Majors & Programs


Political Science

What is Political Science?

Political science seeks to increase our understanding of politics, political institutions, and political processes. As political scientists examine political behavior, they use different methodologies to try to understand such issues as:

  • Who gets what resources and why?
  • How do political actors make decisions?
  • How does politics affect political, economic, and social outcomes?

Why Study Political Science?

Universal Influence

Politics, political processes, and political institutions affect everyone and help determine:

  • our personal and national security
  • the laws that govern our collective behavior
  • our employment
  • the quality and safety of the food we eat
  • the education we receive
  • our health care
  • the quality of our environment
  • our social systems and structure
  • our present and future prospects

What You Can Do with a Political Science Major

A major in Political Science provides a solid foundation to a liberal arts education. Understanding politics and political processes within and across countries will prepare you to be a more productive citizen. Some of our graduates enter federal, state, or local government. Many go to law school, business school, or seek other advanced degrees. Political science majors have gone on to professions such as:

  • Attorney
  • Banker
  • City Manager
  • Communications Director
  • Congressional Advisor
  • Consultant
  • Consumer Advocate
  • Foreign Service Officer
  • Intelligence Agent
  • International Trade Negotiator
  • Investment Manager
  • Journalist/Writer
  • Judge
  • Lawyer
  • Legislative Correspondent
  • Legislator
  • Physician
  • Politician
  • Public Opinion Analyst
  • Public Policy Analyst
  • Social Worker
  • Teacher/Professor
  • Urban/Regional Planner

Political Science at Washington University

Dedicated Teachers and Investigators

Our faculty, as teachers and investigators, are an important part of your undergraduate experience. They enjoy national and international recognition for their teaching and research. They bring the excitement of discovery and the latest know-ledge to the classroom to stimulate your learning. They publish widely in journals and books. In recent years, they have pro-duced books with publishers as prestigious as the University of Michigan Press, Princeton University Press, Cambridge University Press, and Congressional Quarterly. Many of our Political Science professors have won university awards for their teaching.

Professionals in Their Fields

The media frequently interview our faculty as experts on national or global issues. Many serve as consultants to business as well as government. Our professors serve on review committees for agencies such as the National Science Foundation and on editorial boards of major academic journals, including:

  • the American Political Science Review
  • the American Journal of Political Science
  • the Journal of Politics

Faculty Advisors Who Care About Your Success

Our faculty will help guide you in your choice of academic program. We offer a highly personalized advising system that will provide you with guidance about your major and helps you make use of electives to:

  • define your interests and abilities
  • develop your skills
  • challenge your curiosity

Research Opportunities

Many of our students work with professors on their research or conduct research on their own under the supervision of one or more faculty members. Participating in research can be the most engaging part of your undergraduate study. Research is a great way to gain experience in using scientific methods to solve problems.

Special Internships: Real Experience

You may take the opportunity to participate in one or more internship opportunities:

  • Directed Field Work
  • Legal and Public Policy Internships
  • Washington, D.C. Internships

Directed Field Work—Involves working with a member of the faculty on a research project for credit.

Legal and Public Policy Internships—Involve working in the community in grassroots organizations for political candidates or with nonprofit organizations. Legal internships are available if you want experience working for law firms in the area.

Honors Program and Thesis

The honors program in Political Science is open to majors with a strong academic record. The core of the honors program is a senior honors thesis. Honors students conduct individual research and work closely with a faculty member. By completing the senior honors thesis, students are eligible for Latin honors.

Pi Sigma Alpha

As a major, you can earn entry into Pi Sigma Alpha, the national honor society for students of political science. The association recognizes students who have excelled in political science.

Prizes, Awards, and Recognition

Each year, the Political Science department recognizes exceptional scholarly and community achievement with awards. During the school year, faculty members submit quality student papers to the Honors Committee for review. Awards to winning students are made each spring prior to graduation.

Arnold J. Lien Prize—to the outstanding graduating political science major, in honor of a former chairman of the department

Todd Lewis Friedman Memorial Prize—for outstanding work in comparative and/or international politics

Antoinette Dames Prizes (3)

  • for the best senior honors thesis
  • for the best freshman/sophomore undergraduate paper
  • for the best junior/senior undergraduate paper

William Benton Parshall Prize—to the best undergraduate paper or thesis on women and politics

Robert H. Salisbury Prize—presented at the end of a student’s junior year on the basis of a record of initiative, leadership, and service on and off campus.

Grossman-Alexander Prize in American Politics—presented to an outstanding graduating senior with an emphasis on American politics.

The Major

To earn a major in Political Science, you will complete a minimum of:

  • 30 units of course work, including at least six introductory units and a course on research methods within the department
  • at least 18 advanced credit units, including at least one three-unit course from three of the following five fields:
    • American Politics and Government
    • Comparative Politics
    • International Politics
    • Political and Social Theory
    • Methods of Political Research and Analysis

Some limitations apply. Please see the department website for full information.

The Minor

To enhance your major in another area of study, you may want to consider a minor in political science. If so, you’ll take a minimum of 15 graded units of course work, including at least nine advanced units. Some limitations apply. Please see the department website for full information.

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