Political Science Careers
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Simply put, political science is the study of power. Political science students analyze governance structures and political behavior. Although reality is far different than famous shows like House of Cards, graduates still can find intriguing political science careers in public, private, and nonprofit settings.
Political science graduates can work as local representatives, lobbyists, diplomats, and professors. Programs in the field cover both domestic and foreign political systems, as well as political history.
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Read on to learn about skills gained during political science programs, available degrees, and potential careers.
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Why Pursue a Career in Political Science?
Students who want to work in government or policy can benefit from pursuing political science degrees. Understanding the history of the United States, how laws get written and passed, and the role that government plays in private lives and business can lead to lucrative careers.
Prospective political science students should enjoy conducting research and working with others. Many political science careers focus on data and policy analysis and are good fits for analytical thinkers.
Political Science Career Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 6% job growth for political scientists between 2019 and 2029. Political scientists earned a median annual salary of $122,220 in 2019. The following table provides average annual salaries for a few political science careers at different stages.
Skills Gained With a Political Science Degree
During a political science program, students read documents, retrieve data, and build arguments based on their analysis. They also engage in debates on current events, work together on group projects, and gain practical experience during internships.
Through coursework, research papers, and internships, political science students gain valuable skills. The following competencies help political science majors succeed in many industries.
Political science learners study ethics as a foundational component of political theory. They examine documents focused on the role of ethics in politics, learn about ethical rules, and apply their knowledge to current political events and scandals. During this process, political science students learn the value of personal ethics.
Written and Oral Communication
Since the major requires extensive writing, including papers and policy briefs, political science programs build strong written communication skills. Students also develop verbal communication skills during group projects and in-class discussions. They learn how to convey complex arguments clearly and persuasively to their intended audience.
Political science students gain research skills by writing analytical and persuasive papers. Students learn how to conduct research using scholarly books and articles, newspaper sources, and other documents. They practice analyzing these sources and basing a persuasive argument on their analysis.
Planning and Decision-Making
Since political science students prepare for careers in government or legislation, they need skills in planning and executing major projects. Throughout their program, they may study public administration, political decision-making, and project management. These skills are applicable in a wide variety of managerial and governmental positions.
During a political science program, students gain analytical skills by reading documents, laws, policies, and other sources. Students learn how to find critical content for an in-class discussion or a paper. They also hone their analytical skills by reading about current events and discussing them in class.
Political Science Career Paths
Political science should consider which industry or field best suits their interests while still in school. The following section describes several career paths that they can pursue after graduating.
Local, state, and federal governments offer many career opportunities to political science graduates. Many professionals just starting out in the field may decide to work as a legislative aide for a congressional leader. Others find work as policy analysts.
Political science graduates can pursue careers as paralegals and legal assistants. Some graduates also decide to enroll in law school, hoping to eventually pass the bar and become lawyers.
Graduates with a political science bachelor's degree can become high school teachers. Professionals with a doctorate can become professors. These professionals educate students on history, international relations, and politics.
Many political scientists work as lobbyists. These professionals can work in-house for a single company or take on a portfolio of clients. They represent the interests of their clients and work with lawmakers to create bills that support their clients' interests.
Some political scientist graduates pursue jobs as government or legal correspondents, using their knowledge of these systems to write insightful articles. They can also find work as political correspondents for digital and print publications.
How to Start Your Career in Political Science
While political science graduates with an associate degree might work as a legal assistant or legislative aide, those with a bachelor's degree can begin careers as journalists, paralegals, or public relations specialists. Graduates with a master's degree can find research and policy-related positions, including in exciting roles such as diplomat or intelligence analyst.
The following sections provide guidance on political science degrees at each degree level.
Associate Degree in Political Science
Associate programs in political science introduce students to the main tasks of political scientists, including analyzing documents, crafting persuasive arguments, and conducting research. After earning an associate degree in political science, graduates pursue careers in government and business, including working as managers in office settings, as call center agents, or as administrative coordinators.
With experience, graduates can advance into supervisor positions. These jobs often provide the flexibility to continue working while earning a bachelor's degree for career advancement.
What Can You Do With an Associate in Political Science?
