Updated: Feb 22
Deciding what you want to study in college can be tough. That’s why we’re kickstarting a new series in which we examine popular college majors and answer some pressing questions. Today, we’re tackling political science!
As Columbia University puts it, political science is “an academic discipline that seeks to understand the exercise of power in a variety of settings.” Does that sound thrilling? Boring? Confusing? Either way, read on to see if polisci is the right fit for you!
“I hate politics. I probably shouldn’t study political science, right?”
Let’s unpack that. Do you hate politics because you’re uninterested in the institutions and ideas involved? If so, this major won’t be for you. Or do you hate politics because you don’t like seeing people fight over it? If so, don’t let that necessarily stop you from studying polisci. You’ll encounter a few heated discussions in class, but there’s so much more to the major than just debating controversies.
“I’m more of a numbers person. Will this be a good fit?”
Be prepared to read and write. A lot. But the major can also be quite quantitative, whether that means running regression analyses or surveying public opinion. Helpful technical skills include: statistics, R, SQL, and more.
“What kind of classes will I take?”
This varies by school, but you’ll likely get a glimpse of comparative politics, American politics, public policy, and other foundational courses before narrowing in on your specific area of study. For example, one of my friends was intrigued by the concept of power, so she took a lot of classes on authoritarian states like Russia and China. Here are some sample classes*. Do they sound interesting to you?
“Free Speech and the First Amendment Tradition”
“Who Gets Elected and Why”
“International Politics of the Middle East”
“Feminist Political Thought”
“Business, Government, and Public Policy”
*These are real polisci classes offered at the University of Pennsylvania where I attend, but you’ll see similar courses wherever you end up!
“What else will I learn?”
As a polisci student, you’ll probably dabble in many fields. Political science is not a silo: it influences and is influenced by other fields of study.
“What can I do outside of class?”
Joining these polisci-related clubs will allow you to engage with class content from different lens. You’ll also meet many people in the same major, which is always a plus.
Pi Sigma Alpha: The honors society for polisci students. If you are accepted as a member (there are certain standards of membership including a minimum GPA), you will gain access to networking events, mentorship, and more.
Research: Many polisci programs (or at least the honors versions of them) require students to write a thesis, which involves conducting independent research. You can also get involved via student groups on campus or by reaching out to faculty.
Democrat/Republican/[Insert Affiliation of Choice] Club: These are spaces to share conversation and socialize with like-minded peers. They are often involved with the local politics scene as well, and could be a great stepping stone to meeting local leaders.
Model United Nations: You can try this out in high school, continue participating in college, and/or volunteer to judge high school participants while in college! The options are endless.
Speech/Debate: Public speaking and quick analysis are invaluable skills. These competitive circuits will refine the way you think about and discuss political topics.
Political Journal: If you prefer the written side of communication, consider contributing to your school’s political journal as a writer or even as an editor.
“What can I do with a degree in political science?”
Almost anything! You are not limited to political careers. Your ability to think analytically, conduct/comprehend research, and structure your communication will carry you through the public or private sector.
Lawyer: While law schools don’t require you to have a specific major, many polisci students do go down this route. The persuasive, logical thinking necessary in the major is similarly needed to succeed in law, and it’s no secret how intertwined the two fields are.
Political consultant: Do you like to problem-solve? You could be coaching a political campaign to victory or helping a corporation navigate through political waters. Every day is different!
Think tank researcher: Think tanks are vital in informing lawmakers, academics, and the public. If you enjoy the intellectual rigor of research, this may very well be for you.
Political commentator: You have a way with words, whether spoken or written, and you want to get your message out there. Whether it’s through journalism, literature, or television, you can share your political analyses with your audience.
Nonprofit/NGO worker: Putting your degree to good public use, consider working for a nonprofit/NGO in the US or abroad. Behind-the-scenes or on the front lines, understanding the political context of where you are will be necessary to solve the issues you have chosen to face.
Politician: Perhaps you have always dreamed of becoming the president. Whether you’re a bureaucrat, a legislative aide, or a campaign manager, here’s where to go to get some spicy, on-the-ground political work under your belt.
After you decide your major, you'll need to find the perfect college to study it. For example, Georgetown University is an INCREDIBLE place to study political science. Find your perfect campus! Download my completely free College Research Guide to get my ultimate list of resources for the college search so you know exactly where to start.
Robert Powers (M.A. Johns Hopkins) is the college consultant at College Torch. He is an expert in colleges and the college admissions process. Parents, join his private Facebook group for Parents of College-Bound Students.