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You’ve run in every student government election since 7th grade. Dreams of the Oval Office have filled your imagination since childhood.
You take a bold stance on controversial issues in your community. Public speaking is a breeze for you.
Whatever your reason for choosing to major in political science, you need to pinpoint the best school for your needs.
Here, we’ll explore the top political science programs in the United States.
- Some schools on the list, like Harvard, may not come as a surprise.
- Other more obscure schools, like Bowdoin, may be a new idea for all but the hardest core political science buffs.
Reaching from coast to coast, these 5 schools each offer something unique with one factor in common: They’re all top-ranked in the field of political science.
Before we analyze each school and how it might be the right place for you, let’s delve into the popular major of political science.
What can you do with a major in political science?
A political science degree could be a springboard for a fulfilling career in public service, or it could be your ticket to law school.
There are many professional routes you can choose with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
The following are some of the best-paying jobs for political science majors according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Political Scientist
- Public Relations Manager
- Management Analyst
- Urban or Regional Planner
- Community Service Manager
- Survey Researcher
- College Professor
- Intelligence Analyst
- Political Consultant
- Speech Writer
- Policy Analyst
- Political Commentator
And of course, serving the country as President of the United States could potentially be the best and most lucrative opportunity – but let’s earn that degree first!
What exactly makes a great political science program? There are three main factors to consider: school size and location; competitiveness; concentration and area of interest.
What makes a great political science school?
These are some factors you should consider while reading through our guide and choosing an undergraduate political science program:
1. School size & location
This criterion is highly individual, so ask yourself:
- Do I prefer a rural, suburban or urban environment?
- Is public transportation a necessity for me, or can I drive/walk/bike?
- Would I like to stay anonymous in giant lecture halls or do I want to shine as a participant in a small group discussion? (For most political science majors, this one will be obvious!)
- What is the student-to-professor ratio of the school to which I’m applying?
- What kind of climate do I thrive in? (For example, 4 of the top political science schools are located on the East Coast, while one is on the West Coast, so consider if you’re a “seasons person” or someone who prefers mild weather.)
Be honest with yourself as you reflect on these questions because the environment has a major effect on well-being.
For many political science students, being competitive is an integral part of their personalities. The question is: just how competitive would you like your school to be?
- Does the school offer merit-based scholarships in political science?
- Does the school have a strong graduate program in political science?
- Which political leaders and other successful professionals have graduated from the school?
- What is the overall national ranking of the school (U.S. News and World Report is an excellent resource for this question.)
- Is a senior thesis or major final project required?
- Are independent study opportunities available?
- Are there prospects for leadership within the school, such as student government elections, forming new clubs, etc.?
The answers to these questions will shed light on your competitive approach to earning your degree in political science.
3. Concentration and area of interest
Within the field of political science, there are several sub-disciplines that may spark your interest. Here are a few popular ones:
- American politics
- International affairs
- Comparative politics
- Political philosophy
- The politics of economics
- Government studies
- International relations
- Social movements and organizations
- Protest and revolution
- Political theory
Some schools may require you to focus on a sub-field of political science, so it’s crucial for you to narrow down your specialization in the major. Narrow topics also make for great essays!
So, wow the admissions committee with a confident explanation of what you want to study in political science and why.
Now, we have arrived at the Top 5 Political Science Schools in the United States.
We’ll provide an informative overview of each school before considering one very important factor that could determine whether the school is right for you: opportunities.
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1. Harvard University – Cambridge, MA
Harvard was the first college in the United States, and it takes the top spot on our list of political science schools too.
Situated in the intellectual mecca of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard presents opportunities for enrichment that extend beyond its Ivy-clad campus.
- Neighboring MIT and Boston College provide chances for intellectual exchange as well as social networking.
- With notable alumni like Barack Obama, FDR, and Theodore Roosevelt, the school is a haven for politically minded students.
- For example, the renowned John F. Kennedy School of Government is an ideal place to continue your studies in political science at the graduate level.
Enrolling more than 20,000 students each year, Harvard is one of the largest Ivy League schools.
So, you may find yourself in one of those echoing lecture halls from time to time. Still, the academics at Harvard are unparalleled, as is the school’s global reputation.
- Government Hoopes prizes for outstanding undergraduate theses
- Joint concentrations for students who are passionate about two sub-fields
- High numbers of students accepted into Phi Beta Kappa honor society
- Numerous other scholarly prizes available including the Hutchins Prize and Maxwell Prize
- Studying under world-class faculty at (debatably) the most prestigious university in the United States
2. Yale University – New Haven, CT
Political science is the second largest major at Yale University, which means that abundant opportunities exist for students entering the field.
