Political science master's degree students learn how to analyze politics and current events, design qualitative research projects, and measure the impact of public policy. They also study how politics shape communities, the global political economy, and electoral trends around the world. With a variety of concentrations to choose from, including American politics, foreign policy, environmental politics, and public policy, graduate students build strong analytical and research skills during a political science degree.
A master's degree can lead to many lucrative career paths. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that political scientists earn a median salary of over $115,000 a year, and a master's degree meets the educational requirements for the position. Before enrolling in a political science program, prospective students need to research concentration options, career paths with a political science master's degree, and how to find the best program. This article covers the process of finding the program that best fits your career goals.
Should I Get a Master's in Political Science?
A political science master's degree prepares graduates to work in politics or government, with additional career paths in the corporate or nonprofit sectors. Many positions, such as political scientist, survey researcher, and postsecondary instructor require a master's degree in the field. Prospective political science students need to research the admissions requirements for each of their chosen political science master's programs and learn about the career advantages from earning the degree.
While earning a master's degree in political science, graduate students often specialize in a subfield, such as foreign policy, political theory, or American politics. These concentrations may also lead directly to specialized career paths. For example, students with a public policy concentration may become policy analysts or policy advisers. Prospective students need to find a program that offers their desired concentration, while also checking the program's placement record. Some political science programs offer internship support and job placement assistance for graduates, with opportunities to build a professional network and gain hands-on skills.
Before applying to a master's degree in political science program, prospective students must choose whether to pursue an on-campus or online degree. Applicants who recently completed their undergraduate degree or who live close to their top-choice program may prefer an on-campus program. Meanwhile, prospective students who plan to balance school with work or family responsibilities may benefit from the flexibility of an online program. Similarly, individuals considering a master's degree as part of a career change and those who cannot relocate may also prefer an online option.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Political Science?
Graduate students studying political science build strong research skills, analytical reasoning abilities, and writing skills, which can benefit them in multiple career paths. Political science graduates work as analysts and researchers, holding positions in government, politics, and related sectors. Master's students interested in education may work as high school teachers or postsecondary instructors, and students who specialize in urban policy may work as urban planners. A master's in political science can also lead to careers in nonprofits, lobbying organizations, and business. A graduate student's career options depend on their master's concentration, their professional experience, and their professional network.
- Political Scientist
Political scientists study government and political systems, conduct research on public policy, and analyze political trends. They work in government, for private organizations, and for political parties and campaigns. A master's degree in political science meets the minimum educational requirement for political scientist positions.
Median Annual Salary: $115,110
Projected Growth Rate: 3%
- Survey Researcher
Survey researchers design and conduct surveys for polling organizations, political campaigns, and research firms. They measure public opinion on a variety of topics, analyze data from surveys, and draw conclusions from the results. Most positions require a master's degree, particularly for roles that involve designing political surveys.
Median Annual Salary: $54,270
Projected Growth Rate: 2%
- High School Teacher
High school teachers design lesson plans to educate young learners. They also create assessment tests to measure student learning. Political science students interested in teaching may qualify for a state teaching license with a master's degree, although some states may also require additional teacher preparation. With a political science master's degree, educators may teach U.S. government, social studies, or civics.
Median Annual Salary: $59,170
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
- Urban and Regional Planner
Urban and regional planners work in public agencies to design and create community programs and develop land use plans. While some positions require a master's in planning, a degree in political science with a concentration in public policy, urban planning, or a related field may meet the requirements for many positions.
Median Annual Salary: $71,490
Projected Growth Rate: 13%
- Political Science Professor
Political science professors teach courses on American politics, foreign policy, political economy, and other areas at a college or university. They may also conduct research and publish scholarly books and articles. A master's in political science qualifies candidates for some postsecondary instructor positions, while most tenure-track positions require a doctorate.
Median Annual Salary: $76,000
Projected Growth Rate: 15%
How to Choose a Master's in Political Science Program
Many prospective graduate students find it difficult to narrow down the many master's programs in political science to find the best fit for their interests and career goals. By considering several key factors, such as cost, location, and the length of the degree, students can eliminate programs that do not meet their needs. Some students cannot relocate to attend out-of-state programs due to work or family obligations. These students may benefit from the flexibility of an online program, which may also lower the cost of a degree. Online students often qualify for tuition discounts and save on commuting, parking, and childcare costs. Interested students can research the top online master's programs in political science.
Cost often plays an important role in choosing a program. In addition to researching tuition, fees, and other expenses, prospective students should check for scholarship, assistantship, and other financial aid opportunities offered by the school or private organizations. Some students save on tuition by shortening their degree completion time, either by transferring credits or choosing an accelerated option. Other program specifics, such as required internships or a master's thesis, can also affect the length of time it takes to earn the degree.
