“Oh, you’re a political science major, do you want to become a lawyer in court?” or “What, are you trying to be a politician?” are the first two questions I get asked when people find out I’m studying political science. While thinking like a political scientist can give you essential skills for being a successful lawyer or politician, it’s not the only thing us political scientists can do with our degrees.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that in 2014, the largest employers of political scientists were: 55% in the federal government, 23% in professional, scientific and technical services, and 9% in educational services (state, local, and private levels). Besides those who hold office in government, there are many other useful careers for those who willingly chose to read an obscene amount of academic literature and subject themselves to years of writing paper after paper.
Aristotle described politics as the “queen of the sciences,” and that statement remains true. Whether people realize it or not, politics is a vehicle of change and progress in a human society. Every part of our daily life is influenced by the politics of each level of governance. Political scientists concern themselves with the nature of governance and everything that it can entail: studying behavior of leaders and masses, researching controversial topics, creating and evaluating public policy, studying international interactions, and most importantly studying power.
If politics impacts all aspects of a society, a degree in political science can go a long way! That means there will always be the need for people who understand political processes, institutions, policies, and interactions among decision-makers. Depending on your interests and future goals, you can apply political science in a variety of career fields and I think it’s an important feature of our discipline to embrace.
As a recent or a soon-to-be college graduate, a good idea would be to really ask yourself what are your areas of interests in politics and where do you see yourself in the future. Personally, I don’t have an idea of my “dream job” and that’s totally fine. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that an average college graduate spends about 18 months in their first job. Median number of years an individual spends with a company he/she works for is 4.2 years since 2016. So then, the question becomes what do you want to do in your daily life that’s interesting to you? As a junior professional with a political science degree, you would be expected to have good analytical, writing, and speaking qualities, but depending on your interests those would be employed differently.
To start, all policy choices—whether they’re on a local, state, national levels, or international level— need someone who brings up the issue to light. The tradition of political activism in America exploded in the 1960s when people started taking an active role at all levels of government. Careful attention to the policymaking process brings employment opportunities to those who can analyze public policy and act on it in a favorable way. This opens two different fields of opportunities for people with a political science degree: those activists in non-profit industry who rally support on the public level and lobbyists who try to persuade public officials on the issue. According to the Political Science Association, there are approximately 25,00 national associations and around 65,000 state, local, regional and international associations that have their headquarters in the United States.
Depending on the area of politics interesting to you, there’s an opportunity to find something to be passionate about and make a difference. Whether lobbying for a large organization, a private individual, or the general public, the goals and strategies are the same; your interest is what will determine your career. Lobbying is an art of persuasion; it’s about figuring out how to get a politician to vote on legislation that favors your interest. It’s about being a personable person, have good standing relations with others, being well-informed, and confident. Lobbying is a profession full of individuals who have changed careers; many politicians start off as lobbyists, former politicians can become lobbyists, and lawyers are a big part of the lobbying world.
All policy objectives need someone who can create and formulate it. Students who find interest in public policy careers are usually interested in a specialized area of public policy, like healthcare, environment, education, intelligence, defense, etc. Jobs at all levels of government are available for those who can use their analytical skills and writing skills for creating the most effective policies and political authorization. The personal challenge is then to figure out what your area of focus will be, and at what level of government you’d like to work. Those public policy experts are also needed in a variety of private sector industries.
However, to become an expert in the field, attaining an advanced degree is useful (if not necessary) before getting your hands dirty. Policymakers discuss and suggest approaches to problems that require knowledge in budgeting and policymaking in a very specialized field. If you have a specific interest in mind, there is a variety of graduate schools or institutes in public policy. The National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration’s web site has a great overview of such programs. If you’re still on the fence, try out doing an internship or a fellowship in the field you have a closer tendency to.
In this country, before politicians can become politicians they must be elected by their constituents for public office. Do you think they can really do that on their own? Of course not; successful campaigns and polling is something that all politicians need to be elected to office. A candidate must put together his or her campaign organization; usually, the higher the office, the more experienced the team is. According to American Association for Political Consultants (AAPC), more than 50,000 public elections are held each year. That does not account for all election types needed on all levels of our society (remember, politics is everywhere). Whether it’s a national presidential election, statewide representative elections, local government elections, or a school board elections, there’s always a need for someone to organize and run the campaign. AAPC estimates that about billion dollars is spent each year on campaign communications.
I am leaving out SO many more career opportunities for us political scientists in the communications, education, international affairs, legal, business, and nonprofit worlds. To really get the picture, use the magical tools of the 21st century to your advantage: browse the web, connect with people on Linkedin, reach out to alumni of your university, and stay in the loop on job openings.
The reality is practice makes perfect. According to the Political Science Association, movement along private sector, nonprofit, and public sector jobs has been increasing. While seniority in any policy or government organization matters, having a 20-year career in government is not the only way to have an influence on national issues! So, if you’re a soon to be graduate with a bachelor’s degree in political science, try to figure out what do you love to do and how that will apply to your career, because in our case we can do just about anything.
Careers and the Study of Political Science: A Guide for Undergraduates. 6th Edition, Political Science Association, 2003.
"Economic News Release: Employee Tenure Summary." Bureau of Labor Statistics, www.bls.gov/news.release/tenure.nr0.htm. Accessed 18 Sept. 2017.
"Political Scientists: Work Environment." Bureau of Labor Statistics, www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/political-scientists.htm#tab-3. Accessed 18 Sept. 2017.
"When Can I Leave My First Job?" The Balance, www.thebalance.com/when-can-i-leave-my-first-job-2063032. Accessed 18 Sept. 2017.