Political science is the study of governmental institutions, political processes, and political behavior. To fully grasp the concepts of Political Science and how they are applied, interdisciplinary work should be pursued in social and behavior sciences. In addition, an understanding of the interdependence among the subfields of American politics, comparative politics, international studies, law and politics, and political theory are critical for a deeper understanding of politics in its various dimensions. Students who are interested in Political Science should be skilled in collecting and analyzing information, communicating findings in writings and presentations, and applying the findings to describe and evaluate issues, problems, and events.
Hopkins offers a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Bachelor of Arts or dual Bachelor of Arts/Master of Arts degree in International Studies. The broad range of courses about politics and government in the political science department support the interest of students who wish to have a major in one of these areas or in Social and Behavioral Sciences.
Additional studies in the allied fields of anthropology, history, philosophy, and economics further prepare students to become sophisticated theoretically, and courses in statistics and computer science will prepare students for practical experiences. Faculty guided independent research and internships are incorporated into the program to provide opportunities to apply theory to individual interest areas. These practical experiences prepare students for careers that focus on today's political and public policy challenges and for advanced study in Political Science and Public Policy.
Political scientists study and develop political theories, and examine and pursue the practice of politics. The description and analysis of political systems and behavior (the origin, development, operation, and the interrelationships of political institutions) are used to formulate and develop theory.
Careers in political science are based on the practice and application of theory and pursued on behalf of Federal, state and local government, in the legal field, and through work in politics.
An undergraduate degree in Political Science provides a foundation for a variety of careers outside of government and political work. Many careers do not require a specific major but rather a wide-range of skills and experiences; the writing, presentation, critical thinking, and analytical skills political science students will obtain are marketable in any profession.
Political Science provides a foundation for a variety of careers, including preparation for Law School and advanced study in the social and behavioral sciences. It is a broad and diverse field, in which many careers require hands on experience in addition to a bachelor’s degree. A political scientist with a bachelor’s degree who chooses to work in government could conduct research or shape public policy, and those who are interested in politics can pursue careers working for a public interest advocacy group or serve on the staff for local, state, or national official. Law school is not a requirement for Political Scientists who are interested in law; they can work for Federal, state, and local government law enforcement offices: the United States Department of Justice, state departments of Justice and the District Attorney’s office, respectively. Lawyers and those in the leadership roles of law enforcement are required to have a juris doctor.
The three major areas within Political Science are Government, Politics, and Law. Within the areas some specializations include:
- Government: Foreign Service/Foreign Service Officer - The role of the foreign service is to interpret United States policies and interests for foreign governments, their leaders and civic bodies. Additionally this entity arranges cultural exchanges, provides assistance with development, and issues visas to foreign nationals. Foreign service officers report on developments within the political and economic frameworks and analyze these developments within social conditions and agricultural trends.
- Intelligence/Intelligence Officer - The gathering and analysis of information to advise or otherwise aid government organizations pursue specific objectives. Intelligence officers may be members of the armed forces, police officer or other law enforcement agencies or a civilian intelligence agency.
- Public Policy/Policy Analysts - Governments develop policy, or industries of ideas to address public issues such as education, crime, environmental protection, energy, and fiscal responsibility. The three key parts to public policy are: the issue to be addressed, the group addressing the issue and the policy, which is the final course of action. Scholars and researchers are the policy analysts who work for private organizations or the government to develop policy.
- Public Administration - Public administration is work by civil servants to execute policy in the framework of a governing body. These civil servants, or public administrators, work at Federal, state, and local levels to oversee services to and for civic bodies. Constituent service and overseeing the operations of a local government are some of the jobs that comprise in public administration.
- Urban/Regional Planning - Urban planning tries to determine future needs of the population in a given area and helps local officials meet the infrastructure needs of the community. Urban planners recommend locations for schools and roads and suggest zoning regulations for private property; the intent is to minimize social, economic, and environmental problems. Urban planners, who are also called community or city planners, develop plans for the growth of urban, suburban and rural communities within a region.
- Law: Paralegals/Legal Assistants - Public sector legal assistants and paralegals conduct research, maintain reference files and analyze legal material for internal use, and collect and analyze evidence used for agency hearings. They perform additional tasks similar to those performed by lawyers, but are not permitted to give legal advice or present cases in court.
- Lawyers - Lawyers act as both advocates and advisors for various areas of the government, and argue civil and criminal cases on behalf of the government. Within government offices and agencies, they draft and interpret legislation and laws and establish and pursue enforcement policies. Some work for at the Federal level, investigating cases for the U.S. Department of Justice. Others work for State attorneys general, prosecutors, and public defenders in criminal courts.