In addition to researching cost, location, and degree completion time, prospective graduate students also need to learn about a program's concentrations and review course offerings to ensure the program's classes match their interests. Applicants also need to research faculty members to find potential advisers. Finally, students need to check the institution's accreditation status, as detailed below.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Political Science Programs
Accreditation ensures that colleges, universities, and programs follow the highest academic standards and create improvement plans. While colleges and universities undergo accreditation by regional or national accrediting agencies which review the entire institution, many programs also undergo specialized programmatic accreditation designed for their field. For example, business schools, teacher training programs, and social work programs may hold programmatic accreditation from specialized, nonprofit agencies. Political science programs typically do not undergo programmatic accreditation, as there is not an accrediting agency specifically dedicated to reviewing political science programs.
When choosing a political science program, students should always check the institution's accreditation status. An accredited institution qualifies for federal financial aid and credits earned through an accredited university are more likely to transfer to other schools. Furthermore, some certifications and licenses only accept degrees from accredited institutions. For these reasons, prospective political science students need to look up each school's accreditation status before applying.
Master's in Political Science Program Admissions
After choosing one or more master's in political science programs, prospective students must successfully complete the admissions process. Admissions represents a critical step in the educational process, as programs evaluate candidates to determine whether they are likely to succeed in the program and often offer financial support to the top candidates. Prospective political science students must devote significant time and energy to building the strongest possible application to increase their chances of gaining admission and receiving financial aid.
Each program sets its own prerequisite requirements, which includes asking for letters of recommendation and requesting undergraduate transcripts. Some online programs may also require a more complex process that involves working with an admissions adviser. Because the process varies, students need to research the specifics for their chosen programs.
- Bachelor's Degree: Before entering a political science master's program, applicants must hold a bachelor's degree. Most programs accept students with majors other than political science if their undergraduate transcript demonstrates foundational knowledge within the field.
- Professional Experience: While political science programs typically do not require professional experience, admissions committees may take relevant experience into account when determining who to admit. Candidates who have experience in politics, campaigning, or government should make sure to mention it on their application.
- Minimum GPA: Many programs set a minimum undergraduate GPA, often as high as 3.0. Some programs only look at the final 60 credits or provisionally admit candidates who do not meet the minimum requirement.
- Application: Prospective graduate students must complete an application, which lists their educational history, professional experience, and relevant background. Most programs offer an online application.
- Transcripts: Applicants must submit transcripts, either for their degree-granting undergraduate institution or all colleges and universities attended, depending on the program. Admissions committees use transcripts to determine whether applicants hold the necessary skills to succeed in a master's program.
- Letters of Recommendation: Most master's in political science programs require two or three letters of recommendation that speak to the applicant's academic abilities or relevant experience. Prospective students should give their letter writers at least three weeks' notice.
- Test Scores: Many master's programs require GRE scores, and some set a minimum score for unconditional admission. Some programs consider the GRE optional.
- Application Fee: Most programs charge an application fee of around $40-$60 to review graduate applications. However, low-income applicants often qualify for a fee waiver.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Political Science Program?
Graduate students in political science can concentrate in different subfields, choose courses based on their interests and career goals, and advance their professional qualifications through joining professional organizations. This section covers the common specializations within a master's program, the length and cost of a master's degree in political science, and networking opportunities for graduate students.
|Global Politics||Specialists in global politics study the connections between nations in a political sphere. They may emphasize foreign relations or concentrate on a single country's politics. Some also study a region, such European or Asia. In many programs, global politics specialists must demonstrate language proficiency in one or more foreign languages.||Political scientist, state department positions, policy adviser|
|Public Policy||A public policy concentration emphasizes the development of government policy in a variety of settings. Graduate students also study the impact of public policy on communities and politics. At the graduate level, public policy specialists may design research projects to measure the impact of federal, state, or local policies.||Policy analyst, policy adviser, political scientist|
|American Politics||Within an American politics concentration, students may focus on contemporary or past political movements within the U.S., including electoral politics, culture and American politics, or U.S. foreign policy. As a broad concentration, graduate students in this field may customize their coursework around their specific interests.||Political scientist, policy analyst|
|Environmental Politics||Graduate students who specialize in environmental politics study the relationship between the environment, environmental movements, and politics. They may focus on a particular movement, national context, or period in environmental political history. Environmental politics specialists also study the evolution of the politics of environmental issues.||Political scientist, environmental lobbyist, policy analyst|
|Political Economy||Within a political economy concentration, graduate students study the rise and development of capitalism, the interconnected global economy, or theories of political economics. Students in this concentration often take economics classes as part of their master's program.||Political scientist, market analyst, economic analyst|
Courses in a Master's in Political Science Program
Master's programs in political science often provide a flexible curriculum, depending on a graduate student's interests and area of concentration. Many offer foundational courses in specializations, such as political theory and political economy, while offering research seminars in a variety of areas. While the specific courses may vary, the sample curriculum below lists some common political science master's classes.
- State and Society
Political science students study the relationship between the state and various societies throughout history, examining the development of the state as a complex organization and its interactions with society. The course may also include a comparative politics element with contemporary states and societies.
