Political science is an increasingly popular degree field with incredible real-world potential. And luckily, major universities and colleges across the country now allow students to earn political science degrees online. Students can better understand these choices by using the resources on the following page. They can narrow their selection and ultimately find online program opportunities at top colleges, or explore the discipline in further detail via the comprehensive guide.
Political scientists study the history, operations, development, evolution, management, machinations and functions of policies and systems of states and governments. They conduct research on a wide range of subjects, including campaigning, the study of court decisions, analysis of the policies of governments, and an examination of the political atmosphere of different nations. Upon graduation, political science majors can become involved in policymaking decisions and the advising of governmental entities. They can become politicians or diplomats themselves, they can work on or organize campaigns, become policy analysts, conduct polling and research, teach, work for economic institutions, the criminal justice system or as municipal and urban planners. Political science education is rigorous and demanding, with many occupations requiring a master's degree or PhD.
To get a better understanding of what it takes to earn an online degree in the field, let’s explore the political science educational timeline from start to finish – from the earliest associate degrees available online to the terminal PhD.
The pursuit of an online political science degree can take from two years to nearly a decade to complete. Degrees are available at the associate, baccalaureate, master's and doctoral levels. Some online political science programs are hybrid courses that require some level of participation at the physical, brick-and-mortar campus, while others can be taken completely online. Many require research projects or advanced labs and/or internships.
An online associate degree in political science takes two years to complete for full-time students. Generally, an online associate program require between 60 and 64 credits. A high-school diploma or equivalent is required, preferably with coursework in social studies, government and history. This level of study gives students a broad overview of the field and will not involve focus on any particular area. Students who graduate with an online associate degree can become legal assistants, campaign workers, they can work for non-profit organizations or entities that support career development. Most, however, will use their associate degree as a foundation on which to build a bachelor's degree.
It takes full-time students four years to complete a bachelor's degree online, just as it would in the traditional course of study. Applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent, or an associate degree. A previous study of civics, history or government carries extra weight, but is not necessarily required. Many programs require the completion of general prerequisite studies before immersion in political science. Students may complete general studies of humanities, arts, math or history before delving into political science, which could entail courses in statistics, governmental theory, mass communication, new media and business. Students who achieve a bachelor's in political science often go on to law school, and many others pursue more advanced degrees in political science, which are often required for entry into related careers. Common courses or program directions for online bachelor’s students in political science include:
General political science: This course of study exposes students to the foundation of the American political system, as well as the basics of political theory. Students also learn the fundamentals of comparative politics, global politics and develop an understanding of quantitative methods in political science.
Pre-legal political science: This area of study introduces students to the nature of law and the judicial process. It also acclimates them to the law in a way that is more general than the level of instruction provided by most law schools. Students who choose this kind of program may pursue careers in government and with large businesses, or they may choose to work for a law firm, an individual or partnership practice of civil law or trial practice, including criminal law. They may also pursue a career as a teacher, instructor or professor.
Public policy: This popular course of study prepares students for careers in public service, advocacy and analysis. It is designed to impart an understanding of the goals and challenges of public policy, the political process and the creation and development of policy, as well as the implementation and analysis of public policy. Students often pursue this major if they plan to conduct research for public agencies, non-profits or voluntary associations interested in providing solutions for the betterment of government.
Global Politics: This course of study educates students about the political machinations of a wide range of different countries and different systems of government across the world, as well as how they interact with each other. Students can be prepared for transition into higher degrees, or for careers in international affairs in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Students can generally choose to study the regions of the world that most interest them.
Other primary courses include:
To be considered as a candidate for a master's degree, a student must first obtain a bachelor's degree with the minimum GPA required for entry into the master's program, which is usually 3.0. Full-time students can achieve a master's degree — which requires 30 credits — in two years. Just as when applying for undergraduate programs, mitigating factors such as strong recommendations are factored into acceptance decisions. Some master's programs require hybrid study, which is dominated by online coursework, but supplemented with on-campus requirements. Students start with courses that may include communications, political theories, political structures and methodologies, sociology, business, law, the criminal justice system and elections. Generally, a master's requires students to specialize in an area of concentrated study. Most online political science master’s programs have a thesis requirement, which students spend months crafting, researching, developing and writing.
