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Guide to Online Political Science Degrees

Liz Heintz

Written By: Liz Heintz

Published: 8/4/2022

Political science is a popular major that can help you develop your analytical and critical thinking skills to understand public policy, the U.S. political structure, international politics, and foreign policy. Depending on your previous education and career goals, you can study political science at any degree level.

The knowledge you'll gain as a political science major can help prepare you for a public service career in politics, from the local grassroots level to Washington, D.C. in the seat of American government. A political science degree can also be the springboard to other career paths, such as law, education, and social work.

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What Is a Political Science Degree?

Political science is a popular degree path within the social sciences and liberal arts. It provides a humanistic and scientific approach to studying local and global political processes in order to prepare you for diverse career options in the U.S. or international affairs. Political science majors learn about election and voting processes, political campaign management, campaign finance, polling, political leadership, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

A degree in political science can help prepare you to become a politician, public servant, lawyer, or work in the nonprofit sector.

A degree in political science can help prepare you to become a politician, public servant, lawyer, or work in the nonprofit sector. In addition, employers may appreciate a political science degree because it may denote civic engagement, which may appeal to employers that tout themselves as socially responsible and civic-minded.

What Types of Degrees Are Available?

Depending on your career goals, you can earn a political science degree at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and advanced graduate level. You can complete an associate degree at a two-year community college and bachelor's and graduate degrees at four-year universities.

The process of enrolling in a degree program varies based on degree level. However, schools generally have similar requirements:

Associate Degree
  • Completed enrollment application and $50 fee (approximately)
  • High school diploma or equivalent and vaccination records
  • Military or college transcripts, if applicable
  • Math and reading placement scores, as necessary
Bachelor's Degree
  • Completed enrollment application and $50 fee (approximately)
  • High school transcripts and vaccination records
  • 2.0 GPA or higher
  • Military or college transcripts, if applicable
  • Standardized test scores (though often waived)
  • Letter or essay of intent
Master's Degree
  • Completed enrollment application and $50 fee (approximately)
  • Bachelor's degree
  • 3.0 GPA or higher
  • Letter or essay of intent
  • Professional or academic recommendations
  • Resume

Online Programs

Political science degree programs are available online at most degree levels. The rigor and quality of online programs are the same as those delivered on-campus; online instructors are typically the same as those teaching in-person. Courses are usually delivered through a learning management system (LMS), such as Canvas or Blackboard, allowing student engagement and discussion on a secure web-based platform. In addition, courses are often asynchronous, meaning you can participate as your schedule permits as long as you complete assignments on time.

The rigor and quality of online programs are the same as those delivered on-campus; online instructors are typically the same as those teaching in-person.

Attending school online can also be affordable as many schools waive student campus fees for their online students and charge flat-rate tuition regardless of residency.

What Are the Requirements for a Political Science Degree?

Program requirements are similar across schools, depending on the degree level. A program or academic advisor can help you stay on task to complete requirements in time to graduate. They can help you plan your schedule each term to ensure you meet your goals and accommodate your schedule.

Degree Level Credit Hours and Time to Complete (Full time, approximate) Credit Hour Breakdown Graduation Requirements
Associate 60 credit hours 2 years
  • 42 core credit hours
  • 18 major credit hours
  • Grade of "C" or better
Bachelor's 120 credit hours 4 years
  • 42 core credit hours
  • 57 major credit hours
  • 21 elective credit hours
  • Grade of "C" or better ("B" or better if applying to graduate school)
  • Internship
Master's 30 credit hours 2 years
  • 6 core credit hours
  • 24 major credit hours
  • Grade of "B" or better
  • Final Thesis
Doctorate or PhD 60-72 credit hours 4-8 years
  • A combination of core classes, electives, and dissertation research that varies by program
  • Dissertation

Common Courses

Courses in a political science program support a curriculum that aims to teach students about the nature of politics worldwide. You'll generally study the political issues affecting our country and how they may implicate international relations.

