Study Political Science: The Ultimate Student Guide (2023)

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Are you thinking about applying for a political science degree? Political science is an extremely versatile field that can lead you to a variety of exciting careers. Find all you need to know about political science programs using our guide.

Are you asking yourself, what is a political science degree? Or maybe you’re wondering, why study political science? And what can you do with a political science degree? You’re not alone! Read on to discover how to find a political science degree program that’s right for you!

In this guide:

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What is a political science degree?

Political science is a social science that centers on government institutions and political thoughts, actions, and behaviors in societies around the world. Originating from the ancient Greeks, this discipline is ideal for students interested in government and public service careers. 

So, what is a degree in political science? A political science degree typically teaches students to analyze political power at the international, national, and local levels and its effect on history. The concept of power sets this discipline apart from others. Whether the focus of a political science degree is on governmental structure, national security, or human rights, the systematic study of informal and formal power will be central. 

Political science addresses the most pressing problems of the world today. Everything from pursuing peace between nations to achieving economic stability and social justice is in the territory of political scientists. Political science students learn to systematically address these issues and to raise broad theoretical questions about the nature of modern issues compared to other contexts and time periods. The field of political science is intertwined with economics, philosophy, law, and sociology, giving students an interdisciplinary and well-rounded education. Political science programs also tend to generate strong speakers, writers, and critical thinkers.

Alongside the broad scope of political science, another thing to mention is its subjectivity. There is no 'right answer' to any of the issues that political science is meant to address. Different political approaches depend on individual backgrounds, beliefs, and ethics systems - so one can never be completely right just as one cannot be completely wrong. As such, political science is not ideal for students who prefer to study something that is black or white, but ideal for students passionate about exploring the gray area in between.

What's the difference between political science and political theory?

When you’re just getting to know the field of political science, a common question may come up. That is, what's the difference between political science and political theory?

At the core, political science is more focused on the power and behavior of institutions, while political theory explores a wide array of political ideas and values. For example, political theory could delve into human rights, social justice, and freedom, and is more concerned with what should be instead of what exists in reality right now. In contrast, political science might develop theory from empirical observations, in other words, what exists in reality.

Which areas of political science can you study?

From government politics to public relations, there’s so much to learn, and it's common to cater your political science degree to what you’re most interested in. In order to get further in your student journey, you’ll need to choose what kind of political science degree you want to study.


If you’re interested in a government career:

Governance 📜

Study the ways that political processes, rules, laws, and norms shape social systems.

Learn how specific countries organize strategies for national defense.

Politics 📣

Pursue disciplinary knowledge of the agendas of various political groups.


If you're interested in policy:

Understand how energy policy and institutions can be used to influence climate and society.

Public Policy ⚖️

Analyze and influence laws that shape communities at the micro and macro levels.

Explore how governments and civic organizations support social welfare.

Human Rights 👩‍⚖️

Learn about the history and future of human rights and equality advocacy.


Study political science through an international lens:

Study the ways that national politics, culture, and economics impact international political systems.

Prepare yourself for a career in global politics, foreign policy, and diplomacy.

Geopolitics 🗺️

Examine the intersections of international politics, geography, and regional societies.

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How long does it take to get a political science degree?

There are many types of political science degrees out there. Ensure that you understand what your future career path requires, and plan your higher political science accordingly.

Political science certificate

certificate in political science takes around one year depending on the program. A political science certificate is usually meant to give students foundational knowledge in specific subfields of political science. For example, jobs working for an international development NGO or in a local government office might not require a degree in political science, but would highly benefit from the supplemented knowledge in a political science certificate.

Political science bachelor's degree

A bachelor’s degree in political science will usually take around three or four years. While it's entirely possible to choose a general major in political science, you can also concentrate different areas. All political science students will typically learn core concepts of the discipline to build an understanding of fundamental political values and principles.

Political science master's degree

A political science degree at the master’s level takes around one or two years. This degree type is ideal for students who want to join academia or build knowledge in a very specific area. It is more common that an undergraduate degree in political science is used as a stepping stone for a graduate degree in a related field, such as law. To determine if this option is best for you, reach out to people who work in your desired field and ask if a master's in political science would be useful.


Why study political science abroad?

Why study political science abroad? Here are some reasons why a political science degree overseas might give you the edge you're looking for.

1. Experience different political systems first-hand

There is no one approach to organizing a political system, and the diverse approaches around the world are evidence of that. From the presidential representative democratic republic of South Korea to the parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy in the UK, the world has many systems for you to explore.

2. Connect to international organizations

Some of the world's most influential international organizations such as the United Nations have projects all over the world, and headquarters in incredible study abroad destinations like Paris and New York. Studying abroad will give you the opportunity to network with professionals in-person, and to possibly even land an internship or job.

3. Understand the international nature of the field

Political science, even when focused on the local or national, is inherently global. Modern times have brought the world's economies, cultures, and populations together, and politics is no exception. Many of the world's most crucial issues, think climate change or economic inequalities, are quite global in nature. Studying abroad will give you an understanding of how intertwined and interdependent politics can be - an aspect that is more difficult to perceive when studying at home.

