Why a Political Science Degree Can Offer a Path to an Interesting and Worthwhile Career
Truly meaningful careers are built on a foundation of determined optimism and practical knowledge. It's why a political science degree can be such a powerful educational choice. Having a deep understanding of this field provides the chance to help make life better for all of us by working within the enlightened system that was conceived by America's forefathers.
In fact, the field of politics involves more than just election campaigns, legislation, and policy matters. By studying in this area, you're also likely to learn about captivating subjects like:
- Foreign relations
- Public opinion and behavior
- The impact of mass media
- Cultural, ethical, and environmental issues
- Law and justice
Imagine serving your fellow citizens as a community organizer, policy advocate, or government official. The potential career paths are extremely diverse and wide-ranging. Some political science graduates even find success as journalists, business advisors, and legal consultants. Take a moment right now to look closer at 12 worthwhile career possibilities that you could pursue.
Political Science Careers That Could Appeal to You
Studying political science could broaden your understanding of cultural, economic, political, and social issues. You may even develop expertise in areas related to global and international matters. A career in political science can be appealing to people just like you who are interested in a wide range of issues and topics that affect the masses.
Earning a political science degree can help you develop solid analytical, communication, critical-thinking, and writing abilities. And those skills are important since many political science careers involve analyzing and interpreting data, communicating with many people from all types of backgrounds, coming up with reasonable and logical solutions to problems, and writing reports, papers, and even legislation.
Political science is a broad field of study. For this reason, it can provide you with a variety of career options. Below you can find a list of 12 political science career possibilities that you may be able to pursue with a bachelor's degree or other combination of relevant education and experience.
(Note that, unless otherwise cited, the salary information provided is based on 2014 data.* And the job-growth estimates reflect the 2014-to-2024 period.**)
Economists look at the ways that we use resources to produce goods and services. They conduct economic analysis on a range of issues covering everything from education and healthcare to employment and the environment. Most economists will focus on one particular area of interest, such as agriculture, energy, finance, natural resources, real estate, or transportation.
You could spend your time collecting and analyzing data and preparing reports on a specific topic. You may also review historical data and predict future trends. Your work could contribute to the development of public policies or could provide solutions for economic problems. You could be analyzing the economic impact of laws and regulations, the effect of changes in tax or interest rates, or issues pertaining to consumer demand and sales. You may analyze an almost endless array of topics throughout your career.
Economists are largely employed by local, state, and federal government departments. However, positions can also be found within businesses and research organizations. A bachelor's degree can open the door to entry-level jobs, but more advanced positions will usually require a master's degree or higher.
- Average yearly pay—$105,290
- Top pay—$170,780 and higher
- Anticipated job growth—Six percent
2. Political Scientist
Political scientists possess expertise in public policy and international relations, and they often spend their time dealing with a variety of political issues and processes. Their purpose is to share a scientific view that is both objective and impartial, whether they are looking at formal laws and regulations or economics and public opinions. As a political scientist, you could help shape social and economic policies, raise public awareness of important issues, educate government officials and the public, and use information to promote change in just about any area from poverty to public governance.
Because political science is such a broad field, most political scientists will choose a subfield to focus on. That could involve studying a country's institutions (such as the American government), comparative politics (like democracies compared to republics), international relations, political theory, or the effects of economic policy and public regulations on industry.
Many political scientists are employed in academic settings where they conduct research, publish studies in journals or books, and teach classes. However, you could also find work providing political advice to government departments or organizations, offering expert political commentary through media outlets (as a broadcaster or journalist), or joining the staff of a political office.
- Average yearly pay—$104,000
- Top pay—$153,960 and higher
- Anticipated job growth—27.5 percent in management, scientific, and technical consulting services; eight percent in grant-making and giving services and social advocacy organizations; 4.7 percent in educational services; and 4.4 percent in state and local government departments
3. Financial Analyst
As a financial analyst, you could find yourself researching economic, industrial, and specific company-related conditions in order to make financial recommendations for one particular business or an entire industry. In this role, you will likely evaluate financial situations, prepare reports, stay on top of current financial trends, and even forecast future conditions. You could offer advice about financial decisions, including those related to the buying and selling of company stock. And, as a financial and investment specialist, you may even share your expertise in risk management.
Most financial analysts work at banks, investment firms, or insurance companies. You may work in a position where you have multiple clients that you advise. Or you could work for only one company where you oversee areas related to cash flow, investments, and mergers and acquisitions.
- Average yearly pay—$92,250
- Top pay—$154,680 and higher
- Anticipated job growth—12 percent
4. Management Analyst
Sometimes called management consultants, management analysts help organizations improve their performance through measures such as increasing profitability or cutting costs. In doing so, you can help organizations become more efficient and competitive. You could find yourself immersed in a number of different industries, or you may develop expertise in one specific area, such as healthcare or technology.
Once you have determined the problems within an organization, you will conduct extensive research, develop action plans, and assist management and staff with implementing and assessing the success of the recommended changes. You could be analyzing anything from finances and software systems to human resources and organizational behavior.
You could find job opportunities with firms that provide analysis and consulting services, or you may choose to become self-employed and contract your services out to organizations. Either way, you can expect to work with many different clients and enjoy the variety and diversity that comes with each project. Due to the complex and broad nature of the work, this occupation tends to be a career path that requires several years of related work experience backed with either a bachelor's or master's degree.
