Political Science Degree Guide: 2021 Costs, Requirements & Job Opportunities

in Research   Posted on July 10, 2021  Author: Imed Bouchrika,

Political science degree majors can be found in the highest echelons of public and private organizations, with an occupational outlook (6%) that is slightly above the national average of 4%. The top 10% highest earners and the lowest 10% earners are above national averages, which means this discipline is a good career choice for those who are considering it.

The intellectual, personal, and professional demands of a political science degree might not be to everyone’s liking. In many cases, those who choose to take this discipline as a stepping stone to public and public positions are inherently disposed to having a deep interest in the nature and the affairs of the state, government, international relations, and the world at large.

The life of a political scientist is given to public service, deep research, engagement with international collaborators, in addition to the necessity of wielding the quantitative tools of the discipline. In this article, we will walk you through the definition of political science degree, requirements, costs, and occupational outlook, among others.

political science degree

Political Science Degree Table of Contents

  1. What is a Political Science Degree?
  2. Cost of Political Science Degree
  3. Political Science Degree Jobs
  4. Types of Degrees in Political Science
  5. Political Science Degree Requirements
  6. What to Look for in a Political Science Program
  7. Majors Related to Political Science

What is a Political Science Degree?

In the matter of political science definition, it is the systematic exploration of forces that constitute a polity, from governments, political parties, political factions, and interest groups at the local, state, national, and international levels. At the core of this discipline is the need to determine how these forces dynamically change their behavior and strategies over time in order to gain power.

As a distinct scientific discipline, political science uses the descriptive model in order to analyze, assess, and predict the interplay of power groups within the scope of its study (Annual Reviews, 2003). This is a departure from the original conception of political science along the normative lines, which was at its ascendancy among political thinkers and philosophers dating back to ancient times (Almond, G. A., 1966).

Modern political scientists have to embrace a multidisciplinary approach, using ideas from psychology, economics, law, public policy, and foreign relations to determine how political entities try to gain voice and power.

Political scientists are expected to be well-grounded in the classical thought that historically defined it. From there, they would have to have a deep understanding of the political ideas, ideologies, policies, institutions, processes, strategies, and behavior behind political groups, classes, diplomacy, law, government, and war. As such, it encompasses the psychological, cultural, and societal factors that mutually influence the operation of the whole organic polity.

What can you do with a political science degree?

A political science degree can lead you down several career paths. Most of these paths are along local, state, national, and international power corridors where similarly oriented people can be seen determining the fate of their respective spheres of influence via legislation, executive orders, legal reviews, and submission of position or policy papers. Steeped in the traditions of history, comparative foreign policy, political theories, policy concepts, and principles of governance, political scientists are well equipped to contribute to high-impact research, assume positions of political influence, or lead in the lectures and discussions of a formal academic setting.

occupational outlook, political science degree

Cost of Political Science Degree

How much does it cost to get a political science degree?

A four-year bachelor’s degree in political science can cost anywhere from $10,560 for public in-state colleges to $37,650 for private schools. A master’s degree starts at $8,950 on average for in-state students and goes for as much as $42,030 for private colleges. A doctoral degree, meanwhile, may cost $11,440 for students residing in the state and rises to $25,0083 for out-of-state students. Private schools, on average, charge $44,910.

The figures cover only political science degree tuition and related fees. If you add the room, board, and other costs, the figures will consequently go higher.

Political Science Tuition

Degree TypePublic
In-State
(Tuition and Fees Only)
Public
Out-of-State
(Tuition and Fees Only)
Private
(Tuition and Fees Only)
Associate Degree$3,370$14,046$14,587
Bachelor's Degree$10,560$27,020$37,650
Master's Degree$8,950$23,007$42,030
Doctoral Degree$11,440$25,083$44,910
Sources: College Pricing & Student Aid, 2020; College Tuition Compare, 2021

Is a degree in political science worth it?

A degree in political science is absolutely worth it. This is more so if you are drawn to participating in the well-being of humanity in general and your locality in particular. This is through work as an elected official, appointed seat, member of a policy advocacy organization, and the like.

In many instances, political scientists consider the high-stake relevance of their work more decisive than monetary considerations, though money comes with the territory. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates, for example, that political scientists are among the highest-earning professionals anywhere, with median annual wages of $125,350 in 2020.

Contributing to decisive, meaningful, and insightful policymaking is a huge reward for most political scientists. Wary of political strife that typically undermine weak states, they venture into research that could contribute to healthy national development.

In recent times, for example, this is clearly demonstrated by research into the U.S. population’s perception of government effectivity in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Research into that territory is crucial in informing national, federal, and local executives in reaching out to the population and implementing actions for the interest of all. As a side note, it weakens the power base of fake news propagandists who constantly threaten to undermine the people’s trust of their political leaders.