Office managers help a division or office run smoothly by overseeing projects, coordinating with employees, and reporting to executives. They may also help implement policies and procedures in the office. Office managers may play a role in budget management by drawing on their analytical skills gained from a political science program. Some positions require a bachelor's degree.
Call Center Supervisor
Call center supervisors oversee a team of call center agents, carrying out the company's policies and procedures and managing staff and customer care. They often report to management and perform customer service. Call center supervisors also train agents and implement policies to maximize the center's business. The communication skills gained in a political science program can help professionals in this field.
Administrative coordinators provide support to different departments and employees. They organize, supervise, and oversee the company's workflow and employee relations. Administrative coordinators may also write briefings, draft correspondence, and create financial reports.
Bachelor's Degree in Political Science
Bachelor's degree programs prepare graduates for entry-level political science jobs, including in the business sector, local and state government, and federal government. During a bachelor's program, students gain analytical and writing skills that prepare them for careers in many fields. Entry-level careers for political science majors also include administrative assistant positions, where graduates gain valuable business experience.
With a bachelor's in political science, graduates can also work in education as a high school teacher, specializing in social sciences, civics, or U.S. government.
Prospective students may research the best online political science bachelor's programs.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Political Science?
Government Affairs Director
Government affairs directors help companies adapt to new regulations, government initiatives, and laws. They also create projections and forecasts for managing government changes. Government affairs directors may lobby the government about proposed regulations. A background in political science can help professionals manage the relationship between a business and the government.
Management consultants identify problems in a business and create solutions to address them. They research and analyze data to measure their organization's performance, writing and presenting reports to managers.
Legislative aides help members of Congress and other government officials review draft legislation, respond to constituent concerns, and prepare for campaigns. They often work in state and federal government.
Recruiters help employers find qualified candidates for job openings. They also work with job seekers to hone their resumes, find job opportunities, and complete the interview process. Recruiters use their communications skills to help the workplace function smoothly.
High School Teacher
High school teachers specialize in a subject area. Political science graduates can teach social sciences, American government, or civics. High school teachers design lesson plans, assess student learning, and build fundamental skills for college readiness. Public school teachers must earn a state-issued license. Those with a master's degree earn higher salaries.
Master's Degree in Political Science
Earning a master's degree in political science prepares graduates for several career paths, including political scientist, business analyst, and program coordinator. Graduates can pursue opportunities in government agencies, businesses, and nonprofit organizations.
Prospective graduate students can research the top online master's in political science programs to learn more.
What Can You Do With a Master's in Political Science?
Political scientists analyze data, develop policy positions, and track developments in politics. Many political scientists provide their expert opinions through writing or commentary. They may work for politicians or political parties, for government bodies, or in the media.
Senior Business Analyst
Senior business analysts examine data and design recommendations or plans based on their analysis. They identify weaknesses within their organization and create solutions to address any problems. Senior business analysts with a political science background draw on their analytical and writing skills to complete complex projects. They may also analyze how various laws and government agencies impact business activities.
Program Manager, Nonprofit Organization
Nonprofit program managers oversee divisions within their organization. Political science graduates can work for social service nonprofits, charities, and foundations that advance political goals or rely on government funding. Because nonprofits specialize in many areas, program managers can often find a subfield that matches their personal goals and beliefs.
Diplomats represent the United States abroad. Depending on their specialization, they may process visas, engage with foreign politics, conduct cultural outreach activities, or work on economic issues. Diplomats primarily work for the U.S. Department of State.
Business consultants use problem-solving skills to advance a company's interests. They work for startups and established organizations. Business consultants with a political science background may specialize in companies that work with the government or play a role in politics.
Doctoral Degree in Political Science
During doctoral programs in political science, graduate students take specialized coursework, pass comprehensive exams, and complete a dissertation. The dissertation requires original research, an extensive written report of the doctoral student's findings, and a dissertation defense before a committee of professors.
After earning their doctorate, graduates can pursue careers as professors, higher education administrators, and academic researchers. They can also take jobs in government or the private sector.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Political Science?
Director of Communications
Directors of communications work for government agencies, nonprofits, and private businesses, where they design and implement communications strategies. They act as spokespeople for companies, coordinate with journalists, and give press conferences. Communication directors also create employee communication policies.
