Guide to College Majors in Political Science

Table of Contents

What is Political Science?

Continuing a tradition that started with the ancient Greeks, political science majors examine the development and the function of governments and the behavior of rulers throughout history. Many political science graduates pursue careers in government or public service, either as elected politicians, support staffers, or consulting analysts.

Other political science majors analyze the workings of governments from a distance by pursuing careers as tenure track faculty members at colleges and universities. Professors can influence current government policies by writing essays in political journals, by engaging politicians in debates, and by researching the effects of proposed laws. Faculty members also affect future political movements by encouraging students to explore controversial ideas.

During their degree programs, political science majors investigate the history and development of government rule. Students compare and contrast the types of political organizations that have ruled over the most prominent world cultures. By understanding the evolution of our current form of democracy, political science majors can integrate the best practices of past millennia into new ideas and proposals.

Political science majors review the formal laws and traditions of ruling bodies, as well as the informal but powerful ways that people influence each other. Students learn to appreciate the back room lobbying and the other subtle ways that real power brokers have shifted world culture over the years. Political science majors that study the hidden psychological elements of politics can become valuable advisors on their way to wielding true power and authority of their own.

What Do Political Science Majors Do?

Political science majors examine world events from a variety of perspectives. Because many voters often make decisions in the heat of the moment, students learn to research the context in which governments have thrived or failed in their missions to advance particular social agendas.

Students often concentrate on a specific area of politics, like international relations or local government. Very few politicians understand all the issues facing their constituents. Therefore, they rely on teams of expert analysts and consultants to fill in the gaps of their election platforms. Focusing on these specializations helps students to build a track record of research and understanding that will allow them to achieve expert status in their fields.

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Career Education in Political Science

Many colleges and universities encourage students of all ages to participate in their political science departments. Students can get a taste of the field by completing short certificate programs, or they can commit to a lifelong career through the pursuit of a doctorate in their chosen specialty. Depending on your own background and education, you can step into a variety of political science degree programs suited to your personal needs.

Diplomas, Certificates, and Associate Degrees in Political Science

Working professionals or students who did not complete their undergraduate degrees in political science can enhance their skills by enrolling in certificate programs or pursuing associate's degrees in the field. Certificate programs offer students the opportunity to build crucial skills in specialty areas. For working professionals, certificate programs can provide extra expertise to qualify for promotions or career moves.

An associate degree in political science can expose a student to some of the career opportunities available in public service. However, competition for paid opportunities is so fierce that most colleges and universities encourage associate's degree candidates to roll over their course credits into a full four-year program or into a master's degree program.

Bachelor's Degrees in Political Science

Bachelor's degree programs in political science provide students with the basic building blocks for a satisfying career in public service or in education. Students pick up critical thinking skills in logic, writing, and analysis. They enroll in degree-specific courses that include world politics, public opinion, and political behavior. They also immerse themselves in the history and development of organized government by studying ancient cultures, contemporary politics, and comparative politics.

To give students the opportunity to develop into well-rounded citizens of the world, political science degree programs also expose participants to key arts and humanities courses. Political science majors learn to view the effects of politics on art and culture by studying world literature. They gain a background in some of the physical sciences, as well as the mathematics that will help them process research data.

Most importantly, students pursuing a bachelor's degree in political science work with academic advisors to explore a set of elective courses that can help determine a student's career specialty. Students who want to build a career in international politics can bolster their resumes with courses in language, anthropology, and even diplomacy. Students who want to explore the economic side of government can enroll in business and law electives. Political science majors can take advantage of the tremendous flexibility within their degree programs to examine subjects of deep interest to them.

Many political science majors complete their bachelor's degree in about four years of full-time study. Working professionals or parents enrolled in online political science programs can often complete their degrees in less than five or six years. Most colleges and universities encourage their students to participate in an internship program for at least one semester or break period during their degree program.

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What Can You Do With a College Major in Political Science?

While many who choose to pursue political science degrees hope to launch political or other civil service careers in the future, there are a plethora of additional career prospects to consider.

Political Science Career Paths

High School Teacher

Many political science graduates can apply their skills to help educate high school students in politics, history, and civics. Political science majors are especially suited to advise students in a variety of co-curricular activities like debate, journalism, and student government. Many high school students first discover politics in their teens, and high school teachers can fuel their interest by helping students to learn about our political process.