Combine the depth and breadth of the major with the fact that Yale is one of the most prestigious schools in the world, and you have a surefire recipe for success.
A distinct system of 12 residential colleges at Yale fosters a sense of community and makes socializing easy.
- Many students forge bonds with residential college classmates in their freshmen year and carry these friendships beyond senior year.
- Therefore, despite the fact that Yale is a large research institution, the school strikes a healthy balance thanks to the intimate setting of the residential colleges.
Like Harvard, Yale has graduated multiple U.S. presidents, including George H.W. Bush and son George W. This track record, along with more than 500 student organizations, make Yale an excellent place for a political science extrovert to make a mark.
- 5 undergraduate prizes for outstanding senior theses in each of the following concentrations: international relations, political philosophy, comparative government, American politics, and American constitution
- Funds for summer research and internships
- On-campus conferences and special guest speakers (past speakers have included the ranks of Bill Clinton)
- Contests and other venues for student publication
- Employment resources and access to some of the nation’s top career recruiters on the Yale campus
3. Bowdoin College – Brunswick, ME
Tucked away in quiet Maine and reporting a student body of just 1,806, this liberal arts college seems an unlikely place for a political science major.
However, the unassuming school boasts alumni like former Chief Justice Melville Weston Fuller and U.S. president Franklin Pierce.
More than half of Bowdoin’s students take advantage of study abroad options in 100 countries. Not bad for a small town in Maine! And how does Bowdoin fare as a political science school? This excerpt from Bowdoin’s official mission statement may say it best:
- “A liberal arts education at Bowdoin is not about being small and safe; it is about having the support to take surprising risks.
- That means caring more about the questions than giving the right answers, discovering you are good at something you did not think was your strength and making connections where none appear to exist.
- Bowdoin’s curriculum, combined with a 215-year tradition of serving the common good, offers a bold blueprint for liberal education designed to inspire students to become world citizens…”
- Intimate environment with low student-to-professor ratios
- Extensive schedule of plays, luncheons, dinner discussions, films, lecture series, and other intellectual and cultural opportunities within political science
- Schwarzman Scholars program
- Ample opportunities for student research and honors projects
- Specialized courses in the politics of Korea, nuclear policy, global food supply, and much more
4. Georgetown University – Washington, DC
Situated in the administrative and political capital of the United States, Georgetown’s presence on this list seems almost obligatory. Further, Georgetown is the only school on this list located in a major U.S. city.
- Its urban location lends a strong character to the school as well as a significant edge in beginning a career in public service.
- Though not an Ivy League school, Georgetown is nonetheless one of the most well-respected American universities.
The McCourt School of Public Policy is a cornerstone of the political science culture at Georgetown. Famous alumni have included the likes of former president Bill Clinton and journalist Maria Shriver.
A vast array of study abroad programs and a rigorous foreign language requirement round out Georgetown’s appeal and make it a top choice for students interested in international relations.
- Strategic location in Washington, DC with access to a network of leading thinkers and players in politics
- Faculty with international expertise in every corner of the globe, from Latin America to the Middle East
- Strong research opportunities in public policy and the American presidency
- Highest number of career-building internships available thanks to location and Georgetown’s connections
- Top-rated Ph.D. program for those pursuing additional education in the field
5. Stanford University – Stanford, CA
With a suburban setting in California’s Bay Area and a relatively small enrollment of under 7,500, Stanford stands out on this list.
Perhaps due to its location and size, Stanford is often overlooked as a place to study political science.
But this Ivy League-quality school may be the perfect place for students seeking small group learning and a laid-back West Coast lifestyle.
- Stanford’s Bing Overseas Program allows students to study abroad in uncommon places like Cape Town, South Africa, and Istanbul, Turkey.
- In fact, everything about Stanford is just a little different from the schools on this list.
Consider Stanford if you like to stand out from the crowd while still achieving a phenomenal education.
- Diverse courses focusing on multiculturalism, egalitarianism, moral problems, Iran, Russia, and much more
- Workshops for undergraduates, graduates, and faculty
- Research honors track leading to a Bachelor of Arts with Honors (BAH)
- Summer Research College for political science majors to explore cross-disciplinary options with students of other majors
- One of the most culturally diverse faculties in the nation
Other Great Political Science Schools
University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, PA
The University of Pennsylvania’s Political Science Department has several attractive qualities that students can benefit from.
