Pursuing an Online Political Science Degree

  • How to use the political science degree program page.
  • Search for and get information on both campus and online courses in political science and related fields. Search by college type, cost and state.
  • Read about online political science degree programs, including what to consider before applying, common classes and certification options.
  • Find scholarships, internships and resources, and explore free open courses, professional associations and expert resources.

One of the most popular degree choices made by American college students, particularly at the undergraduate level, is political science. Political science degree programs can be found at most major college and university campuses and are also offered by online colleges. Additionally, a growing number of major post-secondary institutions are providing the very same online political science degree programs that are available at their brick-and-mortar locations. As a result, most employers today make no distinction between degrees earned online and those obtained at a traditional campus.

Political science, broadly defined, is the study of governments and their policies, as well as the processes, systems and behavior that surround them. Political science degree programs can be found at all degree levels, but a bachelor’s degree is generally considered to be a minimum requirement for entry-level employment in most related fields. In addition, a bachelor’s degree is required for political science students who wish to continue on to complete either a master’s or doctoral program. The following is a brief description of the political science degree programs most commonly found online:

  • Bachelor of Arts in Political Science: Provides a “jumping off” platform for entry-level positions in a variety of occupations in state, local and federal government, political campaigns and polling, and with private companies and non-profit associations. Many political science bachelor’s degree holders continue on in their education to earn graduate degrees in fields such as journalism, business and law.
  • Master’s Degree: A political scientist who goes on to a master’s program often earns his or her degree in a closely related subject such as international relations, public policy, public affairs, or public administration. Online master’s programs are readily available in all of these areas as well as specifically in political science.
  • Doctoral Degree: Virtually all political scientists who earn a doctoral degree do so to pursue an academic career. Most doctoral students will specialize in one of four political science subfields: American politics comparative politics, international relations or political theory.

What Should You Look for in an Online Political Science Degree?

Two key factors to consider when evaluating an online political science degree program are:

Accreditation

Whether a degree program is offered online or at a traditional campus, the importance of proper accreditation cannot be overstated. There are two principal forms of accreditation: institutional and programmatic (or specialized). Institutional accreditation is that which is given to an entire college or university. Institutional accreditation in the United States is evaluated by six regional agencies approved by the U.S. Department of Education. Programmatic accreditation commonly refers to accreditation awarded to specific degree programs by professional associations and organizations. While a college or university may boast of a particular academic accreditation for its political science degree program, only institutional accreditation by a regional agency is essential; therefore, students should steer clear of any school, online or otherwise, lacking the proper regional accreditation.

Specialization

Anyone considering a career that could be defined as falling under the broad category of political science would do well to seek out a quality Bachelor of Arts in Political Science degree program. However, as mentioned earlier, political science professionals typically choose an area of specialization by the time they are ready to pursue a postgraduate degree. Fortunately, distance learning colleges offer an abundance of master’s and doctoral degree programs with a range of specialized subjects. Individuals interested in an online postgraduate degree would be wise to decide on the specific area of employment they wish to enter and choose a degree program that best coincides with that employment field.

Core Online Political Science Degree Courses

Specific online political science degree curriculum requirements will vary from program to program, but students should expect to complete courses in the following areas:

American Politics
International Politics
Ancient, Modern and American Political Theory
Research Design and Data Collection
American National Government
Statistics
The United States Constitution
Elements of Public Administration
Policy Analysis
World Political Systems

Political Science Certifications

Professional certifications are official designations earned by individuals to verify that they have demonstrated standard knowledge, skills, experience or expertise in a given area of their chosen profession. Unlike many career fields, however, professional certifications for political scientists are almost never required and, in fact, very few professional political science associations offer certification opportunities to their members. One professional association, the Academy of Certified Political Scientists and Certified Political Analysts (ACPA), does provide the following professional certifications in the political science field:

  • Certified Political Scientist (CPS)
  • Certified Political Manager (CPM)
  • Certified in Public Policy – Policy Analyst
  • Chartered Certified Political Analyst – Political Governmental Journalism Certification (ChPA)

Requirements vary by specific designation, but in all cases certification requires the following:

  • Degree Education: Successful completion of all political science courses with a minimum 2.5 GPA
  • Experience: Minimum of two years of political, governmental, or public service
  • Accredited Degree
  • Continuing Education
  • Ethics: Agreement to the ethics standards set by the association.