4. Pursue a new perspective on domestic politics

Studying political science abroad will expand your understanding of how governments and societies can be organized. Your international experience will ultimately lead you to see domestic politics in your home country in a completely new light. Every policy and regulation you discover abroad could inspire positive change in the future back home.

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What can you do with a political science degree?

Of course, employability is at the top of the list when it comes to choosing a degree. One question that many students ask themselves is, what can you do with a political science degree? To help you out, we've highlighted possible career paths in a variety of fields that you might consider after graduation.

Government and politics jobs for political science majors:

• Activist

• Campaign Manager

• Elected or Appointed Official

• Foreign Service Officer

• Legislative Assistant

• Lobbyist

• Policy Analyst

• Pollster

• Public Relations Specialist

• Special Interest Advocate

Despite the direct connection of a political science degree to your job, it will still be very important to pursue internships and make connections while studying. Look for possibilities to intern or work part-time in local and national government agencies, international political organizations, polling organizations, special interest groups, embassies, campaign organizations, and political interest groups. Consider joining your university's student newspaper, or run for student government to get some experience. Landing a career in politics is all about networking. 

Other jobs for political science majors:

• Attorney

• Diversity and Inclusion Officer

• Grant Writer

• Journalist

• Market Research Analyst

• Nonprofit Program Coordinator

• Paralegal

• Social Worker

• Speechwriter

• Teacher

Some options for political science graduates in other industries will include the non profit sector, law, think tanks, media organizations, grant-writing companies, multinational companies, education, sales, marketing, and business. 

A political science degree will also prepare you for interdisciplinary career paths in international organizations, such as:

As mentioned before, a political science degree is broad and interdisciplinary. The analytical skills and theoretical understanding that come from studying political science opens doors to many different career paths. Whether you decide to work for humanitarian initiatives abroad, analyze data for a cybersecurity firm, or edit pieces for a top academic journal, the fine-tuned problem-solving skills you build in a political science degree will prepare you for the job.

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What are salaries for graduates of a political science degree?

Expected salaries for careers stemming from a degree in political science vary widely. We’ll provide some expected salaries of a few of the most popular career choices and the average salary for a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

Political Science graduates

📣

UK (GBP)    BA: £37k/year    MA: £41k/year
USA (USD) BA: $74k/year   MA: $71k/year
Germany (EUR) BA: €45k/year MA: €42k/year
Australia (AUD) BA: $78k/year MS: $86k/year

Public Policy Analysis graduates

⚖️

UK (GBP)    BA: £30k/year    MS: £37k/year
USA (USD) BA: $70k/year   MPA: $72k/year
Canada (CAD)  BA: $52k/year MA: $55k/year
Australia (AUD) BA: $90k/year MPP: $97k/year

International Relations graduates

🌎

UK (GBP)    BA: £31k/year    MA: £35k/year
USA (USD)  BA: $72k/year   MA: $77k/year
Germany (EUR) BA: €43k/year MA: €44k/year
Canada (CAD) BA: $65k/year MA: $75k/year

 

Government & Politics graduates

📜

UK (GBP)    BA: £30k/year    MA: £26k/year
USA (USD) BA: $78k/year   MA: $68k/year
Australia (AUD) BA: $61k/year PhD: $131k/year
Canada (CAD) BA: $60k/year MA: $55k/year

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Tips for choosing a political science degree

One of the most important things to look at when choosing a political science degree is the different classes that schools offer. Both undergraduate and graduate level political science degrees are generally very reading and writing intensive, where you will be consistently reading hundreds of pages of text and writing long essays or research papers. This type of coursework and assessment will give you the ability to see issues from multiple perspectives and create coherent, critical arguments in both writing and public speech. Due to the intensive focus on reading and writing, ensuring that you will be actually interested in the courses different programs offer is crucial. 

Look into the different courses that political science programs offer at different schools. While many core courses will look quite similar, the courses you get to choose or specialize in at different schools will depend on the professors' areas of expertise. For example, some common core courses might sound like 'Introduction to Political Science: Comparative Politics', and more specialized courses taught by field experts will delve into specific topics like 'The Politics of Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration', 'Green Political Thought', or 'European Integration'. If the material sounds intriguing and relevant to your interests, the program will likely be a good fit.

When deciding on a political science degree, answer the following questions:

  • How much time and money can I devote to a program?

  • Do I need to travel or relocate to study a program?

  • What skills do I hope to gain from a program?

  • What kind of certification or degree do I want to receive?

  • Does the program focus on research skills and theory or practical skills?

  • Am I willing to read and write intensively during the program?

  • Do I have a strong interest enough in theory and political philosophy?

  • Where do the alumni of the program work?

A political science major will benefit greatly from frequent internships during their studies. These internships can be located anywhere, and will not only give you work experience, but will also help you build contacts and define your individual skillset. The program alumni can also be important as factors of the program, as networking can help you get a job after you graduate.