It is possible to earn a PhD — the most advanced degree available to a political science major — through online learning. Some of the most sought-after experts in many relevant fields have doctoral degrees in political science. Top economists, researchers, policy experts, diplomats, analysts and statisticians hold PhDs in the field. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree or — preferably and usually — a master's degree, although not necessarily in political science. Graduates who hold this degree are qualified to teach at the university level instead of or in addition to the potentially lofty real-world pursuits.
Online political science degrees can focus on anything from local government to international politics. They can be started at the two-year associate level and taken all the way to PhD. Like any other degree program, some are better than others. No matter what program you choose, make sure your program includes the following:
Accreditation is the process of an independent and impartial body reviewing a college or university to ensure that it conforms to a high and consistent level of academic standards. Accredited online political science programs have been approved by a body that is recognized by other schools, employers and the government.
There is no single accreditation body that governs the realm of political science. Therefore, it is up to the individual to make sure that the school administering online political science programs has earned accreditation from one of the seven regional accrediting bodies. If you pursue a program that is not offered by an accredited school, you run the risk of receiving subpar instruction and a degree that holds zero weight in the professional world.
Studies show there is a correlation between the graduation rate of students and the level of support they receive from their school. Each student should have a dedicated advisor who guides the student from the enrollment process through graduation. A student should be able to change advisors at any time. Upon graduation, alumni should receive support from their college or university in career advancement or in the pursuit of further post-secondary education for the rest of their lives.
Nowhere is it more important to have stellar supporting resources than in online education. Since students will do most of their interaction online, it is important to look for communication technology, remote support, digital libraries and other supporting platforms and materials. Some colleges and programs have 24/7 tech assistance in case there’s a breakdown during off-hours – the times when some online students need to submit work.
For online learning, scheduling flexibility is incredibly important. Students must be able to take classes on schedules that suit their needs and other obligations. Courses should be available on a part-time or full-time basis, night and day, and seasonal and out-of-session options should be available. Instructors should be university or college professors who teach at the physical campus when they aren't giving online instruction.
The only way to get a true feel for the experience of taking an online political science program is to speak with someone who has done it. Students and alumni can provide real-world insight about what to expect along the journey, from enrollment to graduation. Meredith received an online master's degree in political science from California State University, Los Angeles.
1. Why did you decide to pursue a master's degree after you had already landed a job with a consulting firm?
Well, getting a job is great. But my prospects for advancement — not to mention my salary — were extremely limited, not just at my firm, but in the consulting field in general. The overwhelming majority of people in supervisory positions had more than just a bachelor's degree. My firm was clear on their hiring standards and actually recommended that I pursue a higher degree.
2. Did you have to quit your job?
No! There is no way — never — that I could have achieved my master's if not for online education. My firm agreed to cut back my hours while I pursued my degree. I only took reduced hours for one semester, then I was able to balance full-time work and school. I doubled up on weekends and took a lot of classes at night. Once I crossed the halfway point — well, actually a little past — my firm put me on a management-training track. I was incredibly close to having a promotion waiting for me when I graduated, but cutbacks forced them to wait a year to promote me. But either way, without my master's, I'm certain that I'd still be where I started.
3. Consulting isn't exactly something you dream about doing in high school — how did your journey end there?
Hahaha. No. I did not dream of working for a consulting firm, but for me, it really has become a dream job. I come from a very political family — they weren't active, but aware and passionate. I grew up with a lot of reverence for our system of government, even though I'm often frustrated with the individuals and parties running it. I never wanted to be a politician, but I wanted to be involved with policy, with fixing what was broken — which in a way, I am.
4. Do you have any plans to pursue a doctorate?
Honestly, no. I contemplated it. I talked about it with my family, but it's just too much school. I'm in a wonderful place with work right now and my master's is such a powerful tool. Right now, I just want experience in the real world. I don't want to say I'm afraid, because it's not a fear decision, but my master's was brutal. I'm so glad I did it, but I honestly couldn't imagine doing it again.