“The Public’s Perception of Government Officials’ Communication in the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic” by Shaniece Bickham and Diane Francis (2021) surveyed adult online respondents regarding credibility perceptions and trust across government levels (local, state, and federal). “A comparison of overall response success among the three government levels revealed that about 70% of respondents found the local response to be extremely adequate or  somewhat adequate and 75.53% agreed that the state response  as extremely adequate or somewhat adequate. In terms of the federal  level, about 71% of the respondents found the response to be extremely inadequate or somewhat inadequate. Overall, most of the survey respondents (68.57%) agreed that their trust in government prior to the stay-at-home order influenced their credibility perceptions about the information they received about the COVID-19 pandemic. Contrarily, over half of the respondents (51.83%) agreed that they continue to trust the government across levels to provide necessary information about public health issues.”

Why is this study important? The authors of the Sage Journals study themselves stated it effectively: “Results from the study showed that trust in government prior to a crisis played a significant role in whether the public would deem information credible during the said crisis….  The findings of this study contributed to advancing SCCT because if government officials can have positive relationships in place with target audiences at the onset  of a crisis as SCCT posits, they will be able to shift their primary focus to crisis management.”

This kind of study gives you a distinct taste of what awaits you at the end of your studies. There is financial rewards in the discipline, yes, but if contributing to bettering political life appeals to you, then this matters more.

Political Science Degree Jobs

There are a number of political science degree jobs to look forward to after college. Graduates can choose from public work in government institutions, nongovernmental organizations, political foundations, research organizations, high-profile think tanks, rights advocacy groups, and foreign service.

Is political science in high demand?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, political scientists can look forward to a 6% average employment rate of their profession from 2019 to 2029 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). This is 2% above the national average growth rate expected of all professions that stands at 4%.

The 6% average growth rate is equivalent to 7,400 open positions by 2029. In terms of employment by industry, the distribution is shown by the chart below.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

What jobs can you get with a political science degree?

  1. Political Scientist. The traditional career path of graduates of a political science degree. In this job role, you are expected to analyze current events, policy proclamations, and other related issues. You can collect public opinions on all of these by conducting surveys and develop and test political theories based on your findings. You are also expected to analyze international affairs and present your findings to public and private stakeholders.
  2. Campaign Director. A campaign director (or campaign manager) oversees a political candidate’s campaign for public office. In this capacity, you oversee key operations like strategizing, fundraising, political advertising, polling, and other activities to rally support and vote for the political candidate you are working for. You will need to bring along a retinue of political consultants, volunteers, staffers, and campaign management tools to the table to get the win for your candidate.
  3. City Administrator. As a city administrator, you work for the government under the authority and direction of the mayor. In this capacity, you are expected to monitor, coordinate, and supervise the activities and functions of the office. You are also authorized to develop and implement internal policies and procedures around the administrative activities of the city, evaluate city employees, and ensure to take the steps required to improve city administration operations.
  4. Diplomat. Put briefly, diplomats represent the interest of their nations in foreign lands. They are charged to protect their country, citizens, repair relationships between their country and other nations, and create lasting bonds with the objective of shaping sound foreign policy. Diplomats are expected to understand international cultures, peoples, and connect with the international community at large.
  5. Policy Analyst. Policy analysts review the efficacy of existing policies and propose new programs and legislation to amend and improve them. They raise public awareness of the consequences of policies, influencing political and social events in the process. Their work entails conducting thorough research to properly examine current policies, evaluating the effects of proposed legislation, and publishing their findings.

What kind of salary can I earn with a political science degree?

Occupations awaiting graduates of political science degrees are among the prestigious and the most lucrative out there, both for entry-level and high-level ones. The median annual wage for political scientists, for example, was $125,350 in May 2020 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021).  The lowest 10% earned around $63,840, which is notably higher than the average for all occupations at $41,950. The highest 10% earned $170,800, which is among the highest for all occupations.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Types of Degrees in Political Science

As with standard disciplines, political science degree types range from an associate degree, a full bachelor’s degree, and the graduate-level master’s and doctoral degrees. The courses on offer and time it takes to finish each varies for each one.

What kinds of political science degrees are there?

1. Associate Degree in Political Science

Average time to complete: 2 years

An associate degree in political science introduces you to the basic concept of government and its functions. Further on, it expands to the subject of formal laws and the workings of ruling institutions. The objective is to give you a good idea of how political forces influence one another.

The associate degree in political science also gives you a good picture of political lobbying, which is a defining characteristic of modern democracies. As well, it will give you a good roundup of the types of political organizations and the cultures that conceived them.

