SHSU offers an online master of arts in political science. Students complete 36 credits for the thesis option or 30 credits for the non-thesis track.

Required courses include American politics, comparative politics, and international relations. Thesis-track students take 15 credits to write and defend their thesis, and non-thesis students take additional electives to complete the required credits.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 GPA to qualify for admission. Students not meeting the GPA requirement may apply for conditional admission using supplemental materials like GRE scores.

Citadel Military College of South Carolina true View School Profile $$$ Charleston, SC 72% 48% 19% The Citadel is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Founded in 1842, The Citadel offers an online master of arts in international politics and military affairs. Learners complete 36 credits entirely online.

Students take six credits in required courses, including a social science seminar and research methods in social sciences. From there, students choose from electives such as south Asian affairs, international politics, U.S. foreign policy, and comparative politics.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA to qualify for admission. Students must also possess either a minimum GRE score of 290 or a minimum GMAT score of 396.

Eastern Illinois University true View School Profile $$ Charleston, IL 58% 55% 33% Eastern Illinois University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

A public university established in 1865, EIU offers an online master of arts in political science with an optional emphasis in public administration and public policy. Most students complete degree requirements in just two semesters plus one summer of study.

Required courses include research methods in public administration and public policy and a proseminar in public administration. Students take a variety of electives to complete 32 credits or focus electives on the optional specialization.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 2.75 — either cumulatively or on the last 60 credits.

University of Illinois at Springfield View School Profile $$ Springfield, IL 51% 46% 68% University of Illinois at Springfield is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

A public land-grant university founded in 1867, UIS offers an online master of arts in political science.

Students participate in both political science and research coursework. Courses include an introduction to the American political system, comparative state politics, statistics for social sciences, and an introduction to political philosophy.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 cumulative GPA to qualify for admission. Students must take statistics if their undergraduate degree did not include this training. The school accepts students that do not meet the GPA requirement on a case-by-case basis.

Regent University View School Profile Virginia Beach, VA 59% 80% 91% Regent University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

A private Christian university, Regent offers an online master of arts in campaigns and political leadership. Students complete 33 credits with four optional concentrations: information studies and data analytics, leadership and ethics, marketing and communication, and policy studies.

Students explore political science and campaign management from a faith-based perspective. Required courses include Christian foundations of government, political parties and institutions, political communication, and leadership and administrative ethics.

Students can apply for one of eight start dates per year. Applicants need a bachelor's degree to qualify for admission. Students do not need to submit GRE or LSAT scores.

Sul Ross State University View School Profile $$ Alpine, TX 25% 50% 63% Sul Ross State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Founded in 1917, Sul Ross offers an online master of arts in political science. Students can choose a thesis or non-thesis track and must complete a comprehensive exam.

The 30-credit degree includes an introduction to political science, a seminar in European history, a seminar in American history, and problems in business administration. Non-thesis-track students complete degree requirements with more electives.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution to qualify for admission. Students must also submit GRE or GMAT scores to apply.

Liberty University View School Profile Lynchburg, VA 50% 60% 90% Liberty University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

A private Christian university, Liberty offers a master of science in political science. Students complete 36 credits in a convenient eight-week format, focusing on fewer classes at once.

Required courses include economics and public policy, political philosophy, applied public policy research methods, and contemporary political process and trends. The program does not require students to complete thesis work.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission. The school allows students to transfer up to 50% of the required degree credits from another institution.

University of Nebraska at Omaha View School Profile $$ Omaha, NE 48% 40% 49% University of Nebraska Omaha is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

A public research university founded in 1908, UNO offers an online master of science in political science. Students can take all required courses solely online with an optional concentration in American government and politics or international affairs.

Required courses include a seminar in American government and politics, international relations, political theory, and comparative politics. Students then take a series of concentration-related electives and complete a thesis or participate in a capstone experience internship at an approved location.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission. The school prefers students to possess at least 15 credits in previous political science coursework.

Best Online Master's

Online Master's in Political Science Programs Ranking Guidelines

We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.

The motto of TheBestSchools.org is Finding the best school for you. Here is how we do it:

The value of any ranking list of schools and/or degree programs depends on having a methodologically sound assessment of each school’s/program’s characteristics, especially insofar as these can be objectively measured. A college or university is a complex entity, with numerous factors to consider, and distilling these down to the place where meaningful comparisons can be made to form a defensible ranking list becomes part science and part art.

