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Aspiring political professionals seeking to advance their careers will find that choosing the right master’s in political science degree program is crucial to achieving their goals. These programs are carefully designed to prepare students for careers as political scientists, where the median salary is $128,020 per year — a figure that is anticipated to rise as the demand for professionals in this field is expected to grow by 7% over the next decade.

On average, completing these programs takes about two years, with the cost of graduate degree programs averaging $19,749 for the 2020-2021 academic year.

How to Choose a Master’s in Political Science Program

Choose your area of study

When selecting a program for your graduate degree in political science, you’ll first want to identify your area of interest to narrow down your options. Focus on programs with coursework that support your professional goals.

These options will vary by institution but often include international relations, appealing to those interested in global diplomacy and security; political economy, for students enthusiastic about the intersection of politics and economics; and public policy, ideal for degree-seekers driven to shape and analyze government decisions.

Research schools and programs

With your specialization in mind, you can now research schools and programs to determine the best fit for your objectives. Consider the following questions to help guide your research:

  • Does the program offer courses in my area of interest?
  • What type of research opportunities does the program provide?
  • How does the program facilitate career advancement in my chosen field?
  • Does a recognized accrediting body accredit the program?

University websites typically provide information on programs, their specializations, faculty, and career support. However, you can also find answers to these questions by contacting an admissions counselor or attending an information session.

Prepare for tests and applications

Preparing for tests and applications can be daunting, but starting early can make this process significantly easier.

For example, gathering transcripts and letters of recommendation should be done a few months in advance to ensure all materials are ready when submitting your application. If standardized tests are a requirement, consider enrolling in a test prep program to improve your scores. Additionally, allocate sufficient time to write your statement of purpose, which often takes longer than many students initially expect.

Select your program

By submitting well-rounded applications to multiple programs, it’s not uncommon to receive several acceptance letters. In such cases, revisit your initial research criteria, prioritizing the most essential elements — specialization strength, educators you’re looking forward to learning from, and program reputation.

Additionally, consider each school’s total cost of attendance and the availability of financial aid opportunities — as you’ll want to select a program that’s both economically feasible and aligned with your academic interests.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Once you’ve selected your program, strategically planning how to finance your degree is crucial.

Prioritize funding that doesn’t require repayment by looking for scholarships and grants specific to political science or your specialization. Consider assistantships, which offer tuition waivers or stipends in return for research or teaching responsibilities. If you’re currently employed, ask your employer if they offer tuition reimbursement programs that support your professional growth while you contribute to the company.

In situations involving financial gaps, utilize federal loans, which have lower interest rates than private loans, as a supplementary option. Be sure to borrow sparingly to minimize your debt burden — setting yourself up for future financial success.

Best 50 Accredited Master’s in Political Science Programs

Best Master's in Political Science Degree Programs _2024 badge
Intelligent Pick
Sam Houston State University
Best Electives
Virginia Tech
Best for Law and Politics
George Washington University
Best in the South
The College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University
Most Flexible Admissions
University of Missouri
Best for Security Studies
Northeastern University
Best for Political Campaign Strategies
Regent University
Best Combined JD/MA Program
University Of Florida
Best Thesis Option
University Of North Texas
Best for American Politics
American University
Most Rigorous Curriculum
Arizona State University
Best in the Northeast
Boston College
Best Internships
Binghamton University
Best Ph.D. Track
Boston University
Best On-Campus Program
University at Buffalo
Best for Political Theory
Columbia University
Best in the West
University Of Colorado
Best Private Institution
Duke University
Best for International Relations
George Mason University
Best Fellowships
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Best Mentoring Program
The University of Kansas
Best for Political Economy
Massachusetts Institute Of Technology
Most Innovative Curriculum
Michigan State University
Best Accelerated Program
The University of Oklahoma
Best Financial Aid Options
Pennsylvania State University
Best in the Midwest
Purdue University
Best for Women's and Gender Studies
Rutgers University
Best for Public Administration
Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University
Best Public Institution
Temple University
Best Assistantships
University Of Georgia
Best for Political Analysis
University Of Houston
Best Faculty
The University of Iowa
Best for Water Resources Management
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Best in the Southwest
Department of Political Science - The University of Utah
Best Alumni Network
The University of Texas at Dallas
Best for International Students
SUNY at Albany
Best for Career Opportunities
University of California Riverside - Department of Political Science
Best Hybrid Program
Georgia State University
Best for Student Jobs
Kansas State University
Best for Professional Development
Loyola University Chicago
Best for Transfer Students
University of Hawaii
Best Non-Thesis Option
University Of Mississippi

