Best Political Science Degree Colleges in the U.S. 2017

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.


The Best Political Science Colleges of 2019

From sea to shining sea, our nation is filled with institutions ready to take your interest in political science to a new level. Americans cherish their freedom of choice, so here’s a sampling of 10 programs you might consider:

Rank School Name Location Description
1 Washington University in St Louis Saint Louis, MO

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.

2 University of California-Berkeley Berkeley, CA
UC Berkeley

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.

3 Yale University New Haven, CT

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.

4 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.”

5 George Washington University Washington, DC

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.

6 University of Chicago Chicago, IL

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.

7 University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison, WI

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.

8 Princeton University Princeton, NJ

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.

9 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?

10 University of California-Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA

University of California-Los Angeles offers 5 Political Science Degree programs. It's a large public university in a large city. In 2015, 665 students graduated in the study area of Political Science with students earning 640 Bachelor's degrees, 15 Doctoral degrees, 10 Master's degrees.

List of Political Science Schools in the U.S.

Degree Levels
  • Associate's
  • Bachelor's
  • Certificates
  • Doctoral
  • Master's
Program Length
  • Less than 2 years (below associate)
  • At least 2 but less than 4 years
  • Four or more years
Control Type
  • Private for-profit
  • Private not-for-profit
  • Public
School Logo School Name Average tuition Student Teacher Ratio Enrolled Students
Washington University in St Louis Washington University in St Louis Saint Louis, MO
9 : 1 14,688
University of California-Berkeley University of California-Berkeley Berkeley, CA
21 : 1 38,189
Yale University Yale University New Haven, CT
5 : 1 12,385
Harvard University Harvard University Cambridge, MA
14 : 1 29,652
George Washington University George Washington University Washington, DC
17 : 1 26,212
University of Chicago University of Chicago Chicago, IL
7 : 1 15,391
University of Wisconsin-Madison University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison, WI
12 : 1 42,716
Princeton University Princeton University Princeton, NJ
9 : 1 8,138
New York University New York University New York, NY
8 : 1 50,027
University of California-Los Angeles University of California-Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA
12 : 1 41,908
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC
17 : 1 29,084
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI
7 : 1 43,651
Georgetown University Georgetown University Washington, DC
13 : 1 18,459
The University of Texas at Austin The University of Texas at Austin Austin, TX
18 : 1 50,950
University of California-San Diego University of California-San Diego La Jolla, CA
15 : 1 32,906
University of California-Irvine University of California-Irvine Irvine, CA
17 : 1 30,836
University of Washington-Seattle Campus University of Washington-Seattle Campus Seattle, WA
12 : 1 45,408
Florida State University Florida State University Tallahassee, FL
25 : 1 40,830
University of Florida University of Florida Gainesville, FL
20 : 1 50,645
Dartmouth College Dartmouth College Hanover, NH
8 : 1 6,350
Northwestern University Northwestern University Evanston, IL
10 : 1 21,655
University of California-Santa Barbara University of California-Santa Barbara Santa Barbara, CA
24 : 1 23,497
University of California-Davis University of California-Davis Davis, CA
15 : 1 35,186
University of Pennsylvania University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA
12 : 1 24,876
Duke University Duke University Durham, NC
5 : 1 15,984

Find Local Colleges Offering Political Science Degrees

Getting a Political Science Degree Online

Give the public what it wants! Many notable institutions have answered the call for convenient, flexible ways to study political science. No need to travel to campus or give up your day job. Take courses such as “Rights in America” and “Congress and the Presidency” online through Penn State World Campus. Do well in your classes and the school may even induct you into the nation’s first online chapter of the national political science honor society Pi Sigma Alpha. Or check out Oregon State ECampus. A desire to learn and a solid Internet connection are all you need to earn the same BA or BS in political science as on-campus students. (Why should residents be the only ones to tackle stimulating subjects such as “Gender and Race in American Political Thought”?)

Schools offering online Political Science degrees

Online Political Science degrees are available at a variety of different schools with as many as 303 degrees earned at the most popular school. Read more below about all schools that have offered online Political Science degrees. If you are interested learning more about getting a degree online, check out our page dedicated to online degree information.

School Name Certificate Associate's Bachelor's Master's Doctoral
University of Central Florida 0 0 303 0 0
Harvard University 0 0 146 24 0
Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus 0 0 141 12 0
Arizona State University-Skysong 0 0 83 0 0
University of Maryland-University College 0 0 82 0 0
How many schools offer online Political Science degrees?
  • 1 Certificates
  • 11 Associate's
  • 47 Bachelor's
  • 9 Master's

What can you do with a Political Science Degree?