While political science course titles may change across programs and schools, learning outcomes are similar. We've identified several common and relevant courses in a degree program to provide a sample of the type of classes you may encounter as a political science major:

How To Win a Campaign

Instructors help students examine the modern U.S. political campaign system through a pragmatic and skills-based approach. Topics often include campaign organization and management, fundraising and campaign finance, communications and messaging, and campaign strategy.

Introduction to Comparative Politics

Lesson design is intended to introduce students to the origins of theories and concepts, such as nation-states, democracy, authoritarianism, social revolution, economic development politics, modernization, political institutions, and civil society.

Media, Opinion, and Voting

The intent of coursework is to help students examine the intersection between mass media, public opinion, and U.S. voting behavior. This includes the responsibility politicians, journalists, and citizens should assume to improve voter turnout and engagement with electoral politics.

Race and Politics in the U.S.

Lessons and class activities aim to provide students with a general survey of constraints and opportunities in American racial minority politics against over 50 years of demographic change and the political implications that may ensue.

State of the World

Discussions help students establish an understanding of contemporary global issues including, but not limited to, human rights, environmental protection, poverty and underdevelopment, and war and peace. A global perspective on world affairs is emphasized.

Is a Political Science Degree a Good Fit for Me?

A degree's fit comes down to your interests, abilities, career choice, and how feasible it is for you to earn your degree. It also depends on your personality, values, and work ethic. For example, CareerExplorer finds that political scientists are typically extroverted, conscientious, socially responsible, and agreeable. However, they are also more idealistic than realistic and can be considered unconventional. Many are interested in a career in public administration or even foreign service.

O*NET has identified other characteristics common to political scientists, which can also apply to related careers that rely on the skills you'll develop in a political science degree program:

Interests Investigative, social, and artistic
Work Styles Analytical thinking, achievement and effort, independence, integrity, and initiative
Work Values Achievement, recognition, and working conditions
Abilities Written and oral comprehension, oral expression, inductive reasoning, and speech clarity

What Can You Do With a Political Science Major?

There are many jobs you can do with a political science major. This degree can lead to diverse career opportunities inside and outside the public sector and politics. Through a degree program, you can develop valuable leadership skills and become more civically and socially responsible, which may appeal to employers.

You may decide to become a public servant and work for the rights of the people in your community, or you can work in public relations or organizational leadership in the private sector.

You may decide to become a public servant and work for the rights of the people in your community, or you can work in public relations or organizational leadership in the private sector. The highest degree you achieve may dictate your career options. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has identified several jobs within the social science field specific to the undergraduate and graduate degree levels:

An associate degree can prepare you for support positions, such as a paralegal or legal assistant. However, if you are politically-minded, you may be able to start your career at the grassroots level on political campaigns with an associate degree.

A bachelor's degree can prepare you for work as a social worker, a management analyst, an executive, an accountant or auditor, or in public relations.

A master's degree can help you become a political scientist, education administrator, or help you with professional growth within your current occupation.

A doctorate or PhD can help you become a lawyer, postsecondary teacher, or judge.

Funding a Political Science Degree

It's estimated that 66% of college-bound students apply for financial aid. You can apply for financial aid by completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Completing this application will determine if you are eligible to receive federal grants or scholarships that you won't have to repay, join a federal work-study program, or access low-interest federal student loans that offer flexible repayment options.

Once you determine how much federal aid you may be eligible to receive, you can start applying for private scholarships. Your school's financial aid office can assist you with your search. In addition, schools will often automatically submit your enrollment paperwork for review to see if you qualify for scholarships they may offer based on merit and academic standing (e.g., GPA and SAT scores). You or your parents may also belong to organizations that offer scholarships to their members or children of members that you may be able to access. Additionally, if you or your parents are military veterans, the GI Bill benefits can help pay for college.

Check out our Guide to Financial Aid for Online Students to learn more about reducing the cost of college with financial aid.