- Politics: Political Campaigns/Campaign Manager - Political Campaigns are organized to influence the decision making process of a group. Electoral campaigns for individuals or for a policy question are the most common examples of campaigns in democracies. Managers who direct political campaigns are responsible for fund-raising, field operations, staffing, and advertising. They plan and prioritize staff activity based upon a predetermined campaign plan.
- Legislative Official - This individual aids an official through efforts to develop legislation, complete research, and arrange committee hearings and meetings. They also interact with external entities through meetings with lobbyists, responding to requests for information, and the preparation of memos and reports. Legislative assistants work with other staffers, including a Legislative Correspondent, who is responsible for creating replies to correspondence received by the official, and an Administrative Assistant who will support the operations of the overall office.
Many political science graduates work in fields outside of government, politics, and law including work in non-profit management, business, journalism, broadcasting, and education.
A few of these positions include:
- Advertising Executive
- Labor Union Official
- Agent, International
- Bureau, FBI
- Analyst, CIA
- Management Consultant
- Budget Analyst
- Network Correspondent for Washington
- College Professor
- Newspaper Editorial Board
- Consultant to Multinational Corporations
- Non Profit Management
- Curriculum Developer/Supervisor
- Peace Corp Volunteer
- Director of Corporate Public Affairs
- Policy Analyst
- Director, Fund Raising
- Political Commentator
- Director of International Marketing
- Political Director
- Director of Surveys, Television Network
- Press Officer
- Education Reporter
- Professional Associations Administrator
- Equal Opportunity Coordinator
- Program Manager
- Field Officer, Human Rights Campaign
- Public Affairs Research Analyst
- Government/Politics Teacher
- Public Relations Specialist
- Government Relations Coordinator
- Research Analyst
- Human Resources Generalist/Specialist
- Student Affairs Administrator
- Information Manager
- Talk Radio Producer
- International Banker
- Television Program Producer
- International Correspondent
- Internet Site Content Contributor
- Writer for political parties/action committees
The outlook for careers in political science is projected to grow over the next few years and will require political scientists to have a breadth of knowledge and experience. Political scientists should be prepared to use their knowledge of political institutions for social and non-profit organizations and political lobbying.
Although there will be a greater demand for political science research to address an increased interest in foreign affairs, immigration and environmental issues, actual positions for political scientists, especially in the Federal government will become more competitive. Bachelor’s degree political scientists will have the best prospects and will be eligible for research, policy, and marketing positions that do not specifically advertise for political scientists.
Undergraduate coursework in political science includes a broad range of studies in social sciences and real world experiences that support the development of skills necessary for work in the field, including
- Critical and Analytical thinking skills
- Intellectual Curiosity and Creativity
- Work well under pressure
- Quantitative and qualitative analysis of information
- Effective and persuasive speaking
- Ability to compile and compare research reports
- Capacity to understand community needs
- Ability to work with a team and interact with diverse populations
- Ability to lead others and make decisions
- Capability to describe, evaluate and solve problems
- Conduct research and communicate findings in writings and presentations
Political Scientists need to be able to think logically and methodically and possess strong written oral and communication ability in order analyze complicated issues and to present research findings internally and to the public. Political Science researchers who are interested in organizing and conducting public opinion surveys and interpreting the results as part of their work will need a great knowledge of mathematical and quantitative research methods. To gain these skills, pursue courses in Mathematics and Statistics.
Employers of political scientists value the practical knowledge gained through internships and volunteer experiences. Political Scientists who are interested in working for election campaigns or in pursuing and elected or appointed position should be prepared to work extensively as a community volunteer or with a campaign while in college.
Also, pursue more specific career preparation strategies depending on the area of specialization in which you are interested. For example, political science students who are interested in positions in Federal, state, and local government should be familiar with the application process and timelines.
Hopkins Political Science alumni go into a variety of career fields. Since 2003 the Career Center has surveyed recent graduates about their academic and career plans 6 months after graduation. Here is a summary of their responses.
Hopkins Alumni in Political Science
Evelyn Jerome Alexander- Partner/CFO, SJA Strategies Political Science, Class of 1992
- Describe what you do and how you got started in your current career. - I ran political campaigns immediately after college and grad school. I transitioned into government relations/lobbying/public relations, which is what I do now at the local level. I continue to manage some small political campaigns, including small cities city council, initiative and school board elections, as well as judicial races, which are county-wide in Los Angeles.