Policy analysts research and implement public policies, often working directly for government agencies or for closely related organizations. The position requires a political education and an understanding of politics. Analysts must also possess exceptional analytical, writing, and research skills, which they can gain during a political science doctoral program.
Business Intelligence Manager
Business intelligence managers analyze data and create plans based on their analysis. They use quantitative analysis and statistics to assess business strategies, making the position a good fit for political scientists. Business intelligence managers also conduct performance reviews, and they may play a part in training.
Research analysts examine data and draw conclusions from their analysis. They may also verify data, test theories using that data, and create plans to apply their research. Political scientists may work as research analysts in the public sector, applying their knowledge of government and politics to their research.
Postsecondary instructors, also known as professors, teach college courses and conduct research in their field. They may work in tenured or adjunct positions at a community college, four-year college, or university. Tenured positions typically require a doctorate.
Other Careers for Political Science Majors
Political science majors do not just pursue careers in government or politics, nor do they all become educators or analysts. Political science majors can pursue any career that draws on the skills gained in a political science program. These careers include public relations, media, and communications.
Freelance writers work for print and online publications, for businesses, and for government organizations. They provide content writing, write research reports, create white papers, and write other documents for their clients. Freelance writers set their own schedule and often work from home.
Public Relations Director
Public relations directors manage PR for a firm or business. They conduct research, develop strategies, and build relationships to create a positive image for their company. Political science majors bring communications and analytical abilities to the position.
News producers create finished newscasts, often playing a role in writing the script, organizing components of the broadcast, and developing story ideas. Political science majors bring a focus on current events, government activity, and legal affairs to the newsroom.
Reporters work for print, broadcast, and online media outlets, crafting stories for the public. They develop leads and interview authorities and witnesses. Political science majors draw on their writing skills, their communication strengths, and their research abilities to succeed as a reporter.
Marketing directors manage a company's marketing needs. They develop marketing campaigns, oversee employees, and communicate with internal and external contacts. Because marketing directors must collect data, analyze information to develop plans, and communicate effectively, political science majors often thrive in this position.
How to Advance Your Career in Political Science
After earning an associate or bachelor's degree in political science, graduates can take several steps to further their career. Some professionals earn an advanced degree, while others pursue certification or focus on networking.
The following sections cover several different continuing education opportunities.
Continuing education can take many forms in political science, including certificate programs, free online courses, and fellowships.
Many colleges and universities offer certificate programs both online and in person. Certificates typically focus on a niche topic, such as the University of Nebraska Omaha's intelligence and national security online certificate.
Free online courses provided through services such as Coursera and edX have also risen in popularity in recent years. A section later in this guide offers an overview of open courseware in political science.
Lastly, fellowships and apprenticeships provide practical experience for professionals who want to gain specific knowledge and/or skills.
Professional certifications often require a set number of continuing education units for renewal. However, continuing education is important for all political science professionals. Continuing education helps professionals learn new skills and hone existing ones.
Networking with other political science professionals can lead to new career and professional development opportunities. Joining a professional association can lead to mentorships, opportunities to join local chapters, and access to conferences.
How to Switch Your Career to Political Science
Some professionals study a different field but ultimately decide to change careers to political science. Professionals in law and journalism may find it easier to move into political science than professionals in other fields. However, any career-changer willing to gain the right education can pursue political science careers.
Career-changers may choose to enter an area of law or government related to their prior education and experience. For example, former nurses may choose to campaign for improved law and governance in healthcare.
Before changing careers, speak with current political science professionals, learn about their path, and ask for professional guidance on how to proceed. Some professionals may also find it beneficial to speak with a program director or admissions counselor at a college to learn about certificate and degree programs.
Where Can You Work With A Political Science Degree?
Many political science majors attend law school and pursue careers in the legal profession. Law firms specialize in a variety of areas, including employment law, criminal law, and corporate law.
Political science majors can pursue careers in education as K-12 teachers, professors, or education administrators. In most cases, education professionals need a graduate degree.
The financial services industry includes banks, insurance companies, investment funds, and other businesses that manage money. Political science majors may use their analytical abilities to consult on existing and proposed laws that impact financial institutions.
The legal services industry includes legal assistance organizations, legal aid, and pro bono assistance for low-income people, immigrants, and other communities. Political science majors may enter this profession after earning a law degree or paralegal certificate. Alternatively, they may be able to find entry-level jobs with just a bachelor's.
