Degrees in political science are offered at the associate's, bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. In these programs, students learn how government works and how to develop policy, conduct research and analyze data. Undergraduate degrees may prepare graduates for entry-level careers, but many occupations in this field call for graduate study. Students often participate in internships in order to get hands-on experience.
There are a variety of career opportunities available to graduates of political science degree programs. Many graduates work in government as elected officials or in various other capacities. Other career options include journalism, law, business and teaching.
Government and Advocacy Jobs
A number of government occupations, which can range from city planning to legislature to CIA intelligence, are available to those with a political science degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 55% of political scientists worked for the federal government in 2015, though jobs are also available at state and local levels (www.bls.gov).
Some political science degree holders could also choose to advocate or work on behalf of a cause or a community. A thorough knowledge of government policies is necessary for most of these professions, though specific knowledge and particular skills might influence what kind of job one can pursue. Undergraduate political science students can participate in government or nonprofit organizations' internships to prepare for their careers.
Additionally, the completion of a graduate degree program can help political scientists stand out in a crowded job market. The BLS reported in 2015 that most political scientists earned between $47,210 and $162,500 per year at that time.
There are several aspects of law that might appeal to students with an undergraduate political science degree. Many such jobs incorporate the understanding and enforcement of American or international government rules, the interpretation of political ideas and the use of analytical skills. In addition to private practice, lawyers can work at the corporate level or for public sector institutions. They might also work as consumer advocates, judges or district attorneys.
Naturally, students who choose this path must move on to law school following completion of their undergraduate degrees and typically need to pass their state bar exams. Lawyers made a median salary of $115,820 per year in 2015, according to the BLS, and after legal services, local, state and federal governments employed the highest numbers of them.
Those with backgrounds in political science can find jobs lobbying the government on behalf of interest groups and other non-government organizations. These individuals work closely with various stages of government, negotiating with elected officials and influencing policy to advance the goals of their employers or clients. This career does not necessarily require the completion of a graduate degree, though it could help in getting a job.
Courses in political theory, political economy, international relations and government procedures could apply for aspiring lobbyists. Other crucial skills include public speaking and networking skills. The median annual salary for lobbyists in January 2016 was $66,429, as reported by PayScale.com.
A political science degree can often lead to a career in business, with banking, advertising, personnel and public relations as possible employment goals. Political science students seeking to enter the business world usually need superb verbal and written communication skills as well as a high-level understanding of mathematics and economics. Computers skills are also valuable in business professions. This is a very competitive field, and a graduate degree, while not a strict requirement, can be an aid in job acquisition and might lead to advanced positions, such as corporate management.
The BLS listed the median annual salary for public relations specialists at $56,770 in 2015. The federal government's executive branch paid an average wage of about $89,640 to its public relations specialists that year. In addition, the BLS projects a 6% job growth for the public relations specialist field between 2014 and 2024.
Political science graduates with interests in film, television, radio and other media could pursue a career in journalism. Specifically, journalists who majored in political science might report on domestic and international policy, either for a politically oriented media product or as a political correspondent in a more general news environment. Jobs as editors or news directors could also be available.
Speech, writing and broadcasting skills are vital to this profession, and students must also learn to operate necessary equipment, such as video cameras and computer software. Some colleges offer journalism and political science as a combined major. The BLS states that the average salary range for reporters and correspondents in 2015 was $21,390 to $81,580 per year.
Political science majors might also find jobs teaching children, teenagers or young adults. At the elementary and middle school levels, these individuals might be qualified to teach history, social studies or government, while high school teachers could work with more specific subjects, such as American government. Any number of specific political science courses might be taught at the postsecondary level, depending on the teacher's interests and area of specialization.
Teacher certification is required along with a bachelor's degree to teach in public schools, and those who want to teach college students usually must earn a graduate degree.
Elementary school teachers saw a median annual salary of $54,890 in 2015, per BLS data, while middle school teachers made a median income of $55,860 per year. The median yearly wage for high school teachers in 2015 was $57,200, and teachers of political science at the postsecondary level that year earned a median wage of $73,370 annually.
Teachers at the elementary, middle and high school levels were expected to see around average job growth from 2014-2024, the BLS reports, of 6%. Employment opportunities for political science teachers at the college level were predicted to increase 10% from 2014-2024, which is slightly faster than average.
While there are many job options for political science majors, some of the more popular choices include political scientist, lawyer, lobbyist, public relations specialist, journalist and teacher.