Political science is the branch of the social sciences that examines the implementation and impact of government, legislation and bureaucracy at the local, state, federal and international levels. Political scientists often act as intermediaries between elected officials, lobbyists, diplomats and other figures within the political arena. They also administer polls and surveys to gauge various political interests among the general public, use historical documents to evaluate the current political climate in a given district and present their findings using formal reports and quantitative data. Students who are curious about this field should explore open courses in political science, which are instructed by professors and faculty members from higher-learning institutions across the globe and offered online free-of-charge.
In addition to people who wish to pursue a career in politics as elected officials, this field of study is suitable for historians, journalists and educators; many attorneys and legal professionals also study political science as undergraduates before applying to law school. Most undergraduate and graduate programs in political science take a glance at the political systems found in different nations and states, as well as the various functions of the branches of government.
Most introductory political science courses (administered in the first two years of undergraduate studies) discuss fundamentals of the field, such as political theory, international relations, U.S. and world history and public policy. Upper-level political science courses will delve into specific areas of these core subjects, often focusing on particular periods of history or regions of the country/world, and will often incorporate academic and quantitative research into the curriculum.
Specializations in political science, common to graduate-level programs across the country, include: american politics, international politics/relations, political theory, public policy, and comparative politics (a field that studies the similarities and differences between political systems at all geographic levels). Some schools may offer additional specializations in political science unique to their institutions, such as the “Indigenous Politics” concentration, offered at the University of Hawaii.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists the master’s degree as the optimal credential for political scientists, but other positions can be attained with lesser degrees. Here is a look at the four most common degrees awarded to political science students:
An associate degree is usually awarded by community colleges, and emphasizes introductory courses in core math, science, English and history-related subjects. This credential is typically insufficient for obtaining anything more than entry-level employment, but political science courses at this level will expose students to the fundamentals of the field and help them decide if this path of study is right for them.
Bachelor’s-level political science programs generally cover a wide range of related topics, and some colleges allow students to earn double majors along with another field like economics or philosophy. Although aspiring political scientists are encouraged to proceed into a master’s program after finishing their undergraduate studies, a bachelor’s degree may help them secure employment with government agencies, political campaign or party offices, or non-profit organizations.
Political science at the master’s level requires students to use statistics and research methods to monitor and evaluate political systems and policies. Many graduate-level political science programs additionally allow students to earn joint degrees in related fields such as public administration or public affairs.
Doctoral programs in political science typically consist of two years of coursework and a political dissertation presented prior to graduation. This credential will be required for most professors and faculty members who wish to teach political science at the collegiate level, as well as researchers, theorists and other academics whose work is used to inform laws and political decisions both domestically and abroad.
Ideal Candidates for Political Science
Political science is a data- and research-driven field, so candidates should feel comfortable working with numbers and be willing to spend a lot of time in the library. Objectivity is also crucial, particularly when dealing with issues and policies that can encourage partisanship; successful political science majors must put their biases aside in order to produce high-quality, useful work and research. The political sphere is vibrant and socially driven, so networking and communication skills will come in handy, as well.
The BLS notes that political scientists who have received a master’s degree earned a median salary of $102,000 in 2012. In addition to the high pay, the 10-year outlook for this profession is also promising. The BLS projects that political scientist jobs will grow 21% between 2012 and 2022, which is much faster than the estimated rate of growth for all fields. However, since the current field is only comprised of 6,600 individuals, this percentage figures to an increase of roughly 1,100 new positions; this means that “there will likely be many qualified candidates for relatively few positions.”
According to the BLS, political science teachers at the postsecondary level also earned high salaries compared to other professions; the average earnings for a professor in this field at a four-year university was $85,640 in 2011, while the average junior college instructor earned $62,630 during the same year.
Virtually every accredited college and university in the U.S. maintains an active student government and hosts a handful of student associations dedicated to political science, theory and activism. These groups are a great starting point for political science students who want to network with like-minded peers and build their political knowledge base. Volunteering with local campaigns can be another great foot-in-the-door, especially during election season.