What Can You Do With a Political Science Degree?

Political science teaches high-value skills in research, communication, and analysis that can be applied to jobs in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors.
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  • Political science prepares students for jobs in politics, policy, international affairs, and media.
  • Hard and soft skills developed in political science translate across public and private sectors.
  • A growing focus of poli/sci programs, data analysis is a highly in-demand professional skill.

According to Census Bureau data from the 2018 midterm elections, voter turnout among 18- to 24-year-olds jumped 16% from 2014. Non-presidential elections typically don't draw people to the polls, but young adults' political engagement is on the rise. Even though more are interested in politics, few are knowledgeable about it.

There are many political issues that are vital to college-aged students. Among them are college affordability, racial equity, gun control, and climate change. Many students may want to pursue these areas as a career — whether in terms of research, advocacy, or direct action — but don't know how to get started.

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This is why prospective college students eager to make an impact on the world should consider majoring in political science. In this field, you'll study concepts of ethics, justice, and democracy; learn about systems of government and political behavior; and apply theory to current political events.

Political science is a versatile degree. It can springboard a career in politics and policy, nonprofit work, business, media, or education. The research, communication, and data analysis skills acquired in the study of political science also have wide applications in both the private and public sectors.

Becoming a political scientist, or someone who analyzes and proposes policy, usually requires at least a master's or doctoral degree. With a BA or BS (each has slightly different course requirements), graduates can land an entry-level administrative, communication, or analyst job with a public sector organization, business, or nonprofit.

Political science is also one of the traditional majors for undergraduates on their way to law school.

What Do You Study in a Political Science Program?

Political science deals directly with the philosophy and practice of political systems, but the skills developed through political science courses are applicable to an array of industries.

While some college programs divide the subject in different ways, political science traditionally contains four subfields.

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    Political Theory

    Students study human nature, citizen behavior, and the moral purpose of government, learning from a mix of ancient Greek philosophers and modern political theorists.

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    Comparative Politics

    Students evaluate the development and effectiveness of different political systems and consider how these systems can provide for citizens and support values like order and freedom. This subfield specifically looks at how systems diverge and align to discover general laws and theories.

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    International Relations

    Students analyze the interactions of international actors, including states, corporations, and organizations like the United Nations. This subfield covers a spectrum of global matters, such as war, trade, finance, development, and national security.

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    American Government and Politics

    Students learn about the American political system, with its unique presidency, congress, courts, and state politics; they also delve into American policies and political ideas, and explore the role of mass media.

Over the past decade, the growing importance of data analysis has led to the emergence of a fifth subfield in political science.

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    Political Methodology

    Students practice and develop new methods for the scientific study of politics using experiments, statistics, econometrics, and formal theory.

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What Is a Political Science Degree?

All political science degrees, whether an associate degree or Ph.D., fall under social sciences. Social sciences are usually considered a "soft" science, compared with a "hard," objective science like chemistry or physics; however, political science is becoming increasingly data-driven.

A bachelor's degree in political science can be earned as either a bachelor of arts (BA) or a bachelor of science (BS). The categorization and ability to choose your degree type vary among schools. If both options exist, their requirements will be slightly different.

The course of study for a BS in political science typically includes mathematics and statistics.

Types of Political Science Degrees
Degree Curriculum Next Step Career Outlook
Associate English, American history, social science, major concepts of political science, macroeconomics Prepares students to transfer to a bachelor's program in political science as a junior. Not sufficient for most jobs directly related to political science, but can prepare students for office administration.
Bachelor's Political theory, comparative politics, international relations, American government and politics, political methodology BA or BS degree-holders can enter the job force or continue their education with graduate school or law studies. Meets basic requirements for some entry-level positions at agencies, nonprofits, and companies.
Master's Political theory, philosophy, economics, behavior and institutions, security, peace and conflict, race and ethnicity, thesis Intended to lead to a doctorate, but can replace work experience for professional advancement. With a master's degree, graduates can work as political scientists, high school teachers, and senior analysts.
Doctorate Advanced political theory, quantitative research, modeling, statistics, dissertation Terminal degree in political science. A Ph.D. is required to work in academia and to hold specific leadership roles.

Public Administration vs. Political Science

Public administration — a related but distinct field to political science — prepares students for civil service work in the public and nonprofit sectors at the administrative level. Sometimes considered an offshoot of political science, public administration puts policy into practice.

If you’re pursuing a career as a public servant, an MPA could be preferable to a master’s in political science.