Expect to learn about the history and evolution of governmental rule, along with general education units, which give you the flexibility to pursue a formal bachelor’s degree later if you decide to pursue it. You can avail of an associate degree in political science from community colleges, which gives you more freedom to choose your school.

Entry-level jobs: lobbyist, consultant, legislative aide, high school teacher

2. Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science

Average time to complete: 4 years

The bachelor of political science degree combines introductory concepts and the standard courses in the world of government, politics, public policy, international relations, and legal fields. To pass the degree program, you are expected to complete the 120 credits required.

As a student of a bachelor of the political science degree program, you are expected to acquire insights into the emergence of complex global political dynamics. Race relations. social justice movements, and foreign policy are key topics that you should have a solid grasp of.

The bachelor’s degree program in political science serves as your formal stepping stone to a master’s or Ph.D.  degree in political science.

Entry-level jobs: policy analyst, public relations specialist, social media manager, research analyst, political consultant, political campaign staff

3. Master’s Degree in Political Science

Average time to complete: 1-2 years

A master’s degree allows you to pursue a specific area that specially interests you. By narrowing down your focus, you are expected to gain mastery of the subject and publish your findings for wider dissemination.

Under the program, you can choose from many areas to master. Among them are international relations, contemporary thought, policy impact, law, and ethics. If you intend to get into law school, a master of political science degree should go well with your undergrad qualifications.

As a graduate degree program, a master in political science degree should have you exploring how the balance of power works among the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government. It will let you delve intimately into the ways governments exercise their power, how they react to social movements, and the grounds for power and authority among modern countries.

High-level positions: government affairs director, campaign director, judicial administrator, diplomat, political scientist, urban policy planner

4. Ph.D. in Political Science

Average time to complete: 2 years

This program is the typical route for students who see themselves immersing and thriving in the academe. Graduates can expect to receive the proper credentials to teach classes on government and politics at the college level.

The Ph.D. typically requires advanced coursework that involves the submission of a book-length dissertation, teaching programs, and comprehensive examinations. Evidently, these suit students who are inherently leaning on classic scholarship and possess an affinity for the discipline.

Doctors in political science can be expected to make a lifelong dedication to writing about the dynamics at play among the power factions of a polity. In the process, they lend insights and deeper analysis through years of study and introspection.

High-level positions: political scientists, professor, college/university director, dean, research fellow

Political Science Degree Requirements

In general, admission to a political science degree program requires candidates to have finished high school or GED. With those, they must pass the admissions test. Selective colleges and universities may also require a recommendation letter, a minimum GPA, and additional coursework in specific subjects. To be sure, inquire with the school that you have in mind so you can prepare the political science degree prerequisites beforehand.

Admission Requirements

Application

This is typically an online application. You must provide information about your educational history and relevant experience, where applicable. You might want to check out Common App, which lets you complete one application to apply to more than 700 colleges.

Proof of Graduation

This could be in the form of a high school diploma, transcript of records, or a letter from a school official using the school letterhead stationery. Make sure that the details are correct, including your name and date of graduation or completion. These papers are typically obtained from the office of the school’s registrar.

Transcript

Most colleges only require your high school transcript, which you could request from your high school registrar’s office as noted. When requesting this official document, you should indicate if it’s a final version of your transcript, as it could take some time for secondary academic institutions to complete all the graduates’ transcripts for an academic year.

Coursework

Colleges and universities have different core course requirements, so make it a point to verify this with the school you intend to enroll in. Some schools require incoming freshmen to pick from a list of courses in order to prepare them adequately for their major. Additional courses are also typically counted toward the major, including microeconomics or macroeconomics, history, and statistics.

Other Requirements

Mind, too, that the more selective colleges would ask for stronger high school academic performance than indicated by the core coursework. These might be in the form of Honors courses, IB, and Advanced Placement.

Skill Requirements

Research Skills

Much like other social science majors, political science degree skills are rooted heavily in research to contribute to the discipline and provide insights to policymakers. Students and graduates of political science must possess a sharp eye and nose for interesting or crucial research leads. They are expected to pursue them with dedication and professionalism, getting in-depth with the available information and applying critical thought and methodologies to turn them into useful additions to the human body of knowledge.

Communication Skills

Political scientists are expected to contribute to professional scientific publications, speak in public, and engage with various professionals and dignitaries all over the world. For these reasons, political science degree majors must hone their writing and public speaking skills, as well as properly read people’s body language and expressions. In the field of diplomacy, these skills are very critical.

