Best Political Science colleges in the U.S. 2021

Studying political science does much more than fill your head with facts that prepare you for greatness on Jeopardy (though some extra bucks would come in handy to pay back those student loans). It provides training in a variety of skills valued by employers and graduate school admissions counselors. As stated by the American Political Science Association:

As a political science major, you will hone the writing, communication, analytical, and data skills that are fundamental to a liberal arts education. This kind of education will prepare you to think critically and independently, help you appreciate differing points of view, and broaden your knowledge of current affairs. Today, students can reasonably expect to change jobs more than once and even have more than one career. An undergraduate education in the liberal arts is excellent preparation for flexibility in employment.


Best Political Science colleges in the U.S. for 2021

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If you love the idea of a program with a long history of excellence, Columbia is the place to be. The department of political science was founded in 1880 as the first of its kind in the country. Today, political science is one of the most popular majors on campus. And the good news is that you really can’t go wrong when you pick a subfield. The university has a reputation for excellence in American politics, comparative politics, international relations, political methodology, and political theory.

Another thing for which Columbia is known is diversity. Like America itself, the student body is a melting pot with representatives from all 50 states and over 90 foreign countries. Classrooms often feature lively discussions with an emphasis on the global perspectives so critical to success in the 21st century.

Life outside the classroom also contributes to the overall educational experience. Columbia’s active Political Science Students Association hosts internship and career panels as well as the popular Pizza with Professors. These gatherings (and, of course, the rigorous curriculum) seem to be paying off on the job market. Organizations that have hired Columbia’s political science grads in recent years include the State of New York’s Attorney General’s Office, Amazon, Google, CNN International, Alliance for Children’s Rights, and Goldman Sachs.

Yale University
New Haven, CT
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What do William Howard Taft, Gerald Ford, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush have in common (besides being past U.S. presidents)? All of them were Bulldogs at one time or another. (Rumor has it that Bush Sr. has such fond memories that he kept his old Yale baseball glove in an Oval Office desk drawer during his four years in the White House.)

Today, political science places second only to economics as the most popular major among undergraduates. And if you have a desire to pursue studies that cross departmental boundaries, Yale supports your efforts. Past interdisciplinary concentrations have included urban studies, health politics and policy, political economy, political psychology, and global affairs.

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All eyes were centered on this Missouri institution back on October 9 when it hosted the second U.S. presidential debate leading up to the 2016 election. But the campus is no stranger to such events. In 1992, WashU welcomed George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot for a 90-minute presidential debate watched on television by 100 million Americans – and the school was only given one week’s notice! Luckily, the school received a heads-up nine months in advance of hosting a town hall between hopefuls Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000. In typical WashU Bear fashion, students, faculty, and the community pulled together to get everything ready by the time cameras needed to roll. And 250 fortunate students received the chance of a lifetime – being part of the audience inside the debate hall.

Even in non-election years, WashU remains an exciting place for those interested in political science. Though especially strong in political theory and methods, the school encourages students to find their own niche within the field. The result? Students who produce senior theses with titles such as Influencing the Influencers: Does Funding from Foreign Governments Affect American Think Tank Research? and Are Sex Scandals Masculinizing? An Examination of the Relationship Between Gender and Political Scandals.

When people think of Cal, liberal student activism often comes to mind. Berkeley gained national attention in 1964 for The Free Speech Movement, a student protest in response to the administration’s ban on political activity. Since then, Cal students have been vocal about various other causes, ranging from women’s rights to ending apartheid in South Africa.

So as you might imagine, political science students here tend to be passionate. And the department gives them plenty to be excited about – over 100 courses at the undergraduate and graduate level throughout the academic year. Yes, you’ll find traditional intro courses that provide necessary fundamentals. But you also might choose a class such as “When Government Partners with Business – Baseball, Football, Basketball and Museums” or “Latinos and the U.S. Political System.” The knowledge gained will certainly help you carry on the proud Cal tradition of producing inquisitive, active citizens like alums U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren and Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

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When it comes to studying political science at UW – Madison, a good slogan might be “the more the merrier.” Your graduating class probably will have 800 or so political science majors (this is a place with nearly 30,000 undergraduates, after all). But the political science department is known for its collegiality, and the average student rating of instructors is an impressive 4.5 on a 5-point scale.

