Political science is the study of politics, political systems, public policy and administration. Students who complete political science degree programs not only understand these highly complex social structures, but they also have been trained as critical and independent thinkers and effective communicators - skills that are in high demand in many career fields.
Students who want to enroll in campus-based on online political science degree programs should use the information on this page to learn more about 10 of the best colleges for political science degrees. Many of these institutions offer bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs. A master's degree or higher often is the required level of postsecondary education needed for employment as a political scientist. Program graduates gain the education and analytical and communication skills needed to succeed at many different roles in the field of political science.
Keep reading to learn more about our 10 featured institutions, as well as scholarship information, common career paths for graduates of online degrees for political science, and career outlooks for political scientists and related fields.
Best Colleges for Political Science Degree Programs
We ranked the 10 colleges featured here using a unique methodology and data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics. Students can use the information gather on this page to learn more about the 10 best colleges for political science degree programs from U.S. colleges and universities. Click on the button below to learn more about how each school was ranked, or read on to gain valuable insight into our best colleges campus-based and online political science degrees.
The top university in our rankings is a public research institution located on 1,200 acres of scenic coastline at La Jolla. UC San Diego enrolls about 36,000 students each year.
Political science is one of the most widely pursued degrees at UC San Diego. The university's department of political science offers a general political science undergraduate degree, as well as six separate concentrations in the field, including political theory, public policy, international relations and American politics. University of California at San Diego also offers graduate programs in political science and a joint program in political science and international affairs. Both graduate programs culminate in a Ph.D.
University of California at San Diego had the second-highest graduation rate of any institution in our rankings at 87 percent. However, it also had the toughest admissions rate of any institution - just 33 percent of applicants are admitted.
This private research university located in the heart of downtown Boston places second in our rankings due to its favorable admissions and graduation rates, as well as its 13:1 student-faculty ratio. However, it had the second-highest cost of in-state tuition at $33,934.
Suffolk University offers a unique bachelor's degree program that incorporates an educational foundation in three disciplines: politics, philosophy and economics. Students can tailor their studies to suit their interests in these fields. The program includes a senior-year capstone course that ties all three study paths together. The university also offers a master's degrees in political science and a dual degree in political science and public administration, as well as a graduate certificate in professional politics.
ASU at Tempe is the largest institution by enrollment in the Arizona State University System. More than 51,000 students enrolled at the Tempe campus in fall of 2017.
Arizona State University's college of liberal arts at the Tempe campus offers four undergraduate political science degree programs. Options include a B.A. or B.S. degrees in political science, as well as politics and the economy, and a degree in philosophy with a concentration in morality, politics and law. Both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees can be completed in an online accelerated format that culminates in a master's degree. Political science students interested in this path must complete a separate application to graduate school in their junior or senior years.
ASU-Tempe had the second-lowest cost of in-state tuition among the 10 colleges in our rankings. It also had the third-highest admissions rate at 83 percent, and the highest number of students enrolled in distance education programs.
This small private university located at St. Mary's City was founded in 1840. It's designated as a public honors college, one of two such institutions nationally. Enrollment in fall of 2017 was just under 1,765 students. The college makes our rankings in the fourth spot based on its strong admissions and graduation rates and favorable 10:1 student to faculty ratio.
The political science degree program at St. Mary's College of Maryland offers four concentrations: American politics, comparative politics, international politics and political theory. In addition to the college's general education requirements, students must complete 24 credit hours in the program major, including 12 credit hours in upper-division political science coursework and a capstone project.
Political science students at St. Mary's College of Maryland also have opportunities for summer internships in a variety of Washington, D.C. public affairs organizations through the college's Washington internship program.
The fifth institution in our rankings is a small private liberal arts college located at Emory, Va. The college was founded in 1836, and the campus is listed on the National Historic Register.
Emory & Henry College's department of politics, law and international relations offers two bachelor's degree pathways in political science. Students can pursue a B.A. in political science, or a B.A. in law and politics. Both programs include the option to complete a rigorous undergraduate honors thesis program for seniors, as well as opportunity to argue cases in front of real federal and state judges in the department's moot court competition.
Emory & Henry College had a 76 percent admissions rate and low 11:1 student to teacher ratio. The college also had the third-highest cost of in-state tuition among our top 10 at $30,900.
Hillsdale College is a small conservative non-profit liberal arts institution located at Hillsdale, Mich. The college serves about 1,400 students annually.
The college offers a bachelor's degree in political science, as well as a bachelor's in political economy that includes study in politics, history and law. The political science degree includes immersive study in American political thought and the foundations of political philosophy. Students must complete 33 credits of study in the program major, including 18 additional credits in political electives.
Hillsdale College also offers an M.A. degree and Ph.D. in politics through the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship. The college makes our rankings in the sixth spot based on its 77 percent graduation rate and its low 10:1 student to faculty ratio. It also had the highest number of political science degrees conferred to students of any institution in our rankings.
UNC Asheville is the only liberal arts university within the University of North Carolina's 17-college system. Annual enrollment at the university is about 3,800 students.
Students at UNC Asheville can pursue a general Bachelor of Arts in political science degree or a concentration in political science with teacher licensure. As a liberal arts institution, the university offers students a wide range of flexibility in choosing their coursework to satisfy bachelor degree requirements. However, all students enrolled in political science degree programs at UNC Asheville must complete a critical thinking capstone project in their senior year.
University of North Carolina at Asheville makes our list in the seventh spot based on its low cost of in-state tuition. At $6,605, tuition at UNC Asheville is 53 percent lower than tuition at ASU-Tempe, the next lowest institution.