For students who have an interest in international politics, there is a center for just that on campus.
- It is also home to the only research center dedicated to studying the current state of India in the country. There is a similar center that digs deeper into China’s contemporary politics.
There is a chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha, a national political science honor society, for students to participate in when they became an upper-level undergraduate, and this participation can continue into graduate courses.
Princeton University – Princeton, NJ
At Princeton University’s Department of Politics, you will find the most diverse program in the world.
- The department is one of the largest at the university which tells you how much the subject matter means to the institution when it comes to developing its curriculum.
Named after a well-known politician, the James Madison Program offers students an opportunity to engage in intellectual conversation and thought about American ideals.
University of Chicago – Chicago, IL
If you decide to attend the University of Chicago and major in political science, you’ll have something in common with a Nobel Prize winner.
Herbert Simon, the first political scientist to win the award, obtained his doctorate from the university.
- You might not know if you’ll advance to a doctorate yet, but you’ll be studying in the same place as many leaders in the profession.
Located in the heart of Chicago, you will have access to a high level of politics in a bustling metro environment that moves so quickly that you won’t want to blink.
Duke University – Durham, NC
Want an award-winning faculty to teach you?
The faculty at Duke University in political science have won several national awards from institutions including the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright Program, and the Social Science Research Council.
For those who are interested in Chinese Politics, the Department of Political Science at Duke University offers an annual New Faces in China Studies Conference.
University of California-Berkeley – Berkeley, CA
For those who are passionate about writing about politics, the University of California-Berkeley may be the best place for you.
Recently, an assistant professor received the Best Paper in 2018 award by the American Political Science Association.
- In 2017, same organization awarded the Simon Book Prize to a book written by a faculty member.
The Department of Political Science at Berkeley will give you the knowledge you need to write about politics as well as the tools needed to successfully pen your thoughts.
University of Michigan– Ann Arbor, MI
At the University of Michigan, you’ll find one of the oldest departments for studying politics.
The first political science course was taught in 1860, just before the Civil War broke out and Abraham Lincoln became president.
Having existed so long, it’s no surprise the department has earned international recognition as it’s evolved along with the political climate in the country.
University of Wisconsin – Madison, WI
If you want to be among other students with similar academic interests, you will find that at the University of Wisconsin.
Not only is the Political Science Department one of the oldest in the country, it’s also one of the largest majors at the university.
The faculty in this program are often quoted in nationwide publications like the Economist and New York Times. The program hosts a blog that compiles opportunities for students to apply for internships, attend events, and more.
University of California-Los Angeles – Los Angeles, CA
Located in another major metro area of the country, the University of California-Los Angeles Department of Political Science is leading the pack when it comes to studying race and ethnicity in politics.
Boasting a series of lectures and workshops available for students, learning is happening inside and outside of the classroom here.
No matter what scope of politics drives your passion for it, you could be on an alumni list that includes Vicki Reynolds (Beverly Hills Board of Education) and Lance A. Ito (L.A. Superior Court Judge).
What do other experts think about political science?
We’ve asked educators and experts about their opinions on studying political science.
Sara Coffey, Sweet Briar College grad and associate director of strategic initiatives at The Brookings Institution:
There are many aspects to political science that I found interesting. I enjoyed learning about the history of the political system, the people who created it and have carried it out over time, big change moments in history, effects of one country’s system on others, and more. Politics affects almost everything in our lives and I loved learning more about how I might be able to affect change through the system.
Sweet Briar is a unique academic environment no matter what you study. In my political science classes, just as in my other classes, students were compelled to do their reading and be prepared because of the small class size. The environment also encouraged group discussions over straight lectures, which I enjoyed.
My professors were interesting, thoughtful and thought-provoking individuals, which made spending time with them exciting. All of my professors also were very skilled at presenting the subject which inherently has “sides” in a neutral, unbiased way so that students could develop their own opinions and voices. I never knew how my professors voted until years after school; I think that’s rare.
Studying poli-sci taught me critical thinking and helped me hone my writing and interpersonal skills, given the discussion-oriented nature of the classes, which made me feel well-prepared to take the next step after graduation.
I was drawn to political science in part because it is not simply wed to one theoretical perspective, but draws upon the careful study of many. I love studying the impacts of politics, economics and culture on contemporary governance and vice versa. And I relish the chance to engage contemporary issues from the disciplinary grounding of political science, issues like immigration – considering the intersection of sovereign states with the right to borders in interaction with people compelled to migrate (for political, religious, or economic reasons).