To meet this challenge—and thereby provide you with the most useful and insightful educational rankings on the Internet — TheBestSchools.org formulates our rankings based on five informational categories (six, when considering online schools). The major metrics and qualities for which we rank are these (with expanded, detailed considerations and weights listed):

1. Academic excellence based on a school’s curriculum generally or within the selected discipline [weight = 25%]

  • Weighs school against known leading schools in that discipline
  • Weighs number of core curricula listed as advanced courses within that discipline and compares against introductory courses
  • Weighs school’s curriculum against known knowledge needs of major employers in that discipline
  • Considers number and types of specializations offered within that discipline
  • Considers faculty expertise in that discipline
  • Considers range of electives within that discipline
  • Considers quality of online environment offered to students (if applicable), particularly within that discipline

2. Strength of faculty scholarship [weight = 25%]

  • Considers education background of the faculty
  • Considers years of faculty experience both inside and outside of academia.
  • Considers faculty membership and leadership within relevant, prominent associations
  • Considers academic papers published by faculty in relevant, prominent periodicals
  • Considers awards and recognitions given to faculty members from prominent organizations and from other sources

3. Reputation [weight = 20%]

  • Considers a school’s reputation among academic peers and employers regarding the following:
    • Faculty
    • Curriculum
    • “Freshness” of academic knowledge
    • Adaptability to changes in employment sectors
    • Suitability of graduates for the workplace

4. Financial aid [weight = 10%]

  • Mandatory: Requires full accreditation from an agency endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and listed on the federal register to accept student federal financial aid
  • Considers range of school-sponsored financial aid such as scholarships and grants

5. Range of degree programs [weight = 20%]

  • Considers range of degree levels: associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral and professional
  • Considers range of degree subjects offered, such as art & design, computers & technology, education & teaching, criminal justice, and business

6. Strength of online instruction methodology (if applicable) [weight = 25%; subtract 5% from each of the above for online schools/programs]

  • Considers the following of the online classes:
    • Types of online technology used to deliver content
    • Pedagogy style: asynchronous, synchronous, or both (depending on the degree)
    • Extent and quality of the online, community learning environment, including options for communication, interactivity, and collaboration between students and also between students and instructors
    • Variety, breadth, and depth of coursework, and its support, including project options and online tutoring
  • Considers the following of instructors:
    • Extent of training for teaching within an online learning environment
    • Amount of timely, consistent feedback to students
    • Extent of collaboration with prospective employers to ensure suitability of instructional materials for achieving desired skills
    • Ratio to number of students in a class
  • Number and quality of internships in a student’s geographical area for applicable degrees

Because students tend to review a variety of information when choosing a school, the weight a student gives any one criterion will vary. For instance, it’s not enough to offer a carefully constructed ranking of great schools if many are too expensive or too difficult to get into.

To better serve the needs of prospective students, we are therefore increasingly offering filters that help you better use our rankings to find the schools that match your specific needs. These supplement our ranking criteria and include:

  • Accreditation
  • Public or private status
  • Acceptance rate
  • Retention rate
  • Graduation rate
  • ACT/SAT requirements
  • Cost in-state / out of state
  • Undergrad, grad, or both offered
  • Region
  • State
  • City

Get the best rankings here AND get them to suit your personal needs. That’s TheBestSchools.org advantage!

If you have any questions about our ranking methodology, please contact us.

Citations: For a broader account of our ranking methodology, especially as it relates to TheBestSchools.org's underlying educational philosophy and, in other ranking articles, looks beyond academic excellence (as here) to such factors as return on investment or incidental benefit, see our article "Ranking Methodology: How We Rank Schools at TBS." Reputation of schools and degree programs can at least in part be gauged through the school or department's publishing activity, citations, and desirability. At TheBestSchools.org, we keep track of such social and peer validation: "Making Sense of College Rankings." For nuts-and-bolts information about colleges and universities, we look to the National Center for Education Statistics and especially its College Navigator. Insofar as salary and inflation data are relevant to a ranking, we look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Finally, nothing beats contacting schools and degree programs directly, which our researchers often do, with the result that all the entries in this article should be considered as belonging to this citation!

Featured Online Master's in Political Science Programs

What Is an Online Political Science Master's Degree?

A master's in political science provides training in American and comparative politics, public policy, and social movements. Students acquire advanced research skills while studying the function of the government and how various factors and institutions can impact politics. This diverse training equips learners for careers in politics, community organizations, business, and research.

Typically, students can complete a master's in political science in less than two years, though some go on to doctoral programs, which can add 4-7 years. Political science students and professionals often rely on analytical, critical thinking, and communication skills. Graduates of these programs also hone skills in developing projections, systems and policy analysis, and interpreting and presenting data.

Choosing an Online Political Science Master's Degree Program

Picking the right online master's in political science requires students to think about their individual goals, needs, and interests. Many students start by looking at location and cost, which helps them identify schools they can attend. Students should also consider how an asynchronous online schedule impacts their financial situation, including whether out-of-state online programs offer in-state tuition rates.