This public research university is one of 10 institutions in the prestigious University of California System. Enrollment in fall of 2017 was 23,278 students.
UC Riverside's department of political science offers three Bachelor of Arts degrees in political science:
- Political science
- Political science and international affairs
- Political science and public service
The department also offers M.A. and Ph.D. programs in political science. Admissions into graduate programs is restricted to 40 students. Students in the master's program typically follow a 36-credit comprehensive examination plan, although in rare circumstance the college allows qualified students to pursue a thesis-based plan under the supervision of a faculty member. The Ph.D. program typically requires 15 quarters, or five years, to complete.
This liberal arts college in Marlboro, Vt. has an annual enrollment of less than 500 students. However, that small size could lead to excellent interaction with professors — average student to faculty ratio is 4:1. Marlboro College has the best admissions rate of any college in these rankings at 94 percent; however, it also has the highest cost of in-state tuition at $39,250.
Students who enroll in the political science degree program at Marlboro College develop a clear understanding of government power structures, political theory, comparative politics, American politics and other key areas of the field. All students at the college are required to complete a plan of concentration beginning their junior year. The plan explores a self-chosen academic theme, often with a multidisciplinary focus.
One of the largest institutions in the University of California System, UC Irvine serves more than 31,000 students each year. Ironically, the university's mascot is the Peter the Anteater, chosen in 1965 when the college first opened. The school's rally cry of "Zot" is based on a popular comic strip of that time.
UCI's school of social sciences is the largest academic unit on campus. The department of political science offers programs culminating in bachelor's, master's or doctoral degrees. Undergraduate students with a grade point average of 3.5 or higher in political science coursework also can enroll in the department's honors program, which requires students to complete a thesis their senior year of study.
Graduate students can pursue two master's degree options and five different concentrations in the Ph.D. program. UC Irvine had the highest graduation rate of our featured institutions at 88 percent.
Political Science Degree Programs and Common Career Paths
With limited job opportunities in the coming years, students who earn master's or doctoral degree in political science are better prepared for employment in the field. Many colleges, including those listed here, offer baccalaureate degrees in political science, but students should consider dedicating the extra time needed to complete higher-level degrees. Political scientists who only hold a bachelor's degree typically are only qualified for entry level research and assistant roles, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.
Below is a look at many of the most common career paths for students who graduate from political science degree programs.
Career Outlook for Political Science Majors
With just 2 percent job growth projected through 2026, competition for political scientist jobs is expected to be very strong. There were 7,300 political scientists employed in 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, and employment through 2026 is projected to grow by just 200 new positions. Candidates with a higher level of educational obtainment, as well as excellent writing, research and analytical skills, should have the best opportunities for employment in the coming years, the BLS says. As such, students in political science degree programs should consider earning at least a master's or even a doctoral degree.
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Political Science
Political science degree programs can be expensive, especially since a master's or doctoral degree is often the minimum level of educational obtainment for employment. Students can seek federal financial aid, but there also are many different grants and scholarships they can pursue as well. A few scholarships of note include the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics Research Fellowship, the Fund for Latino Scholarship, and the National Science Foundation's Political Science Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement grant program.
To be included in these rankings, all schools must meet the following initial criteria for the specific subject being ranked.
- Offer an undergraduate degree (either associate or bachelor’s) in that subject.
- Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in the most recent year of IPEDS data available.
Based on those criteria, we ranked all 2-year and 4-year schools in IPEDS that reported data for all of the following points. Ratings are calculated on a 10-point scale, using the weights specified.
- In-state undergraduate tuition & fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Accessibility, based on admissions rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Institutional spending, based on two equally weighted factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Instructional and academic support expenses per full-time enrolled student
- Instructional and academic support spending as a percentage of all expenses
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Flexibility, based on the following factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Percent of students enrolled fully or partly in distance education
- Whether the school offers programs that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
- Whether the school offers academic and career counseling
- Whether the school offers job placement services for students who complete their programs
- Whether the school offers any alternative tuition plans, such as a payment plan or guaranteed rate
- Size of program, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2014-15 were in this particular subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered at any level, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2016-17, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- Undergraduate Program, Department of Political Science, University of California San Diego, http://polisci.ucsd.edu/undergrad/index.html
- Politics, Philosophy and Economics Major, Suffolk University, http://www.suffolk.edu/college/undergraduate/53076.php
- Law, Justice and Public Service, Arizona State University-Tempe, https://webapp4.asu.edu/programs/t5/programs/AreaOfInterest/12/undergrad/false
- Political Science, St. Mary's College of Maryland, http://www.smcm.edu/posc/academic-offerings/what-you-learn-political-science/major/#content
- Academic Program, Politics, Law and International Relations Department, Emory & Henry College, https://www.ehc.edu/academics/programs/undergraduate-programs/social-sciences-division/politics-law-international-relations-department/
- Politics Major and Minor Requirements, Hillsdale College, https://www.hillsdale.edu/majors-minors/politics/requirements/
- Political Science Majors and Minors, University of North Carolina at Asheville, https://politicalscience.unca.edu/major-minors
- Political Science at UC Riverside, http://politicalscience.ucr.edu/
- Politics, Marlboro College, https://www.marlboro.edu/academics/undergraduate/degree-fields/politics
- UCI School of Social Sciences Department of Political Science, University of California Irvine, https://www.polisci.uci.edu/
- Political Scientists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/political-scientists.htm
- Scholarship directory data is copyrighted material which is reproduced on this website by permission of Wintergreen Orchard House, a division of Carnegie Communications. Copyright © 2017-18 by Wintergreen Orchard House. All rights reserved.