What Can I Do With a Master's Degree in Political Science?
Political science touches on a wide range of overlapping disciplines including history, sociology, and economics. As a political science masters student, you’ll incorporate these areas of study into your own focus such as political theory, international politics, or political economy. The political science major is a highly versatile discipline that can lead down a wide range of educational paths.
Political Science is the study of the theory, history, and modern systems surrounding governance, civics, and the political process. A master’s degree in political science is an advanced degree that accords a high level of respect and authority to individuals with an interest in policy analysis, public resource distribution, civics education, and more. Those who aspire to the title of political scientist will typically have earned at least a master’s degree in political science and, in many cases, may advance to the level of PhD.
Just getting started in the field? Check out our look at the political science major to find out how you can get an undergraduate degree in Political Science.
If you’re ready to earn your graduate degree at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, get started with a look at the Most Influential Schools in Political Science.
Or read on to find out what you can expect as a political science master.
What is a Master of Political Science Degree?
The master’s degree in political science is an advanced degree program that typically requires a minimum of two years, or the completion of 30 credit hours. The master’s degree in political science will significantly improve your candidacy for leadership roles in the fields of politics, governance, and social justice. You’ll also have a chance to hone in on an area of specialization such as geopolitical affairs, public health, civil rights, and more.
Your master’s degree will typically focus on a specific area of political science directly connected to your career goals. Students who wish to become political scientists will likely need to earn a master’s degree in this or a related field to either qualify, or advance within, a wide range of professional roles. If you plan to advance into a research or educational role in your field, the advanced degree is widely seen as an important threshold for meaningful career development on your way to a PhD. A major component of your master’s degree experience will be the design and pursuit of your own research undertaking, with support from an advisor or mentor.
Why Get a Master’s Degree in Political Science?
Nadia E. Brown, Professor of Political Science and African American Studies at Purdue University, and a top-ranking influencer in the field of political science, confides in us that:
I thought kind of naively that the only way to go into politics was to be a political science major. And so, I major in political science, again still thinking that I'm going to go into politics. And I was told, if you want to go into politics, the best thing to do is go to law school. I took my first and only common law class and quickly realized this was not for me, but instead I was drawn more towards the research side. I was interested in learning how it is that we know what different groups need or require…how they engage politics and how they have different political behaviors and different policy preferences. And that's really where I realized that I was a political scientist, not a politician.– Nadia E. Brown
Dr. Brown’s experience highlights the core human interest at the heart of political science. A graduate degree in political science is likely to be most beneficial to students who wish to learn more about the way that individuals and groups align around political ideologies, how these ideologies inform our policies, and how these policies are molded through political engagement.
How Can I Qualify to Get a Master’s Degree in Political Science?
There is no specific entrance exam for gaining admission into a political science master’s program. The primary requirement for gaining eligibility into a political science master’s program is completion of a bachelor’s degree from a properly accredited undergraduate school. While programmatic accreditation is not specifically required in this field, most regionally accredited graduate schools will require that your bachelor’s degree be granted by a regionally accredited college or university.
Some colleges may offer bundled bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, where you could earn your advanced degree in one continuous five-year program. This option could save you time and money if you already know that you’ll be pursuing your advanced degree. However, the accelerated pace of such a program may make this a challenging way to earn both degrees. Find out if your school offers this bundling option and ask about eligibility requirements. But be sure you’re up to the added challenge!
For any additional questions about eligibility, refer to your intended program and learn more about application requirements and any additional requirements such as work experience, academic performance thresholds, and referrals.
If you’re still working on building your qualifications for grad school eligibility, check out our look at the political science major to find out how you can get an undergraduate degree in political science.
What Kinds of Political Science Graduate Degrees Are There?
- Master of Arts in Political Science (MA): The MA in Political Science is a two-year, 30-credit degree that balances an emphasis on political science with more general humanities courses. This is a strong point of entrance for students who have an interest in the theoretical dimensions of political science, and can be particularly valuable if you plan to continue into a PhD program.
- Master of Science in Political Science (MS): The MS in Political Science is also a two-year, 30-credit degree, but you’ll likely focus on technical dimensions of political science such as research, data-collection, and data analysis. These emphases will help prepare you for practical work as a policy analyst or consultant in the field.
- Doctor of Philosophy in Political Science (PhD): A terminal degree in the field, the PhD in Political Science is a five to seven year engagement that will largely center around the design of an original research question as well as the production and defense of a dissertation. PhD candidates will qualify to conduct field research and teach political science at the post-secondary level.
What are Some Popular Political Science Specializations?
The specialization you choose within the field will be a matter of preference and interest, but can also help you narrow your career focus. Political science specializations can also help to frame your education around the issues, geographical areas, or theoretical models that matter most to you. In the U.S., the top political science specializations include:
- American Politics
- Comparative Political Systems
- International Relations
- Political Economy
- Political Theory
What Courses Will I Take as a Political Science Major?
Your specialization will determine many of the courses you’ll take in your political science masters program. Likewise, you will be required to take a number of requisite courses on foundational topics such as international politics and public policy. However, you may also choose to take a general and interdisciplinary approach to the subject. In either case, you will likely be required to supplement your coursework with a research project based on an original topic of your own design. You’ll typically work closely with the support of an advisor or mentor, and you may need to defend your completed research project before a committee in order to complete your program. Beyond this thesis or capstone project, common political science courses include:
- Contemporary Political Theory
- Research Methods
- Principles of Economics
- Religion and Politics
- Law and Policy
- Race, Ethnicity and Politics
- Public Policy and Statistical Analysis
Is a master’s degree in political science worth it?
Political science is a field driven by a combination of philosophy, policy analysis, and empirical research. Moreover, opportunities for leadership are highly competitive, and often stratified according to your level of academic achievement. This means the master’s degree is of particular importance in the field of political science, where many of the top roles are reserved for those with the graduate credential. In fact, the master’s degree is the basic threshold on your way to a career as a political scientist ($85,930; median pay, 2019), economist ($105,020; median pay, 2019), or historian ($63,680; median pay, 2019).
What are the Top Jobs With a Master’s in Political Science Degree?
An advanced degree in political science can qualify you to work in a wide range of public, private and non-profit settings, including local, state and federal government agencies, non-government organizations, think tanks, and policy advocacy groups. Earning a master’s degree in political science can qualify you to provide policy analysis, consultation, or advocacy in any of these settings, and it can also help you build toward a PhD and a career in research or post-secondary education. The following are among the top career paths for political science masters:
- Political Scientists
- Political Science Teachers, Postsecondary
- Urban and Regional Planners
- Federal, State, and Local Governance
Curious how far you could go with a master’s degree in political science? Start with a look at the top influencers in the field today!***
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