College Professor

Students at traditional colleges often exercise their right to vote for the first time. They also shape many of the political opinions that they will carry throughout their adult lives. College professors not only help students learn the importance of participating in the political process, but they can inspire young adults to take more direct roles as campaigners and activists.

Legislative Aide

Many recent political science graduates get their first paid jobs as aides to state or federal legislators. Aides research topics of specific interest for their elected officials, and they communicate directly with constituents to understand challenges facing families in a legislator's home district. The most skilled legislative aides play major roles in shaping political discourse by leveraging their significant expertise in a specialized field.

Campaign Manager

Experienced organizers and activists marshal the significant donations of time and money to help their candidates win elections. While politicians take center stage at debates and other public appearances, campaign managers toil behind the scenes to work out platform compromises and to lobby influential local officials to support their causes.

In the past, campaign managers often used their roles as stepping stones to positions in government. Recently, a new group of career campaign managers has emerged. These experts work as freelancers and consultants for campaigns of all sizes. They work with potential mayors, senators, and presidents that seek their specific expertise in the hard battles of modern political campaigns.

State Legislator

Despite the constant attention on Capitol Hill, the vast majority of lawmakers work part-time in state capitols around the country. These legislators often balance professional careers in their hometowns with their passion for public service. Professionals from areas such as law or medicine often pursue degrees in political science to help understand their responsibilities as elected officials.

Agency Specialist

Federal or state agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Social Security Administration, or Federal Emergency Management Administration hire recent political science graduates to keep the wheels of government moving. These civil servants research new policies and enforce existing regulations at the pleasure of Congress and the President. Top ranking specialists often testify before Congress to report on trends in government agencies or challenges facing government institutions.

Legislative Attorney

Lawyers with a background in political science can specialize in reviewing potential laws for their enforceability or their Constitutionality. These specialist attorneys work in Washington, D.C., or in state capitols, where they help legislators write effective laws. By anticipating loopholes and eliminating vague clauses, legislative attorneys help speed new initiatives on their way to becoming new laws.

District Attorney

Though many prosecutors learn about their specialty in law school, attorneys who invest in a political science degree enjoy an edge when campaigning for top political offices in cities and states. To win elections, district attorneys must balance their expertise in the law with their ability to understand the needs and wants of voters in their districts.

Judge

Judges who must earn the trust of voters during elections can benefit from the skills and knowledge gained during a political science degree program. Judges who must earn political appointments from mayors, governors, or presidents can use their political science backgrounds to develop the personal connections necessary to position themselves for appointment to these powerful roles.

Lobbyist

A variety of professionals, especially attorneys and former politicians, use their connections and influence to persuade public officials to consider the political agendas of their clients. Traditionally, lobbyists have worked for large industries like banking, manufacturing, and agriculture. Their work paves the way for tax subsidies, grants, or other programs that benefit private business. Recently, private political action committees have hired lobbyists to help influence politicians' position on moral and cultural issues.

Consultant

In businesses like banking, insurance, and agriculture that rely heavily on forecasting to anticipate return on investment, professionals need to anticipate government moves that can impact their sales. Consultants analyze government bodies and report on potential laws and campaigns that can sway future profits.

Press Secretary

Professionals with backgrounds in both journalism and political science can help elected officials manage their public personas by handling press appearances and fielding questions. Press secretaries vet all requests for interviews, and often work with teams of specialists to polish an official's public remarks.

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Preparing for Political Science Career Opportunities

Prospective political science majors who have not yet graduated from high school can bolster their chances of success in college. By enrolling in advanced placement courses in history and mathematics, high school students can earn valuable college credit. Students can use this credit to finish their degree programs sooner, or to free up time during the semester to participate in career building internships.

Many political science students benefit from participating as volunteers in political campaigns. Some degree programs even allow students to earn course credits for campaign work by keeping a detailed journal of their experiences, emphasizing the ways that they are applying the principles they have studied in class.

