Political Science departments explore the intersections between theory and practice in government and political sectors. Most universities offer a BA or BS in political science through their respective departments. Political science departments are popular at many schools: this area of study is in the top five most popular majors at Fordham and the top eight at the University of Michigan. Political science programs are often offered alongside international relations/studies and public policy majors. Legal studies and programs in leadership, social justice, and political economy are also commonly paired with political science.
While the major requirements differ by school, numerous reviewed programs have specialization tracks focused on four areas: political theory, American politics, comparative politics, and international relations. For example, Pomona’s Politics major requires students to take at least eight general politics courses with at least one course in each subfield. Fordham, Gonzaga, Lewis and Clark, Brandeis, University of Michigan, University of Washington – Seattle, and Occidental require similar studies. Other schools, like Williams and Amherst, require students to specialize in a specific subfield of political science by doing a deep dive rather than taking lots of classes in each subfield. Another commonality between most political science programs is the senior thesis/capstone course and internship requirement. Some universities will offer academic credit for internships related to their course of study and value the student’s hands-on, experiential learning.
International Relations/Studies (IR) are usually offered within the political science department. Some universities prohibit double majors in IR and “poly sci” because of content overlap. IR majors often have a language requirement beyond the college’s core requirements, whereas political science usually does not. Political Economy majors are also offered, differentiated from the typical political science major by a math core and economics focus. Another combination is Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE), with requirements in philosophy, economics, and politics for a more interdisciplinary perspective.
Students are offered concentrations, minors, and certificates to round out their political science skills. Minors offer a condensed version of their major counterparts. Concentrations are specialized tracks within the major or minor, and certificates are additional programs used to showcase a student’s knowledge and skills in a particular area. Most certificates consist of four to five courses with a capstone or experiential learning component. Georgetown offers certificates in Diplomatic Studies, Education, Inquiry, & Justice, and International Development. Wisconsin, Amherst, UMass Amherst, and Franklin & Marshall also offer certificates in political science-related areas.
Furthermore, most universities offer a range of research opportunities and extracurricular activities. For example, Phi Sigma Alpha, the National Political Science Honor Society, Model UN, and debate teams are constructive clubs and memberships that bring political science students together. Other university-specific fellows and awards provide monetary awards for undergraduate students to pursue research under a professor or individual study. Another method of undergrad research is to assist institutes and centers sponsored by the university. For example, the University of Washington – Seattle hosts the Center for American Politics and Public Policy, which connects undergrads to professors and their research. Other examples include Lowe Institute for Political Economy at Claremont Mckenna and the Center for Racial and Social Justice at William & Mary. Faculty research drives most undergrad opportunities, with subjects ranging from immigration rights, democratization, constitutional law, human rights, and much more.
Lastly, internships and study abroad round out the political science experience. The most specialized program in political science is a semester away in Washington DC. The general programs are centered around an internship and two to three courses. Some programs offer a research component with a prep course, research during the program, and a writing program afterward. International opportunities vary between universities, but they typically offer programs with their professors, study abroad at international universities, or trips through second-party study abroad companies. For instance, the School for International Training (SIT) sponsors trips like “Cultural Identity, Social Justice, and Community Development in Valparaiso” or “Ecuador: Development, Politics, and Languages.” As each university presents diverse programs, it is up to students to find programs tailored to their academic interests and geographic preferences.
Overall, political science programs are robust and focused on the convergence of politics and other interdisciplinary studies. The student is the master of their academics, with plenty of ways to specialize in subfields, earn certificates, participate in research, and study internationally. To find the best fit, explore the ins and outs of major requirements at potential schools and the additional majors and minors that supplement political science work. There is a broad array of programs – let’s find the best one for you!
This blog was written by Eszter Molnar, an undergraduate student at Cornell University, who is currently serving as a college peer coach to high school students doing college and career planning with the Great Choices College Advising team.