Additionally, professional certifications in related fields (such as international relations, public administration, law, government, and teaching) may be available to political science professionals depending on a certification’s specific requirements.

Open Online Political Science Classes

Many colleges and universities now offer open online courses in political science. These courses are typically open to anyone interested in the subject, though some may have specific pre-requisites or requirements, and cover a wide range of relevant topics. Below are some examples of available open online political science courses:

American Capitalism: A History

Cornell University

This Cornell University open online course explores how economic development fueled the United States' evolution, from thirteen backwater colonies to a global power. This 8-week course is designed to help the student better understand how the nation became the world's leading economic power with lessons about what has been and what is possible in capitalism's on-going revolution.

American Political Thought

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

This 13-lecture course presents a survey of American political thought from the colonial era to the present. Topics include the relationship between religion and politics, republicanism versus liberalism, and the role of ideas in politics. Required readings are drawn from the writings of politicians, activists and theorists.

International Politics in the Korean Peninsula, Part 1

Seoul National University

International Politics in the Korean Peninsula introduces several archetypes of politics and introduces contemporary issues of the inter-Korean relationship. Issues discussed include the Korean Crisis of 2012, the arms race between the two Koreas, and the power succession and simultaneous build-up strategy of North Korea.

Introduction to Political Philosophy

Yale University

This 24-session class is intended as an introduction to political philosophy as seen through an examination of some of the major thinkers and texts of the Western political tradition. Class requirements include attendance and participation in weekly discussion groups, three short papers and completion of a final exam.

Justice

Harvard University

This 12-week course taught by Michael J. Sandel, Professor of Government, offers a critical analysis of classical contemporary theories of justice, including a discussion of present-day applications. Topics include affirmative action, income distribution, same-sex marriage, and the dilemmas of loyalty in public and private life.

The Moral Foundations of Politics

Yale University

Taught by Ian Shapiro, Sterling Professor of Political Science, this course explores the main answers to the question, "When do governments deserve our allegiance?" The course consists of 25 lectures covering topics such as origins of classic utilitarianism, Marx's theory of capitalism, distributive justice and the welfare state, and democracy and majority rule.

Political Science Scope and Methods

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Through lectures, reading assignments and research projects, this course provides an introduction to a variety of empirical research methods used by political scientists. It is not a course in data analysis, but rather one on how to approach political science research.

Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Georgetown University

This eight-week course examines the dangers and varieties of terrorism and assesses effective counterterrorist responses. Topics covered include the nuances involved in defining terrorism, counterterrorism and the rule of law, and the political context in South Asia and the Middle East.

Political Science Internships
  • American Enterprise Institute

    The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is a private, conservative not-for-profit think tank with its main offices in Washington, D.C. Approximately 45 internship positions are available in the fall, winter and summer in areas that include economic policy, foreign and defense policy, social and political studies, and public relations. All interns are paired with a scholar or business director whose area of expertise coincides with the intern's own interests. Applicants must provide an up-to-date resume, copy of their academic transcripts, and a 500-word writing sample on a relevant topic.

  • Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Internships

    The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), a branch of the Democratic Party, is the party's national organization dedicated to getting Democrats elected to Congress. The DCCC offers spring, summer and fall session internships in over a dozen departments including communications, research, direct marketing, candidate services, operations, and finance. Benefits of this program include the opportunity to work with top political operatives, network with national leaders, and first-hand experience on how professional campaigns are run.

  • Green Party of the United States

    The Green Party is a national political party dedicated to environmental justice, grassroots democracy, social and economic justice, and nonviolence and peace. The Green Party offers non-paid internship opportunities at its Washington D.C. offices and for specific candidates. Interns work directly with the candidate, walking precincts, managing the office, coordinating volunteers, getting out the vote, and more. Internship positions are available year-round. Past involvement in the party is helpful, but not required.

  • The Heritage Foundation

    The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. The goal of the Foundation's internship program is to train and equip young conservative leaders by providing substantive work, policy expertise and marketable skills. Positions are available in a number of areas such as communications and marketing, government relations, and coalition building and outreach. Heritage Foundation internships are paid positions and are offered in the fall, spring and summer.