Political Science Careers Expected Job Growth (2014-2024)
Year Political scientists Employment Lawyers Employment Political science teachers, postsecondary Employment Reporters and correspondents Employment Public relations specialists Employment Writers and authors Employment
2015 6,180 783,080 21,810 48,880 242,190 136,820
2016 6,160 787,460 22,020 48,460 243,680 137,140
2017 6,140 791,840 22,230 48,040 245,170 137,460
2018 6,120 796,220 22,440 47,620 246,660 137,780
2019 6,100 800,600 22,650 47,200 248,150 138,100
2020 6,080 804,980 22,860 46,780 249,640 138,420
2021 6,060 809,360 23,070 46,360 251,130 138,740
2022 6,040 813,740 23,280 45,940 252,620 139,060
2023 6,020 818,120 23,490 45,520 254,110 139,380
2024 6,000 822,500 23,700 45,100 255,600 139,700

Political Science Major Career Outlook

Tell someone you’re majoring in political science, and the next question she may ask is “Where do you want to go to law school?” Indeed, many future lawyers start their careers this way. Law school admissions counselors know political science courses prepare candidates to be critical thinkers, excellent communicators, and effective debaters.

But such training also is applicable to a variety of other jobs you can do with a major in political science. Some of the possibilities include:

  • Journalist
  • Lobbyist
  • Politician
  • Business consultant
  • Intelligence analyst
  • Market researcher
  • Diplomat
  • Teacher
  • Public relations specialist
Political Science Career Legend
Political scientists
Political science teachers, postsecondary
Reporters and correspondents
Public relations specialists
Writers and authors
About this Data

*Sources for career information and data include the National Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data may vary depending on year.

Average annual salary for Political Science careers

  • $67,734 2005
  • $80,814 2010
  • $84,945 2015

What Does a Political Science Major Study?

This definition one from Arizona State University sums things up nicely:

Political science is the study of how citizens interact with their governments and how governments at all levels formulate policies to serve their citizens.

Of course, a variety of factors influence these interactions and formulations. Thus, many colleges break the discipline down into five key areas of study for depth and breadth. Taking classes in each of these subfields provides a great overall foundation, and extensive coursework in one specialty leads to expertise.

  • American Politics focuses on the United States. Expect thorough investigation of party politics, elections, branches of government, public policy, and social movements.
  • Comparative Politics looks at politics throughout the world. How do other countries structure their governments and make decisions? What influence does culture, class, and level of development have on their leadership and actions?
  • International Relations examines relationships among countries. Intergovernmental arrangements, transnational organizations, and distribution of world power are a few of the subjects explored in such classes.
  • Political Theory tackles classic problems, such as “What is justice?” Students approach issues from various angles, including studying the history of political thought.
  • Political Methods courses look at ways to conduct research in the discipline and interpret results. Students learn how to structure surveys and other assessments, work with data, and present their findings.

What degrees do people get in Political Science?

Degree Level Program Length Colleges Graduates
Associate's 2-year Length 143 Colleges 940 Graduates
Bachelor's 4-year Length 1,110 Colleges 38,882 Graduates
Certificates < 1 year Length 37 Colleges 166 Graduates
Doctoral 1-2 year Length 120 Colleges 840 Graduates
Master's 1+ years Length 221 Colleges 1,818 Graduates

Political Science Degree Overview

Undergraduates typically earn a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree. Which to select at a school presenting a choice? Here is Clemson University’s two-cents on the matter:

With a Bachelor of Arts, you will gain broad knowledge of the political science discipline, and your studies will emphasize communication skills and the humanities. If you have an aptitude for math or an interest in political economy, public administration, public policy or other fields that require advanced quantitative skills, the Bachelor of Science is the way to go.

The general “political science” degree may not be the only one a given department offers. For instance, students at Michigan State University can choose to pursue a bachelor’s in public policy or world politics. The institution also has a political science/pre-law degree that introduces students to the study of law and judicial process in preparation for law school or paralegal careers.

Have a specific area of interest you’d like to pursue? Ambitious students sometimes declare double-majors to meet their specific goals. Combine political science with economics to become versed in political economy, or pair political science with gender studies to focus on women’s rights issues.

And for those eager to get a jump on graduate studies, five-year programs can be a great route. A strong academic record at University of New Hampshire can lead to a joint BA/MA in political science in just ten semesters. Similarly, highly motivated Texas A&M University students can earn both a bachelor’s degree in political science and a Master of Public Service and Administration.

Want to inspire future generations of students or perform groundbreaking research? Carry your passion for politics all the way to the doctoral level. Such advanced programs typically take someone who already possesses a bachelor’s degree five additional years to complete. Besides coursework solidifying your knowledge of the discipline, you’ll likely work as a teaching assistant – either taking full responsibility for an undergraduate course or aiding a faculty member with a class by grading papers, leading small-group discussions, and working with students outside the classroom. This job helps pay for your education and provides valuable experience critical to securing a position in academia following graduation. The final stages of doctoral study involve passing comprehensive exams, conducting original research, and writing a significant scholarly paper known as a dissertation.

Average cost of college for a Political Science degree

Average Tuition and Fees for a 2 year Degree

Average Tuition and Fees School Control Student Residence
$2,104 Public In-State
$6,309 Public Out-of-State

Average Tuition and Fees for a 4 year Degree

Average Tuition and Fees School Control Student Residence
$8,636 Public In-State
$31,773 Private In-State
$20,443 Public Out-of-State
$31,773 Private Out-of-State

Questions About Political Science

What Are Some Other Things I Can Do to Improve My Chances of Landing a Great Job?