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How we rank schools

This list covers master’s in political science programs that equip graduates with the necessary skills to analyze governments, political trends, and policy decisions. Students can choose to pursue a Master of Arts (MA) in political science or a Master of Science (MS) in political science. All programs are delivered online.

We only considered institutions that have been approved by a DOE-recognized regional accrediting organization, such as the New England Commission of Higher Education or Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Those who attend a school that isn’t regionally accredited may be unable to access financial aid or transfer credits to another institution if needed.

We evaluated each program on the basis of flexibility, faculty, course strength, cost, and reputation. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale from 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.

What Can You Expect From a Master’s in Political Science Program?

The influential nature of politics is undeniable, and many future professionals seeking to stake their claim in this field consider a master’s in political science an essential component of their education. During this degree, you’ll delve into comparative politics, international relations, political economy, and policy analysis, gaining a nuanced understanding of governance and legislative processes. The most innovative curriculums emphasize the development of critical thinking, analytical, and research skills, often culminating in a research-based thesis that allows students to investigate a specific political science question in depth.

Typically, full-time students can complete these programs in two years, although part-time enrollment may extend this timeline. Upon graduation, many pursue successful careers in academia, policy analysis, or public administration.

Potential courses you’ll take in a master’s in political science program

  • Comparative Politics: An essential component in many curriculums, this course examines political systems across different countries, focusing on their institutions, governance models, and policy outcomes. Students learn to analyze and compare political dynamics and structures globally, understanding how different political contexts affect policy and governance.
  • Political Economy: Another standard course, this class integrates economics and politics, investigating how political institutions and policies influence economic outcomes and vice versa. Participants examine trade, development, and globalization, understanding the financial effects of political actions and decisions.
  • Political Theory: Offering an in-depth analysis of political thought, this course covers critical political theorists and their ideas from classical antiquity to contemporary times. Students engage with concepts of justice, democracy, power, and authority, critically analyzing how these ideas shape political discourse and action.
  • International Relations: Often considered an elective, this course explores the theories and practices of international politics, including the roles of states, international organizations, and non-state actors. It delves into security, diplomacy, international law, and global governance issues, providing insights into the complexities of international affairs.

Master’s in Political Science Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to a master's in political science degree program?

Although admissions can be competitive for these programs, the application process is relatively straightforward. Standard admission requirements include:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
  • Official transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Statement of purpose
  • Potentially GRE scores

Given the variations in requirements, consulting with an admissions counselor before applying is highly recommended. They can provide insights and specific guidance while you complete your application, making you a stronger candidate for admission.

How much does a master's in political science degree cost?

The cost of this degree can vary, but the average cost of graduation tuition was $19,749 for the 2020-2021 academic year. Many factors can cause this figure to fluctuate, including the type of institution (public or private) and your residency status (whether you qualify for in-state or out-of-state tuition).

Beyond tuition, you must also account for books, supplies, housing, and living expenses. These costs can add up over time, making it crucial to budget for them from the start.

How long does it take to earn a master's in political science degree?

Obtaining a master’s in political science takes about two years for full-time students, while part-time students may take up to four years or more. The longer timeline for part-time students is often due to balancing course loads with other commitments — such as a full-time job or raising a family — leading to fewer credits each semester.

It’s also important to consider the total number of required credits, as these requirements will directly impact how quickly you can complete the program — regardless of whether you are a full- or part-time student. Most programs average 32 to 36 credits for graduation, though some may require up to 40.

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