  • MoveOn.org

    MoveOn.org is a not-for-profit liberal public policy political action committee. MoveOn.org offers paid virtual internships that are available to students anywhere with access to a computer and the Internet. Interns work directly with project leaders on both the local and national levels. Positions are six months long, 20 hours per week and begin in Mid-August. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

  • National Organization for Women

    The National Organization for Women (NOW) is a non-profit feminist organization with over 550 chapters nationwide. NOW offers non-paid internship opportunities both full- and part-time throughout the year primarily in the Washington, D.C. area. Positions are available working with a number of NOW teams including communications, field organizing, government relations, membership and fundraising, and with the organization's president. Both men and women are accepted into NOW's internship program.

  • The Republican National Committee

    The Republican National Committee Internship Program is designed to allow students to familiarize themselves with the Committee's day-to-day operations. The program offers positions in the Washington, D.C. area in a number of its divisions including the Chairman's office, Counsel's office, press office, strategy, finance, and network operations. This internship program is open to undergraduate college students with preference given to juniors and seniors. Positions are available for the spring, summer and fall sessions.

  • The Sierra Club

    The Sierra Club is one of the nation's oldest environmental organizations. It provides college internship opportunities at its main offices in San Francisco and in its legislative offices in Washington, D.C. Sierra Club interns conduct research, gather and develop background information on specific issues, prepare briefing materials, and many other tasks. Washington D.C. interns also learn about the role of non-profit organizations in Washington, help prepare officials for Congressional testimony, and more.

  • The United States House of Representatives

    The United States Congress offers numerous internship positions both in Washington, D.C. and at Congressional district offices throughout the nation. Internships are offered in the spring, summer and fall, with summer positions the most popular and competitive. Requirements for these internships vary and students should contact the specific office of interest for more details. Many representatives post internship information on their official websites.

  • The White House

    One of the most prestigious internships that any student could obtain is one working at The White House in Washington, D.C. White House internships are non-paying, one term-long, full-time positions. Applicants must be U.S. citizens and currently in or recently graduated from an undergraduate or graduate college program, or a veteran with a high school diploma that has served on active duty within two years of starting the internship.

Best Colleges for Political Science Majors – ROI

Political science programs cover the basics of the three branches of government, and provide an opportunity to dive deeper into specific aspects of each. Quality of education, academic atmosphere, student life, and job placement certainly help poly-sci programs and their colleges stand out, but which ones receive high marks for ROI? Which political science degree programs continually graduate students who go on to be to top earners in their field? Check out today’s 20 best poly-sci programs for return on investment.

For detailed information about this list, please visit our methodology Page.

1
Stanford University
30 year ROI: $1,611,000 Weighted Total Cost: $230,100 School Type: Private not-for-profit Website: www.stanford.edu/

Consistently ranked in the top national universities by U.S News & World Report, Stanford University has 7,000 undergraduate students to its 2,000 faculty. Stanford has long been known for its academic greatness and has 19 Nobel laureates in its community. The Political Science department aims to give its undergraduate students a comprehensive education in political systems around the globe and how they interact. The faculty includes top experts in their field who are internationally recognized for their in-depth research in their specific academic area.

2
The College of William and Mary
30 year ROI: $1,208,000 Weighted Total Cost: $92,910 School Type: Public (In-State) Website: www.wm.edu

William & Mary is the second oldest college in the U.S. and a designated “Public Ivy,” which only eight schools in the nation can attest. Throughout its 320-year history, W&M has grown into a top research institution that produces worldly and intellectual graduates. Its Government department is a close-knit community of like-minded individuals looking to change the world. The curriculum highlights political systems, people, and moral and ethical considerations in government.

3
University of California – San Diego (UCSD)
30 year ROI: $1,072,000 Weighted Total Cost: $115,500 School Type: Public (In-State) Website: www.ucsd.edu

The University of California at San Diego encourages its students to pursue a hands-on, fully engaged learning experience, and it provides the resources to do so. Recognized as a top 10 public university, UCSD gets some of the most competitive applicants in the state and nation. The Department of Political Science was founded in 1974 and focuses on interdisciplinary scholarship and innovation. Students can focus on one of several research specialties including American Politics and International Relations.

4
James Madison University (JMU)
30 year ROI: $1,064,000 Weighted Total Cost: $83,350 School Type: Public (In-State) Website: www.jmu.edu/

At James Madison University – “where change is the status quo” – students are prepared with knowledge and skills to adapt to shifting global trends in academia and beyond. With eight academic divisions and more than 70 undergraduate majors, the offerings at JMU are truly diverse. The undergraduate program in political science is completed with 33 credit hours, including a four-hour capstone experience in which students work in an applied area with a faculty member or another professional in the field.