Data Analysis Skills

Data analysis skills come to bear when political scientists have to face mountains of data as most professionals do nowadays. Population sampling, extensive exit polls, and other largescale surveys require political scientists to be comfortable with mathematical and statistical skills. All of these contribute to sound data analysis skills.

political science degree, 21st most popular degree

What to Look For in a Political Science Program

A well-charted political science degree would have you eye a specific field to specialize in. Your professional credentials would improve tremendously if you show mastery of a single line of inquiry, with support from closely related fields. In political science, you are looking at a range of possibilities from various areas of research.

Available Specializations

For bad or for good, the world is run by people who occupy national and international seats of power. You will often read or hear that the world is going that way or this way. Amidst these, you might discover that world concerns sing to you. If that is the case, you will find that the political advocacy you are rooting for is best served by the discipline that is specifically structured to approach this kind of calling. If you go further, you will see that advocacy covers fields that are critically connected to one another. In most cases, you will find the areas connect to the following specializations in the discipline (Political Science Major Tips, 2014):

  • Political Economy and Development
  • Political Analysis
  • International Relations
  • American Politics
  • Comparative Politics
  • Political Theory
  • Political Methodology
  • Political Leadership and Reform
  • Political Identities and Allegiances
  • Democracy and Law

Accreditation

Academic political science degree programs and international relations do not currently require any professional or programmatic accreditation. Their graduate-level counterparts, however, are regionally accredited. you can check out the CHEA website or the ED’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs to verify that the institution you are considering is properly accredited or not.

Student-Teacher Ratio

It’s long been established that lower student-teacher ratios allow students to perform better on many metrics (Spallino, J., 2016). With fewer students, educators have more opportunities to attend to the individual needs of students, even allowing for one-on-one sessions.

Source: Univstats, 2021

In the United States, the average student-teacher ratio is 14.41 students per teacher. That is not so bad, hovering around the best numbers seen among private schools 12.3 students for four-year degree programs. Two-year programs at public schools average 10.8 students per class, which is better than other degree programs.

Financial Aid Options

You should inquire about financial aid and scholarship from the school you are considering to take your political science degree. Many colleges and universities offer these to students with varying types of qualifications. For ones outside your target school’s offering, consider the following programs:

  • Enid Hall Griswold Memorial Scholarship
    Package: $5,000
    Eligibility: you must be enrolled in a junior or senior in an accredited college or university pursuing a major in political science, economics, government, or history.
    Requirement: Contact the National Vice Chairman for the Enid Hall Griswold Memorial Scholarship: [email protected]
  • Crown Castle Opportunity Scholarship Program
    Package: $10,000 each ($250,000 total)
    Eligibility:  Awarded to 25 African-American/Black college students who “exhibit determination, integrity, and perseverance in overcoming adversity.” (UNCF, n.d.) The program is open to students currently classified as college juniors from all academic majors, with priority given to applicants with majors that position them to apply to Crown Castle-led internship and rotational programs (including political science and pre-law).
  • Requirement: Applications must be submitted online by the due date, and must include (1)A current academic transcript; (2)A 1-page personal statement; (3) One letter of recommendation from a faculty member or administrator.

Majors Related to Political Science

Does a political science degree appeal to you?

Among the disciplines offered by colleges and universities worldwide, some require a personal assessment and deep introspection. A political science degree is among them. The discipline thrusts you into a world where every idea matters, especially in the current state of the world.

The quantitative methodology has gained solid ground in the discipline throughout the years. It reflects the fact that policymakers now must base political decisions on hard data. Musings are good but don’t expect to make a dent in power corridors if you don’t have the numbers to back them. The world needs solutions that work, not appear beautiful on paper.

Whether you are working directly for the government, policy think tanks, your research output will soon find its way to public consciousness. When this happens, you must be prepared to discuss or defend your views against fellow practitioners in the field and those whose lives will be affected by your output.

In brief, a political science degree can throw you into the limelight in an instant. This is a good thing if you intend to occupy positions of power or want your voice to be heard. The world always needs a new approach to managing this planet, its people, and its resources.

 

References:

  1. Advantages of a political science major. (2014, May 22). Political Science Major Tips.
  2. Almond, G. A. (1966). Political Theory and Political Science. The American Political Science Review, 60(4), 869-879.
  3. Bickham, S. B., & Francis, D. B. (2021, April). The public’s perceptions of government officials’ communication in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. SAGE Journals.
  4. Crown castle opportunity scholarship program 2020. (n.d.). UNCF.
  5. Experimental methods in political science. (2003, November 28). Annual Reviews.
  6. National employment matrix- political scientists. (2021, April 9). Databases, Tables & Calculators by Subject. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  7. Political scientists: Occupational outlook handbook. (2021, April 9). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  8. Spallino, J. (2016, September 28). Does class size impact student achievement? Method Modern Schools.