5. What advice would you give to incoming PolySci majors?
Take the preparatory coursework seriously. I was in such a hurry to get to the PolySci coursework that I rushed through the required general studies that came before. It's not so much that science and math and history are going to make you a better PolySci major, but it conditions you for the rigors of the coming workload. You'll get into good study habits and develop better time-management skills — and your professors will notice.
While the growing list of institutions providing online programs in political science means students will likely have no trouble finding a suitable program, it can also mean feeling overwhelmed while sifting through available programs. Students looking for a helping hand can use the search tool below to narrow down their choices and also find programs matched to their needs for flexibility, affordability, and real-world learning opportunities.
Once the decision has been made to pursue an online degree in political science, the tough part begins: finding the right online program that meets all the needs of the potential student. With an ever increasing number of schools offering online programs, it can be hard to narrow down the field and decide which will offer the best fit to meet individual needs. The following is a list of the schools that offer the best in an online political science degree.
To see how we selected the Nation's Best Online Political Science Degrees, please visit our methodology page.
|Rank||School Name||Score||Student-Teacher Ratio||Academic/ Career Counseling||state||More Info|
|1||Pennsylvania State University-World Campus||97.43||17:1||yes||Pennsylvania|
The goal of Penn State's online bachelor's degree in political science is to help students build practical skills they can apply in the workplace or graduate school, depending on their aims. The curriculum emphasizes research-based writing projects in areas like political theory, international relations and public policy, but in a completely online format -- no campus visits required. Distance learners connect with peers and faculty through video conferencing, social media, bulletin boards and other collaborative tools, but must still be self-motivated and organized enough to review materials and complete weekly assignments on schedule. Many classes are asynchronous, which means students can work whenever they wish so long as they meet instructor deadlines.
|2||Fort Valley State University||96.52||20:1||yes||Georgia|
Fort Valley State designed its online bachelor's degree program to give students a broad but practical base in political science. Classes introduce all aspects of the field and review issues in both historical and contemporary contexts. Lectures and materials can be accessed online through Brightspace by D2L and eCore learning platforms. All political science students must complete supervised internships in relevant organizations or agencies in order to graduate, but online students can often coordinate these experiences within their local communities. Participants in distance education programs have access to online learning tutorials and a technical support center.
|3||University of Massachusetts Amherst||96.41||18:1||yes||Massachusetts|
This UMassOnline program targets applicants who have already earned at least 24 transferrable college credits or an associate degree, and would like to finish their bachelor? degrees online. Coursework aims to help future political and legal professionals build a deeper understanding of systems and theories within the global community while refining research, analysis, communication and other skills. This degree completion program offers an optional pre-law concentration. Students can complete all classes online through the Blackboard Learn course management system, but still have access to key resources, including academic advising, technical support and library services.
|4||University of Wisconsin||95.67||21:1||yes||Wisconsin|
The University of Wisconsin offers online bachelor's degree programs in political science through its Milwaukee and Whitewater branches. Coursework covers U.S. and international political systems and theories, analyzing concepts that can apply in fields like government, law, journalism and education. The curriculum features choices such as studies of governmental systems in diverse world regions.
Students attending UW Online take the same courses and earn the same degrees as their peers attending a traditional campus. Not all online classes are available every semester, however, so it's important to plan ahead. To supplement online learning, there are opportunities to gain experience as interns at different levels of government.
|5||California Baptist University||95.22||18:1||yes||California|
California Baptist University's fully online political science program was created to help future public service, education and law professionals build a solid foundation. The curriculum explores political processes and government systems, as well as historical and contemporary public policy trends, foreign and domestic. Required subjects range from Christian thought to Constitutional law to issues in administrative bureaucracy. Students can complete all courses online through the Blackboard learning management system, with no campus work required. Online students have access to many of the support resources they would expect from a campus-based program, including career advising and library services.
|6||Central Michigan University||95.05||21:1||yes||Michigan|
The online bachelor's degree program in political science through CMU's Global Campus approaches political institutions and processes on a worldwide scale. Core coursework and electives span fields such as U.S. government, public administration and policy, and international relations. Studies emphasize critical decision making and conflict management skills as well as data analysis and empirical research methods. Electives are found in areas such as the civil rights movement or lobbying and interest groups.
