What is Political Science? An Exploration of the Field and Career Paths for Graduates

Political science is the study of governments, political processes, political systems, and political behavior. It examines how societies are governed, what policies governments pursue, how governments interact with each other, and how people participate in the political process. Political science provides insights into the forces that shape how power is distributed and wielded within societies.

This field equips students with crucial knowledge and skills for understanding the complex political issues facing communities locally and worldwide. A political science education develops analytical abilities, reasoning, research competencies, and communication aptitudes that open doors to rewarding careers.

What Does a Political Science Degree Entail?

A political science degree provides a broad understanding of political ideas, institutions, policies, and relations between states. Students take a range of courses exploring history, philosophy, economics, law, sociology, public policy and administration, global studies, and statistics.

Core topics examine:

Political Thought

Political thought courses trace how seminal philosophers and ideological traditions over centuries have conceptualized ideal governance, rights, responsibilities, justice and issues like equality, liberty and power. Students examine works by Plato, Locke, Hobbes, Machiavelli, Marx, Rawls and feminists to see political principles spanning from ancient Greece to current debates applied. Key concepts like sovereignty, consent, democracy and authoritarianism become clearer through their historical development and modern interpretations.

Political Institutions

Institution-focused coursework analyzes structures where authority lies from the bureaucracy to legislatures, executives, and courts along with their design, evolution and relations. Students learn how institutional choices shape policymaking processes, interest group influence, public engagement pathways and implementation efficiency. Constitutional powers, federalism, administrative procedures and judicial review are seen not as dry mechanics but living systems reaching into citizens’ lives. How structures determine who decides and navigates conflict reveals much about a political system.

Political Processes

Process-centered classes examine how public participation, collective actions and electoral mobilizations influence policymaking. Voting rights laws, partisan identity influences, campaign resource imbalances, media biases, civic organization effectiveness at awareness building, and protest movements all receive scrutiny through political science lenses. Whether power lies in numbers at the ballot box, financial donations, constituent communications or feet in the streets, process courses unveil how average citizens shape politics beyond institutions.

Public Policy and Administration

Policy focused coursework tackles how government identifies issues requiring attention, the influences and analytic inputs shaping policy alternatives selection, normative evaluations of choices, bureaucratic structures affecting implementation efficiency and accountability, along with performance metrics judging outcomes. Students gain practical insight into machinations behind policies impacting lives from health regulations to infrastructure investments and beyond.

Political Economy

Political economy studies analyze interactions between governance systems, economic policies, financial markets, trade regimes and business interests. Undergraduate public choice theory reviews how incentives and information gaps skew officials’ decisions from theoretical efficiency. Capturing interplays between politics and economics aids students grasping real ramifications from policies that look ideal on whiteboards.

Comparative Politics

Comparative courses contrast how different nations structure leadership selection, administrative powers, public participation avenues and rights protections. Varied electoral systems like proportional representation and parliamentary coalitions receive comparisons to majoritarian, winner-take-all approaches. Class discussions examine why systems diverge across regions influenced by historical contexts. Comparison tests universality of democratic ideals.

International Relations

International relations classwork investigates interplays between nations beyond comparative governance, incorporating security alliances, conflicts and peacekeeping through bodies like the United Nations, cultural and ecological treaty partnerships, and multilateral or bilateral trade pacts that increasingly bind states. Courses study why some periods see collaboration while others conflict. Ethics debates weigh nonviolence principles when aggression arises. Students gain perspective on foreign policy issues.

Research Methods

Qualitative and quantitative methods courses train political science majors in practical research skills applicable across subfields – from polls and focus groups to statistical analyses, geographic information systems, archival digging, interpretive historical narrative building through primary sources, field observations capturing community impacts, and more. Students hone data literacy and critical evaluation abilities assessing the validity, limitations and meaning of studies.

Majors take elective courses aligned with their interests, which may include American politics, public law, political philosophy, race and gender studies, security studies, and more. Political science bachelor’s degrees typically require an internship, capstone research project, or senior thesis paper.

