Considering a Political Science Major

Political Science is an academic discipline that seeks to understand the exercise of power in a variety of settings.

The discipline is organized into four main areas of study, or subfields.

  • 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 discern 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. 

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 the state and the individual. Second, political science provides opportunities to learn both about the United States and about the world beyond the United States. Third, it helps students understand some of the most significant policy issues that affect everyone. Fourth, like other social science disciplines, political science teaches methods of analysis that are useful in personal and professional life. 

Students choose one subfield as their primary specialization. They complete at least three courses and a four-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 four-point seminar, a course in research methods, and a political science elective of their choosing. 

Political scientists use a variety 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 the department's courses rely on qualitative methods such as case studies, historical analysis, qualitative fieldwork, and (in political theory) normative analysis. The department requires all majors and concentrators to take at least one course in quantitative methods. Students may take more if they desire to do so.

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. Political science is also a good credential for those who plan to apply for graduate education in law, business, social work, education, international affairs--and, of course, political science itself, or other social sciences.

The Center for Career Education (CCE) works with students and alumni to help them build awareness, skills, and networks and gain experience through career exploration and preparation, jobs and internships, and employer and alumni interactions. CCE also provides academic major exploration resources, such as the “What can you do with a degree in Political Science?” tipsheet.

Members of the faculty provide further detail about study in each of the department's subfields in the video below, a recording of the 2021 online open house for prospective majors.

Prospective majors online open house 2021