Political Science Career Trends

Though American voters tend not to participate in the democratic process as much as citizens of other democratic countries, we still enjoy a healthy fascination with the political process. With satellite television and the Internet fueling unprecedented levels of public debate, political science has become a hot career choice for many young professionals. Some political science graduates have launched lucrative and influential careers as political pundits. Though they have never held public office, they write bestselling books, comment on weblogs, and appear on political talk shows to bolster their political points of view.

Although political science professionals compete ferociously for positions in and around Washington, D.C., more lawmakers from other regions in the country have started to rely more heavily on teams of skilled supporters. Mayors of large cities have watched their own campaigns evolve into mirrors of major national elections. Senators and Representatives who wield tremendous power inside the Beltway must still answer to constituents at home who want to understand how their officials' actions benefit them in the long run.

All these campaigns require strategists, researchers, coordinators, publicists, and pollsters. Though a handful of large firms have sprung up to meet the needs of high profile politicians, most political science professionals begin their careers by putting their skills to work in a small election or in a local cell of a larger campaign. Many professionals start off as unpaid volunteers or interns, but the most successful professionals can leverage their success into large salaries and speaking fees.

In addition, many professionals can enhance their existing careers by enrolling in postgraduate political science study. Local businesspeople, attorneys, and activists can enroll in part-time political science programs that can provide them with valuable skills to organize communities and win elections. Likewise, specialist professionals with an understanding of political science can lobby effectively for changes to laws that benefit their industries.

Skills of Successful Political Science Majors

Those who succeed in political science careers and degree programs often express a number of the following skills and characteristics:

  • Thorough understanding of the American political system. Because many political science majors use their degrees to either study or participate in our political system, graduates leave their degree programs with intimate knowledge of even the most obscure processes and traditions. Students learn the history of parliamentary procedure and the innovations that American lawmakers have introduced to our system over the centuries.
  • Efficiency in oral presentation. Whether debating rivals on political issues or leading classroom discussions, political science majors learn to speak confidently in a variety of group settings. Because history shows us that the charisma a politician can sometimes overpower the facts of a debate, political science majors discover the crucial speech and presentation skills that will help them express their ideas effectively.
  • Comprehensive and accurate research skills. Lawmakers, lobbyists, and lecturers all rely on their ability to discover the solutions to complex questions so they can present the strongest arguments on a political issue. Whether preparing for a debate or writing a comprehensive piece of literary punditry, political science professionals rely on hard facts to sell their ideas to the public.
  • Effective interview skills and techniques. When developing platforms on controversial issues, political science majors must learn to appreciate the views of the voters that they hope to represent. During their degree programs, students learn to effectively and ethically interview citizens to understand their opinions without introducing bias into their questions. By understanding the strength of statistical representations of populations, political science majors can appreciate the power of political polling.
  • Strong written communication skills. Political science professionals exercise the pen far often than soldiers use their swords. During their degree programs, students learn to write clear, concise reports and memos. Political science majors discover the craft of writing effective letters to policy makers, newspaper editors, and other people of influence. They also understand the importance of distilling complex political scenarios into persuasive opinion pieces and executive summaries.
  • Understanding of international politics and policy. Though most politics happens at home, skilled political science professionals view the world with a keen understanding of the ways that foreign affairs can influence America life. Students learn the differences between major forms of government and the distinctions that exist between our version of democracy and the kinds of representative governments in other countries. Most importantly, political science majors develop an appreciation for the traditions of diplomacy. The ability to respect foreign points of view even when we disagree with them is a powerful skill that can prevent deadly conflict.

Certification, Licensure, and Associations

Professionals seeking careers as teachers must meet local and state requirement for certification. Many municipalities require teachers to pursue additional or continuous education to maintain their eligibility.

Federal agencies require job applicants pass a complex entry exam before receiving an invitation for a personal interview. Along with answering personal questions during an interview, candidates may also be required to participate in role playing exercises with field agents or other job applicants.

Meanwhile, prospective civil servants must pass a rigorous background check. Although previous criminal activity or connections to felons or foreign agents do not automatically rule out a career in the federal government, applicants should divulge potentially embarrassing or incriminating information as early in the interview process as possible.

Upon passing the substance abuse tests and background check, new agency employees are assigned a low level security clearance. As they work on higher profile projects, specialists can gradually earn higher level clearances.

Professional Associations for Political Science Majors

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