Consultants provide research-based advice to businesses and managers. Political science majors use their critical thinking and analytical skills to move into management consulting. They may advise about how politics and public sentiment impact business activities and vice versa. They may also work in public relations. These jobs often require a graduate degree.
The healthcare field features many different careers, including medical professional, policy analyst, compliance officer, and manager. Political science majors can work in the healthcare sector in research, lobbying, or policy positions.
Interview With a Professional
Michael J. Montgomery
Michael J. Montgomery operates a Detroit-based fundraising and nonprofit management consulting firm, Montgomery Consulting. At the start of his career, Mike was a U.S. diplomat specializing in economic and commercial affairs. He later moved into economic development, which remains a secondary area of practice for Montgomery Consulting. He holds an MA from the University of Michigan and an AB from Columbia University, both in political science.
What types of skills do students develop or build upon in a strong political science program?
Political science not only helps students develop their reasoning and writing skills, but also gives them tools with which better understand human motivations and behaviors. A strong undergraduate program, or almost any grad political science program, also helps students develop a facility for working with data that they can apply in many different fields.
In fact, I've probably done more economic and demographic analysis since leaving grad school than political science.
What was the job search like after earning your MA in political science? How did you end up where you are today?
Actually, I got an offer and then had to hurry up, write a thesis, and complete my degree before reporting to DC to start work. I had passed the Foreign Service a couple years earlier, and my clearance finally came through in the summer of 1983, along with three State Department job offers: admin officer, consular officer, or economic/commercial officer.
I asked about the political officer program. After all, I was a political scientist. But with a very quantitative political science background from the University of Michigan, I was told to just go ahead and take the econ officer offer. So that's what I did.
Going to the State Department as an econ officer was the best thing I could have done. After a series of economics jobs in D.C. in East-West Trade, the Office of Business Practices, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary, I returned to Michigan and was seen as qualified to work in local economic development even as I continued to work toward my Ph.D.
I never finished. I also taught political science courses at some small four-year and community colleges.
The time I spent working in local economic development, however, really ended up being the gateway to my current career. My practice began as an economic development strategy consultancy working with utility companies, local communities, a foundation, state agencies, and (as a subcontractor) the federal government.
Over time, however, my firm evolved toward its primary current focus on fundraising and nonprofit management. We still do some work with local economic development agencies, but not much.
What types of people excel in a political science program?
Political scientists are pretty much all insightful, analytical, and articulate.
Two kinds of people succeed in political science programs. The first are people who are disciplined, patient, and good at seeking out mentors and establishing positive collegial relationships with faculty members. These are the people who finish degrees, get academic jobs, and become university faculty members and scholars. I was not one of them.
The second kind are more self-directed people who view study in political science as a form of broadly applicable social science training that they can use outside academia and in a variety of fields of work.
This second group is as likely as the first to complete master's degrees, but then complete Ph.D. only very slowly or, as in my case, never. We are the so-called "ABDs" of the world.
Both types are successful in the sense that they use their political science training to build positive, sustainable careers that suit their personalities.
What advice would you give to undergrad students who are considering a graduate degree in this field?
Go to the best, most demanding program that you get into, even if you have to knock down the door to get admitted. In my case, I had to talk my way into U-M and did not become a full status student until after I had successfully completed a first semester as a non-degree student.
What additional advice would you give to a student considering a career in political science?
Students should keep in mind that political science is great training but, outside academia and government, is unfortunately not always as understood or as highly valued as it probably should be. As a result, those seeking to go to work with less than the Ph.D. may encounter some initial difficulties and could have real trouble getting a first job.
In that regard, an MBA or MPA might be a safer bet on the front end than an MA or MS in political science. But, once they get a foot in the door, political scientists are perfectly equipped to make very successful careers in a wide range of governmental, nonprofit, and business organizations.
Resources for Political Science Majors
There are several types of resources available to political science professionals, including industry organizations, open courseware, and academic publications. The following sections highlight a few of the most popular options in each area.
Pi Sigma Alpha: Pi Sigma Alpha is a national honors society for students exploring political science and government studies. The society was established by faculty at the University of Texas in 1920 and has grown to 740 chapters across the United States and Canada. Students can apply for funding opportunities through the society's website, including the Washington Internship Scholarship and the Howard Penniman Scholarship.
