One of the most popular majors across all U.S. colleges and universities, political science entails much more than sitting in a circle and debating.
Field experience is a common component of many institutions’ curricula, and political science majors can apply for internships within federal, state, and nonprofit entities.
Political science departments in the United States generally offer three to five concentrations where undergraduates can specialize.
These include areas like international relations, public policy, and American politics.
Recently, more schools have added data science concentrations to their curriculum, prompting students to develop strong backgrounds in developing models and examining trends in social behavior.
The ten best political science schools are esteemed for their award-winning faculty cohorts, innovative centers and institutions, and experiential opportunities (like study abroad programs and internships).
Research is paramount within the curriculum, and many political science majors will conduct an independent research project alongside a faculty mentor.
Political science majors work in diverse fields at the government level but also within the business world, academia, and non-profit realm.
We have created a list of the top 10 best political science schools in the United States, representing all geographical areas of the country.
This ranking is an aggregate “averaged-out review” based on where each school stands in a number of other lists published by college information websites. Sources are at the end of the article.
Read on to find out more about the best political science schools in the country!
10. Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN)
At Vanderbilt, students can major in political science or choose from three minors: American politics, world politics, or political theory.
Most graduates (37%) enter the private sector, where they are involved in data analysis, social media, finance, and public relations. 28% proceed to law school, and 8% join a non-profit organization centered around climate policy, human rights, or election integrity.
Undergraduates have access to a catalog of intriguing courses, many of which are focused on current issues in the political realm.
In PSCI 3265, students examine the role of human rights in struggles against injustice. There is even a course on the rise of populist parties in advanced democracies.
Several noteworthy centers are dedicated to political science on Vanderbilt’s campus, including the Researching on Conflict and Collective Action (ROCCA) Lab.
Here, undergraduates collaborate with graduate students and faculty members to engage in research on political violence and collective responses.
Many students choose to complete an honors thesis or even participate in paid research funded by the Immersion Vanderbilt program.
9. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)
MIT has many exceptional programs outside of computer science, including its major in political science.
The school is dedicated to allowing students to conduct field research in U.S. voting booths and other political settings in countries like China, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
All political science majors enroll in a political science lab in their junior year of study. They use quantitative methods to conduct public opinion polls, analyze voting behavior, and compare democratic processes among three or more countries. While many schools require a senior thesis, MIT’s senior thesis is optional.
The MIT Washington Program is one of MIT’s flagship initiatives. Accepted undergraduates get housing and a stipend to conduct research during a spring break excursion to the U.S. capital.
While some programs relegate participants to menial tasks, the MIT Washington program places students in the room where important decisions are made.
Students attend meetings on Capitol Hill and report their key takeaways from relevant hearings throughout the city.
8. University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
Penn has witnessed a recent surge in students majoring in political science and has therefore increased its political science faculty by 50%!
Undergraduates select among four concentrations in international relations, comparative politics, American politics, and political theory.
Within the American politics field, students examine issues like political polling dynamics, the politics of food and agriculture, and the science of who gets elected and why.
One of the political science department’s strengths is its available hands-on field experience opportunities.
Penn’s newest undergraduate research initiative – The Penn Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies (PORES) – charges students with researching current, pivotal issues in the U.S. and international political spheres.
In various internships, students can gain valuable experience working in places like the U.S. Department of Education, the House Budget Committee, and the White House Office of Public Engagement (among tens of other locations in Washington, D.C.!)
7. University of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
Some of the most esteemed leaders in political thought have walked the halls of UChicago’s Department of Political Science, including Herbert Simon, the first political scientist to receive a Nobel Prize.
Intent on remaining at the forefront of innovation in political science, the university regularly designs workshops focused on contemporary political issues, such as the Historical Capitalisms & Social Theory Workshop.
Undergraduates take an intersectional approach to analyzing the different iterations of capitalism throughout history to make predictions regarding the future of nations.
The school values exceptional writing skills and thus requires all students to produce a BA Thesis or Long Paper. The latter is typically written within a chosen political science course and exceeds 20 pages in length.
6. Duke University (Durham, NC)
Duke redesigned its political science major in the fall of 2022 to emphasize honing advanced data science techniques and gaining familiarity with various analytical tools.
One of the department’s assets is its highly qualified faculty.
Professors have previously been named Fulbright Scholars, held leadership positions at the National Security Council, and even served in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Many undergraduates elect to double-major in political science and other areas, like mathematics, economics, or philosophy.
Upon graduating, majors enjoy fulfilling careers in think tanks, media organizations, and public administration.