Size becomes a definite plus when it comes to jobs and internships in the political science field. With 17,000 UW—Madison political science alum, students have instant connections worldwide. The spirit of helping one another is especially prominent in the university’s Wisconsin in Washington program. Alum in the D.C. area serve as mentors and assist with networking when students come to the nation’s capital to intern in governmental offices, think tanks, advocacy groups, and the like. Once a Badger, always a Badger.

Harvard University
Cambridge, MA

OK, bet you know where we’re going with this when we toss out the names John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Yes, all of these men graced the hallowed halls of Harvard for either undergraduate studies or to pursue a law or business degree.

Interestingly, Harvard does not possess a traditional political science department. Rather, such instruction falls under the Department of Government. Why set things up this way? (You know a school this prestigious must have a good reason.) According to the department’s FAQ page:

Government incorporates the combined knowledge and methodology of several disciplines – history, economics, philosophy, psychology, and sociology, among others – and applies them to the study of politics. The discipline has porous boundaries, and is therefore an extremely flexible concentration. It allows you to decide the direction of your studies according to your inclinations and interests: globalization, human rights, the U.S. Presidency, war and terrorism, area studies, political philosophy. Additionally, the study of Government will develop your writing and analytical abilities, and prepare you to be a cognizant and responsible citizen in our rapidly changing world.

Don’t worry, though. You’ll still leave well-versed on fundamentals such as American politics and political theory. But along the way, you may choose also to explore courses with intriguing titles such as “Is Democracy Possible Everywhere?” and “The Politics of Climate Change.”

If being in the nation’s capital isn’t enough to get a prospective political science major’s heart racing, this fact will: The George Washington University loves to help students find internships. Perhaps you’ll learn about juveniles caught in the justice system while working with Human Rights Watch. Or maybe you’ll discover a potential career path while organizing clips for the Federal Communication Commission’s Office of Media Relations. You might even be lucky enough to intern with a member of the House or Senate.

Most students also spend at least one semester abroad, usually during their junior year. GW has 40 higher education exchange partners around the world. So whether you want to perfect your Spanish skills by taking classes for a year at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid or head to Germany for 10 days for a course called “Berlin: Before and After the Wall,” GW can help you find the right experience for your interests.

But don’t think for a minute that your time on campus won’t be equally exciting. With classes ranging from “Freedom in U.S. Pop Culture” to “Science, Technology, and Politics,” the faculty is ready to thoroughly engage the school’s 700 political science majors and minors.

University of Chicago
Chicago, IL
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Decades before Bernie Sanders made a run at becoming the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, he earned an undergraduate degree in political science and chaired the student chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality at U of C. The turbulent 1960s are over, but applying knowledge gained in the classroom to activities outside of it remains a part of Chicago’s culture. From working with the Partnership for the Advancement of Refugee Rights to organizing movie screenings for the Student Political Forum, students have so many chances to become involved on campus that they hardly have time to notice when winter temps dip below zero.

For those familiar with U of C’s environment, it will come as no surprise that Herbert Simon -- the only political scientist ever awarded a Nobel Prize for his intellectual achievements -- received his doctorate there. As the university boldly and proudly states:

There are only a few places on the planet that are in Chicago's league when it comes to research, teaching, and the intensity of intellectual life. That is why we believe Chicago is one of the most interesting, lively, cutting-edge places to study, research, and teach political science.

With courses covering the spectrum from “Herodotus and Thucydides: History and Politics” to “Violence and Development in Africa” to “Politics in Chicago,” it would be hard to disagree.