American Political Science Association: This professional and academic organization is over a century old, formed in 1903 to further the study of political science internationally. APSA has expanded across 80 countries, gaining over 15,000 members. Members gain access to exclusive mentoring experiences, job listings, APSA journals, meetings, and third-party discounts.
Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management: This multidisciplinary professional society was founded in 1978 following a public policy conference at Duke University. APPAM offers access to discounted conference registration fees, the APPAM research journal, and a member database.
International Political Science Association: The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization played a significant role in the creation of IPSA in 1949. Students can apply for several funding opportunities, including the Karl Deutsch Award, the Francesco Kjellberg Award, and the Global South Award.
Introduction to Political Thought - Massachusetts Institute of Technology: This undergraduate course covers general movements within the history of political science theory. Students can download the lecture notes and assignments from class sessions and follow along through explorations of Locke, Rousseau, Aristotle and Machiavelli.
Capitalism: Success, Crisis, and Reform - Yale University: This course discusses ways to use capitalism as a tool to solve national, social, and financial issues.
Citizenship and Pluralism - Massachusetts Institute of Technology: This graduate course examines the interactions and tensions between multicultural communities, including ethnic groups, native peoples, gender and sexuality minorities, and women. The course also explores how effective group-based legislation and policies can ensure equal representation.
Open Access Political Science Journals
Open Journal of Political Science: The first issue of this quarterly publication appeared in 2011. The journal features articles, book reviews, and research reports. Submissions focus on topics such as political theory and public law.
Journal of Political Sciences and Public Affairs: This multidisciplinary journal focuses on public policy, media, and political theory. Authors can submit research articles, book reviews, and opinion pieces. The editorial panel consists of university faculty members based in the United States and Canada. New issues are released three times a year.
Science and Public Policy: This Oxford journal was founded in January 1974 to bring visibility to current developments in global public policy. The journal publishes scholarly articles and provides recommended reading to its subscribers.
Political Science Books
A People's History of the United States: This critically acclaimed national timeline by Howard Zinn covers many of the controversial events that have failed to make it into traditional history textbooks. Zinn has conducted exhaustive research to piece together minority narratives of the history of the United States, highlighting suppressed tales of oppression, activism, and injustice.
Practical Guide for Policy Analysis: The Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem-Solving: Many political science and government studies classrooms rely on this practical guidebook to understand the conundrums and obstacles that legislators face. Author Eugene Bardach explores processes such as defining problems, predicting policy outcomes, and coping with compromise.
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism: Naomi Klein describes how politicians take advantage of national events, tragedies, and distractions to slip through policies that are morally questionable and financially unsound. Her narrative trains a critical eye on shocking CIA scientific experiments and homeland security practices.
On Liberty: Nearly a century and a half after its publication, John Stuart Mill's work informs students on the ethics and principles of social liberalism and political thought. Mills covers topics such as the limits of social authorities and the rights of individuals.
Online Political Science Magazines
The Week: In this publication, political science students can check in on global and national news, political features, and current debates. Correspondents like Taegan Goddard, Peter Weber, and Damon Linker cover the current political climate.
Slate: Slate is a liberal news magazine based in the United States and France. In addition to regular features and columns, Slate produces podcasts, including the Political Gabfest, DoubleX, Manners for the Digital Age, and The Root, which examines African American political issues.
Time: Available in both print and digital formats, Time posts breaking news on U.S. and world politics. The magazine covers developments in foreign policy, the White House, upcoming elections, and domestic policy.
The Nation: This publication is the oldest weekly periodical in print. Founded in 1865, this magazine promotes political discussion while trying to avoid partisan bias.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is political science a good major?
Yes. A political science degree prepares graduates for many different types of careers, including positions in government agencies, businesses, and nonprofits.
What kind of jobs do you get with a political science degree?
Political science graduates often begin careers in business, law, journalism, and government.
Is political science hard?
Like any other degree, political science students get out what they put in. Driven students often find political science topics fascinating, making challenging courses worth the effort.
What is the highest-paying job in political science?
According to the BLS, political scientists earned a median annual salary of $122,220 in 2019.