Online Political Science Degree Programs
Whether we like it or not, we participate in political activities almost every day. Most of us pay taxes, many of us vote and a majority of us obey the civil and criminal statutes put in place by members of the political system. Studying political science at the university level can help you better understand the influence that political realities have on our everyday lives, and in some cases give you the power to change them.
In fact, if you've ever dreamed of a career as an attorney, wanted to run for office or thought about working as a political operative at any level of the system, earning a political science degree is one of the strongest preparatory measures you can take. Here's a table of data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) showing the popularity of campus-based and online political science degrees are in eight distinct regions of the country:
|Region||No. of schools offering special education degrees||No. of schools with online special education degree programs|
|Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI)||181||5|
|Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO)||44||2|
|Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK)||111||7|
|Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD)||109||11|
|Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV)||299||18|
|Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI)||179||5|
|Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.)||220||11|
|New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME)||96||7|
|Total (all 50 states)||1239||66|
Entry-level political science degrees
It's possible to begin your political science study as early as your first year of college, if you're sure from the start that it's for you. Take a look at these quick descriptions of what you can expect from various undergraduate degrees in political science, online or on campus:
- Associate degrees - Political science degrees at the associate level tend to consist of mostly introductory courses and prerequisites for upper-division work, but some schools may allow associate degree students to choose a few of the more specific or complex subjects to add to their study plan. Common courses in political science associate degree programs include Western Civilization, U.S. history, fundamentals of national, state and local government and intro courses in psychology, sociology and philosophy.
- Bachelor's degrees - Study of political science gets deeper and more nuanced for Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or Bachelor of Arts (B.A) degree students, particularly after completing their fourth semester. Subjects in the upper division of political science coursework include American political thought, constitutional law, policy development and evaluation, media ethics, comparative politics, foreign policy, political parties and pressure groups, political theory and issues in regional relations.
- Non-degree study - While undergraduate certificates in generalized academic study of politics may be scarce, there are a few colleges and universities offering certificate plans that focus on concentrated knowledge areas within the discipline. Certificates in environment studies, political communication, gender studies, international relations, fundamentals of political theory and conflict resolution all may fall under the umbrella of the political science department at some universities, as may career training for paralegals and public sector managers.
With the advancements of multimedia communications technology and the tumbling cost of high-speed broadband access in many parts of the country, more and more institutions are beginning to offer partially and fully online political science degrees. Taking at least a few courses in the virtual classroom can help you limit the amount of time and money you spend on your continued education, provided you have internet access and the moderate level of tech skill necessary to feel comfortable engaging with course material online.
Advanced-degree political science programs
If you've got your sights set on a career in political campaigning, congressional staff work, national intelligence, lobbying or policy analysis, chances are you're going to need at least a master's degree in political science. Here's some detail on what you'll study in political science degree programs for graduates and post-grads:
- Master's degree programs - Similar to their undergraduate counterparts, master's degrees in political science may be offered as Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Science (M.S.), Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) or Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) degrees. Subjects studied at this level can vary based on the type of degree you choose, but the list commonly includes law and ethics, campaign management, strategic messaging, theories of international relations, modern political thought and issues in political theory.
- Doctorate programs - Students of political science who want to use their knowledge to further the field through research, scholarship or university-level instruction tend to go on to earn the terminal degree in the discipline, typically categorized as a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree. Doctoral students often limit their study to one or two specific subfields of political science and focus on them in great depth, culminating their concentrated research in an extensive thesis or dissertation project.
- Graduate certificates - Non-degree study plans at the graduate level tend to come in similar flavors to the ones available for undergraduates — regional studies, gender studies, environment and sustainability, security studies, etc. — but the expectation of a more substantial academic background allows graduate certificate programs to dig a bit deeper into their subjects than would be possible with relatively new students. Certificates in such fields as practical politics, political analysis and contemporary history may also be available, depending on the institution.
Online degrees in political science are also available at the master's and doctoral level, to help defray some of the cost and time investment typically associated with earning a graduate degree. Some students may prefer to undergo such intensive study face to face, but the flexibility available in the virtual classroom can be a lifesaver to students who need it.