- Qualitative Research Methods
Political science graduate students gain experience with the techniques of qualitative research, including designing research projects, measuring and validating data, and analyzing qualitative data. The course may also cover analytical strategies, research ethics, and building theories from qualitative research.
- Research Seminar
Graduate students take multiple research seminars within their concentration area, such as comparative politics, environmental politics, or U.S. politics. The seminar covers research approaches, important works and theories, and specific topics in the field, and students often write a research paper.
- International Political Economy
Students in many concentrations benefit from courses covering international political economy, including the history of the modern world economic system, the rise of capitalism, and theories of international political economy. The course may require a theoretical research paper.
- Master's Thesis
Many political science programs conclude with a master's thesis project, where graduate students must create an original research project, either based on a theoretical approach or a research study designed by the student. Graduate students work with a faculty adviser to complete the thesis, and students defend the thesis before a master's committee of faculty specialists.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Political Science?
Typically, master's programs in political science require two years of full-time study. Graduate students complete coursework to fulfill the graduation requirements and either pass an examination or defend a master's thesis. Most programs require learners to complete 30-36 credits. Each program sets its own specific requirements, which affect how long it takes to earn a master's in political science.
Graduate students may be able to complete their degree in less time by choosing an accelerated program, transferring in graduate credits, or petitioning for credit based on work experience. Students with work or family obligations may choose a longer degree path in order to balance their responsibilities; most programs allow students to complete their coursework on a part-time basis. Because the length of a political science master's program varies, prospective students should research their potential programs and contact the program's director of graduate studies to learn more about how long the degree may take.
How Much Is a Master's in Political Science?
The cost of a political science master's degree varies depending on the university. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, public universities charged an average tuition rate of approximately $11,600 per year for in-state graduate students during the 2016-2017 academic year, while private schools charged a higher rate of around $24,700. However, the actual cost of a master's in political science can be significantly lower or higher, depending on fees, books, living expenses, and financial support from scholarships and assistantships.
Prospective political science students can lower the cost of their degree by researching tuition discounts for in-state students or fully online students. Online students may also benefit from lower commuting, parking, and childcare expenses. Many master's programs in political science also offer funding packages to lower the total cost. This may include scholarships or financial awards for admitted students, or work-study opportunities through the department. Graduate programs may also offer research assistantships or teaching assistantships for master's students. In these roles, political science graduate students work under the supervision of a professor, conducting research, leading discussion sections, and grading undergraduate assignments. These positions may provide a tuition waiver and stipend, and they also provide valuable professional experience that helps graduates stand out on the job market.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Political Science Prepares For
Political science professionals do not need to hold specific certifications or licenses to practice in their field, unlike certain other professions, such as teaching and nursing. However, political science graduates may benefit from pursuing one of the following certifications or licenses, depending on their career path.
- Certified Political Scientist
The Academy of Certified Political Analysts confers a certification for political science professionals. Candidates must hold an accredited degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA and demonstrate a minimum of two years of professional experience in politics, government, or public service. Certified political scientists must meet continuing education requirements to maintain the designation.
- Certified Political Manager
Graduates with a political science master's degree and at least two years of experience in politics qualify for the certified political manager designation, offered by the Academy of Certified Political Analysts. Candidates must hold an accredited degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA and meet continuing education requirements.
- Certified Political Analyst
The Academy of Certified Political Analysts offers a certificate for political analysts, recognizing candidates who hold a political science master's degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA. Applicants must also demonstrate two years of experience in the field.
- Teaching License
Master's students who plan to teach at the K-12 level likely need to apply for a teaching license. In some states, a master's degree in political science meets the educational requirements for the licensure process, though requirements vary by state. Students considering a teaching license should research the requirements in their state.
Resources for Political Science Graduate Students
The political science career page, managed by the American Political Science Association (APSA), helps graduate students research potential career paths and locate internship opportunities. The page also lists open political science positions on its jobs board.
As the national honor society for political science, Pi Sigma Alpha provides opportunities for graduate students to apply for grants and awards. Membership in the society also demonstrates academic excellence to employers.
An internship database for political science students, this site lists openings in government agencies, Congress, and state and local government. APSA also provides resources on converting internships into job offers.
Founded in 1906 by APSA, the American Political Science Review publishes scholarly, peer-reviewed articles on political science. A valuable resource for graduate students, the journal covers all subfields of the discipline.
Offered by APSA, this list of journals that publish submissions from graduate students can help master's students gain valuable publishing experience and expand their resumes.
Professional Organizations in Political Science
Professional organizations help political science master's students advance their careers while earning their degree and after graduation. These organizations offer a variety of resources for students, such as scholarships, awards, and career centers. Political science professionals also benefit from networking opportunities at conferences and events, professional development and continuing education resources, and career services. Political science students often benefit from reduced membership fees and career counseling support, which helps them transition from their graduate program to the professional workforce.