Do some self-reflection on your own goals and priorities before you start looking for a program. Once you have a better idea of what kind of program to study and where, you’ll be able to choose a degree more easily, whether that be an online program, an undergraduate abroad, or a graduate program at home. If you want to join the growing number of international students who study political science programs abroad, you can find more country-specific study abroad information in our country guides.

A bachelor’s degree in political science will be less specialized than a master’s degree in political science, but that doesn’t mean you can’t specialize in a particular area. Check out our degree guides to learn more about the requirements and benefits of different degrees, and consider your career goals in the process. Hunt down some job ads that sound interesting and match different programs to what your dream job may require.

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Helpful advice from degree graduates

We talked with some graduate students who had recently completed their programs in political science or are currently undertaking it to see what they thought about their program and if they have any advice to share with you.

"This subject can be intense, as it focuses on the field of communication as a whole, politics as a whole AND the communication in politics. You'll need to read and analyze a huge amount of text and write a lot of essays. If you are interested in politics and love arts/marketing that's a good program for you! "

-  Ranya, BA in Communications and Politics from University of Montréal

"This degree is perfect for anyone who wants to learn about international negotiation, understanding conflicts from different perspectives (economics, environment, politics, security, history, philosophy, culture, even statistics!), probability of conflicts, and of course, how to avoid them in the first place. It's applicable not only in international relations (most would think humanitarian intervention) but also in any situation involving multicultural environment such as international companies and organizations."

-  Jena, MPhil in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Oslo

"Focus on a specialization in the field (i.e. international development, foreign policy in a certain region) and take time to connect with professors specialized in those areas. Keep in mind that a PolySci degree will not box you in. My classmates now work in a variety of fields, including international development, education, law, and even in the business and entertainment industries."

-  Summer, BA in Political Science - International Relations from UC San Diego


What questions should you ask a university to find the right political science program?

We also asked the same students above if there were any questions they asked or wished they had asked during the research and application process to determine which program was right for them. Here were the most common and helpful questions they think you should be asking universities before you apply.

  • What kind of expertise do the program professors have?

  • Do the alumni work in government and politics or in other fields?

  • Do the classes have regular guest lecturers from different governmental and international organization functions?

  • Does the program offer internships in governmental institutions or NGOs?

  • Is the university located close to political institutions or relevant organizations that you could pursue internships or jobs at?

  • Is there a final project or thesis required to graduate? What does this consist of?

  • What are the job opportunities like and how can you make your degree stand out from the crowd? (internships, exchange, etc)

Your chosen university should be able to support you as a student with relevant internships and connections while also supporting you as a graduate through alumni networks in relevant career paths. Don't hold back any questions you have have before you commit to a degree. 

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What should I look for in a university for studying political science?

Interactive class structure and assessment

Degree programs that include some kind of interaction between students and between the students and the professor will be a significant factor to look for. The traditional weight of reading and writing in political science programs is easy for schools to default on. Instead, look for programs that emphasize the inclusion of group-work, hands-on projects, and interactive class activities. 

Reasonable cost of texts and literature

With all the reading required in a political science program, it's prudent to look out for the cost of the required texts. While some schools might give all students access to databases like EBSCO host or SCOPUS, where students can access literature for free, other schools will require you to buy the texts on your own. 

Location and connections

In political science, networking is key. The importance of internships and reaching out to professionals and alumni in the field cannot be emphasized enough. Check to see what organizations are located close to the university, and see if the university has any partnership with organizations for student internships. While there is always the possibility to intern remotely, in-person internships will lead to stronger connections in the long run.

Data analysis courses

Many political science degrees might include research skills, statistics, and data analysis courses as a required or optional part of the program. These hard skills will prove to be helpful for putting on your resume later on, as they are applicable for many different kinds of jobs. Ensure that the school provides the relevant software (for example, SPSS for statistics or NVIVO for text-based research) at a cost you can afford.

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Types of accreditation for political science degrees

Most accreditation bodies that are specifically for political science are more focused on regional accreditation for graduate level degrees rather than undergraduate degrees. Accreditation ensures the highest quality of education, makes it easier to determine the value of college credits, allows students to apply for federal loans or grants, is considered by potential employers, and pushes schools to continually improve.

Students interested in political science should look for regional accreditations, such as the following:

The European Association for Public Administration Accreditation (EAPAA) accredits 70 European public administration programs according to the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Higher Education.

If you want to study political science in Canada, look out for the Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration (CAPPA), which accredits 25 graduate and undergraduate programs.


Popular universities to study political science

California State University, Dominguez Hills

Location: California, USA

Courses available in: Negotiation, Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding, Public Administration - Nonprofit Management, Public Administration - Public Financial Management

University of New York in Prague

Location: Czech Republic

Courses available in: International Relations, Political Science

Kwantlen Polytechnic University

Location: Canada

Courses available in: Policy Studies, Political Studies

De Montfort University

Location: United Kingdom

Courses available in: International Relations, Human Rights and Social Justice, Politics, Public Administration and Management

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Last update: 29 Dec 2022

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