Considering a Political Science Major

What is Political Science?

Political Science is an academic discipline that tries to understand the exercise of power in a variety of settings. The subfield of American Politics focuses on party politics, elections, the branches of government, state and local government, public policy, social movements, and other political and governmental issues in the United States. The subfield of Comparative Politics looks at similar issues in countries outside the United States, and tries to find out how differences in culture, levels of development, social structures, and forms of government influence the ways in which politics are conducted around the world. The subfield of International Relations studies the relationships among states in the international system, and also looks at international institutions, transnational organizations, and the role of norms and law in international affairs. The subfield of Political Theory focuses on normative issues such as justice and legitimacy in politics, both through the study of the history of political thought and by seeking to make original contributions to thinking on classic problems. 

What is a major or concentration in Political Science good for?

First, the discipline lies at the core of a liberal education, since it deals with classic issues in Western and, indeed, global thought, such as justice, rights, and the relationship between state and the individual. Second, it is a good way to learn both about the United States and about the world beyond the United States. Third, it helps students understand some of the most consequential policy issues that affect everyone. Fourth, like other social science disciplines, political science teaches methods of analysis that are broadly useful in personal and professional life. 

How is the major structured?

We ask students to choose one subfield as their primary specialization and complete at least three courses plus a 4 point seminar in that subfield. Students will also choose a secondary subfield and complete at least two courses in that subfield. Outside of their subfield coursework, students will complete an additional 4 point seminar, a course in research methods, and a political science elective of their choosing. For details, as well as requirements for concentrations and joint majors, please click here.

How much quantitative work does the major require? 

Political scientists employ a wide range of different methods in their studies. Quantitative methods such as game theory and statistics are widely used. However, much research in the field and many of our courses rely on non-quantitative methods such as case studies, historical analysis, qualitative fieldwork, and (in Political Theory) normative analysis. To give students some familiarity with the quantitative side of the discipline, we ask all majors to take at least one course in quantitative methods. Students may take more if they desire to do so.

What careers does Political Science lead to?

A major in Political Science provides a good foundation for work or advanced study in many fields. As part of a liberal arts education that enhances skills in analytical reading, research, analysis, and writing, Political Science makes students good candidates for a job in almost any area, including business, finance, consulting, government work, the foreign service, and teaching. As a preparation for graduate education, Political Science is a good credential for those who plan to apply to law school, business school, schools of social work, schools of education, schools of international affairs -– and of course, to graduate programs in political science itself, or other social sciences.
The Center for Career Education (CCE) works with undergraduate and graduate students, and alumni to help them to build awareness, skills, and networks and gain experience through career exploration and preparation, jobs and internships, and employer and alumni connections. They also provide academic major exploration resources, such as the “What can you do with a degree in Political Science?” tipsheet.