Political scientists study governing systems, political development, and political theory. During a political science program, students not only learn about politics and government, they also gain valuable analytical, communication, and research skills. These high-demand skills prepare graduates for careers in government, politics, and other industries.
As a versatile social science degree, political science leads to a variety of career paths. Some graduates take entry-level political jobs, while others pursue jobs in business, law, or education. Political science jobs also involve working in government relations, the media, or marketing. While earning a degree in political science, students need to consider their career goals and prepare for the job market. Researching careers for political science majors can help students turn their degree into a career advancement opportunity. This article walks through how to leverage political science skills to find a fulfilling and rewarding career after graduation.
Skills Gained in a Political Science Program
During a political science program, students read a variety of 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 hands-on experience during internships. Through coursework, research papers, and internships, political science students gain valuable skills. The following skills help political science majors succeed in a variety of industries.
- Personal Ethics
Political science students study ethics as a foundational component to political theory. They examine documents focused on the role of ethics in politics, learn about ethics rules, and apply their knowledge to current political events and scandals. During this process, political science students learn the value of personal ethics.
- Communication Skills
In political science, students gain verbal and written communication skills. As a major that involves writing papers, political science builds strong written communication skills. Students also develop verbal communication skills during group projects and in-class discussions, and they learn how to convey complex arguments clearly and persuasively to their intended audience.
- Research Skills
A political science major gains research skills through class assignments that require 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.
- Writing Skills
Many industries require writing skills, and a political science major strengthens their writing abilities through different types of assignments. Political science classes may require analytical writing assignments, research papers, or a research-based thesis. In some courses, students also write in-class essays. Political science students often focus on persuasive writing, which benefits them in the business sector.
- Analytical Skills
During a political science program, students gain analytical skills by reading a variety of documents and sources. Students learn how to find critical content for an in-class discussion or a paper. They also hone their analytical skills by reading current events and discussing them in class.
Why Pursue a Career in Political Science?
Studying political science builds valuable skills in research, communication, and writing. At the undergraduate level, a liberal arts program with a major in political science trains students in social science methods and builds their analytical skills. Political science graduates often teach at the high school or college level, serve in government or public policy positions, and work for private businesses. With so many opportunities open to political science majors, graduates can find a field that best fits their interests and career goals.
At the graduate level, political science students conduct original research, analyze political documents, and even publish their findings. A graduate degree in political science prepares students for academic careers, management-level positions in politics or government, and positions as senior analysts or consultants.
Political science majors benefit from exciting career and growth opportunities in many industries. Some go on to work for nongovernmental organizations or nonprofits, promoting policies to advance their interests. Others move into politics, writing position papers or analyzing policy proposals. Political science graduates also become social science, civics, and government teachers at the secondary level. Many do not work directly in government or politics, instead contributing to the business sector with their analytical abilities.
How Much Do Political Science Majors Make?
According to PayScale, the average political science major earns an entry-level salary of around $50,000. As professionals move into their late career period, the median salary for political science majors tops $100,000. However, salaries vary depending on the industry, the job title and level, and the location. Candidates with higher degrees typically earn higher salaries, and work experience also increases salaries. Because the jobs for political science majors cover a variety of industries, political science graduate salaries cover a wide range. The following table shows median salaries by job level.
Meet a Political Science Major
Michael J. MontgomeryMontgomery Consulting
Michael J. Montgomery operates a metro Detroit-based fundraising and nonprofit management consulting firm, Montgomery Consulting, and has also taught in the MBA program Lawrence Technological University and in the MPA program at Oakland University. As a consultant, he has worked on more than $1 billion in campaign and project activities, including some of the Midwest's most challenging efforts. At the start of his career, Mike was a U.S. diplomat specializing in economic and commercial affairs and 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 to develop their reasoning and writing skills, it 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 per se.
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 is what I did.
Going to State as an econ officer was the best thing I could have done. After a series of economics jobs in DC (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 PhD (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 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-level degrees but then complete PhDs only very slowly or, as in my case, never complete. We are the so-called "ABDs" of the world.
Both types are successful in the sense that they 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 UM and did not become a full-status student of the Department of Political Science 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 well-understood or as highly-valued as it probably should be. As a result, those seeking to go to work with less than the PhD 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 well-equipped to make very successful careers in a wide range of governmental, nonprofit, and business organizations.
How to Work in the Political Science Field
Earn Your Degree
To apply for entry-level political science jobs, candidates must first complete a college degree in the field. Many positions require at least a bachelor's degree, while some may prefer candidates with a graduate degree. However, some career paths allow candidates with an associate degree to work in a political science position while completing a bachelor's degree.