Technology allows students to access most lectures and course materials from any connected environment. While many classes allow students to log in on their own time, there may be requirements to periodically stream live lectures or take exams in proctored settings.
Contemporary revolutions, public opinion and Indiana politics are among the subjects students can explore in this web-based political science program. IU organized this option specifically for applicants with associate degrees or at least 60 transferable college credits who want to earn their baccalaureate online. Admitted students work closely with advisers to review how prior coursework can fulfill IU requirements, and to develop individual plans of study. All students must complete 36 credit hours or more of upper-division class work--including 18+ units of core courses and electives in their major--but they can do so in a 100 percent online format. Students can work on their degrees through a full-time or part-time course load.
|8||Southern New Hampshire University||94.88||26:1||yes||New Hampshire|
According to the university, its home state's history of civic engagement and its first-in-nation primary status give it a unique perspective on the U.S. political system. SNHU's online bachelor's degree program in political science aims to provide students with a pragmatic, in-depth understanding of the issues that drive national and global politics, but with an emphasis on human empathy and ethics. Desired outcomes include effective research, social scientific reasoning, decision making and communication skills. SNHU students can access classes online, day or night, and they gain experiential learning through supervised internships in organizations or agencies in their communities.
|9||Arizona State University||94.24||23:1||yes||Arizona|
ASU's online political science students can enroll in a broad Bachelor of Arts program that includes topics like democracy and globalization, or a Bachelor of Science program that emphasizes policy making and the interaction of citizens and governments. For both programs, the curriculum explores contemporary geopolitical issues, economics and events, encouraging analytical thought and effective communication. Students must meet ASU competency requirements in areas such as math, and the BA program includes foreign language studies.
Classes are delivered 100 percent online through the MyASU Web portal. A number of multimedia and collaborative technologies keep students connected while mobile tools like Apps for Education help them stay organized even on the go.
This online program lets students delve into the ins and outs of social, economic and political systems while developing research, analytical and problem-solving skills. The program offers choices for courses in areas such as environmental ethics, cultural diversity and global capitalism.
Only 45 of the 180 quarter units required of bachelor's degree candidates must be earned through National University, and all of those can be completed entirely online. Interested students can test-drive the school's digital learning system. Toward the end of their studies, undergraduates can request concurrent enrollment in the Master of Public Administration transition program, but the MPA does have residency requirements.
|11||Oregon State University||90.25||23:1||yes||Oregon|
The Oregon State University political science curriculum was engineered to give students an academic base that extends beyond national issues and law. Subjects include Western, Central and Eastern European political systems as well as international relations. Courses for the major also deal with foreign policy challenges and global perceptions of the United States. Alternatively, students can choose to analyze the politics inherent in areas such as sports or climate change. Also available are options for independent study or internships.
Online students complete the same courses and earn the same degrees as campus-based students. Ecampus offers 24/7 access to class materials and interactive learning tools, with support services like online tutoring, career resources and academic advising.
|12||University of Maryland-University College||88.63||17:1||yes||Maryland|
UMUC's web-based program focuses on analyzing national and global governments and politics. Students learn about political structures, theories and methodologies while honing research and advocacy skills they could use to evaluate and solve problems in a diversity of settings. The curriculum includes required classes in the major--on topics such as U.S. foreign relations--as well as general education subjects like the role of technology in society. Courses are offered through the Learning Experience Online virtual instruction platform, or LEO. UMUC lets prospective students try out LEO as they create an individual lesson plan through a one-credit, no-cost class that can be applied toward a degree.
Columbia College structured its online political science degree chiefly for students considering careers in fields like politics, international affairs, public relations, government, law, journalism and more. The study plan features a balance of general education and core coursework for the major, plus a foreign language requirement. All classes are delivered 100 percent online in an asynchronous format, so students can access lectures and materials as needed rather than during set class times, although they must still meet weekly deadlines. Proctored exams may be required, but online students can typically take these through approved testing centers in their communities or through ProctorU, a web-based exam service.