Political Science Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

About this article
What are the pros and cons of a political science career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if a career in political science is right for you.
View available schools

Pros and Cons of a Career in Political Science

According to the American Political Science Association (APSA), political science is a multidisciplinary approach to studying government, political processes, national and global politics and public policy. Read below and see if a political science career is for you.

Political Scientist Legislator Social and Community Service Manager Survey Researcher
Career Overview Study and analyze the development and processes of politics and government Craft, debate and vote on laws for local, state or federal government Manage services for human service organizations Design and analyze public surveys for private or public organizations
Education and Training Requirements Master's or Ph.D. No explicit requirement; bachelor's degree common Bachelor's degree; master's preferred Bachelor's degree; master's or Ph.D. for technical or advanced research
Program Length 2-6 years beyond undergraduate degree 4 years 4-6 years 4-10 years
Additional/Other Training Teaching, research and an internship None None Internships
Certification and Licensing None required None required None required Optional certification from the Marketing Research Association
Experience Requirement 0-4 years depending on position 1-5 years of managerial, legal or civic experience 1-5 years of experience in social or community services 2-5 years
Job Outlook for 2012-22 Political science: 1,400 additional jobs expected (21% increase)* Legislator: 3,700 additional jobs expected (6% increase)* Social and community service manager: 28,000 additional jobs expected (21% increase)* Survey researcher: 3,200 additional jobs expected (18% increase)*
Mean Salary (May 2014) $104,000* $40,000* $68,000* $55,000*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Political Scientists

Political scientists are academics and researchers who study the political processes of government. They research political trends, concepts and events, collect data, evaluate policies and try to project outcomes or argue new theories about government. The government is one of the largest employers for political scientists, along with colleges and universities, research firms and political interest groups.

Requirements

Academically, political scientists begin their education with an undergraduate degree in government or politics. In addition to completing courses in policy, statistics, research methods and international relations, it is advised that you take advantage of internship opportunities with political organizations or government offices. After receiving a bachelor's degree, enrollment in a master's program or a doctoral program gives you the research skills necessary for careers in academia. Additionally, employers preferred political scientists with experience in legislative branch, government relations or corporation.

In November 2012, some employers of political scientists were looking for the following:

  • A private Florida university needs an adjunct political science professor for their adult education courses. The candidate needs to have experience teaching adult students and preferably a doctoral degree in political science.
  • A corporation in Washington, D.C., is seeking a government relations specialist to attend business coalition meetings, research regulatory issues and maintain compliance with finance laws. The ideal candidate will have an undergraduate degree in political science and 2-4 years of experience.
  • A California economic market research firm is looking for a political scientist to analyze data. The political scientist must have insight into public finance and government debt.

Standing Out

Employers value applicants with applied experience in the field. While completing your formal education, you may want to consider completing internship experiences, such as with legislative offices or non-profit firms, to supplement your competence in political affairs. Working on a congressional staff on policy issues or working on a political campaign conducting research and analyzing data can provide you with valuable experience in politics and legal issues important in the field. In addition to helping you in academic pursuits, applied experiences are typically required of political scientists working in the government or corporate sector.

Legislators

Legislators are the elected officials that help draft laws in local, state or federal governments. Working within the legislative branches of a government, legislators will debate one another, write bills, communicate with their electorate and sit on committees that explore and research political issues.

Requirements

Legislators typically have some level of post-secondary education in fields like political science, economics or business. Some legislators have graduate degrees in public administration, business or law. Knowing how to create policy and law through experience or courses in public administration, finance and legal studies are helpful for a candidate. In addition to education, legislators must have 1-5 years of work to demonstrate the decision-making, interpersonal, problem solving and negotiation skills necessary to succeed in legislative positions. According to the BLS, work experience can be in number of areas, such as law, management, business, politics or social service.

The BLS indicated that localities, state governments and the federal government all have a range of residency, citizenship and age requirements for legislators. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) sets up federal requirements for U.S. Senators and Representatives. Some of the requirements for federal office seekers include filling out a Statement of Candidacy form after you reach $5,000 in election donations and a Statement of Organization, which provides the FEC with information on how your campaign is structured. The United States Constitution explicitly states that Representatives to Congress must be 25 years of age, be a citizen to the United States for seven years and they must live within their state at the time of an election. For Senators, the Constitution states that the candidate must be 30 years of age, be a citizen of the United States for nine years and also live in the state they are seeking office in.

Standing Out

Successful legislators win campaigns by demonstrating their management and leadership skills, according to the BLS. Work done for community or social causes add to your work experience and management skills elevating your status as a potential candidate. Demonstrating your education and past work experience in business, law or in community government, such as being a member on school boards or local commissions, will also help you stand out in the field.

Social and Community Service Managers

Social and community service managers supervise organizations that promote public services. Many of these organizations may be non-profits that service particular populations, such as the homeless, the poor, women, children or veterans. Part of the responsibilities of a social and community service manager is to research the effectiveness of their management strategies and enforce new guidelines to providing services to those populations. Managers investigate ways to seek funding and balance their budgets.