Many positions with the title political scientist require a master's degree, but political science majors can also pursue careers in education, the business sector, or government with only a bachelor's degree. To become a political science professor, students typically need a doctorate in political science, which requires five to seven years of school beyond the bachelor's level.
In an online political science program, students take coursework in a variety of areas, from American politics to global politics. Political science majors may also take classes in foreign policy, environmental politics, or political theory. Students build valuable skills in written communications, analytical reasoning, and research. These strengths help graduates gain positions in government, business, and education.
How Many Years of College Does It Take to Be a Political Science Professional?
To apply for many entry-level political science jobs, candidates must first complete an associate or bachelor's degree in the field. An associate degree typically takes two years of full-time study and requires 60 credits, while a bachelor's degree takes four years and 120 credits. Students who hold an associate degree or bring transfer credits may complete a bachelor's in less time.
Some online political science programs also allow students to move through the program at an accelerated pace. An individual pace program lets students complete coursework at their own speed, while cohort programs advance students as a group, often with a fixed graduation date.
After earning a bachelor's degree, some political science majors choose to attend graduate school to advance their career goals. A master's degree often takes an additional two years. With work experience, professionals with any degree can advance in rank.
Concentrations Available for Political Science Majors
- American Politics
Specialists in American politics study the history of U.S. government and politics, including the development of political parties, major elections and national events, and U.S. foreign policy. They also concentrate on contemporary American politics, following current events and analyzing them in class.
- Global Politics
Students who concentrate in global politics may focus on a region, such as Europe or Asia, or they may study politics in a single country. Global politics classes often emphasize the connection between political movements in different regions, with a focus on foreign policy, the global economy, diplomacy, and war.
- Public Policy
A public policy concentration examines the relationship between executive or legislative public policy and its social, economic, and cultural effects on the population. Students may study public policy at the federal, state, and local level, examining the connection between public policy objectives and the outcomes of those policies.
- Political Theory
Specialists in political theory study the theoretical basis of politics and government. At the undergraduate level, political theory classes cover foundational theories in politics and critical thinkers like Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke. They may also study contemporary political theories.
- Comparative Politics
Students of comparative politics use the comparative method to study politics in different contexts. This may include comparative historical governmental systems or comparative foreign policy. Many specialists in this area compare U.S. politics with another country's politics.
- Environmental Politics
An environmental politics concentration studies the politics of environmental issues and movements. The coursework may cover political theories that relate to the environment or contemporary political approaches to environmental issues. Environmental political scientists also analyze public policy and its effects on the environment, both at a national and global level.
What Can You Do with a Political Science Degree?
A political science degree offers critical skills valuable to several career paths; skills include research skills, the ability to analyze data and documents, and strong written and verbal communication skills. As students earn higher degrees, they gain advanced skills in writing analytical papers, conducting research, and building knowledge about politics and government.
However, the available careers for political science majors depend on the type of degree. While bachelor's degree holders qualify for many entry-level political science jobs, candidates with a master's degree or higher can pursue specialized positions that carry higher earning potential. For example, with a bachelor's degree professionals can become analysts or operations managers; with a graduate degree in political science, graduates can work as consultants or policy analysts. With any level degree, a political science major can advance within a business, public sector agency, or nonprofit organization.
Associate Degree in Political Science
An associate political science program introduces students to the tools of a political scientist, 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 in office settings, as call center agents, or as administrative coordinators. With experience, graduates may advance into office manager or call center supervisor positions. These jobs often provide the flexibility to continue working while earning a bachelor's degree for career advancement. Prospective students may benefit from an online political science program to earn a higher degree.
- Office Manager
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 likewise 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 help professionals in this field.
- Warehouse Manager
Warehouse managers oversee the maintenance and transit of equipment or products. They may supervise multiple staff members, implement policies and procedures to increase efficiency, and train employees on those procedures. Political science graduates bring strong communication and analytical skills to the position.
- Healthcare Admissions Director
Healthcare admissions directors work in hospitals, doctor's offices, and nursing homes. They manage employees, oversee the admissions process for new patients and works with insurance companies and other healthcare organizations to provide services. A political science degree provides valuable verbal and written communications skills for this position.
- Administrative Coordinator
Administrative coordinators work within organizations to connect different departments and employees. They may organize, supervise, and oversee the company's workflow and employee relations. Administrative coordinators may also create reports, draft correspondence, and create financial reports -- drawing on the written and verbal skills built during a political science program.