Skills Gained with a Political Science Degree

Political science degrees build transferable skills valued across sectors.

Students hone:

  • Critical thinking: Analyze complex political issues logically, question assumptions, interpret information carefully, and craft reasoned conclusions.
  • Research abilities: Know how to gather, assess, and integrate information from varied credible sources.
  • Communication: Present viewpoints clearly in writing and speaking. Active listening and thoughtful engagement in dialogue.
  • Analytical skills: Identify key factors shaping politics. Recognize patterns and connections. Weigh trade-offs of political choices.
  • Global awareness: Understand diverse political systems, cultures, and viewpoints. Respect differences and bridge divides.
  • Collaboration: Work productively across differences to achieve shared goals.

Benefits of Earning a Political Science Degree

A political science major provides knowledge critical for civic participation and develops multipurpose skills valued in many fields. Key benefits include:

Gain insight into political systems, policy landscapes, and forces shaping society

A political science degree enlightens students on inner workings of governments, origins of policies, distribution of power, and societal forces driving political debates. Coursework dives deep into structures from the bureaucracy to the judiciary, processes from lobbying to regulations, thought leaders from philosophers to founders, and pressing issues from healthcare access to conservation initiatives. This backdrop helps students grasp complex public issues that directly shape people’s lives. Graduates develop context to understand implications of policy actions across economic development, justice and social welfare, infrastructure, defense, education and more.

Build a versatile skillset blending research, analysis, communication, cultural literacy, ethics and strategic thinking. Political science degrees build a versatile blend of intellectual acuity and soft skills applicable across sectors. Students emerge with research excellence – able to gather, assess and integrate information from libraries, polls, databases, news and expert analyses. Analytic acumen grows through evaluating policy impacts, forecasting consequences of proposals using modeling techniques, and advising strategic responses. Communication fluency develops crafting speeches, writing reports, presenting briefings, and leading dialogue across contrasting views. Cultural literacy expands through examining global thinkers, systems and history’s influence. Ethical orientation grounds decisions as right and wrong possibilities weigh. Strategic skills evolve by studying advocacy tactics, campaigns, and power levers driving change. This flexible package transfers into diverse opportunities.

Pursue dynamic careers

Political science graduates are capable of influencing change at the intersection of policy, law, business operations, advocacy and global cooperation.

Political science opens doors to meaningful work at the nexus of pressing societal matters, lawmaking, business practices, activism and world relations. Graduates tackle issues by directly shaping policy as legislators, advisors and diplomats or empowering change through nonprofits, responsible enterprises, community organizing, legal advocacy, electioneering and movement building. Roles engage major challenges around justice, equity, democratic participation, conservation and human advancement through ethical, nonviolent means valuing pluralism. Political science prepares principled professionals to champion lasting positive change through social institutions and policy reforms.

Prepare for advanced academic degrees including top law schools, public policy programs, business school and more. The analytical acuity and contextual comprehension of governance processes gained in a political science degree offer robust readiness for graduate and professional programs. Understanding multifaceted policy problems while honing reasoning aptitudes prepares students for elite law schools. Foundations in research methodologies, data analysis and big picture issue lenses aid transition into top Master of Public Administration and public policy programs. Broad exposure to economic and business concepts build foundations to apply business school teachings about finance, marketing and managerial science across public and private sector contexts. Political science offers runway for advanced study across further disciplines addressing society’s complex challenges.

Grow both Personally and Professionally

Cultivate cultural literacy, ethical thinking, empathetic perspective-taking, communication talents, critical thought, and teamwork abilities transferable across communities and organizations.

The human relations dimension of political science also prepares graduates for cooperative success within families, friend circles, volunteer groups, workplaces and congregations. Studying contrasting ideologies and cultures expands context for empathetic perspective-taking in relationships and conflict resolution. Team projects build collaborative talents to bridge divides and reach shared goals. Communication centers ethical reasoning, open inquiry and nonviolence. These humanistic abilities to understand, relate and organize transfer across group settings to emotionally intelligent leadership benefiting organizations, classrooms and communities.

