A career in political science can open doors to many job opportunities. When you become a political scientist, you have a wide range of responsibilities and take on many roles. It is a job that impacts both the private and public sectors and is one of the most versatile degrees available.
What Is a Political Scientist?
A political scientist studies the science of politics. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the most basic form, political scientists “study the origin, development, and operation of political systems.”
In political science jobs, you may predict trends, understand how laws affect different situations, consider public opinion, and interpret the law consistently and objectively. It is often a springboard for students seeking to become lawyers, but it also opens the doors to many other careers.
What does a political scientist do?
Because government impacts so many areas of our life, political science jobs carry over into many fields. They obtain extensive research, communication, and data analysis skills useful in many careers, and narrowing down what they do is nearly impossible.
They may specialize in a subfield such as international relations, political philosophy, national politics, or even comparative politics. With these traits, they can seek out any number of roles in fields such as government, politics, campaign managers, consultants, business, researcher, public relations, law, journalism, and education.
Here is a general idea of what a political scientist might do:
- Research political subjects, such as relationships and ideologies
- Develop and test political theories
- Evaluate the effects of policies and laws on different situations
- Collect and analyze data from different sources
- Submit research through presentations or publishing
- Monitor current events and issues
- Forecast trends in policy, economics, and society
Why is a political scientist important?
Political science jobs are important because they allow the study of government and the legislative process so that people can be better informed about policies that impact them. As part of their job, a political scientist will sort through these findings in an impartial and unbiased way and then help the general public have a better understanding of it all.
The key here is their ability to be impartial and unbiased. They take the emotion out of politics and government and can share information fairly and factually. A political scientist is important to society because they study the science of politics and then explain it to a broader audience. While some political scientists will represent a specific political party, they still follow the basic principles learned in their studies and share those beliefs with the specific population they represent.
How to Become a Political Scientist
Becoming a political scientist demands specific qualities from a person. Important qualities that should come naturally to some degree, but that will be learned in the program, include:
- Analytical skills: these skills are needed to collect, evaluate and interpret data
- Critical-thinking skills: you must be able to draw logical conclusions from the data you collect and examine
- Creativity: you’ll need to come up with new ways to think about different issues, continually explore new ideas, and produce the information in an understandable way
- Communication skills: since you’ll be collaborating with peers and communicating information down the line, these skills are crucial
It is also helpful to have some volunteer experience, as this shows your drive to be involved in the community and develops the above skills. Most students choose clubs or political organizations. In addition, building a network of connections in the industry is also vital to success.
Then, depending on the path you take, career-specific traits become important, such as strong determination and debate skills for a lawyer and patience and a desire to teach others for education. Most people in this field are analytical, independent, have integrity, and take initiative. With so many career opportunities, almost anyone can fit into political science jobs in some way.
Education or training needed
To enter into political science jobs, a person typically needs at least a master’s degree. With a BA/BS, you can choose from entry-level jobs in administration, communication, or analysis within the public sector. Or, you can move forward with your degree, move on to law school, or enter a related field.
The curriculum includes the four main subfields of study for a general understanding and overall focus on the political sciences. Degree holders then choose to enter the job force or continue or move on to further studies.
Further studies in political theory and the addition of philosophy, economics, behavior and institutions, peace and conflict, security, and race and ethnicity are included. A thesis is completed at this stage. The next steps include moving on to a doctorate or working as a political scientist, high school teacher, or senior analyst.
In your studies, you’ll learn advanced theories, quantitative research practices, modeling and statistics, and complete a dissertation. A Ph.D. allows you to work as a higher educator or hold office in specific leadership roles. It is a terminal degree in political science and opens doors to more opportunities. One report from O*NET showed that 73% of political scientists had a doctoral degree.
Choosing a study focus
The field of political science was previously divided into four subfields. Over the past decade, data has become overwhelmingly important to political science jobs that it led to a fifth category. Each leads to a different path and political science jobs available.
In this path, you’ll examine the way nations interact with each other. The focus here is on national security, the military, and trade, foreign, and finance policies. You’ll learn how nation-states cooperate, argue, trade, and even go to war. Studies will focus on global matters and the influence of organizations such as the United Nations.
This subsection is the most abstract because it deals with the fundamental areas of government, politics, civil rights, justice, and the enforcement of the law. Ethics are applied to each situation or group, and discussions are had about how society should be set up and how people should act. Students study human nature and behavior and how the moral purpose of government relates.
Here, you are making systematic comparisons of the various types of government in order to evaluate the experiences of each one. Examination of both the structure of and affects that political parties have. You’ll study how each system provides for and supports its people and how each creates laws.
In this subsection, studies focus on the American political system and its parts, venturing into policies and ideas. You’ll also explore the role of mass media.
This is where students practice existing methods and work to develop new ones in order to study politics. You’ll use experiments, econometrics, statistics, and formal theory to work through your studies.
Political Science Jobs Outlook
Because a political science degree is so versatile and applies to many career choices, the return on investment and outlook are excellent. The growth rate is projected to increase by 6% between 2019 and 2029, which is slightly above the average growth rate for all careers. However, it is still considered a competitive field.
As a political scientist, you can expect to work in an office environment and often need to work extra hours to complete reports. There can be stress involved when meeting deadlines or working in high-pressure jobs.