Bachelor's Degree in Political Science
A bachelor's degree prepares graduates for many entry-level political science jobs, including working in the business sector as a consultant or working in government. During a bachelor's program, students gain analytical and writing skills that prepare graduates for careers in many fields. The entry-level careers for political science majors also include positions as administrative assistants, where graduates gain valuable business experience.
Prospective students can research the best online political science programs to earn a bachelor's degree.
- Administrative Assistant
Administrative assistants support public- and private-sector professionals in conducting business. They provide a variety of support services, including writing correspondence, maintaining records, and entering data; some also interact with clients or customers. The position requires writing and organizational skills, which a political science degree strengthens.
- 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 also lobby the government about proposed regulations. A background in political science helps professionals manage the relationship between a business and the government.
- Management Consultant
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 or giving reports to managers. Political science majors benefit from their verbal and written communication abilities and their analytical skills.
- Operations Manager
Operations managers oversee budgets, manufacturing, and the production of goods or services. They also help companies comply with laws and regulations. Operations managers must possess strong oral and written communication skills, making political science majors a good fit for the profession.
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 to receive a job offer. Recruiters use their communications skills to help the workplace function smoothly.
Master's Degree in Political Science
Earning a master's degree in political science prepares graduates for several career paths. Political science careers can include working for government agencies or political organizations as political scientists, contributing to the business sector as a business analyst or consultant, or working in the nonprofit sector as a program coordinator. With a master'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 graduate students can research the top online master's in political science programs to learn more.
- Political Scientist
Political scientists apply their graduate-level training to analyzing data, developing policy positions, and tracking 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. They may also hold a degree in public administration.
- Senior Business Analyst
Senior business analysts examine data and design recommendations or plans based on their analysis. They may 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.
- Program Coordinator, Nonprofit Organization
Nonprofit program coordinators oversee divisions within their organization. Political science graduates may work for social service nonprofits, charities, or foundations that advance political goals or rely on government funding. Because nonprofits specialize in many areas, from environmental protection to child welfare, program coordinators can find a subfield that matches their personal goals and beliefs.
- High School Teacher
High school teachers specialize in a subject area, and political science graduates may teach social sciences, American government, or civics. High school teachers design lesson plans, assess student learning, and build fundamental skills for college readiness. In some states, high school teachers must hold a degree in education; those with a master's degree typically earn higher salaries.
- Business Consultant
Business consultants use problem-solving skills to advance a company's interests. They may work for start ups or for established organizations, helping improve the business. 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 a doctoral program 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 with a committee of professors. After earning their doctorate, political scientists may pursue academic jobs, including as a professor, higher education administrator, or academic researcher. They can also take jobs in government or the private sector. With a doctorate, political scientists can work as policy analysts, communications directors, or research analysts.
- Director of Communications
Directors of communications work for government agencies, nonprofits, and private businesses designing and implementing a communications strategy. They act as spokespeople for a company, coordinate with journalists, and give press conferences. Communication directors also create employee communication policies.
- Policy Analyst
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 Analyst
Research analysts examine data and draw conclusions from their analysis. They may also verify data, test theories using that data, or 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 Instructor
Postsecondary instructors, also known as professors, teach college-level courses and often conduct research in their specialty. They may work in tenure-track or adjunct positions at a community college, four-year college, or university. Many academic political science positions require a doctorate.
Unexpected 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. The jobs for political science majors also include several other fields, which draw on the skills gained in a political science program. These unexpected careers include public relations, the media, and communications.
The skills gained during a political science degree help graduates in multiple sectors. For example, political science majors hone their analytical abilities during their degree, often writing persuasive papers based on their analysis of sources. Political science majors build research skills as they read and analyze material to draw out information. Political science students also keep track of current events, often following local, national, and international politics as part of their courses. These skills benefit political science graduates who pursue careers as reporters or news producers.
- Freelance Writer
Freelance writers work for print and online publications, for businesses, and for government organizations. They may provide content writing, write research reports, create white papers, or write other documents for their clients. Freelance writers set their own schedule and often work from home.
Average Salary: $39,706
- Public Relations Director
Public relations directors manage PR for a firm or business. They may conduct research, develop strategies, or build relationships to create a positive image for their company. A political science major brings communications and analytical abilities to the position.
Average Salary: $84,426
- News Producer
News producers work in the media to 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, writing skills, and communication abilities to the newsroom.
Average Salary: $43,619
Reporters work for print, broadcast, and online media outlets, crafting stories for the public. They play a role in developing leads and interviewing authorities and witnesses. Political science majors draw on their writing skills, their communication strengths, and their research abilities to succeed as a reporter.
