Political science is the multidisciplinary branch of social science dedicated to studying the theory and practice of politics in different government systems, as well as how wealth and resources are distributed among citizens. The field of political science can further be subdivided into niche subjects like comparative politics, international relations, public administration, and global health. In the course of their work, political scientists draw on history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, economics, and other social science disciplines related to politics and government, as well as law, ethics, policy, and advocacy.

What are the best political science programs of 2020? Here are our top 5:

Rank School Location
1 University of Illinois Springfield Springfield, IL
2 University of West Florida Pensacola, FL
3 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg, VA
4 Georgia State University Atlanta, GA
5 Eastern Illinois University Charleston, IL

A large number of political science professionals begin their careers at the college level. While many complete their education with a bachelor's degree, a master's is considered the minimum educational attainment level for political scientists, teachers, and other popular careers in political science. The master's in political science pathway will introduce students to complex concepts related to the executive, judicial, and legislative functions of different government systems, as well as historical impacts and contemporary issues affecting politics worldwide. Many of today's students are choosing to earn their master's in political science online, rather than in a classroom. Web-based students follow the same rigorous curricula as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, leading to a comparable number of post-graduation job opportunities. The asynchronous (or self-paced) format of most online master's in political science degree programs is also ideal for students with other commitments that may interfere with campus-based education, such as part-time employment or family obligations.

Learn more about what you can do with an online master's in political science and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to with this comprehensive guide.

Choosing a Program

WILL AN ONLINE MASTER'S IN POLITICAL SCIENCE PROGRAM PROVIDE ME WITH THE SKILLS I NEED TO ADVANCE MY CAREER?

A master's in political science degree will build on the foundational areas of undergraduate education while also introducing more advanced theories and approaches to the field. The curriculum leans heavily on academic research and comparative studies. Master's degree programs often allow students to focus their studies on a specialized area of political science, such as comparative politics, political economy, or global relations. Those who earn a degree specialization will be highly qualified to enter the workforce and seek job opportunities within their scope of expertise.

WILL AN ONLINE MASTER'S IN POLITICAL SCIENCE PROGRAM WORK WITH MY SCHEDULE?

Master's in political science online programs provide a flexible, user-friendly alternative to traditional postsecondary education. Students are able to download course lectures and readings, participate in virtual discussions with other students, submit written assignments, take exams and communicate with their professors on their own schedule. Current technology also enables them to study away from their home computer using a laptop, tablet, smartphone and other portable devices with Wi-Fi capabilities.

WHAT JOBS CAN I GET WITH MY MASTER'S IN POLITICAL SCIENCE?

A master's degree is considered the minimum educational attainment level for most political scientist jobs. Additionally, the master's can serve as a good stepping-stone for students who plan to earn a doctoral degree political science, which will enable them to work as political science professors or academic researchers. Other popular career paths in political science ― including public relations, fundraising, and journalism ― are attainable with a bachelor's degree, so graduates with a master's will be well-positioned for these occupational roles, as well.

WHAT ARE THE BEST ONLINE MASTER'S IN POLITICAL SCIENCE PROGRAMS?

Choosing a program is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school's strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online master's in political science programs in the United States. Our ranking is based on the courses schools offer, available specializations, student outcomes, career support services, and other criteria used to determine academic excellence. If you are considering an online master's degree in political science, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific requirements and offerings.

Accredited Online Master's in Political Science Programs

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Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle
1

University of Illinois Springfield

Springfield, IL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 51%

UIS is a public institution serving over 4,200 students. The university offers 30 bachelor's degrees, 20 master's degrees, and one doctoral program. Political science is among the most popular graduate disciplines at UIS, with degrees available on campus and online.

The university's online master's in political science primarily serves professionals seeking careers in politics or education. A majority of the program's 40-credit curriculum consists of electives, allowing students to customize the degree as desired. All students must complete a final comprehensive examination, thesis, or participant/observer case study.

Admission requires a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA and a strong background in political science, history, or social sciences. All students pay a special online tuition rate, regardless of residency.

2

University of West Florida

Pensacola, FL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 43%

UWF is a public university with a main campus in Pensacola and additional campuses located across the region. More than 12,000 students attend each year, 29% of whom study exclusively online.

