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Political Science Major Overview

Interested in how governments work, or perhaps planning on going into politics yourself? Then, you might want to consider pursuing a political science major. Studying political science will not only give you a sturdy background in political theories and related topics. It will also give you impressive analysis and research skills, which you can put to good use even if you choose to pursue a profession outside of politics.

So, keep on reading to learn more about the political science major, including typical political science coursework, how to determine if it’s the right major for you, and what you can do with a degree in political science!

What is a political science major?

Political science is a social science field requiring those who major in it to study governments and politics, both in theory and in practice. Covering a large range of topics including political theory, comparative politics, and international relations, political science majors should develop the skills and knowledge to approach research questions themselves by the time they finish their degrees. After graduating, political science majors have many options – not being limited to political science-related careers. If they wish, political science majors can go onto graduate or professional school to study law, international relations, or even seemingly unrelated fields like medicine. Alternatively, they can go on to teach or go into business, but we’ll get more into career options later. For now, let’s see what type of coursework you should expect while studying political science in college.

See Also: Top political science scholarships

Coursework to expect

Although specific major requirements may vary by school, there are a few requirements and courses anyone can expect. For one, you should know that you will likely have to take classes and explore topics from across the field, rather than focusing on one particular part. This is even true for those at universities which mandate that you pick a subfield within the major, as each major typically requires that students pick courses from a variety of subfields. Further, you will likely still be taking the same or similar core classes as those who were not required to pick a subfield. 

As you progress further into the major, you may start exploring more niche topics, such as international law, energy policy, or even civil war. And, as with many social science fields which partake in research, you may be expected or encouraged to take a statistics course. Taking a statistics and/or research methods class will be helpful if you’re interested in getting involved in research at your school (which will then help out with grad school admissions!). Alternatively, if you have some extra time and you aren’t interested in research, you may even consider doing an internship in a campaign office or law firm, as some schools will offer course credit for these (and they will look impressive on your résumé!).

Opportunities after graduation

While the number of positions are somewhat limited if you’re only looking at political science-related careers, there’s more than you think if you look beyond! Here’s just a few career options that you can pursue with a poli-sci degree (including those that aren’t specifically related to the field!): 

  • Political Scientists
  • Diplomats
  • Budget Analysts
  • Survey Researcher
  • Policy Analyst
  • Journalist
  • Legislative Assistant
  • Researcher (requires a Ph.D.)

And that’s just a small sliver of the available positions for those with degrees in political science! As you can see, many of the careers are not related specifically to politics. A poli-sci degree gives you communication and critical thinking skills that are largely transferrable to other fields.  These include business, journalism, law, and even academia!

Also see: Top reasons to become a lawyer

Salaries in political science 

As a political science major, you’ll be preparing yourself for a wide variety of potential careers. Because you will acquire skills in writing, communications, and problem solving, you will be a versatile part of the workforce. As you may have realized by now, the career options available with a political science degree vary widely. So, the salaries vary quite a bit as well. But to help give you an idea of how much you may make, we can provide you with a few average salaries of poli-sci related jobs. Just remember, the listed salaries are all median pay, so they will probably be higher than your starting salary out of college.

1. Political scientist

Political scientists study the origins and workings of political systems. They can work for thinktanks, other NGOs, campaigns, or universities. This job typically makes use of a high level of theory and of quantitative analysis.

2020 Median Pay: $125,350 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 6% (faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. Survey researcher

Survey researchers help to design surveys and analyze their results. This can involve looking at previous similar surveys and coming up with a goal for the new information you hope to collect. It’s a very delicate art to write a good survey that does not skew results.

2020 Median Pay: $59,870
Projected Growth (2019-2029): -4% (decline)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

3. Public relations specialist

Public relations specialists can work for a broad variety of employers. These can include individuals, corporations, political figures, and more. You’ll be in charge of managing the public image of an entity and providing the best possible spin for its actions.

2020 Median Pay: $62,810 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 7%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

4. Lawyer

Becoming a lawyer will put your debating skills to the test. Similarly to PR specialists, lawyers can represent any entity. You’ll be tasked with researching and building a case, and sometimes even trying it, to settle a legal dispute.

2020 Median Pay:$126,930
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 4%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

Despite these numbers, we still recommend that you go into a profession because you find it interesting. Don’t choose a profession purely for salary-related reasons! Otherwise, you may end up leaving a high-paying salary in a short span of time as you were not happy in that position.

Also read: Guide to double majoring

How do I know if a major is right for me?

If you’re considering a major in political science, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you find politics interesting?
  • Are you a strong debater?
  • Are you entertained by discussing political concepts in-depth?
  • Do you enjoy research?
  • Are you a strong writer and speaker?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, then a political science major could be right for you!

On the other hand, if you’re more interested in studying the ideas underlying politics rather than real-life politics and governments themselves, you may be more inclined towards political theory (if you’re not quite sure what that is, here’s a helpful summary from Vanderbilt University!).

Ultimately, whether you’re interested in careers in public policy, law, or anything in the political realm, political science might be the right major for you. Whichever major and career you eventually decide on, we hope that this guide has been useful to you, and wish you luck in your future endeavors.

Related: How to pick a major