Prospective students should also evaluate factors like program length, curriculum, and faculty quality. Learners who have a specific study and career field in mind should identify which programs have courses, concentrations, or internships in that area. Make a list of priorities and try to rank each school by how well it addresses those needs.

What Are the Differences Between a Master of Arts in Political Science, a Master of Science in Political Science, and a Master's in Applied Politics?

A master's in political science typically runs for two years, features between 30-45 credits, and awards an MS or an MA degree. More rarely, some schools offer a master's in applied politics (MAAP), which can offer shorter completion times. Each degree can lead to careers like economist or market research analyst.

An MA degree is the most common type, providing more theory-based training than an MS, which focuses more on quantitative analysis and science-based skills. Meanwhile, MAAP programs tend to emphasize practicality and experience-based training.

Most schools only offer one of these degree types, while also offering specializations and internships to help students diversify their training.

Accreditation for Online Political Science Master's Degree

When researching schools and programs, pay close attention to accreditation. Regional accreditation indicates that a school has met the educational standards, providing quality assurance for students, financial aid organizations, and employers. National accreditation is for trade schools and should not be used for political science institutions.

In some fields, programs can also receive programmatic accreditation, but political science is not one of them. Consult our accreditation guide for more information about accreditation.

What Can I Expect When Pursuing a Political Science Master's Degree Online?

Every master's in political science has its own approach to the discipline, but students should expect a mixture of research, theory, and analysis. During training, students learn to work with industry tools, use various analytic methods, and apply practical skills effectively.

Common Courses in Political Science Online Programs

Students earning a master's in political science online receive advanced training in political science theory, research, and methodology. An online political science master's degree is interdisciplinary, covering sociology, law, and economics. Required classes vary by school, but the courses listed below are common offerings in many political science programs.

  • History of Political Thought: This course typically covers specific periods of political thought, from ancient Greece to medieval Europe. Learners study major political theorists and explore similarities between the past and present. Political scientists and professionals in public policy draw on the comprehensive understanding of political thought and theory this course provides.
  • Methodological Tools: This course presents the essential tools that political scientists, survey takers, data analysts, and researchers use in formal and quantitative work. Students explore the mathematics of political science, studying topics like statistics, probability, continuity, and mathematical models like game theory and econometrics.
  • Seminar in American Politics: Seminars examine a specific aspect of U.S. politics, such as political institutions, the political party system, political behavior, or economic inequality. Seminars challenge students to think critically about major questions related to the topic at hand and reach logical conclusions.
  • Foundations of International Politics: Students develop their conceptual literacy, enabling them to engage with international political issues and topics, including realist and feminist approaches. Degree-seekers cover pertinent issues related to international politics, including political violence, religion, human rights, and international law.
  • Theory and Rhetoric: This course provides an in-depth analysis of modern and historical theories throughout Western history. Learners examine connections between rhetoric and democracy, art and power, and theoretical trends in the U.S. and abroad. They also learn how to further the scholarly discipline of politics through academic research and persuasive writing.

Political Science Concentrations

Students pursuing a master's in political science online can often add a concentration to their degree, which can better prepare them for specific careers in political science. This concentration determines some of the required courses or electives required for graduation. Concentration areas vary between schools, so make sure you research these offerings carefully.

American Politics

This concentration focuses on the study of political behavior and political institutions in the United States. Students investigate the overlap between ordinary citizens and political institutions. Learners also explore research methods commonly used when studying a democratic society, including qualitative methods, survey research, interviewing, and observational data.

Concentration Careers

Postsecondary teachers, high school teachers, policy analysts, politics reporters

Comparative Politics

Learners in this concentration focus on conflicts between countries, political economy law, subnational politics, and lobbying. Professionals use empirical and statistical approaches to study politics and many compare foreign policies with those found in the United States. Students typically develop a secondary specialty area based on a geographic location, such as politics in Latin America, East Asia, Europe, or Africa.

Concentration Careers

Postsecondary teachers, high school teachers, social researchers, political writers, politics reporters, political analysts

International Politics

Students pursuing this concentration study economics and international relations. Coursework features an interdisciplinary approach to exploring globalization, trade, finance, political risk, and the balance of power between governing entities. A socially centered division of political science, students in this area of the field analyze significant amounts of economic data and statistics to evaluate current and upcoming policies.

Concentration Careers

Political analysts, journalists, postsecondary teachers, government officials, political advisors, international business consultants

Professional Politics

Learners in this area develop practical skills and a solid academic foundation, preparing to assume leadership positions in the government or for nonprofit organizations. Students focus on topics such as political writing, data analysis, party politics and voting, and legislative organization. Many master's students in this area move on to pursue degrees in business or law.

