A political science degree is the perfect entry point into a rewarding career in the public sector. It’s also the foundation of many different careers, including ones in government, public administration, and law.
In high school, you may have taken a required social studies course called government or civics. If you enjoyed this subject and want to pursue a career in politics, a political science degree could be the next step in your educational journey.
Political scientists may hold elected positions or work in the realms of government as consultants, lobbiers, or political pundits in local, state, or federal governments. There are many different roles and opportunities within American politics. If you’re more interested in the international arena, you can study political science while specializing in a subfield that will make you an expert on the international political stage.
What Is Political Science?
Political science is a social science dating back to Ancient Greece. Put simply, it is the study of the state, including government, politics, political behavior, and the impact it has on society. The discipline has core, interconnected pillars that all political science students will study. In many political science degree programs, students will have to choose one of these core pillars as a concentration. The four main areas are:
- Political Theory
- International Relations
- Comparative Politics
- National Government
Political scientists who focus on research or consulting may become experts on political parties and political campaigns, either at the national or international level. Political science graduates may also become political journalists, lawyers (if they also go to law school), or elected officials in government.
There are so many possible career tracks in political science and government that it’s easy to see why it is one of the most popular majors in American colleges and universities. Take note: not all political science degree programs are housed within political science departments. Some colleges our universities may call the same field something slightly different. Some other common names are Government and Politics, and Government and Legal Studies.
What Skills Will I Gain From a Political Science Degree Program?
Political science graduates of any degree program graduate with many different skills. First and foremost, you will learn how to think critically and read primary source government documents with an analytical and critical eye. You will learn top-notch writing skills as you write critical responses to what you learn.
You will learn about the history of politics and government, a knowledge base that will give you an important context for understanding the present. You will engage deeply in current events and develop debate skills to see all sides of the issue. Finally, you may work directly with a current political campaign or candidate during an internship or field experience program.
Political Science Degree Levels
Because it is such a popular degree option, most colleges and universities offer a political science major at every degree. From associate to the doctoral level, you can become a political science graduate at most institutions of higher education in the country. You can also get an online political science degree if you need the added flexibility and cost-saving benefits of an online degree program. There are several different levels of degree programs you can pursue in political science. Check out our guide here for a quick refresher on standard college degree levels.
If you are just starting and your biggest priority is to get started in the workforce as soon as possible, a two-year associate degree is a good start. However, if you know you have greater career ambitions in political science that go well beyond entry-level positions, you will need a bachelor’s degree to succeed. If you are interested in higher-level positions as a political analyst, consultant, or researcher, a research-based master’s degree program will help you get there.
Associate Degree in Political Science
An Associate Degree in Political Science is typically a 60- to 70-credit program that takes up to two years of full-time study to complete. These programs are very common and popular at community colleges across the country. With an Associate Degree in Political Science, you can secure entry-level jobs, including positions like a legal assistant, government planner, and government clerk.
In an associate degree program, you will get a solid foundation in the political science field. You will also be required to fulfill general education or liberal arts requirements; this means you will fulfill some of those 60 to 70 required credits through non-political science requirements like math or science classes.
Below is some common coursework you will find in an Associate Degree in Political Science program.
- American Government and Politics
- Comparative Government
- International Relations
- Political Theory and Criticism
- State and Local Government
- Civics and Civil Liberties
Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science
You need a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science as a prerequisite to many entry-level jobs in government and politics. If you can, it’s a great idea to head straight in a political science bachelor’s degree program.
You will develop many of the same skills that you would develop in an associate degree program, but at a deeper level. Most bachelor’s degree programs in political science require students to choose a concentration in the field. This means that in addition to having a solid foundation in the field as a whole, you will also graduate with a specialization in one of the four subfields of comparative politics, political theory, national politics, and international relations.
Below is some common coursework you will find in a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science program.
- International Politics
- American Foreign Policy
- Political Parties
- Political Campaigning
- Political Interest Groups and Political Action Committees
- Regional Politics (Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe, etc.)
- International Conflict and Peace Negotiation
- Politics and Media
Master’s Degree in Political Science
Once you have completed your Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science or a related field, you may realize you still want to keep learning. Thankfully, there is much more to learn and many master’s degree programs in political science available.
Master’s degree programs require students to focus on an area of concentration and in most programs, complete a political science thesis. Common coursework will vary greatly depending on your area of specialization, but most programs will be highly research-focused.
If you’re on the fence about whether a Master’s Degree in Political Science is worth it, consider that many students pursue a master’s degree if they are interested in possibly going on to a PhD program or alternatively, to a JD program (law).
What Can I Do With a Degree in Political Science?
Political scientists can pursue several jobs positions because they can put their skills to use in a wide variety of fields. Graduates can even pursue fields outside of government, considering that the political science discipline is so broad and teaches highly applicable skills like critical thinking, rhetorical skills, analytical skills, and communication skills.
Below are some possible job titles for political science graduates:
- Elected Official (local, state, federal)
- Political Campaigner
- Research Analyst
- Policy Expert
- Political Consultant
- Foreign Service Officer
- Public Relations Professional
- Legislative Assistant
- Political Journalist
- Teacher (SocialDtudies)
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a political scientist with a master’s degree earns an average salary of $122,220 per year.
Whatever level of political science degree you decide to pursue, an exciting career path full of many possibilities is ahead of you.
We hope that this Career Karma guide to political science degree programs will help you understand the nuts and bolts of political science programs. No matter the level, a political science degree program will touch upon the foundations of the discipline, including national politics, international relations, comparative politics, and political theory.
If you know you want to help make important policy changes, we hope this guide will help you decide how to make your dreams a reality. Use this to get started with your program research and decide if a political science degree is right for you.