Various internships place students in the room where vital decision-making occurs, and many students choose to study abroad in places like Denmark, Russia, and South Africa.
The curriculum features several concentrations, including Security, Peace, and Conflict. Within this field, undergraduates take part in thought-provoking classes that examine the politics of authoritarian regimes, terrorism, and global corruption – all critical issues in the 21st century.
5. Georgetown University (Washington, DC)
Georgetown’s proximity to political institutions like the U.S. Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and the World Bank means that political science majors can access a long roster of internships. Undergraduates choose between two majors: government or political economy.
The government major features an integrated writing requirement, where students complete writing assignments of various lengths in the form of policy briefs, critical papers, and case studies.
Those with a GPA exceeding 3.5 can apply for the Government Honors Program in the fall of their junior year. If accepted, they will engage in a research seminar and write a senior thesis.
Should a student desire to complete a master’s degree, they can enroll in the accelerated BA/MA in American government.
In the fifth (and final) year of study, they will serve as an apprentice in an area of interest. Opportunities like the Political Science Predoctoral Summer Institute pay for students to conduct independent research within the context of a Washington, D.C. government entity.
4. Stanford University (Stanford, CA)
Representing the west coast, Stanford’s political science program prompts students to develop proficiency in qualitative and quantitative methods of examining political behavior, public policy, and the design of government institutions.
Graduates will leave Stanford prepared to thrive in nonprofit, academic, business, and government careers.
The data science track is one of five offerings and engages students in studying algorithms to predict political phenomena.
One class – Games Developing Nations Play – uses a game-based approach to challenge students to answer questions like why developing economies fail to produce high-income levels, why violence is so common in those areas, and what flaws exist in their evolving systems.
One of many programs created to enhance the undergraduate experience, the Stanford Civics Initiative (SCI) affords students opportunities to discuss barriers to becoming a U.S. citizen and propose ethical solutions for creating pathways to citizenship.
3. Princeton University (Princeton, NJ)
You’ll surely recognize some of Princeton’s political science alumni. Former U.S. Attorney and FBI Director Robert Mueller graduated from Princeton, as did Chair of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell.
The political science department is one of the largest within the university, housing approximately 150 undergraduates and 140 graduate students.
Despite its size, classes remain intimate. Undergraduates complete their junior papers and senior theses under the guidance of one (or more) faculty members.
Courses like Mass Media, Social Media, and American Politics compel students to analyze the role of the media in electoral campaigns and shaping the behavior of elected politicians, while in Causes of War, undergraduates investigate the reasons states enter war and propose ways to avoid it.
Various centers and institutions give students the opportunity to examine political problems in depth, hone their technical writing skills, and engage in Socratic dialogue.
For example, the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice is a think tank whose goal is to promote peace and respect for cultural differences across national borders.
Political science majors can attend panels, conferences, and workshops focused on nationalism, identity politics, and other topics related to international conflicts.
2. Yale University (New Haven, CT)
More than 400 undergraduates pursue a political science degree at Yale, making it the school’s second-largest major.
One aspect that sets Yale’s political science department apart from others is that it allows undergraduates to declare their major at any time in their four years of study.
Students can complete a standard, intensive (accelerated), or interdisciplinary major in one of five concentrations.
All political science majors will complete a senior essay over one or two semesters and are eligible for awards like the American Political System Frank M. Patterson Prize, which grants an award to an essay writer whose work upholds the pillars of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Winning essays have covered various topics, from migration-based warfare in Europe and the role of dissent in U.S. law to how dark corporate money can weaken democracy.
Additionally, students can attend enlightening lectures offered through the American & Comparative Political Behavior Workshop, where speakers share insights on topics like antisemitic attitudes toward young Americans and the ideology of political divides.
1. Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)
Harvard University features the largest political science undergraduate population on this list, with more than 450 pursuing a degree in concentrations like public policy and tech science.
In the former realm, political science majors interpret the ways in which technology resolves or worsens social conflicts.
Participants gain expertise in discovering issues, assessing risks, and creating prototypes to remedy problems.
Students can conduct independent research by enrolling in GOV 92R.
Each political science major can explore and write about a topic of their choice, such as the politics of building large infrastructure projects, the ramifications of wealth concentration in China, and how social and cultural factors converged to initiate a wave of Republican radicalization.
Summer opportunities for political science majors abound in and outside of Cambridge. Through the PBHA’s Summer Urban Program, Harvard students direct and staff ten summer camps across Boston.
Students interested in entering public service can choose from summer internships offered through Harvard’s Institute of Politics.
Such experiences are acclaimed for preparing political science majors to transition to stimulating careers in various niches.
Sources for this ranking