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How to Become a Political Scientist

Political scientists need a master’s degree or Ph.D. in political science, public administration, or a related field.

Jobseekers with a bachelor’s degree in political science usually qualify for entry-level positions in many related fields. Some qualify for entry-level positions as research assistants, others as policy analysts for research organizations, political campaigns, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies. Many go into fields outside of politics and policy, such as business or law.


Political scientists can complete either a master’s or Ph.D. program. To be admitted to a graduate program, applicants should complete undergraduate courses in political science, writing, and statistics. Applicants also benefit from having related work or internship experience. For example, working in an internship on a congressional staff or for a research organization helps applicants gain experience writing and researching, analyzing data, or working with policy issues.

Political scientists often complete a Master of Public Administration (MPA), Master of Public Policy (MPP), or Master of Public Affairs degree. These programs usually combine several disciplines, and students can choose to concentrate in a specific area of interest. Most offer core courses in research methods, policy formation, program evaluation, and statistics. Some colleges and universities also offer master’s degrees in political science, international relations, or other applied political science specialties.

Political scientists can also complete a Ph.D. program, which requires several years of coursework followed by independent research for a dissertation. Most Ph.D. candidates choose to specialize in one of four primary subfields of political science: American politics, comparative politics, international relations, or political theory. A Ph.D. in political science is primarily a research degree.

Political scientists who teach at colleges and universities need a Ph.D. Graduates with a master’s degree in political science may qualify for teaching positions in community colleges. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Political scientists often use mathematical and statistical research methods. They rely on their analytical skills when they collect, evaluate, and interpret data.

Critical-thinking skills. Political scientists need critical-thinking skills when conducting research and analyzing issues. They must be able to examine and process available information and draw logical conclusions.

Intellectual curiosity. Political scientists must continually explore new ideas and information to produce original papers and research. They must stay current on political subjects and come up with new ways to think about and address issues.

Writing skills. Writing skills are essential for political scientists, who often write papers on political issues and must be able to convey their research results clearly.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition