PhD Programs in Political Science: Prerequisites and Requirements

Political science is an academic field that focuses on studying and analyzing politics, government, and political behavior in a population. A doctoral degree in political science will involve research in specific fields relating to politics and governance.

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Essential Information

Doctoral degree programs in political science are generally designed to develop university and college teachers and professional researchers in the social sciences. These Ph.D. programs have a great deal of flexibility; a student can take considerable responsibility for his or her education by shaping a program to fit his or her interests and needs.

Doctoral degree candidates are expected to have the initiative to plan and carry out their particular programs, through with some consultation with advisers. They must have earned degrees and pass qualifying examinations prior to admission. Some programs require little formal class work; in such cases, seminars provide the bulk of the learning opportunities. Possible program specializations include political theory, methodology, comparative politics, U.S. politics, and international relations.


Ph.D. in Political Science

Prerequisites for a Ph.D. program in political science require a bachelor's degree, as well as transcripts from previous colleges; some do not require a master's degree, but do expect scores from the GRE, TOEFL scores if the student's first language is not English, and several letters of recommendation. Most universities also request a personal biographical statement detailing the student's goals and interests in pursuing the degree, as well as a writing sample. Rather than set a required minimum GPA or minimal test score requirement, Ph.D. political science programs usually try to assess all of the student's relevant grades, assessments, and experiences.

In pursuing a Ph.D. in political science, students will define their orientation toward domestic and international public policies and will be given opportunities to interact with other social scientists, engineers, and scientists on political and technological issues. The following coursework may be offered in teacher-directed classes or as seminars. A few of the many basic topics that must be mastered include:

  • Statistics
  • Political science philosophy
  • Democratic theory
  • Comparative legal systems and public law
  • Political economy
  • World politics

Students are usually required to earn a master's degree in political science as part of the Ph.D. process, plus take 15 or more additional courses in political science and related subjects. Along the way, students must demonstrate the ability to plan and teach college-level classes and to independently design and engage in meaningful research projects. Written qualifying exams and an oral comprehensive exam must be taken. The student must also write a dissertation and defend it before a committee of faculty members.


Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that job opportunities in political science will decline 2% from 2014-2024. The federal government employed more than half of all political scientists working in the U.S. in 2015.

Most political science jobs are expected to be in research or public policy, which could be available in the federal government, state and local government, universities, and international consulting companies. Policy-related jobs include political lobbying to advance the interests of social and non-profit groups.

The median annual salary among political scientists as of May 2015 was reported as $99,730 by the BLS. Those working for the federal government earned a median salary of $120,510 annually. In addition, postsecondary political science teachers made a median annual salary of $76,370 as of May 2015.

Political science doctoral programs usually offer students a wide variety of different courses of study, areas of specialization, and course structures. Those interested in pursuing a degree and career in political science should decide which specific topics and issues are of interest to them prior to applying for any specific program.

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