New York University
New York, NY

Ready to reach a deeper, analytical understanding of political events? Take courses such as “Introduction to Political Psychology” and “Introduction to Game Theory” at NYU and you’ll quickly learn that scientific inquiry isn’t just something for chemistry majors. Combining experimental methods and theoretical ideas to ground discussions in evidence and logic may have you thinking about political change in a whole new way.

For undergrads yearning for more than a taste of The Big Apple, the American Political Practice and Leadership track offers a study-away semester at NYU-Washington, D.C. Gain expertise in political practice and leadership through coursework and an internship in the government, political, or non-profit sector. Live and attend classes with fellow NYU Violets at The Constance Milstein and Family Global Academic Center, located just blocks from the White House. And you’re in luck if you love a good debate. The center hosts the Weissberg Forum for Discourse in the Public Square, which brings in notable public figures to discuss topical issues such as immigration, big data, and the Affordable Care Act.

For the truly ambitious (you need a 3.65 GPA to even be considered), the undergraduate honors program in political science provides the chance to work individually with a faculty member on original research senior year. Recent papers produced by these up-and-coming scholars include Prosperity and Security: A Political Economy Model of Internet Surveillance and Education: The Secret to Crime Reduction?

Princeton University
Princeton, NJ
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Princeton touts having “one of the largest and most intellectually diverse political science programs in the world.” And the university does a good job of backing up its claim -- a department composed of nearly 60 faculty scholars, 50 undergraduate courses offered per year (“Perfectionism and the Legal Enforcement of Morals” anyone?), and supervision of the work of more than 150 juniors and seniors who have chosen political science as their area of academic concentration.

For political science students who foresee a career in public service, Princeton can be an awesome first step. Its Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative, which is open to students from all majors, funds 8- to 10-week undergraduate summer internships with the federal government. You may enjoy the experience so much that you’ll later apply to the initiative’s highly competitive two-year graduate program that combines academic training with a fellowship at an executive branch department or agency. Perhaps you might work the Egypt desk in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and make recommendations about U.S. policy. Or maybe you will write a section of a Report to Congress on efforts of the Administration for Children and Families to address dating violence. What you definitely can expect is to make a difference while receiving a top-notch education.

List of all Political Science colleges in the U.S.

School Average Tuition Student Teacher Ratio Enrolled Students
Columbia University in the City of New York Logo Columbia University in the City of New York New York, NY
19 : 1 31,456
Yale University Logo Yale University New Haven, CT
11 : 1 13,609
Washington University in St Louis Logo Washington University in St Louis Saint Louis, MO
16 : 1 16,191
University of California-Berkeley Logo University of California-Berkeley Berkeley, CA
24 : 1 43,185
University of Wisconsin-Madison Logo University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison, WI
20 : 1 44,257
Harvard University Logo Harvard University Cambridge, MA
17 : 1 31,655
George Washington University Logo George Washington University Washington, DC
24 : 1 27,814
University of Chicago Logo University of Chicago Chicago, IL
12 : 1 17,452
New York University Logo New York University New York, NY
17 : 1 52,885
Princeton University Logo Princeton University Princeton, NJ
9 : 1 8,419
University of California-Los Angeles Logo University of California-Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA
21 : 1 44,371
University of Florida Logo University of Florida Gainesville, FL
21 : 1 52,407
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Logo University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC
18 : 1 29,877
Florida State University Logo Florida State University Tallahassee, FL
27 : 1 42,450
Florida International University Logo Florida International University Miami, FL
46 : 1 58,711
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Logo University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI
12 : 1 48,090
University of Connecticut Logo University of Connecticut Storrs, CT
18 : 1 27,280
University of Washington-Seattle Campus Logo University of Washington-Seattle Campus Seattle, WA
23 : 1 47,576
University of California-Irvine Logo University of California-Irvine Irvine, CA
26 : 1 36,908
University of California-San Diego Logo University of California-San Diego La Jolla, CA
28 : 1 38,736