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Political Science Careers

Are you interested in American politics? International affairs? Critical issues such as health, the environment, civil rights? Do you want to study these subjects and pursue a career based on your interest? If so, you should select political science as a major.

Political science is the study of government and public policy and of the political behavior of individuals and groups. Political science uses both humanistic and scientific perspectives and skills to examine the United States, all countries and regions of the world, and international relations. Because of its breadth and diversity, political science is a very popular undergraduate major.

Political science majors acquire skills in writing, communications, and analysis that are critical to a liberal arts education. A liberal arts education prepares students to think independently, with tolerance for others and concern for current affairs. Today, students can reasonably expect to change jobs and even to have more than one career. An undergraduate education in the liberal arts and sciences is excellent preparation for flexibility in employment.

Political science majors qualify for many different careers in private and public sector organizations, including careers in business, the law, state, local and federal government, journalism, international organizations and finance, political campaigns, interest groups and associations, and pre-college and college teaching.

Political science training also provides valuable preparation for participating in community organizations, electoral politics, movements on behalf of specific policies, or even seeking elected or appointed positions in government. Many of these are voluntary activities. But opportunities also exist for part-time and full-time positions in politics and government, particularly at the local level.

Political Science in High School and Beyond

The study of civics and government is fundamental to preparation for citizenship as an American and as a member of an interdependent world community. Consequently, most secondary schools have courses in civics and government that introduce students to American politics. In addition, political issues and leaders in the United States and other countries are discussed in history and other social science courses. If these topics interest you, you can pursue them further in virtually every college and university in the United States. The study of politics usually begins with survey courses on American politics, comparative politics, international relations, and political theory. These courses will not only introduce you to concepts in politics, policy issues, and the structure of governments and relationships among society and nations, but they will also impart analytical and communications skills.

To pursue the study of politics further, you can take advanced courses on more specific institutions, policies, and aspects of political life whether in the United States and/or in other nations. Political science majors select courses that interest them and prepare them for professional or graduate education or for careers that can be entered with a B.A. degree.

Political Science for Undergraduate Students

If you are an undergraduate interested in majoring in political science, you should consult your undergraduate advisor and the advisory staff of your college or university's political science department. The department will have detailed information about the major's objectives and requirements. Many departments now offer specialized "tracks" or "concentrations" including pre-law, public administration, and international relations. Joint programs in specialized country studies or area studies may be offered in conjunction with other disciplines, particularly foreign languages, history, and economics.

Many undergraduate major programs are likely to provide students with opportunities for experiential education through internships in governmental agencies -- local, state, and federal --political parties, and campaign organizations. For students interested in international affairs, there are exchange programs and opportunities to study abroad. These internships not only give students insight into the reality of politics and government but also training and contacts that can be helpful in career planning and employment.

Other Options
  1. Graduate School
    If you are completing your undergraduate studies and wish to go on to graduate study, you have several options. If you would like to continue to study political science, and are considering a career as a political scientist: Discuss your interest with your advisor and with your professors in political science. Ask for guidance about graduate study and about the work of political scientists. The American Political Science Association has a brochure to help you, "Earning a Ph.D. in Political Science," and a publication, Graduate Faculty and Programs in Political Science, that identifies the programs and faculty and entrance requirements for all graduate programs. The political science department at your college or university should have these publications. If not, they can be ordered from the APSA (American Political Science Association). Contact the departments and institutions whose programs interest you and follow their application procedures.