Possible jobs include:
- State/local government: legislative assistant, policy analyst, press aide, staff assistant
- Federal government: political scientist, agency administrator, legislative assistant or director, press aide, or policy analyst
- Nonprofit: advocate, policy researcher, program director, communications coordinator, development officer
- International affairs: diplomat, NGO advisor, ambassador
- Private business: consultant, lobbyist
- Media: news anchor, radio host, writer/editor, social media manager, reporter, journalist
- Marketing: researcher, advertising executive, creative director
- Education: high school social studies/US government/civics teacher, librarian
- Corporate: public relations manager, human resources specialist, data analyst
- Law: lawyer, paralegal assistant
Skills the job requires:
Most jobs do not provide on-the-job training and are hiring based on the assumption that you already have these skills or experience.
- Identify issues and solutions
- Analyze and interpret data
- Develop theories
- Analyze various policies, issues, legislation, etc.
- Computer skills and special software
- Knowledge of law and government
- Knowledge of history, archeology, sociology, anthropology, and the English language
- Speaking and writing skills
- Reasoning skills
- Staying up-to-date on current events and trends
- Prepare reports
- Collaborate with peers and clients
The difference between public administration and political science jobs
One area of confusion lies in the related but different fields of public administration and political science. PA prepares students for “civil service work in the public and nonprofit sectors at the administration level.” These workers put the policy they learn into practice. Comparatively, it is less theory-based and more actionable. The focus becomes organization, conduct, ethics, and budgeting. Some public servants take the PA route during their master’s segment, but ultimately all start with a political science undergraduate degree.
Salary and employment
In 2019, political scientists filled 7,000 jobs. The largest career fields ranged greatly and made up 93% of the overall job market.
- Federal government workers made up 48% of political science jobs and earned an average of $126,00 a year.
- Professional, scientific, and technical services equaled 26% with an average income of $133,200.
- Educational services (state, local, and private) equaled 7% and averaged $79,600.
- Self-employed workers made up 7% of the market. There was no average listed.
- Religious, grants, civic, professional, etc. were equal to 5% of the market, with an average of $80,800.
Salaries range from below $40,000 to well over $120,000. On average, a BA/BS political science degree can bring in $67,500. An official political scientist with a Ph.D. can make the most money, averaging $122,220 in 2019.
PayScale estimates that political science majors can start out earning $50,000 as research marketers, program or account managers, or marketing professionals. Salaries and employment opportunities have the potential to grow at higher degree levels.
Political science jobs often stem from internships or getting a foothold in a related field. The work is stable, and organizations that hire political scientists often promise secure, well-salaried careers. However, continuing your education can give you a competitive edge in the job market.
Top 5 specialties under the political science umbrella
- Lawyer $123,000: in this role, you may work for political figures, lobbying firms, or other interest groups and use your research skills to dive into legislative and policy issues. You’ll draft language for bills and argue in an attempt to influence policymakers. You need a BA/BS and then have to attend law school and pass your bar exam.
- Economist $103,000: researching financial trends will allow you to provide recommendations and forecasts to legislators who are developing new laws or corporations planning financial revenue. To reach the higher salary levels, a master’s is needed.
- Political consultant $77,400: using your knowledge of the political process, you’ll devise strategies for candidates to help them get elected. You can also work for public interest groups to help advance their causes. Only a BA/BS is needed.
- Policy analyst $67,000: using your understanding of political and legislative processes, you’ll devise a plan and build an argument for or against the adoption of policies and enlist people’s support that can help advance your initiatives. Other analysts fall in the same range, averaging anywhere from $40,000 to $80,000.
- Public relations specialist $61,000: you’ll influence public opinion through press opportunities, research how to persuade people best, and organize opportunities to promote your client. Managers earn an average of $107,000. This field subset is growing faster than the political science field as a whole, and only a BA/BS is required to start.
A breakdown by state
This will likely come as no surprise, considering where the national government is located. Still, Washington D.C. is the state with the highest number of political science jobs, with Virginia coming in next. But Virginia pays the most with an average salary of $130,000 per year, with New York ($127,600) coming in second and outshining Washington D.C. ($124,000). If you lump D.C. and Virginia together, then Seattle comes in second for jobs, with an average salary of $93,600.
Political Science Job Resources
The following resources can help you on your path to becoming a political scientist, both in understanding career aspects and your professional growth.
Political science jobs FAQ section
- Is studying political science hard? This is a subjective question, but for the most part, the actual studies are not hard but do differ, and the theory courses are probably the most challenging because there is no right answer.
- Is a BA/BS useless? No. It can get you many entry job options, but you need to know what you want out of the degree and what you see for yourself down the line. In the least, it is a necessary stepping stone.
- Does political science require math? Yes. You will be dealing with various statistical methods in your degree field, so a basic understanding of calculus, algebra, and probability concepts is helpful.
- Is it hard to find a job? It can be unless you go to graduate school and want a more specific job. A BS/BA only gets you in the door, sometimes only as an intern.
- Can I work on my master’s while starting out in a political science job? Yes. This is a common way to obtain the next steps.
Helpful organizations, societies & agencies
- The National Political Science Honor Society
- American Political Science Association
- International Political Science Association
- American Association of Political Consultants
- Extensive List of Political Non-Profits & Organizations
List of Programs
Begin Your Career Today
If a political science job sounds appealing to you and you are ready to begin the process of learning how to make a career of it, reach out to us today at RNtoBSNProgram.com. We have the tools and resources you need to achieve success on your road to becoming a political scientist and look forward to helping you achieve your goals.