I appreciate the study of states and various political actors using or aspiring to use their power to pursue justice, contributing to virtuous cycles of flourishing, or alternatively to further themselves solely, contributing to vicious cycles of oppression, with much in between.
In addition to the study and evaluation of the pressing issues of the day, it’s a privilege to help students consider how to respond as citizens, humans, and people of faith.
Eric S. Mondschein, Ed.D., author and educator:
I majored in political science at The American University in Washington, D.C. and graduated in 1972. I was from that generation that took President Kennedy seriously when he said, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Going to college in Washington gave me the opportunity to see first hand our federal government in action. To sit in the Supreme Court building hearing oral arguments, or the gallery of the Congress and to intern were experiences only matched by having professors who were at the same time government officials.
You cannot get that experience on an almost daily basis going to school anywhere else. Studying political science required me to take early and modern political thought, American government including state and local governments, international relations, Federalism, and a good dose of US history and sociology.
I went on to receive my masters and doctorate in education and returned to Washington to hold several positions within the federal government at the US Office for Civil Rights, the US Office of Education as the Assistant to the Policy Advisor to the US Commissioner of Education, and on the Legal and Governmental Studies Team at the National Institute of Education.
I also worked at the state level at the Massachusetts Department of Education, and directed a statewide civics and law-related education program in New York State, The Law Youth and Citizenship Program (LYC) for the New York State Bar Association.
Juhi Kore, University of Oxford scholar:
I picked political science because it focused on teaching us how the world used to work, how it works now, and how it could ideally work. This was true in the context of international, domestic, and even urban environments.
The small class sizes and the study abroad and semester away opportunities made the programme incredible at my university. I had the opportunity to study abroad at the University of Oxford and have it count towards my major. We also participate in the Harvard MUN and it counts as a 2 credit class for Political Science majors which was also a great opportunity.
Some of the professors were quite involved in the community and that brought on several amazing opportunities for the students. Also, some of the professors were quite keen to support independent studies and worked closely with students. The professors were quite hit or miss.
I had a great experience overall. I changed my major to political science because of a professor in my first year whose enthusiasm for the subject was contagious. He was instrumental in my academic journey and worked closely with me on research projects. I also worked with another professor on an independent study. The department also gave me some funding to present my research at a conference.
Additionally, I was able to participate in some really fantastic opportunities like studying abroad at the University of Oxford and participate in the Harvard National MUN conference. Finally, one of my research papers was published in the university’s honours research journal. All of these experiences along with my other involvement made it a great experience for me.
Dr. Paul Brink, an honor program professor at Gordon College:
I love studying political science because it is perhaps the only area of life where we are trying to bring people together who disagree about important things and help them find places where they might actually agree.
This is, of course, a very great challenge—but it is also something that gives me hope: in a world and in a society that is often characterized by disagreement and conflict, it can be very encouraging to see something like peace breaking out. And it’s wonderful when political scientists can make contributions to that outcome.
At Gordon College, this challenge animates everything we do. In every field of the discipline—American Politics, Political Theory, Comparative Politics, and International Relations—our concern is always to direct the use of power toward the goals of peace and justice.
Though students and faculty argue and disagree all the time, our shared framework permits a type of conversation not found on other campuses. Academically rigorous, fiercely committed, committed to engagement—what’s not to like?
Hope Brookins, branding and publicity strategist, former presidential intern at the University of Arkansas:
When you break it down, fundamentally, political science is the study of power and how to get it. It was the latter that made studying politics my thing. It was an incredible experience to have internships – for college credit, of course – where I was able to literally implement what I was learning in the classroom in real life.
From attending national political conventions to standing on stage between a president and his secret service as part of the advance team, my entire life was molded by the experiences I had while earning my degree.
Emma Conway, an operations executive and masters in politics from The University of Edinburgh and L’Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris:
You learn to critically assess and understand everything you observe and this extends beyond any political spheres. As a result, not only do you have a better understanding of how the world works, but you understand motives, decisions, thought-processes, lies, and people on a deeper level.
Having said that, studying at prestigious political universities means that you are often surrounded by the next batch of the ‘political elite’ and if you don’t fit the stereotypical mold, you can often feel isolated and/or belittled. Confidence is key when studying political science for this reason.
Conclusion: The Best Political Science Schools
Rankings and statistics can be misleading, so go with your gut and aim for the school that feels like the best fit for your goals.
Political science is a complex and varied field, as much so as each individual who pursues the subject. With a little introspection and goal-setting, you’ll find your place in college and in your career.