    If you are interested in graduate study in political science but not in pursuing a career in research and college teaching, there are master's degree programs in political science. Many of these are specialized professional programs in public administration, public policy analysis, international relations, and political campaign management. To learn about these programs, you should:
    • Consult with your advisor and with political science faculty, especially faculty who specialize in the field or policy area(s) and governing institutions that interest you.
    • Consult the Association's Graduate Faculty and Programs in Political Science and write for further information and applications to the universities offering desirable programs.
  2. Law School
    A considerable proportion of political science undergraduate majors go on to law school. Many political science departments and most colleges have a pre-law advisor to assist students. Consult this advisor for procedures on how to apply to law school. For information on specific law schools, consult directories at your college and university library or career office. You may also contact the American Bar Association (312/988-5000) for information.
  3. Business
    Many political science majors go on to careers in business. Their undergraduate training offers a good preparation for graduate programs in business. Students who have focused on international relations or country/area studies may find opportunities in international business and trade. It is possible to begin a business career with a bachelor's degree. Large corporations and banks have professional training programs for many employees. But, if you are interested in attending business school:
    • Discuss your interest with an advisor or college career counselor, and
    • Review the appropriate guides and catalogues to identify graduate business programs. Contact the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (314/872-8495) for more information.
  4. Teaching
    If you are interested in teaching in elementary, middle, or high school, contact the state board of education and the education department or school in your college or university. The professional association for social studies teachers, the National Council for the Social Studies (202/966-7840) has information about the training and certification requirements for public school teachers.

    Education reformers agree that the best preparation for teachers is a liberal arts major, and private schools are particularly interested in teachers with a strong substantive background. Political science majors who wish to teach may acquire training in teaching methods as undergraduates or in a graduate program for a Master of Arts in Teaching.
  5. Journalism
    If you are interested in a career in print or broadcast journalism, a political science major can give you substantive expertise and analytical and communications training. Journalism can be entered with a bachelor's degree or following a graduate program in journalism. To find out more about this career, contact the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (803/771-2005).
  6. Public and International Affairs
    While careers in public affairs can be pursued with a bachelor's degree in political science, there are graduate programs that offer specialized professional training for careers in public affairs and public service. There are also programs in public administration, public policy, and political campaign management. Such programs provide training for management positions in governmental agencies, professional and interest group organizations, and the governmental relations divisions of corporations. Many of the programs offer concentrations in international as well as domestic affairs.

    For further information on graduate public administration programs, call the American Society for Public Administration (202/393-7878). For information about schools of public policy, contact the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (202/628-8965). If you have a particular interest in international affairs, contact the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (202/862-7989).
Undergraduate Majors Who Will Be Seeking Immediate Employment

A bachelor's degree in political science can lead to employment in business, government, journalism, and organizations advocating public policies or representing specific groups. These jobs can utilize the analytical skills and/or administrative competence of political science majors. To prepare to seek employment:

  • Consult your teachers and college placement counselors. Seek advice about opportunities and about how your own skills and achievements can best be used. It is never too early to contact your college's placement office and determine how to identify jobs that interest you and to prepare to apply for these jobs.
  • Explore other job opportunities by contacting government agencies, corporations, local, state, and federal employment agencies, newspapers, and professional associations.
  • Prepare a resume. Emphasize broad analytical and communications skills as well as substantive knowledge gained from your political science courses. Highlight internship and job experiences.
  • Send your resume to organizations that interest you and work with your college placement office to schedule interviews with businesses and government agencies recruiting on your campus. Pursue direct contacts for jobs that interest you by talking with people in these jobs and asking their suggestions.
  • Pursue direct contacts for jobs that interest you by talking with people in these jobs and asking their suggestions.
  • Seek out an internship while you are still in college with an Organization that interests you.
Other Options

Graduate School

If you are completing your undergraduate studies and wish to go on to graduate study, you have several options. If you would like to continue to study criminal justice, and are considering a career in criminal justice: Discuss your interest with your advisor and with your professors in criminal justice. Ask for guidance about graduate study and about the work of criminal justice professionals. The American Society of Criminology (www.asc41.com) and the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (www.acjs.org) have information to help you, which identifies the programs and faculty and entrance requirements for all graduate programs. The criminal justice department at your college or university should have these publications. If not, they can be ordered from the appropriate organizations. Contact the departments and institutions whose programs interest you and follow their application procedures.

If you are interested in graduate study in criminal justice but not in pursuing a career in research and college teaching, there are master's degree programs in criminology and criminal justice. Many of these are specialized professional programs in law enforcement, courts, and corrections. To learn about these programs, you should consult with your advisor and with criminal justice faculty, especially faculty who specialize in the field or specialties that interest you.