5
University of Oklahoma
30 year ROI: $920,700 Weighted Total Cost: $94,080 School Type: Public (In-State) Website: www.ou.edu

The University of Oklahoma (OU) is home of the Sooners, who represent high performing athletic teams that have earned the school 27 national championships. The school is located in Norman, Oklahoma at the heart of the state and not far from Oklahoma City. Characterized by students who are highly involved on campus and in their communities, the Department of Political Science offers many opportunities for scholarships, internships, and other work experiences. Course offerings include subjects like political theory, comparative politics, and public policy.

6
University of Vermont (UVM)
30 year ROI: $916,500 Weighted Total Cost: $107,500 School Type: Public (In-State) Website: www.uvm.edu

The University of Vermont was chartered in 1791, the same year Vermont became the 14th state. It balances its rigorous academic life with the placid surroundings of Lake Champlain and two mountain ranges. Undergraduate political science students get all the attention from faculty, as the department focuses exclusively on the bachelor’s degree. The instructors in the department create unique and groundbreaking research, like one professor’s book on how the Harry Potter series influenced the political ideals of the Millennial generation.

7
Northwestern University
30 year ROI: $902,100 Weighted Total Cost: $226,600 School Type: Private not-for-profit Website: www.northwestern.edu

The campus of Northwestern University rests on Lake Michigan, supporting 19,000 students and 2,500 distinguished faculty members. Students in the political science undergraduate program will learn the essentials and intricacies of the major political works and investigate dozens of topics both contemporary and age-old. Graduates of the program have said the opportunities afforded to them by Northwestern helped them succeed in graduate school and the business, public service, and government fields, among others.

8
George Washington University (GWU)
30 year ROI: $828,800 Weighted Total Cost: $223,500 School Type: Private not-for-profit Website: www.gwu.edu

With three main campuses in the Washington, D.C. area, GWU is in a strategic position to build lasting corporate and community relationships. The name, of course, comes from the first U.S. president, who left a sum of money to found the school (though he died before it was established in 1821). The internationally recognized programs in the George Washington University Department of Political Science gives plenty of openings for students to apply what they have learned in class by engaging in research and service activities. The complete course load amounts to 30 hours, and some AP credit is given for scores of 4 or 5.

9
Texas A&M University – Main Campus
30 year ROI: $818,300 Weighted Total Cost: $88,920 School Type: Public (In-State) Website: www.tamu.edu

Texas A&M University establishes a positive environment where both students and faculty can achieve their personal and professional goals. It was founded in 1876 and was the first public institution of higher learning in Texas. The large political science department is highly ranked and has about 1,000 undergraduate students majoring in political science. Two faculty-led summer abroad programs in Europe give students an international perspective on site-specific political trends and governance.

10
Southern Methodist University (SMU)
30 year ROI: $807,100 Weighted Total Cost: $215,900 School Type: Private not-for-profit Website: www.smu.edu

Now in its second century of top-notch academic activity, Southern Methodist University is a diverse learning environment suitable for students seeking a challenging educational experience. The school’s dedication to research is evident in its University Library, which houses the largest collection of privately held research materials in the Southeast. A wide array of focus areas help students in the political science program to hone their skills in a niche area or in a broad range of political topics – from legislation in Latin America to the political economy of Africa.

11
University of Central Florida (UCF)
30 year ROI: $778,100 Weighted Total Cost: $82,730 School Type: Public (In-State) Website: www.ucf.edu/

Students feel at home at the University of Central Florida, where the large campus gives them space to work and live in their own style. Campus life at UCF has many offerings, with 350 student organizations to choose from and quality entertainment brought to the UCF Arena. Committed to helping students succeed in the classroom and after graduation, the Department of Political Science has many resources on career options in the political science major and retains faculty that guide students in their career path.

12
Brigham Young University (BYU)
30 year ROI: $773,600 Weighted Total Cost: $77,820 School Type: Private not-for-profit Website: www.byu.edu

Established in 1875 as a school affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Brigham Young University has been recognized for its competitive academic programs and its fulfilling combination of education and faith. The mission of the political science department at BYU is to impart knowledge on the effect the human effects of politics at all levels. Essential facts about political history as well as political theory and philosophy shape students’ own political perspectives as they proceed in the curriculum.