Average Salary: $41,166
- Marketing Director
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.
Average Salary: $84,854
Where Can You Work as a Political Science Professional?
Political science professionals work in a variety of fields, including in government positions, in the legal field, and in education. While political science majors work in several different industries, their job opportunities vary depending on the location. For example, political science majors may find more opportunities in the Washington, D.C., area, but the job market will likely prove more competitive. When considering professions as a political science graduate, job seekers need to research industries and their average salaries.
- Law Firm
Many political science majors attend law school and pursue careers in the legal profession. Law firms specialize in a variety of areas, from plaintiffs' employment law to corporate law.
Average Salary: $60,758
Political science majors may pursue careers in education, either as K-12 teachers, professors, or education administrators. In most cases, professionals in education need a graduate degree.
Average Salary: $49,641
- Financial Services
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 move into financial services.
Average Salary: $72,494
- Legal Services
Legal services includes legal assistance organizations, legal aid, and pro bono assistance for low-income people, immigrants, and other communities. Political science majors may pursue careers in legal services that require a law degree.
Average Salary: $62,961
- Management Consulting
Consultants provide research-based advice for businesses and managers. Political science majors use their critical thinking and analytical skills to move into management consulting — which often requires a graduate degree.
Average Salary: $63,972
Healthcare includes more than medical professionals; it also includes policy makers and managers. Political science majors may work in the healthcare sector in research or in policy positions.
Average Salary: $71,406
How Do You Find a Job as a Political Science Professional?
Political science majors face a competitive job market, so they need to stand out on their resumes and in interviews. Job seekers benefit from internships or volunteer experience and should highlight their writing, research, and analytical skills on their resumes. Networking opportunities through a professional organization may also help political science professionals find jobs.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly half of all political scientists work for the federal government in some capacity. Many also work in professional, scientific, and technical services — or in education. The BLS projects slightly below-average growth for political scientists by 2026; candidates who hold advanced degrees or specialized experience will likely fair better on the job market. Because so many political scientists work for the federal government, job seekers can find openings through USAJobs, which lists federal government job advertisements. Other sites, like Government Jobs or Political Job Hunt, may also help political science majors find jobs in politics.
Professional Resources for Political Science Majors
- American Political Science Association: A professional organization for political science students and professionals, APSA provides teaching and learning conferences, publications, and resources specifically for political science students. Graduate student resources include professional development support, dissertation workshops, and grants and fellowships.
- Political Science Careers: The APSA careers page provides a wealth of resources for political science majors, including internship resources and non-academic career options for political scientists with a doctorate. The page also provides a jobs board for members and non-members to find open positions in political science fields.
- Congressional Fellowship Program: Run by APSA, the Congressional Fellowship Program brings political scientists to Congress for a nine-month fellowship placement on a congressional staff. The paid fellowship accepts a small number of fellows each year. Applicants to the highly competitive program must provide an essay, letters of recommendation, and a resume or CV.
- International Political Science Association: Founded by UNESCO in 1949 to support political science around the world, ISPA promotes collaboration across borders. The association offers awards, publications, and resources for political scientists, particularly those focused on the global community. ISPA also offers summer school programs around the world for graduate students and scholars.
- Association for Political Theory: Founded in 2000, APT promotes scholars of political theory and political philosophy through an annual conference, publications, and related professional associations. The organization's mission seeks to advance collaboration and support teaching for political theorists.
- International Association for Political Science Students: A professional organization for political science students, IAPSS provides professional development opportunities, calls for applications and papers, and provides academic resources for political science students. The student-run organization boasts members from countries around the world.
- State Department: Political science majors build the necessary skills for a career in the State Department during their studies. Graduates may work as civil service officers or analysts; they may also hold positions at consulates and embassies. The career page also provides information on Peace Corps and student programs.
- PowerJobs: In partnership with Politico, PowerJobs lists open positions in the District of Columbia for professionals seeking jobs in government, finance, defense, education, and other fields. Job seekers can find positions with government agencies, private companies, and nonprofits.
- American Political Science Review: The premier scholarly journal in political science, the American Political Science Review publishes peer-reviewed scholarship that covers all subfields in political science. Dating back to 1906 and published by the APSA, the journal serves as a valuable resource for professional political scientists.
- APSA Internship Resources: The APSA site provides internship databases for political science majors, including internship opportunities with the Senate, the House of Representatives, and all branches of the federal government. The page also provides resources on how to find academic internships in Washington, D.C., and how to make the most of internship opportunities.