How To Choose a Political Science Program

Several factors go into choosing a political science program. First, you'll want to find one that is reputable, convenient, affordable, and helps you to meet your career goals. You'll also want to consider a program offering a high return on investment (ROI). Our methodology has determined the Salary Score for our best online colleges to help you get started.

Graduating from an accredited institution is often required by employers seeking college graduates and is often a requirement for certifications and credentialing.

It's imperative to find a program that is accredited. Schools can be institutionally and programmatically accredited. Graduating from an accredited institution is often required by employers seeking college graduates and is often a requirement for certifications and credentialing. Accreditation is also necessary to transfer credits if you change schools or decide to earn an advanced degree.

Please visit OnlineU's comprehensive accreditation hub for information about the importance of attending accredited schools.

FAQS About Political Science Degrees

What Is the Difference Between Political Science and Government?

Political science is the theory and practice of government, the history and origin of all political systems, and political systems' values and goals. Government is the existing political system, governing body, and the rules or laws of a community.

What Is the Best Degree for Political Science?

The best degree for political science is one that's accredited, reputable, affordable, and helps you meet your career and financial goals after graduation.

We've identified some of the best online political science programs to help you choose the right degree.

Is Political Science a Difficult Major?

A level of difficulty is associated with any degree, including a political science major. It takes commitment, dedication, and self-discipline to earn a degree. However, since political science is a social science, no upper-level math or science is required.

Is Political Science a Good Career?

Yes, political science is a good field to enter into a career if that's where your interests lie. The BLS predicts that political scientists with a master's degree or higher will see steady 9% job growth through 2030 and earn a $122,510 median salary.

However, political science is also a versatile degree. You can apply the skills you'll develop to other occupations expected to see average to above-average job growth.

Resources for Political Science Students

You'll find many resources available to you as a political science major. These websites can provide supplemental learning materials and tutorials to help you succeed as a student. Many are free, though some may charge an affordable fee.

American Political Science Association (APSA) As a student, you can join one of 50 organized sections that allow you to connect with APSA members in political science subfields of interest, such as urban and local politics, foundations of political theory, and civic engagement. Most sections waive dues for students.
CourseHero CourseHero offers courseware and study resources for political science students on topics such as Congress, the media, civil rights, the presidency, and bureaucracy. Access is free.
Coursera Coursera offers over 125 political science lessons to watch if you need to augment your studies. They are taught by professors from some of the nation's most prestigious schools, such as Yale, Stanford, and Columbia. In addition, they are often free if you aren't interested in earning a certificate.
Digital Public Library of America Battle on the Ballot (DPLA) This DPLA exhibit walks students through 20th-century presidential elections and how political outsiders often made their way on the ballot. Access is free.
FutureLearn FutureLearn enables you to dig deeper into political science to learn about relevant topics worldwide. Courses can be affordable and as little as $14.
Memrise Memrise offers numerous national and international political science topics, such as United Nations basics, World Politicians, and U.S. Constitutional Amendments. Membership is $8.49/month or $29.00/year if you sign up for annual membership.
MIT OpenCourseWare Through MIT OpenCourseWare, you can access over 140 graduate and undergraduate lessons in political science instructed by subject experts. Courses include topics such as America Political Thought, Citizenship and Pluralism, and Political Economy. Access is free.
Open Educational Resources (OER) Commons Instructors often utilize OER so their students can save money on textbooks. You can also access the commons directly for supplemental learning materials. Access is free.
OpenLearn The Open University's OpenLearn website offers free learning for students, including over 1,000 free courses, interactives, and videos. They also have classes to help boost your study skills and employability once you graduate.
Project Gutenberg Through Project Gutenberg, you can download political science books for free as HTML, e-reader, plain text, and other compatible file types.

Academic Journals

While journals are typically available through your school's library, you may be able to access individual articles for free by doing a quick Google Scholar search.

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