Q&A with an expert
Robert E. Williams, Jr., professor of political science at Pepperdine University
Why would you encourage someone to consider a political science degree?
Dr. Williams: Political science offers what I consider to be a two-for-one value. On the one hand, it is the perfect major for someone wanting the benefits of a liberal arts education. Political science majors learn to read carefully, write clearly, and think critically about both ideas and policies. On the other hand, there is an intensely practical side of political science. Political science majors go on to run nonprofits, report the news, serve the government, engage the world as diplomats, practice law, and start businesses.
Are there particular minors or extracurricular activities that can provide especially effective preparation for political science careers?
Dr. Williams: There are many fields that can complement the study of political science: economics, journalism, environmental studies, history, philosophy, sociology, and even math. The choice depends largely on what the political science major envisions doing in graduate school or in a job right out of college. Communications or advertising are good fields to study if the aim is to work on political campaigns. Statistics is important for a political science major wanting to do quantitative research in grad school.
Can students get started with a bachelor's degree or do most jobs require graduate study?
Dr. Williams: The answer is almost as varied as entry-level political science jobs themselves are. As in most fields, the educational requirements are likely to increase as one moves up the ladder. We have graduates who worked on political campaigns right out of college, some of whom went on to become political consultants or to run their own consulting firms without pausing for graduate study. Others have worked for nonprofits and have advanced in their careers after stopping to get a law or a management degree. In some areas, there's less flexibility. Practicing law, of course, will require a law degree. Much depends, in other words, on the career objective.
What's some advice you might have for a student who's thinking about working toward a career in political science?
Dr. Williams: Come armed with questions — lots of them. But then expect the outcome of the study of political science to be more questions and, if you've been successful in your studies, better questions.
Types of political science careers
Intensive study of political science may be one of the only ways to prepare for a career in politics, but that doesn't mean that political science graduates all end up in law, government or advocacy. Take a look at this table of careers in which political science graduates might find a home for their knowledge and skills, along with salary and employment data courtesy of the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):
|Occupation title||National mean annual salary
|Projected job growth
|Total U.S. employment
|-2 percent||6,200||Master's degree|
|Market research analyst||
|19 percent||495,500||Bachelor's degree|
|Public relations specialist||
|6 percent||240,700||Bachelor's degree|
|14 percent||758,000||Bachelor's degree|
|Human resources manager||
|9 percent||122,500||Bachelor's degree|
|Administrative services manager||
|8 percent||287,300||Bachelor's degree|
|Political science teacher, postsecondary||
|10 percent||21,600||Master's degree|
Common misconceptions about political science degrees and careers
Political science is a fairly complex field of study, so it's understandable that there are a few misconceptions out there about degrees in the subject. Here's some fact checking on a few of the more common mistaken notions that people hold about campus-based and online political science degrees:
Misconception: Political science degrees are too academically oriented to be useful on the job market.
- Fact: The undergraduate political science curriculum may contain some courses designed to lay a framework for deep, scholarly study in the future, but there's more than just graduate school scaffolding to be had in those first four years. For one thing, there's been something of a hiring surge directed at candidates with liberal arts degrees in the last few years, and political science is a liberal art that also trains your writing, group speaking and strategic thinking skills — all valuable professional assets.
Misconception: There's no reason to study political science unless you plan to go into politics.
- Fact: Political science degrees can help students with political aspirations, sure, but there's plenty else you can do with the specific knowledge and skills gained from studying it. Many graduates of political science degree programs seek a law degree and move into legal practice, while others may take some management courses and work toward an administrative role at a non-profit organization. Still others pursue their study to the terminal degree and become professional scholars.
Misconception: Online political science degree programs can't give you the same breadth and depth of study as those delivered on campus.
