Have you always been eager to gain a deeper understanding of governmental processes or even influence public policy? When considering political science as a career path, many think of big-time politicians and elected officials running for office. However, careers in political science embody a much broader landscape than that, given the vast range of skills and specialties a poli-sci degree can offer.
Below, we dive into political science both as an academic discipline and a versatile career choice.
Exploring the Scope of Political Science
One of the social sciences, political science examines systems of power within governments through the lenses of laws, policies, and political figures as well as societal thoughts and behaviors. Its scope of studies and applications range from philosophical to practical to analytical—and anywhere in between.
The Basics of Political Science
Political science is a diverse, ever-evolving field that contributes to a deeper understanding of political dynamics in our increasingly complex and interconnected world. It encompasses numerous subfields, including political economy, public policy, government administration, diplomacy, and international law and relations. Political science also shares research methods with related social sciences such as history, psychology, and behavioral science. While degree programs may differ, the variety of subject matter offers political science students flexibility to select courses that align with their specific interests within political studies.
The Different Branches of Political Science
Political science is a dynamic discipline, and researchers continually explore new areas and adapt their methods to address evolving political challenges. Thus, aspects of these branches often overlap and intersect, as political scientists seek to understand the multifaceted nature of political systems and behavior.
- Political philosophy and theory – Political philosophy explores fundamental questions about justice, ethics, power and authority, civil rights and liberties, and the role of government in society. It involves a deep examination of the ideas and writings of influential political philosophers and develops modern theories regarding such abstract concepts.
- Political institutions – This poli-sci subfield focuses on the structure and functioning of political institutions within a country, such as the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. It also includes the study of electoral systems and the bureaucracy.
- Political economy – Political economy explores the relationship between politics and economics. Scholars in this field examine how economic policies and systems are influenced by political factors and vice versa.
- Comparative politics – Comparative politics involves the comparison of different political systems, governments, institutions, parties, and constitutions across countries and regions. Researchers in this field seek to understand the similarities and differences in political processes and outcomes.
- International relations – International relations (IR) studies the interactions and relationships between states and non-state actors on the global stage. Scholars in this field examine topics such as diplomacy, conflict, foreign policy, international organizations, and global governance.
Political Science Degree: A Springboard to Diverse Careers
For political science students who take advantage of all that their educational experience has to offer, earning this college degree can equip them with the skill set necessary to seek roles suited to their unique interests. This isn’t limited to only jobs related to politics or government, either; poli-sci graduates could inject their expertise into any number of other careers, too.
Skills Gained From a Political Science Degree
Aside from knowledge of political systems, a degree in political science can provide much more. Political science graduates are well-prepared for careers that involve research, analysis, policy development, and communication. While the skills listed below are often associated with a political science degree, they are versatile and can be applied in a wide range of professions—including law, government, journalism, academia, business, international relations, nonprofit organizations, and more.
- Critical thinking and problem solving – Political science programs emphasize critical analysis and evaluation of information, arguments, and policies. Graduates develop the ability to assess complex issues from multiple perspectives. Political science students also develop problem-solving skills, as they often study real-world issues and propose solutions or policy recommendations.
- Research – Political science students learn how to conduct research using various methods and gather and evaluate data through surveys, interviews, and content analysis. In addition, political science graduates develop strong information literacy skills, enabling them to find, assess, and use information effectively.
- Data and analytics – Political science programs teach students how to analyze and interpret data as well as how to synthesize complex information into coherent arguments and reports. Many political science programs include quantitative research methods, teaching students how to work with data, conduct statistical analysis, and interpret research findings.
- Communication – Effective written and oral communication skills are essential in political science. Students learn how to express their ideas clearly and persuasively, which is valuable in various professions like public relations, journalism, and law. For instance, students gain proficiency in public speaking through class discussions, presentations, and debates, which are valuable in almost any career. Writing is another fundamental skill in political science, as students gain experience writing research papers, reports, and policy briefs that are clear, concise, and well-structured.
- Ethics and morality – Political science programs often include discussions of ethics, morality, and social justice, which can help graduates make ethical decisions in various professions.
- Cross-cultural competence – Political science often involves the study of different cultures and international relations, fostering an understanding of cultural diversity and global perspectives.
- Negotiation and diplomacy – Students in political science often study negotiation and diplomacy, which can be applied in fields such as international relations, conflict resolution, and business.
- Leadership and teamwork – Group projects and collaborative assignments in political science programs help students develop leadership and teamwork skills, which are essential in many careers, from politics to business to nonprofit organizations.
Deep Dive Into Career Avenues After a Political Science Degree
So, what can you actually do with a political science degree? Even having earned only your bachelor’s, this credential could prove incredibly versatile in terms of the avenues you could take. While some jobs might require additional education in supplementary or complementary areas, either way, a degree in political science could certainly set the stage for long-term success throughout your career journey.