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Compared with political science, public administration is less theoretical and more pragmatic, with a bigger focus on organization, conduct/ethics, and budgeting.

Many colleges offer undergraduate and graduate programs in public administration, while others offer public policy programs or combine public administration with business administration. A master of public administration (MPA) and master of public policy (MPP) are both considered professional degrees, similar to an MBA for business executives or a JD for lawyers.

If you're pursuing a career as a public servant, an MPA could be preferable to a master's in political science. A bachelor's degree in political science is also considered a good springboard to public administration programs at the graduate level.

Political Science Career Tracks

Political science majors work in public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Some apply their training directly to politics and policy, but the hard and soft skills developed through a political science curriculum can lead to diverse career paths.

Field Jobs for Political Science Majors
State/Local Government Legislative assistant, policy analyst, staff assistant, press aide
Federal Government Political scientist, agency administrator, legislative assistant, legislative director, press aide, policy analyst
Nonprofit Advocate, development officer, policy researcher, program director, think tank fellow, communications coordinator
International Affairs Diplomat, international NGO advisor
Private Business Consultant, lobbyist
Media Reporter, telejournalist, news anchor, radio host, writer, editor, social media manager
Marketing Market researcher, advertising executive, creative director
Education High school teacher (social studies, U.S. government, civics), librarian
Corporate Public relations manager, human resources specialist, data analyst

Many of the career paths open to political science graduates deal directly with textual analysis, data crunching, and persuasive communication. While as a course of study political science focuses on systems of power and governance, the practical abilities and thought patterns rehearsed in class are applicable beyond just politics.

Is a Political Science Degree Worth It?

Political science is a versatile degree that can apply to many professions. Whether you pursue a career in politics and policy or translate your analytical and communicative skills to the private sphere, the degree's potential return on investment can be quite high.

A bachelor's degree in political science meets the qualifications for a wide variety of entry-level, white-collar positions that deal with administration, communication, and/or data.

Median Political Science Salaries

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale

According to PayScale, political science majors can start out earning $50,000-$70,000 as research analysts, program and account managers, and marketing professionals. As with other majors, salaries and career possibilities for political science degree-holders can be enhanced with advanced education.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, political scientist jobs are projected to increase by 5% — as fast as the average growth rate for all occupations — between 2018 and 2028. However, career prospects will vary depending on whether you pursue political science as a career or as a launchpad for other job opportunities.

Establishing a Career in Politics and Policy

A successful career in politics and policy takes a lot of networking, perhaps more than any other career track. Building a web of scholars and professionals in the field starts with your education. Professors can offer valuable industry connections, and peers may become coworkers and competitors.

Completing an internship after graduating college is generally essential to securing a political science job. This is especially true in political hubs like Washington, D.C., and New York. Internships also allow you to experience working in specific areas of interest, such as state governance, international relations, and immigration policy.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Internships, particularly paid internships, often lead to full-time jobs. Political interns can find a career foothold in many industries, such as education and technology. Work experience at places like MSNBC, the U.S. Congress, or Amnesty International can help poli/sci majors land their first full-time jobs in media, politics, or nonprofit work.

While political scientists perform vital work at many agencies and organizations, most work for the federal government. The organizations that employ political scientists tend to promise secure, well-compensated careers, but the reality is that the number of qualified candidates is projected to exceed the number of available positions.

Demand for political scientists in federal government, political organizations, lobbying firms, and labor unions will generally keep pace, but political scientists can expect to face fierce competition for jobs in the coming years.

Should You Attend Graduate School in Political Science?

Political science is unique in that it combines quantitative and qualitative approaches to research and information. While a bachelor's degree in political science prepares students for entry-level jobs in business and administration, it also imparts skills that can be leveraged to enter a host of other fields, such as media or marketing.

If you're passionate about working as a political scientist, you should consider graduate school, which can prepare you to do research in an academic or public policy setting.

Political science graduate students study advanced political theory, conduct original research, and work to enter the broader political conversation by publishing their findings.

A master's degree in political science can prepare you to earn a Ph.D. or to perform research at nonprofit or public sector organizations.

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A master's in political science can prepare you to earn a Ph.D. or to perform research at nonprofit or public sector organizations. With a doctorate, you can become a professor or assume a senior role at a think tank or government agency.

However, it's important to note that, as with many professions, political science is a competitive field. The current academic market is full of graduates vying for a limited number of academic positions, and outside academia, the public policy world comes with its own set of professional challenges.

The competition in political science is real, but for driven individuals, there's always opportunity.

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