- Fact: Online degrees may seem very different from their traditional counterparts, but the two are actually alike in a lot of ways. The curriculum you study is often nearly identical, for one thing, and the ways in which each type of degree can be used to transition into the workforce or into further study are very similar. It's also the case with both types of degree that you tend to get back what you put in — studying hard, asking questions when they arise and engaging the best you can with the material can serve to deepen your education no matter whether the coursework is delivered online or in person.
How can I enroll in an online political science degree program?
The best way to find out how to pursue your passion for political study is to reach out directly to a few universities with programs that look appealing to you. Browse our listings below and decide on some strong contenders, then reach out via phone, email or campus visit to find out how you can take steps to enroll.
- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed March 18, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
- School pages, accessed March 25, 2016: Associate of Arts Degree in Political Science, Community College of Aurora, https://www.ccaurora.edu/catalog/associate-of-arts-degree-in-political-science.htm; Associate Degree with Political Science Emphasis, University of Wisconsin Colleges, http://uwc.edu/catalog/degrees/aas/emphases/poli-sci; Political Science, Associate in Arts Degree, Eastern Iowa Community Colleges, https://www.eicc.edu/future-students/our-programs/aa-poly-sci.aspx; Courses - Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, Penn State World Campus, http://www.worldcampus.psu.edu/degrees-and-certificates/political-science-bachelors/courses; Bachelor of Science in Political Science, Northeastern University, http://www.cps.neu.edu/degree-programs/undergraduate/bachelors-degrees/bachelors-science-political-science.php; Online Political Science (B.S.) Degree, Indiana University East, http://www.iue.edu/online/programs/bs-polisci.php; Certificate Programs for Political Science Students, Ohio University, https://www.ohio.edu/cas/pols/undergrad/certificates.cfm; Political Science Certificates, Texas State University, http://www.polisci.txstate.edu/degrees-programs/graduate/Certificates.html; Certificate Programs, Department of Political Science, Texas A&M University, http://pols.tamu.edu/undergraduate-studies/certificate-programs/; Master's in Political Science Online, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/masters/ms-in-political-science; Political Science and Public Administration, University of North Carolina Pembroke, http://www.uncp.edu/academics/colleges-schools-departments/departments/political-science-and-public-administration; Political Science Degrees, The University of Texas at Dallas, https://www.utdallas.edu/epps/polsci/degrees.html#ma; M.Phil. Degree, Department of Political Science, Columbia University, http://polisci.columbia.edu/phd-program/phd-program-requirements/mphil-degree; PhD in Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, http://web.mit.edu/polisci/graduate/phd.html; PhD in Political Science, American University, http://www.american.edu/spa/gov/degrees/PHD-POLS.cfm; Political Science Graduate Certificates, Virginia Tech University, http://liberalarts.vt.edu/academics/graduate-programs/graduate-certificates-list/political-science.html; Graduate Certificate in Practical Politics, University of Illinois Springfield, http://www.uis.edu/politicalscience/curriculum/GraduateCertificateinPracticalPolitics/; Political Science Graduate Certificates, Ohio University, https://www.ohio.edu/cas/pols/grad/certificates.cfm
- Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed March 18, 2016: Political Scientists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Life-Physical-and-Social-Science/Political-scientists.htm; Market Research Analysts, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/market-research-analysts.htm; Public Relations Specialists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/public-relations-specialists.htm; Management Analysts, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Business-and-Financial/Management-analysts.htm; Human Resources Managers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/human-resources-managers.htm; Administrative Services Managers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/administrative-services-managers.htm; Postsecondary Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Education-Training-and-Library/Postsecondary-teachers.htm
- May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed March 18, 2016, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm;
- Tech companies are hiring more liberal-arts majors than you think, The Washington Post, Brian Fung, August 26, 2015, accessed March 29, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2015/08/26/tech-companies-are-hiring-more-liberal-arts-majors-than-you-think/
- There Is Value in Liberal Arts Education, Employers Say, U.S. News and World Report, Mark I. McNutt, September 22, 2014, accessed March 29, 2016, http://www.usnews.com/news/college-of-tomorrow/articles/2014/09/22/there-is-value-in-liberal-arts-education-employers-say