Public administration scholars study the management and operation of government agencies and organizations. They focus on topics like public management, public service delivery, and bureaucratic behavior. A few examples of jobs working in public or government administration include public policy analysts (who analyze and recommend government policies), legislative assistants (who work under elected officials), city planners (who develop regional planning policies and projects), and public affairs specialists (who manage public relations and communications for government agencies).
International relations studies the interactions and relationships between states and non-state actors on the global stage. Scholars in this field examine topics such as diplomacy, conflict, international organizations, and global governance. Some careers in this field include diplomats or international development specialists.
Diplomats or foreign service officers represent a country's interests abroad, working in embassies and consulates like the U.S. Department of State. They oversee, form, and maintain international relations regarding treaties, culture, human rights, and economics and trade. A diplomat may do anything from granting visas to providing aid overseas to promoting security and peace.
Politics and Policy Careers
In addition to becoming an elected politician at the local (e.g., mayor), state (e.g., governor), or national level (e.g., president or senator), there exist plenty of other career routes in the realm of politics and policy. For instance, policy analysts review public policy documents and study the impacts on government operations and other societal functions. Frequently working directly for government agencies, they might specialize in one key area, such as quantitative research for both drafted and current policy, analysis and revision of drafted policy, evaluation of current policy, and internal and external communications. When it comes to working directly with political campaigns or elections, becoming a campaign manager or politician’s assistant are also possibilities.
Those who study and shape political science as a discipline at large could be referred to as political scientists. By examining the origins, trends, and functions of political systems and governments, their research allows them to test existing political theories and develop new ones. These scholars might spearhead surveys to collect original data on current events or public opinion and policies. Many political scientists then go on to present, teach, or publish articles or books on their research. With an advanced degree, they are also often qualified to teach politics, history, or economics at either a secondary or post-secondary level.
A political analyst is a professional specializing in the study and analysis of political systems, policies, elections, and other events. Their primary role is to provide insight and understanding of political developments (both domestic and international) to a wide range of audiences that include government officials, policymakers, research firms, media outlets, and the general public.
Through the lens of political science, an economist might examine how economic policies and systems are influenced by political factors and vice versa. In general, economists look at financial trends to make educated forecasts or recommendations to businesses, legislators, and more. This could help corporations make informed decisions while planning revenue goals or help politicians understand their effect on the overall economy. Economists work in fields such as education, corporate compliance, public policy, and more.
Public Relations Manager
Public relations managers, specialists, or directors rely on their communication skills to maintain the reputation or public image of an organization or department. In their day-to-day, these professionals may correspond with news outlets, manage social media interactions, or write articles and press releases. Whether they work in politics for a campaign or marketing for a company, a PR manager handles all types of external communications as well as public polling or surveying to integrate feedback into their efforts.
Lobbyists engage in advocacy and representation on behalf of specific interests for corporations, trade associations, nonprofit organizations, or other groups. The primary goal of a lobbyist is to influence government decisions and policies, particularly at the legislative and regulatory levels. Lobbying can be conducted on a wide range of issues, from healthcare and environmental regulations to tax policy and defense contracts.
Although becoming a lawyer requires a law degree (Juris Doctor), earning a bachelor’s in political science is a natural first step toward reaching this goal. Otherwise known as attorneys, lawyers counsel and represent their clients in court. They are well-educated in legal matters or a specific field of law and advise clients on the best options and strategies in their particular case.
How to Be Successful in Your Chosen Political Science Career
Along with mastering the skills listed earlier, success in political science careers is often a result of a combination of skills, education, experience, and personal qualities. This includes cultivating soft skills like empathy, active listening, and conflict resolution, as they help build relationships and navigate complex political environments.
The value of gaining practical experience cannot be overstated; it not only enhances your resume but also provides beneficial insights and contacts. Seek internships, volunteer and public service opportunities, or part-time positions in your chosen field. No matter if it’s during college or after graduation, an internship could be critical to securing your ideal position within political science. If a career in politics intrigues you, then consider getting involved in campaigns, joining a political party, or participating in grassroots efforts.
Alongside your dedication to making a positive impact on society, your adaptability will also contribute to your success in your chosen career. Political landscapes and policies change frequently—so be open to change, and adapt your strategies and knowledge to evolving circumstances, laws, standards, and technological advancements.
Importance of Further Education and Networking
With that said, this is where the value of continuous learning comes into play. From regularly studying current political events and trends to pursuing a political science degree, staying up to date is crucial for making informed decisions and offering valuable insights for the field. Depending on your career goals, earning an advanced degree (such as a master’s or Ph.D.) in poli-sci or related disciplines could equip you with specialized knowledge and enhanced qualifications.
Perhaps even more than most careers, finding success in political science requires a great deal of networking and experience-building. Build a strong network of professors and peer professionals throughout your higher education journey and beyond by attending conferences, joining professional organizations, and connecting with mentors and potential employers.
Is Pursuing a Graduate Degree in Political Science Beneficial?
Through rigorous study of politics, government, and international relations, a political science degree program could take your career skills and qualifications to the next level. What’s more, it can be challenging to enter this field without at least a bachelor’s degree.