Concentration Careers

Campaign managers, political consultants, lobbyists, political analysts, journalists, marketing specialists

Political Theory

Master's students with a concentration in political theory study moral philosophy, legal theory, social science, and history. Learners focus on dominant controversies related to justice, human rights and liberties, and governmental protections for minorities in majoritarian democracies. By examining the relationships between political ideas and political practice, learners prepare for careers in politics and related fields.

Concentration Careers

Journalists, postsecondary teachers, high school teachers, marketing specialists, legal directors, college and university administrators, management and program analysts

Political Science Professional Organizations

Professional organizations advocate for workers in a specific field or discipline. Membership in these types of organizations can help experienced professionals advance their careers through networking and professional development opportunities. These associations also provide information and resources for current students and recent graduates, such as job boards, professional contacts, and scholarship opportunities.

Founded in 1903, APSA serves more than 11,000 members and helps them cultivate a deeper understanding of politics, democracy, and citizenship. Members have access to political science scholarships and a variety of programs and services for individuals, departments, and institutions. Founded in 1949 under UNESCO, IPSA is an international scholarly association devoted to the global advancement of political science. The association strives to create an accessible, worldwide community for political science professionals. Since 2000, APT has promoted the study of political theory and philosophy in North America. The organization advances scholarly interaction among political theorists, educators, and researchers. APT also hosts an annual conference on political thought. WPSA is an association of more than 1,250 political scientists that was founded in 1948. The association promotes the study and teaching of politics, while also inspiring research and collaboration among its members. Members can take advantage of WPSA's annual conferences, professional development workshops, and job board. NCOBPS promotes the political aspirations of people of African descent in the United States. Founded in 1969, the organization boasts over 400 active members and hosts an annual meeting. NCOBPS provides an active job board, access to scholarships, and online journal access for members.

Political Science Careers

A master's in political science can lead to many careers, depending on the graduate's interests, specialization, and experience. Learners can expand their options further with interdisciplinary study, certifications, or a more advanced degree.

Below are a few professional opportunities available to political science graduates. Note that some careers require additional training, credentials, or experience.

$122,960 4% Lawyers

Lawyers help people and organizations manage legal issues and concerns. They analyze laws and handle legal paperwork to ensure nothing gets overlooked or misinterpreted. The best lawyers often have a combination of analytical, communication, and problem-solving skills.

Lawyers need a bachelor's degree and a law degree (juris doctorate), which qualifies them to take the licensing exam. Political science graduates make strong candidates for law school, and their training can help them in pursuit of government positions. After completing a master's in political science, graduates need to take the LSAT to earn admission to law school.

$122,220 6% Political Scientist

Political scientists analyze political institutions, policies, and trends. They use their research and findings to develop theories and forecast trends, suggesting ways for governments and organizations to improve. Most political scientists are analytical and critical thinkers, and they have strong communication skills.

For employment, political scientists usually need a master's degree in a related field, though some positions require a doctorate. Some entry-level positions may hire bachelor's degree graduates. Employers often prefer candidates with experience, so internships are a common route to careers.

$85,930 9% Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers educate students in various subjects at colleges and universities. They also conduct their own original research and contribute to scholarship in their fields. The best postsecondary teachers have excellent communication skills, particularly oral and academic writing abilities.

For employment, teachers usually need a Ph.D. in a teachable subject, though some community colleges hire master's graduates. At this level, teachers do not need a teaching license, but they may need certification or licensure in their field of expertise. Some employers may require candidates to have professional experience.

$74,350 11% Urban and Regional Planners

Urban and regional planners help communities and builders develop and build on available land. They oversee revitalization projects, research information about properties, and manage government policies regarding developments. Urban planners use a mix of communication, analytical, and decision-making skills in their jobs.

These professionals typically need a master's degree for employment, usually from an accredited planning program. However, many planners come from other disciplines, such as political science. Some states and employers prefer candidates with licensure or certification, like the credential from the American Institute of Certified Planners.

Frequently Asked Questions

true What Can I Do With a Master's Degree in Political Science?

Graduates with a master's in political science can pursue careers in many sectors, including business and finance, management, and government. They can also pursue a doctoral degree, which may lead to a research or postsecondary teaching position.

How Long Is a Master's Degree in Political Science?

A master's in political science typically runs for two years, though accelerated online options or certain degree types may reduce the overall time spent in class.

What Is the Highest Paying Job in Political Science?

The highest paying job exclusive to political science is political scientist. According to the BLS employment data, these professionals earn a median annual salary of $122,220. However, political science graduates can also pursue high-paying careers like lawyer or chief executive.

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