Besides maintaining an admirable GPA both overall and in political science courses, consider these actions that catch a hiring manager’s eye:

  • Internships demonstrate your ability to apply classroom knowledge to real-world situations. They also help develop critical professional skills, such as teamwork and responsibility. Such an experience will give you plenty to talk about in political science job interviews, and the people you meet can be valuable references and network connections. Some say it’s all about who you know, after all.
  • Studying abroad provides worldly perspective. Businesses increasingly seek employees with strong skills in a foreign language and familiarity with different cultures.
  • Club participation shows you want to expand your interests beyond the classroom. Seek leadership positions in student government. Participate in Model United Nations. Be part of the debate team. Write political pieces for the campus newspaper. Getting involved can help get you hired.
  • Volunteer work confirms your passion for being an active citizen. Get a first-hand taste of politics by campaigning for a local or national candidate. Tutor underprivileged children. Serve meals at a homeless shelter. Collect supplies for a women’s shelter. Help a non-profit research grant opportunities.

Will a Political Science Degree Help Me Become President Someday?

Interesting question! Let’s investigate (that’s what good students do, after all):

Current Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama received his undergraduate degree in political science from Columbia University in 1983. He went on to graduate magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1991.

Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, went a different route. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University in 1968 and a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School in 1975. His father and the nation’s 41st president, George H.W. Bush, established himself as a hero during World War II before heading to Yale to study economics.

Candidates from the 2016 presidential race:

Hillary Clinton graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts in 1969 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Interestingly, she headed the local chapter of Young Republicans for a time but later found herself campaigning for Democrat Eugene McCarthy and organizing the school’s first teach-ins on the Vietnam War. While pursuing her law degree at Yale, she met her future husband (and the nation’s 42nd president), Bill Clinton – a graduate of Georgetown University with a bachelor’s degree in international affairs.

Donald Trump received his undergraduate degree in economics in 1968 from the University of Pennsylvania. He went to work at his father’s company, Elizabeth Trump & Son, following graduation.

Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson has a political science degree from the University of New Mexico. The Green Party’s Jill Stein studied psychology, sociology, and anthropology as an undergraduate at Harvard and went on to graduate from its prestigious medical school.

So while not every politician majored in political science, such a path is one of the more common routes.

Who Are Some Other Notable Political Science Degree Holders?

As a student at the University of Denver, music major Condoleezza Rice walked into a class on international politics taught by a Soviet specialist and walked out a political science major. She later returned to her alma mater to earn a doctorate. Princeton University Press published her dissertation under the title Uncertain Allegiance: The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army, 1948-1963. She went on to become the first African American female to hold the position of U.S. Secretary of State.

Perhaps being born in the historic civil-rights city of Selma, Alabama, inspired soccer great Mia Hamm to major in political science while playing collegiate soccer at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. And those unfamiliar with Jerry Springer prior to his days as a tabloid talk show host may be surprised to know the Tulane University political science major and graduate of Northwestern University Law School worked as an aide to Robert F. Kennedy and served as mayor of Cincinnati prior to moderating conversations between trash-talking exes on national television.

So All Things Considered, Would I Make a Good Political Science Major?

College presents so many options! If political science seems like a potentially good fit with your academic interests and career aspirations, take a course or two to test the waters. Such classes usually can be used to fulfill general education requirements if you decide to pursue another discipline.

Major or not, collegiate studies in political science create stronger citizens capable of thinking about politics in new ways. Meg Mott, professor of politics at Marlboro College in Vermont and president-elect of the New England Political Science Association, notes that reading pre-modern political texts such as the writings of Plato, Aristotle, and Machiavelli reminds students of “the robust tradition that took the common good as a necessary part of the equation.” Likewise, by studying comparative politics “terms like democracy and liberalism, authority and tradition, will take on new characteristics.”

“The key to political science is to stand back enough to see a current controversy with perspective but not so far back that the political actors stop looking human,” Mott says. “There is a lot of vilifying in current politics. A strong political science student knows how to see the forces behind the various positions and the very human tendency to recoil in fear.”

Imagine the possibilities of such an enlightened electorate!

Article Sources

  • All the departmental websites listed above.
  • Arizona State,
  • Clemson University,
  • Michigan State University,
  • Texas A&M,
  • University of New Hampshire,
  • American Political Science Association,
  • Further info on Columbia,
  • Further info on Washington University,
  • Penn State World Campus,
  • Oregon State,
  • BLS,
  • Presidents,
  • Bernie Sanders,
  • Barack Obama,
  • George W. Bush,
  • George H.W. Bush, and
  • Hillary Clinton,
  • Bill Clinton,
  • Donald Trump, and
  • Gary Johnson,
  • Jill Stein,
  • Condoleezza Rice,
  • Mia Hamm,
  • Jerry Springer,
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