Designed for students with interests in international relations, comparative politics, and public policy, UWF's online master's degree in political science requires 33 credits. The program's synchronous delivery offers face-to-face interaction through live lectures. The curriculum culminates in a thesis or written/oral comprehensive examination.

Admission requires a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA, acceptable GRE or MAT scores, and a sample research paper. Undergraduate political science or international studies majors with a GPA of 3.25 or higher may not need to submit test scores.

3

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Blacksburg, VA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 84%

Virginia Tech is a major research university serving more than 34,000 students each year. The university encompasses a 2,600-acre main campus, a 1,800-acre agriculture research farm, facilities across the state, and an online catalog of graduate degrees and certificates.

Virginia Tech's online master's in political science requires 30 credits, including three core classes, four elective courses, and nine credits of thesis and research. The program delivers all coursework asynchronously for increased flexibility.

Admission requires a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA, three letters of recommendation, a letter of interest, and a current CV. The GRE is recommended but not required. Virginia Tech enrolls approximately 30-45 online political science students.

4

Georgia State University

Atlanta, GA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 54%

Georgia State operates six campuses throughout the Atlanta metro area. This public research university boasts one of the most diverse student bodies in the country, serving over 53,000 learners. Seventeen of the university's graduate degrees and certificates are offered fully online, including a master's in political science.

The program's 30-credit curriculum offers a concentration in professional politics, which prepares students to pursue careers in public service, lobbying, and advocacy. Available courses include campaign organization and management, interbranch politics, and a seminar in international politics. Students must complete an experiential learning project and a non-thesis research paper.

Georgia State admits new political science students each fall. Prospective students should provide two letters of recommendation, a writing sample, and a statement of research interests. GRE scores are required, although qualified applicants may qualify for waivers.

5

Eastern Illinois University

Charleston, IL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 58%

EIU is a public institution serving more than 7,000 students. The university offers 30 online degrees and certificates. EIU's online master's degree in political science with an option in public administration and public policy prepares graduates for careers in government agencies, nonprofit and civic leadership, urban planning and development, and public policy research.

Requiring 32 credits, EIU's political science curriculum provides advanced training in analytical, methodological, and theoretical approaches to the discipline. Students take core courses in public administration and research methods. Participants also complete two open electives and a capstone project.

Admission requires a minimum 2.75 undergraduate GPA, a personal goals statement, and two letters of recommendation. Start dates are available in the fall, spring, and summer. All online political science students pay the same tuition, regardless of residency.

WHAT ELSE CAN I EXPECT FROM AN ONLINE MASTER'S IN POLITICAL SCIENCE PROGRAM?

Timeline 18 months to 2 years
Program Costs $25,000 to $50,000
Related Areas of Study Law and Policy, Government, Sociology, Anthropology, Economics, U.S. Politics and Government, International Politics, Political Theory, Comparative Politics, and Philosophy

WHAT TO EXPECT AS A STUDENT IN AN ONLINE MASTER'S IN POLITICAL SCIENCE PROGRAM

The curriculum for a master's in political science degree track will cover a wide breadth of academic subjects. Students should expect coursework in U.S. and international politics, political theory, politics and religion, criminal justice, legislation, public administration, public health, and global economics. Those who elect to follow a specialization pathway will be required to complete five to 10 courses exclusively dedicated to that particular field ― though specializations may not be available at certain colleges and universities.

The master's in political science will sometimes culminate in a capstone course, or comprehensive research project that allows students to apply the skills and knowledge they have gained to address a contemporary political issue or trend. If a capstone project is not required, then students will usually take a final exam instead. Many master's in political science recipients choose to study abroad during some or all of their degree program; overseas learning is required in some cases.

It's crucial to research the accreditation status of an MBA program before fully committing to it. In the U.S., online master's programs in political science do not receive programmatic accreditation. However, students should make sure that their college or university has received regional or national accreditation before committing to it.

JOB PLACEMENT: MASTER'S IN POLITICAL SCIENCE

Historically, the job outlook for political science professionals with a master's degree has been somewhat mixed. On one hand, those who receive a master's will enjoy lower unemployment rates than their counterparts with lower credentials. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that the average master's degree recipient faces an unemployment rate of 2.4%; by comparison, the unemployment rate for bachelor's and associate degree-holders is 2.8% and 3.8%, respectively.