Requirements

Social and community service managers have bachelor's degrees in social work, urban studies or public administration. Some employers may prefer a candidate who holds a master's degree. Political science programs with coursework in statistics, policy analysis and public administration may also lead to this career. Experience in the field is typically required for management positions.

In November 2012, social and community service firms were looking for managers with these qualities:

  • A Florida non-profit needs a community service manager to help with the status of refugees. A bachelor's degree, cross-cultural sensitivity and communication skills were necessary. The organization helps refugees enter the United States and have their legal rights protected.
  • A New York veterans fund needs a program director. The program director needs to work with federal veteran organizations to help the non-profit provide care and services to homeless veterans. Past work with veterans and a compassionate attitude, as well as a bachelor's degree were some requirements of the job.
  • The government of Louisiana was looking for a community service manager with a bachelor's degree and professional level experience in social services. The candidate is responsible for assisting with annual budgets, preparing reports, conducting staff meetings and reviewing legislation.

Standing Out

One of the most important skills to have as a social and community service manager includes excellent people skills. Since your occupation deals with specific populations, you need to demonstrate your ability to emphasize and be sensitive to the concerns of people. Within your degree program, you may choose to complete elective communications courses that can bolster your written and verbal communication skills.

Since experience is preferred for candidates who wish to hold a management position, you may want to consider completing a lower level or similar occupation to gain experience. For example, you can gain entry-level caseworker positions at social and community service organizations and build your leadership and management skills by taking on more difficult tasks.

Survey Researchers

Survey researchers conduct surveys and analyze the data attained from these surveys. They may create surveys to measure public opinion or to formulate marketing strategies for businesses. They are also responsible for conducting background research, testing their surveys, accounting for sampling issues and evaluating surveying methods.

Requirements

Survey researchers typically hold a bachelor's degree in a field, such as political science, which emphasizes statistics, research methods and survey methodology. Business courses that emphasis consumer behavior and marketing, as well as internships are helpful. In most cases, employers prefer a master's degree. In addition to formal education, many job postings listed 2-5 years of work experience as a career requirement.

In November 2012, research firms were looking for survey researchers with these qualities:

  • An Arizona healthcare quality research firm wanted a measure analyst who can analyze the data from surveys. The analyst needed a bachelor's degree, 5 years of experience and excellent communication skills.
  • An Illinois education firm needed a survey analyst who helps university and college clients with their program and course evaluations. Candidates must demonstrate research skills and the ability to manage surveying departments through formal education and 2 years of experience.
  • A Tennessee healthcare research firm wanted a survey and data analyst who could setup survey reports. The analyst needed to establish the sampling pool for the survey research, create the surveys and use computer technology to send out the surveys to clients. The preferred candidate would hold a college degree and working knowledge of SQL servers.

Standing Out

Survey researchers can stand out by earning certification. One association that provides certification is the Marketing Research Association (MRA), which provides certification to candidates who have 3 years of public opinion polling experience and can pass the MRA examination. Being detail-oriented is also important for a survey research career since every piece of information is needed to create a thorough analysis of survey results.

Additionally, the BLS indicated one way to enhance your skills is to seek internships when you are in college. Internships provide you with the experience needed for field research and the proper ways to create survey questions.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. American University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Public Administration and Policy
      • Master of Public Administration and Policy
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Government
      • Master of Arts in Government - American Government
      • Master of Arts in Government - Political Theory
      • Master of Arts in Government - Religion and Politics
      • Master of Public Administration - Federal Government
      • Master of Public Administration - Law
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Arts in Government - American Government and Politics
      • Bachelor of Arts in Political Communication
      • Bachelor of Arts in Politics and History
      • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Government
      • Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies
      • Bachelor of Arts in Government - Pre-Law
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MA in Public Management
      • Master of Arts in Government
      • Master of Liberal Arts
  • Online Programs Available
    4. University of Delaware

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Public Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • DMFT - Military Family Therapy
    Master's
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Public Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Public Admin
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Liberal Studies Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Saint Leo University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BA: Liberal Studies
    Associate's
      • AA: Liberal Arts
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Colorado Christian University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Public Administration, MPA
    Associate's
      • General Studies, A.A.
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Baker College Online

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • General Studies - Bachelor
  • Online Programs Available
    10. University of the Southwest

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Public Administration

Featured Schools

American University

  • Master of Public Administration and Policy

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Government
  • Master of Arts in Government - American Government
  • Bachelor of Arts in Government - American Government and Politics
  • Bachelor of Arts in Political Communication

What is your highest level of education completed?

Johns Hopkins University

  • MA in Public Management
  • Master of Arts in Government
  • Master of Liberal Arts

What is your highest level of education?

University of Delaware

  • Master of Public Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Northcentral University

  • DMFT - Military Family Therapy
  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Public Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • Master of Public Admin
  • BS in Liberal Studies Leadership

Which subject are you interested in?

Saint Leo University

  • BA: Liberal Studies
  • AA: Liberal Arts

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado Christian University

  • Public Administration, MPA
  • General Studies, A.A.

What is your highest level of education completed?