A political science degree enlightens students on the forces shaping society while empowering them with ethical, intellectual and practical skills to create meaningful change as engaged citizens, principled professionals, insightful leaders and change makers progressing democratic ideals, human rights and the greater good wherever their path leads.

Beyond careers, political science enlightens how democracies function and avenues for regular citizens to steer society. Students gain policy issue awareness and see impacts of collective choices, driving civic participation. Graduates vote at higher rates and contact officials more often. They enrich public discourse through writing, speeches and ethical dialogue. Supporting causes, community leadership and responsible influence of leaders give voice to conscience and constituents. Political science graduates carry ethical anchors and pragmatic talents to be the change they wish to see locally and globally across generations.

By studying political science, students gain crucial perspective on the world while developing talents to create positive change in their communities and beyond.

Spotlight on Political Science Careers

Political science majors apply their multifaceted skills in diverse roles. Here is a closer look at some top jobs.

Congressional Staffer

Congressional staffers are an integral part of the legislative process, conducting research, developing policies, communicating with the public, and advising elected officials in Congress. Staffers may focus on legislative issues, communications, constituent services, or administrative office duties. They assist members of Congress in upholding their responsibilities to serve their constituents and shape public policy.

Legislative Assistant

Legislative assistants monitor current issues, track legislation, conduct policy research, analyze bills, prepare briefings and memos, respond to constituent inquiries, and support the member of Congress in committee activities and floor votes. Strong research and verbal and written communication skills are essential. Initiative and the ability to manage varied tasks is vital in this fast-paced environment.

Press Secretary

Press secretaries handle all media relations and messaging for a member of Congress. They communicate the representative’s views, announce news, respond to press inquiries, draft speeches, releases and op-eds, manage social media accounts, coordinate interviews, and may advise on communication strategy. Excellent writing ability and political acumen are needed along with the poise to interact effectively with journalists.

Chief of Staff

The chief of staff oversees all office operations, staff, budgeting, scheduling, and messaging. This senior role requires superb management capabilities, strategic vision, policy knowledge, political savvy, and communication skills. Chiefs of Staff ensure the member of Congress achieves goals and upholds duties to constituents while maintaining a productive office able to address diverse needs.

Policy Analyst

Policy analysts research issues to shape effective policies and programs. They identify issues, collect data, analyze information, make recommendations, and evaluate implementation. Strong critical thinking, research, writing, and project management abilities are essential. Analysts may focus on areas like health, education, transportation, economic policy, welfare, or criminal justice.

Many work for government entities while others are employed in research organizations, advocacy groups, and corporations.

Duties often include:

  • Monitor current policy debates, social issues, and legislation
  • Gather and analyze data on policy impacts using statistical tools
  • Interview experts and stakeholders to understand different perspectives
  • Research policy alternatives and evaluate their costs, benefits and feasibility
  • Draft policy briefs, reports, and presentations with conclusions and recommendations
  • Assess effectiveness of policies after implementation and identify needed improvements
  • Forecast impacts of policy proposals using modeling techniques
  • Develop evidence-based policy options to address issues
  • Advise officials and policymakers on adoption and reforms to advance the public interest

Political Consultant

Political consultants advise candidates, elected officials, parties, political action groups, and ballot initiative campaigns. They develop strategies to meet electoral or policy goals. Consultants study issues, public opinion, and voting segments to craft effective messaging and outreach. During campaigns, they help manage communications, political advertising, voter contact efforts, polling, research, data analytics, and fundraising. Some have specific expertise such as opinion research, policy development, speechwriting, or campaign training. Having strong strategic thinking ability, political insight, communication skills, and the capability to thrive in high pressure, rapidly changing environments is crucial.