On the other hand, political science is a relatively small, specialized field with little to no job growth projections in the years to come. U.S. News & World Report notes that political scientists currently face an unemployment rate of 7.9%. Comparatively, the average unemployment rate for all occupations nationwide currently sits at 4.5%. The job outlook is stronger for professionals working in different areas of political science. Public relations specialists, for instance, currently hold an unemployment rate of 1.1%.

The table below looks at projected job growth for four of the most common careers in political science.

Occupation Current Number of Jobs Projected Job Growth (2014-24) Projected Job Increase (2014-24)
Political Scientists 6,200 -2% -100
Public Relations Specialists 240,700 6% +14,900
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers 65,800 7% +4,700
Fundraisers 73,400 9% 6,900

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

EARNING A LIVING

Like unemployment rates and projected job outlook, the salary potential for someone with a master's in political science will often come down to their specific job title. Other factors to consider include experience level, employer size, and city/state of employment. The next table looks at 20-year earnings growth estimates for five of the most common careers in political science for master's degree recipients.

Occupation Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Median Annual Salary for Experienced Median Annual Salary for Late-Career
Public Relations Specialist $41,877 $54,057 $60,563 $60,173
Public Relations Manager $51,770 $67,115 $74,905 $75,446
Campaign Manager $50,474 $61,609 $79,208 $73,469
Campaign Director $56,000 $61,000 $99,000 $147,000
Fundraiser $43,904 $52,539 $61,013 $80,000

Source: PayScale

All five occupations experience salary growth of at least 43% after 20 years on the job. Campaign directors reported the highest growth rate: a staggering 162.5% increase in earnings between the entry-level and late-career stages. Fundraisers ranked second with 82.2% salary growth, followed by campaign managers with 45.7% growth.

Career Opportunities

Those who earn a master's in political science will be qualified for dozens of top-level jobs once they have completed their degree program, although individual eligibility may depend on specialization areas. Four popular career pathways in political science are outlined below.

Political Scientists: Political scientists research the establishment, development, and current state of different government systems. They study history, current events, political trends, and statistics in order to back up their theories, and often publish their work and present findings at professional conferences.

Political Science Teachers (Postsecondary): Political science is widely taught in U.S. colleges and universities, primarily at the undergraduate level. Political science teachers often lead courses related to their area(s) of expertise, and may also conduct academic research of their own and publish their work in peer-reviewed journals.

Public Relations Specialists: Public relations specialists (PR specialists for short) are responsible for cultivating a positive image for individuals and organizations they represent. They often draft press releases, schedule public speaking engagements, reach out to journalists, and oversee social media activity related to their clients.

Public Relations and Fundraising Managers: PR and fundraising managers create promotional materials and secure funding for individuals and organizations they represent. In politics, these personnel often work for candidates, elected officials, advocacy groups, and other entities with a stake in the U.S. government.

Occupation Median Annual Salary
Political Scientists $99,730
Political Science Teachers (Postsecondary) $94,090
Public Relations Specialists $56,770
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers $104,140

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Professional Organizations

Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to political science is crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you'll find three of the country's most prominent organizations established for political science professionals. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates. Resources like these often prove invaluable as you complete your degree requirements and prepare to enter the job market.

  • American Political Science Association: Founded in 1903, the APSA today represents more than 13,000 members in 80 different countries. The association published four different peer-reviewed journals and hosts a handful of events, including an annual exhibition in a different major city each year.
  • International Political Science Association: UNESCO established IPSA in 1949 to "support the development of political science in all parts of the world, building academic networks linking East and West, North and South". Membership is offered at individual, institutional, and collective rates.
  • International Association for Political Science Students: The IAPSS represents more than 1,000 students worldwide and publishes two peer-reviewed journals. Membership benefits include voting rights in general assembly meetings held each year, an invitation to join different committees, and complimentary magazine and journal subscriptions.

Financing Your Online Master's in Political Science

Despite the relative affordability of online master's programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.

AN OVERVIEW OF FINANCIAL AID

Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.

UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.

FINANCIAL AID FOR ONLINE COLLEGE STUDENTS

Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR WOMEN

Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We've curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR SINGLE PARENTS

Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.

FINANCIAL AID FOR VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY

Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.

SCHOLARSHIPS AND FINANCIAL AID FOR ONLINE STUDENTS

Students who pursue online degrees will be eligible for scholarships, grants and other financial aid that is unavailable to their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Learn more about these financial opportunities for web-based learners.

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