Best Online Master’s in Political Science
Updated September 20, 2022
thebestschools.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
Are you ready to discover your college program?
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
Online Master's in Political Science Programs Ranking Guidelines
We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.
Here at TheBestSchools.org, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.
Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.
While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.
The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.
The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.
Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from AcademicInfluence.com, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.
Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology
About Our Ranking Factors
Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.
Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.
We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.
In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.
If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff through contact page.
We thank you for your readership and trust.
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.
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.
Postsecondary teachers, high school teachers, policy analysts, politics reporters
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.
Postsecondary teachers, high school teachers, social researchers, political writers, politics reporters, political analysts
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.
Political analysts, journalists, postsecondary teachers, government officials, political advisors, international business consultants
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.
Campaign managers, political consultants, lobbyists, political analysts, journalists, marketing specialists
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Header Image Credit: ANRProduction | Getty Images
Learn more, do more.
More topic-relevant resources to expand your knowledge.
Popular with our students.
Highly informative resources to keep your education journey on track.
Take the next step toward your future with online learning.
Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.