CM’s Guide to a Political Science Major

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How can the government shut down? Who’s my congressman? Does my vote even count? Without an extensive knowledge of politics, it’s nearly impossible to understand anything that goes on in Washington. But the most important decisions that affect our lives are made in little rooms in the capital. If you’re intrigued by the political process and want to understand how the system actually works, consider taking up a degree in political science.

What You’ll be Doing

Politics affect everything around us. Don’t worry; you won’t just be learning policy and process through dusty textbooks. Political science professors constantly analyze current events to keep classes interesting and give you an idea of the controversies plaguing the country. Be ready to hone in on your communications skills (politicians love to talk). If speeches and research papers aren’t your forte, politics might not be for you.

Upsides:

1. “The thing I appreciated most about my political science courses was their applicability in my everyday life. While they weren’t always the most fascinating classes, they taught me to think critically about real-world topics – a skill I’ve taken with me outside the classroom and into the working world.” – Daniel Wasserman, University of Michigan, Class of 2014

2. “I now work for a government relations firm in Washington, DC, and my political science degree continues to serve me. While my understanding of political ideologies and the U.S. political process is advantageous, I am more reliant on the critical thinking, research, and analytical writing skills that the political science department’s dedicated professors required.” – Maura Fitzsimons, University of Michigan, Class of 2014

3. “I [want] to help close the achievement gap and ensure all students have access to a quality education. Ultimately, I hope to work in education policy, making changes to the educational system on a wider scale, so I think the political science background will be of more use to me then.” – Lindsay Melworm, University of Michigan, Class of 2011

4. “I really enjoyed my college major and I felt that I learned a lot of valuable everyday things within it. I do not work in political science or social policy, I work in the entertainment field. However, I do believe that my major has helped me greatly in being able to understand and fully absorb everyday political and social issues that are going on around us and discussed everyday.” – Brooke Fine, Michigan State University, Class of 2011

Downsides:

1. “There were some classes that were a bit dull at times (similar to classes in other departments). However, I did appreciate how many classes were cross-referenced with other departments. It allowed me to taste a number of new topics, and it brought in a multidisciplinary perspective.” – Maura Fitzsimons

2. “I do remember thinking that I was able to float through my classes in political science more easily than in other disciplines. As a result, I don’t think I was as well prepared for political science-related ventures post-college.” – Lindsay Melworm

3. “Some of the classes were a little dry but for the most part I had great professors that tried to make the material as interesting as possible.” – Brooke Fine

Career Opportunities

Not every political science student finds him or herself arguing before a judge. While having a political science background is definitely a plus for law school, there are hundreds of possibilities with this major.

1. Public Service

Since a thorough knowledge of politics is usually necessary for any government position, a student with a political science degree makes a great fit. Politicians love to talk and because you’ll acquire incredible communication skills, you could easily find yourself working with a local judge or even a congressman. Your finely tuned people skills will attract non-profits as well.

2. Law

Many law jobs incorporate the understanding of American politics, use of analytical skills and interpretation of political ideas. Many political science majors choose to continue their education at law school. Not to mention that according to U.S. News & World Report, lawyers earned a median salary of $114,300 in 2013, cha ching!

3. Business

Students looking to enter business require exceptional analytical and critical thinking skills. Fortunately, a degree in political science teaches these skills. Don’t be scared away from these jobs just because you weren’t enrolled in an “elite” business program. Companies typically prefer candidates with a diverse background.

4. Academia

Many political science students will have the ability to teach after college. With such a diverse set of skills and tools, a degree in political science will give you a leg up in searching for a career in education.

5. Journalism

Political science majors with a strong grasp on language can always succeed in this field, especially when combined with the impeccable research and writing skills you’ll acquire over the course of your college career. Plus, political science majors always have an opinion. Translate all that political rage into great articles.

Wait, What Else Can I Do with My Political Science Major?

Written by Shelby Voss.

Go ahead and remove any idea of sticking to your major’s basic career path for the rest of your life. Put down the chapstick and scissors; you won’t need to kiss babies and cutting ribbons for the rest of your life. Majoring in political science equips students with a strong foundation of work beyond actually going into politics. You can do pretty much anything you want, because the political science major teaches you to think critically. Want to branch out from the House and the Senate?

Take your political science major and turn it to career gold with these 10 career paths.

1. Brand Manager

Why make a name for yourself when you can campaign for top-notch politicians? “Initially I wanted to go into politics as a candidate but that no longer interests me,” UNC Chapel Hill grad Claire Bennett said. “Now I work at a brand consulting firm, and in a couple years I plan to transition to a political consulting firm to work on campaign planning—sort of the branding side of things … branding is working in politics from different angle.” As consumers, we rarely think about branding, but the way we see a politician or political party directly results from the branders who decided how to tell their narrative.