- What is most rewarding about your job and/ or industry? What is most challenging? - It's rewarding to do a project for a client and have them appreciate the work that you have done. It's rewarding to win an election! Most challenging for me is the public relations aspect of my work, because no matter how hard you work, there is an element to pitching media coverage for a client or an event that is out of my control (i.e. if there's a car chase, my event gets bumped!). It is also rewarding that I am my own boss, working with a partner, but also challenging that I am responsible for bringing in income for our company.
- Is your career the same or different from what you had envisioned your career would be when you started at Hopkins as an undergraduate? How is it similar and/or different? What advice do you have for a Hopkins student entering your career field / industry? - Work hard and people will notice that you do good work. Give extra effort and for every piece of work that you submit, do it as if it were your name on the door. Take pride in everything you create.
Mike Rosenstein- Producer, NFL Network/NFL Films, Johns Hopkins University School of Arts & Sciences, Political Science and Sociology, Class of 1995, Master's in Broadcast Journalism
- Describe what you do and how you got started in your current career. - I oversee the budget and production of the show Playbook for NFL Network. I coordinate content, production elements, promotion, and graphics for the show.
- What is most rewarding about your job and/ or industry? - I go to work and talk about football... it's nice to have fun at work.
- Is your career the same or different from what you had envisioned your career would be when you started at Hopkins as an undergraduate? How is it similar and/or different? - Much different. I had been on a pre-law track, until deciding after graduation that I didn't want to be a lawyer.
- What advice do you have for a Hopkins student interested in entering your career field / industry? - Be ready to do the dirty work. Be ready for a less than attractive work schedule. You have to pay your dues in the beginning. But it's all worth it in the long run.
Jacoba Urist- Freelance writer, Political Science and Writing Seminars, Class of 1998, Institute for Policy Studies, J.D.
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - I have always wanted to be a writer and came to Johns Hopkins for the Writing Seminars program.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I went to graduate school (twice, a Masters and law school). I then practiced law and worked in private equity for three years before leaving to write full-time when I got a literary agent.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - I went to graduate school. So my first "real" job after college was actually after law school, working at a large Manhattan law firm.
- What advice do you have for current students, especially freshmen and sophomores? - Take any class that interests you. Don't worry about how it fits into your major or minor or what kind of grade you'll get in it or how it will look on your transcript. If it intrigues you, try it. Don't pick classes that you think fit a certain mold or will "help you" down the road or get into a better graduate school. Pick classes that make you excited to get up in the morning. One of my favorite seminars was called "the anthropology of garbage." who would have thought?
- What is your typical day like? - Ah! Writing full-time is hard. I wake up at 7:30, get coffee, take my dog to the park (I live in new york city). I make sure that I'm at my computer by 9:30. I write (editing at this point) for four hours before I take a break. I let myself check the internet for an hour before going back to work or going to any meetings that I might have in the afternoon. I then read from 4:00-8:00 during the week to keep up with current fiction. I try to get through a novel a week.
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? -
Rewarding: Getting to do what I've wanted to do since I was four years old. Write novels!
Challenging: There's lots of rejection. First from agents. Then from Editors and then ultimately, people can trash your book on Amazon. You have to grow a thick skin. It can also be lonely, working from home.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - I do not think there is any typical path. Just read and write a lot.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Not really an applicable question.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Read a lot. You have to love books. Also, you can always get great internships in New York in publishing. At large publishing houses, literary agencies- anything in the book business would be great to get to know the field.
- Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - Again, all writers are different. There is no real way to answer this question.
- What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Explore anything that inspires you. I can't say it enough. Just take a job that looks interesting. I was a lawyer for a few years and it forced me to read and write critically. Work at a magazine or a newspaper. Or a bank. Or go to graduate school. Do anything that appeals to you- but make sure you read and write all the time.
Additional Alumni Profiles
Networking with alumni and other professionals who work in these fields can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Use Johns Hopkins Connect to contact alumni to ask for their advice. You may also find professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family.
For more information on what you can do with a Political Science Major go to What can I do with a major in Political Science.
Want to know more? Read our Hopkins Career Profiles on Consulting, Teaching, NonProfit, and Media & Entertainment.
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For information on the specific programs, the best people to talk to are the experts in your field you wish to study, faculty members and graduate students in that specific discipline. We strongly encourage you to talk with your advisor and other faculty members with whom you have a good working relationship. This will also help when you request letters of recommendation. The Career Center has a handout to guide you in asking for letters of recommendation.