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What is a political science degree?

In short, political science degree programs focus on the theory and practice of government and politics. ‘Poli sci’ students learn about the structures of politics and government and issues like the nature of political power, the causes of conflict, and globalization.

This breakdown of the main subfields of political science explains its scope.

Political Theory
This is the study of ideas, concepts, and events that have shaped politics and political power. Factors examined are law, justice, equality, freedom, individuality, civil rights, democracy, and government.

Comparative Politics
Comparative politics is a broad field that compares systems of governments in different countries. A comparative political science, for example, might compare various political systems to evaluate which ones protect values like order, freedom, or economic wellbeing.

International Relations
It is important to distinguish this subfield and comparative politics. While comparative politics is focused on comparing the internal workings of political systems, international relations is concerned with looking at how states/governments relate to one another. These relations include trade, cooperation, disputes, conflicts, and war. International law and organizations like the United Nations are also studied.

Political Economy
The focus of political economy is how politics and economics affect each other. Subjects of study in the field include how economic power impacts international relations and how different economies emerge under similar political systems.

Political Philosophy
Political philosophy attempts to answer questions about abstract issues like ethics, authority, civil rights, the nature of freedom, and how governments should function.

American Government and Politics
This subfield of political science is sometimes called ‘civics.’ It studies the U.S. Constitution, as well as American public policy, political parties, voting behavior, and the court system. It also addresses the politics of race and the political role of mass media.

Program options

Associate Degree in Political Science
A two-year program at the associate level may help students qualify for a four-year bachelor’s program or prepare them for entry-level jobs in the field. The typical curriculum includes classes in comparative government, international relations, and conflict resolution.

Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science
The four-year bachelor’s degree program in political science provides students with a broad exposure to politics, law, and government at both the domestic and international levels. The typical curriculum looks at the working of political institutions, electoral systems, social movements, and transformations that have occurred throughout history. Many schools offer a general interest political science degree, as well as the option to specialize. Common specializations include:

  • Political Theory
  • American Government and Politics
  • Comparative Politics of Developed and Developing Countries
  • International Relations
  • Public Policy

Holders of a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science may qualify for positions such as policy analyst, legislative assistant, public relations specialist or assistant, social media manger for a political candidate, marketing research analyst, or political campaign worker.

Master’s Degree in Political Science
This is the degree level with which graduates can actually work as political scientists – conducting research, collecting and analyzing data, and studying policies and trends related to public policies and economics. Holders of a ‘poli sci’ master’s also generally qualify to teach at the postsecondary level. Other jobs in the field that commonly require a master’s include public relations/fundraising manager for a political campaign, political news analyst and broadcaster, and public opinion researcher.

Doctoral Degree in Political Science
Doctors of political science usually conduct advanced research in the field and/or teach at the university level.

Degrees similar to political science

American Studies
While a political science degree program often includes examination of American government and politics, a degree program in American studies looks at the United States from a much wider perspective. It studies the U.S. and its people from many different angles, including history, politics, economy, music, novels and film.

Ethnic Studies
This is the historical, social, and cultural study of minorities in the United States. Through coursework in history, political science, economics, sociology, literature, and art history, students examine race, racism, and forms of institutionalized violence.

International Relations
Degree programs in international relations are focused on the study of international politics and institutions, with the goal of learning and understanding the principles of diplomacy and foreign policy.

Public Administration
Public administration is the implementation of policy at various levels of government to support areas like economic growth, social and community development, environmental protection, and the building of public infrastructure.

Journalism
While journalism is not directly related to political science, the field does offer another career option to students with a dual interest in both politics and writing/reporting.

Criminal Justice
Students who major in criminal justice consider every aspect of crime, the law, and the justice system. Their studies cover such fields as law, sociology, psychology, and public administration.

Skills you'll learn

Studying the history and philosophy of various forms of governance and examining the effects of these systems leaves political science graduates with a valuable set of marketable skills:

  • Verbal and written communication
  • Analytical thinking
  • Logical reasoning
  • Problem-solving
  • Research
  • Data Processing
  • International / global perspective
  • Cultural sensitivity

What can you do with a political science degree?

Political Science
Political scientists study political systems, how they came to be, how they grew, and how they work. They strive to identify trends, survey political opinions, and analyze election polls and elections.

Government / Politics
Government officials and legislators work at various levels of government to pass laws. They can face a vast variety of issues and problems. And while it is difficult to imagine the best way to prepare for such a job, a degree in political science is an option that provides a solid foundation.

Public Interest / Advocacy / Lobbying
Individuals who work in this area can affect government policies by raising public awareness of the issues they believe in.

Law
An understanding of and an appreciation for government political systems often leads political science graduates into a career in the legal field.

Media
News analysts, reporters, and correspondents cover a wide variety of topics and stories. Those who cover government, public policy, and politics are able to combine this interest with their journalistic skills.

Business
It is not uncommon for political science majors to end up working in the business world. Many sectors – banking, advertising, public relations, and human resources – appreciate the level of understanding of topics like economics and statistics that political science graduates bring to the table.

Education
While true ‘political science’ is generally taught only at the college and university level, graduates in the field may find positions teaching history, social studies, or civics courses at the elementary and secondary school levels. Depending on the school system, teacher certification may also be required.

Political Science Careers

The career trajectory of people with a Political Science degree appears to be focused around a few careers. The most common career that users with Political Science degrees have experience in is Political Scientist, followed by Lawyer, Paralegal, Public Relations Specialist, Journalist, Fundraising Manager, Lobbyist, Legal Secretary, Intelligence Analyst, and Social Fundraiser.

Career % of graduates % of population Multiple
Political Scientist 8.0% 0.2% 51.3×
Lawyer 3.2% 0.7% 4.4×
Paralegal 3.9% 0.4% 10.1×
Public Relations Specialist 3.8% 0.3% 11.6×
Journalist 2.7% 0.6% 4.9×
Fundraising Manager 4.1% 0.2% 25.8×
Lobbyist 7.3% 0.0% 287.1×
Legal Secretary 2.7% 0.3% 9.7×
Intelligence Analyst 3.3% 0.1% 22.3×
Social Fundraiser 4.3% 0.1% 52.0×

Political Science Salary

Political Science graduates earn on average $k, putting them in the bottom percentile of earners with a degree.

Percentile Earnings after graduation ($1000s USD)
25th (bottom earners) -
Median (average earners) -
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Political Science Underemployment

Political Science graduates are highly employed compared to other graduates. We have collected data on three types of underemployment. Part-time refers to work that is less than 30 hours per week. Non-college refers to work that does not require a college degree. Low-paying includes a list of low-wage service jobs such as janitorial work, serving, or dishwashing.

Employment Type Proportion of graduates
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