2. Teacher

You can live the dream: giving gold stars to booger-nosed kids. Sure, we’re kidding about the snot-covered noses… kind of. Teaching isn’t necessarily the most glamorous of jobs, but America faces a real need for well-educated teachers who can help students to grow into better citizens. “I’m majoring in political science because I plan on getting my master’s in education and I think it’s really important that teachers understand the government and how it works. People don’t realize how influential state, local and national government is in deciding how our schools are run,” UNC Chapel Hill sophomore Taryn Revoir said. Even though teaching isn’t the most politically-oriented career path out there, teachers need an understanding of the politics behind their work, making poli sci grads the perfect candidates.

3. Political Consultant

Looking for power? Tell other people what to do professionally. Political consultants exercise an unbelievable amount of power when they go to share their expertise with their clients. Consulting can mean any number of things. Consultants can work with specific politicians, campaigns or entire governments to try and find the best option for that party at a given time. Political consultants can work with government officials internationally or with politicians in their own theoretical backyards. Either way, they spend their days compiling strategies for fellow political experts, a real-life political science major’s dream. Advising and assisting political campaigns would allow for considerable involvement in real-time modern-day politics.

4. Political Advocate

Two-four-six-eight, who do we appreciate? Poli sci grads can find a career that allows them to professionally support the causes they feel strongly about. Snagging a career as an advocate will allow you to spend your life cheerleading for whatever you believe in. Advocates often work in the legal realm. “I feel like a lot of poli sci grads go into law school,” UNC Political Science instructor Jelle Koedam said. “That’s incredibly common, and law school is a very diverse education to have.” All kinds of people, causes and businesses need advocates. As an advocate, you can work on behalf of an interest, cause or community that you care about. Advocacy can include public speaking, publishing information, campaigning and lobbying. Bonus: It can incorporate your own personal values.

5. Lobbyist

Get paid to persuade. Imaging growing up and making six figures a year just to argue for your cause. Lobbyists also work for something they feel passionate about. They can work for large organizations, rich individuals or they can just fight for the rights of the general public. If you’re looking into this career path, start with a company like Google or General Electric. Actively representing your interests to other politicians ensures that your voice will be heard. That’s the ultimate goal for any political science major: making change with their actions. People often stigmatize lobbyists as nothing more than people representing their own interests but they can do any number of good deeds for other members of  society.

6. Researcher

Get yourself a lab coat. You walk into a room and a group of men in suits greet you as “Ms.” or “Mr.” Imagine the look on their faces when you tell them “actually, it’s Doctor.” With a Ph.D., you can spend your days researching whatever you find interesting. You could research voter turnout, the parliamentary system versus presidential procedure, Tunisia and its connection to the rest of the Arab Spring, anything you want. “One of the professors I had did some work with European’s perspectives on the EU,” UNC sophomore Brent Van Vliet said. Van Vliet expressed interest in studying the European Union. You may be driven by curiosity or intellectual ambition, or a a desire to improve the way our world works. Either way, researchers make the world better and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

7. Nonprofit Work

Your company won’t make money but you will. You name it, you can find a nonprofit for it. Nonprofits provide yet another opportunity for political science majors to work for the greater good. A political science major working in nonprofits gets to choose a cause they feel strongly about and wake up every morning looking forward to promoting that cause. Nonprofits such as UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, Samaritan’s Purse and the American Red Cross need people to work in government relations. This is where we cue the poli sci majors.

8. Policy Maker

Create the changes you want to see in your government. A policy-making career would tap into many of the things you learn as a political science major. Whether it be city planning, sustainability coordination or policy advising, finding a career in the public policy sector could allow you to make a difference in your community. You could work to lengthen maternity leave for working women, create efficient zoning laws or implement a helpful child care system. UNC sophomore Anna Hottle wants to go into public policy so that she can make a difference in America’s prison systems. “There’s a huge lack of regulation in private prisons,” she said. “It’s just not a good system, and something needs to change.” Policy makers causes huge impacts in the government and the way it works.

9. Campaign manager

Channel your inner season three Olivia Pope. Campaign managers work toward a goal with a group of people that share their ideals. They have to be organized, inventive and dedicated to the cause of their campaign. “I’d like to hop onto a campaign run since I’ll be graduating in an election year. It’s a good start for a recent poli sci grad,” UNC sophomore Victoria Quiett said. Graduating in 2020 could provide her with the perfect launch into a political career.

10. President

Okay, maybe this was your goal as political science major all along, but usually people aim smaller than actual POTUS. Imagine sauntering up to your inauguration podium and remembering the poli sci degree that got you there. You could be a city mayor, state legislator, senator, congresswoman or even the President of the United States (Obama majored in poli sci, just sayin’). People in these office positions make money moves. You could make the history that future generations read about in textbooks. Dream big, you poli sci nerds. Go change the world.

*Updated on February 22, 2018 to include “Wait, What Else Can I Do with My Political Science Major?” by Shelby Voss.

Student, movie buff, writer, Netflix addict and food aficionado. Senior at the University of Michigan studying Political Science.

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