13
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech)
30 year ROI: $763,700 Weighted Total Cost: $91,790 School Type: Public (In-State) Website: www.vt.edu

Virginia Tech’s commitment to service and applying knowledge toward positive efforts is self-evident in its motto, Ut Prosim (“That We May Serve”). Its 31,000 students receive degrees from eight colleges and a graduate school, and benefit from studying at one of the top research institutions in the U.S. Studies in the political science degree at Virginia Tech cover political systems, processes, and governance for careers in diverse fields. Students can expand their involvement in the department by participating in internships, study abroad, honor societies, and Model UN, among other opportunities.

14
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC)
30 year ROI: $763,300 Weighted Total Cost: $78,660 School Type: Public (In-State) Website: www.unc.edu

The University of North Carolina is the nation’s first public university, inviting students for the first time in 1795. Chapel Hill has been rated as one of the best places to live among small to mid-sized cities in the U.S. The Department of Political Science has been ranked in the top 15 political science programs for many years. Its world-class faculty members stay abreast of the most current trends in their field through research and involvement in the academic community.

15
San Jose State University (SJSU)
30 year ROI: $731,000 Weighted Total Cost: $108,000 School Type: Public (In-State) Website: www.sjsu.edu

Located between San Francisco and Monterrey in northern California, SJSU started our as Minn’s Evening Normal School in 1857. The school is the oldest public university in California and boasts famous alumni like fashion designer Jessica McClintock and Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club. The curriculum of the political science degree at SJSU touches on broad topics in politics, application of knowledge, methodology, responsible citizenship, and communication skills. A senior capstone project is the final test of the learning objectives of the degree.

16
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)
30 year ROI: $723,900 Weighted Total Cost: $109,000 School Type: Public (In-State) Website: www.illinois.edu/

The University of Illinois upholds all-around excellence, having graduated Olympic athletes, Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, and international corporate leaders. Ranked highly for both public and national universities by the U.S. News & World Report, the university offers a broad educational spectrum in 17 academic units. The unique Civic Leadership Program offered in the Department of Political Science lets students focus their studies and complete a practicum and capstone project that reflect their particular interests and political beliefs.

17
University of Maryland – College Park
30 year ROI: $714,000 Weighted Total Cost: $92,510 School Type: Public (In-State) Website: www.umd.edu

Pursuing excellence in academics and community engagement, the University of Maryland has made great strides in furthering its reputation in the past 20 years. UMD emphasizes “inclusive excellence” in its learning environment, making sure that students of all backgrounds get the most out of their time there. Students in the Department of Government and Politics benefit from small classes and accessible faculty. The highly engaged Advising Office leaves its door open for students throughout the semester to keep them on the right track.

18
Boston University
30 year ROI: $697,400 Weighted Total Cost: $227,800 School Type: Private not-for-profit Website: www.bu.edu

As a well-established, large public university, Boston University attracts students from all 50 states and 140 countries. Its location in a large metropolis is an advantage for students looking for real-world experience and exciting local life. With 28 faculty members from a broad base of political science disciplines, the Department of Political Science caters to students seeking a personalized and meaningful education. Research methods courses help students take advantage of the ample opportunities for intellectual investigation on campus.

19
University of California – Santa Barbara (UCSB)
30 year ROI: $692,200 Weighted Total Cost: $121,400 School Type: Public (In-State) Website: www.ucsb.edu

At the University of California at Santa Barbara, education is something to get excited about: One-third of its undergraduate students will continue on to graduate or professional school. The spacious campus covers 1,055 acres on the coast of southern California. The political science bachelor’s degree crosses disciplinary lines, with courses that cross over into other departments to facilitate study in the politics of identity and the environment. Students select one area of study as their primary focus, yet also take courses in other topics.

20
University of Washington (UW) – Main Campus
30 year ROI: $691,400 Weighted Total Cost: $91,370 School Type: Public (In-State) Website: www.washington.edu

The University of Washington, now in the center of downtown Seattle, was founded in 1861 and is one of the oldest public universities on the West Coast. Its 16 colleges and schools, which offer 1,800 courses per quarter, are always striving to help its students achieve more. The political science program is highly popular at UW – it’s among the top three in the College of Arts & Sciences in number of students majoring in the subject. Two impressive internship programs – one in Washington state and one in Washington, D.C. – advance students’ knowledge to the applied level.

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