Grant Writer

Grant writers are vital for nonprofit organizations, universities, and government entities seeking funding. They research open opportunities from government agencies, corporations, foundations and identify programs aligned with the organization’s priorities. Grant writers must understand funding goals and priorities. They prepare proposals adhering to application guidelines that compellingly describe the need for the project, objectives, implementation plans, budget needs, and expected impacts. Grant writers collaborate with leadership and program staff to conceptualize and plan projects worthy of investment. They compile required financial and organizational documentation and track data needed to report outcomes. Strong research, writing, organizational, and relationship building skills are essential.

Intelligence Analyst

Intelligence analysts interpret information from varied sources to assess national security issues and inform foreign policy and defense strategies. They focus on particular topics or global hotspots. Analysts monitor intelligence from spies, surveillance technology, public documents, news, think tank experts and other sources to understand political, economic, cultural dynamics and threats. They identify patterns and trends using data analysis tools. Written reports and briefings advise policymakers on risks, predict scenarios, and recommend responses. Analysts must objectively evaluate limited and sometimes conflicting information to provide timely warnings and insights on developments. Sharp critical thinking abilities, geopolitical knowledge, and advanced communication skills are crucial.

How to Prepare for a Career in Political Science During Your Degree

Political science majors can take steps during college to gain experience and become strong candidates for their desired careers:

Gain Valuable Career Experience

  • Complete internships in fields of interest such as legislative offices, campaigns, government agencies, law firms, nonprofits or think tanks. Internships provide hands-on experience, mentorship, and professional contacts. Students witness political science theories and concepts applied daily while developing practical abilities.
  • Volunteer on political campaigns or for advocacy groups to gain tangible experience in outreach, messaging, voter contact strategies, event planning, communications, data analysis and more. Build knowledge of the organizational landscape around a cause.
  • Contribute to academic journals, political science blogs or student newspapers to strengthen research and writing skills. Writing for public audiences sharpens abilities to clearly communicate complex concepts.
  • Pursue leadership roles in campus organizations and clubs to build teamwork, public speaking and communication abilities. Organize events, rallies, vigils or protests to advocate for causes.

Maximize Your Degree

  • Take additional quantitative or qualitative analysis courses in disciplines like statistics, economics, geography, sociology, psychology, public health, education or environmental studies. Grasp how to apply modeling tools and frameworks to inform public policies.
  • Learn foundational policy analysis methodologies through special programs, coursework or independent study. Master cost-benefit calculations, decision matrix tools, demographic data applications, and health impact assessments.
  • Consider a double major or minor that complements political science such as legal studies, economics, business administration, communications, journalism, history or global studies.

Build a Well-Rounded Resume

  • Improve global awareness and language skills by studying abroad or taking language courses to prepare for international careers. Build cultural literacy.
  • Attend talks, conferences and events featuring policy experts, political leaders, advocates and influential figures to gain perspective. Expand professional connections through thoughtful engagement.
  • Build professional networks through informational interviews, conferences, alumni groups, and political science associations. Discover career paths and acquire advice.

By being proactive during their studies, students gain tangible experience and new perspectives to excel in impactful political science careers.

Reasons to Study Political Science

There are many compelling reasons to major in political science:

  • Sharpen critical thinking and analytical skills while building general knowledge that creates well-rounded, engaged citizens.
  • Gain insight into political systems and the powerful forces shaping society. Understand important policy issues.
  • Develop versatile skills in research, communication, cultural literacy, collaboration, and strategic thinking that are valued across fields.
  • Pursue diverse rewarding careers at the intersection of public policy, social change, law, advocacy, and governance.
  • Work on pressing issues and create positive change in government, nonprofits, law firms, think tanks, international organizations, and corporations.
  • Prepare for further education including top law schools and public policy programs.
  • Become an informed citizen who actively participates in the political process.

For motivated students, a political science degree opens doors to make a difference in roles spanning politics, law, business, activism, and more. The analytical and communication talents honed in a political science program empower graduates to tackle complex challenges wherever their path leads.