- Average yearly pay—$90,860
- Top pay—$148,110 and higher
- Anticipated job growth—14 percent
5. Foreign Service Officer
Becoming a Foreign Service Officer (also known as a diplomat) is good for individuals who are passionate about public service and desire a career in which they can make a difference around the world. This is a high-level government-service job that involves extensive foreign travel since you work at American embassy locations around the world. You have to be willing to move between countries on a regular basis, and locations vary in their levels of danger and excitement.
You could end up working at any of the more than 270 U.S. embassies, consulates, or diplomatic missions around the world promoting the interests of the United States while encouraging peace and assisting and protecting overseas American citizens. Every new location comes with additional skills training, such as developing new language skills and learning about local cultural issues. Depending on the location of your job, you may even participate in things like combat first aid and hostage-awareness training.
Embassies operate somewhat like businesses, and they can be involved in anything from social development and women's rights to business and infrastructure development. This means that the jobs within each embassy are just as varied. You could work in areas like engineering, finance, HR, logistics, security, or technology. Economic, political, and public-diplomacy career paths are also available.
The work of a Foreign Service Officer is both interesting and meaningful, and the positions come with great benefits. Overseas housing is included, and, in most cases, your spouse and children are able to travel on assignment with you. And your children will have their schooling paid for as well.
- Average yearly pay—$88,734***
- Top pay—$144,951 and higher***
6. Operations Research Analyst
Operations research analysts rely on their strong analytical, mathematical, and statistical skills in order to help organizations overcome their problems and operate more efficiently and profitably. Similar to the role of a management analyst, an operations research analyst determines the problems that organizations are facing, performs in-depth research and analysis, and provides solutions. However, operations research analysts rely more heavily on tools like statistical analysis, predictive modeling, and simulations.
You will likely use sophisticated software systems to predict scenarios and analyze different courses of action. You do this to look at the benefits and costs of each solution in order to determine which approach will offer the best results. You could be examining anything from how to improve the efficiency of a supply chain to what price levels are optimal for a company's products and services.
Positions can be found within businesses, government departments, and international organizations. If you are working in industry, it will likely be for a firm that offers operations analysis services, so your clients and projects will always be changing. And if you are working for government, you may move around between departments and agencies on an as-needed basis.
- Average yearly pay—$82,940
- Top pay—$132,220 and higher
- Anticipated job growth—30 percent
7. Market Research Analyst
Market research analysts focus on analyzing competitor and consumer data. They assist companies with defining their target markets, determining the kinds of products and services that their customers desire, and discovering how much those customers are willing to spend. You could spend your time looking at marketing and sales trends and comparing them against an organization's current marketing strategies.
You could be responsible for collecting and analyzing a wide range of marketing data, preparing reports to present your findings, and providing recommendations that could include suggestions to add new products or services, adjust prices, change advertising campaigns, or adjust overall marketing strategies. It is most likely that you will find work with a marketing firm that offers services to a large number of clients. Or you could become self-employed and secure your own contracts.
- Average yearly pay—$68,700
- Top pay—$116,740 and higher
- Anticipated job growth—19 percent
8. Social and Community Service Manager
Social and community service managers typically oversee social service and community outreach programs. They develop budgets and policies, plan and direct an organization's activities, and may even direct the work of counselors, social workers, and probation officers. Some of the areas that you could be responsible for include:
- Reviewing program development and participant involvement
- Allocating resources to programs and ensuring that staff are being used efficiently
- Recruiting and hiring volunteers and staff
- Maintaining records
- Preparing reports
- Applying for grants
- Directing fundraising activities
- Maintaining community and government relationships
- Developing organizational policies, administrative procedures, and training manuals
You could find job opportunities within social and human service organizations, non-profits, and government agencies. And you could work in areas ranging from child and family services to community outreach to adult daycare.
- Average yearly pay—$67,730
- Top pay—$104,540 and higher
- Anticipated job growth—10 percent
Lobbyists are activists who work for groups or organizations that want to persuade elected government representatives to enact legislation that is in the organizations' best interests. As a professional lobbyist, you can expect to spend a great deal of time researching legislation and regulations, attending government activities (like congressional hearings), and working to educate government officials. You may also hold meetings with government officials or entertain them by taking them out to dinner or inviting them to events in an effort to win them over.
Lobbyists also work to sway public opinion through advertising and marketing campaigns because, with the public on their side, they can create upward pressure on government officials. You could also contact the media in an effort to get attention for the issue that you are trying to promote. Due to the sensitive nature of lobbying activity, it is heavily regulated to ensure that all activities are both ethical and legal.
Many different companies invest in lobbying the government, so you could find a lot of diverse job opportunities. For example, it has been reported that, as of 2015, the top 10 industries that lobby the government are pharmaceuticals, insurance, oil and gas, business associations, electronics manufacturing and equipment, electric utilities, manufacturing and distribution, securities and investment, hospitals/nursing homes, and health professionals.****
- Average yearly pay—$66,429***
- Top pay—$130,309 and higher***
10. Political Aide
In general, political aides are the people who do the legwork for politicians, and they can play key roles in political decision-making processes. In this occupation, you will work alongside one politician and will move offices as his or her political career advances. You can expect to spend a significant amount of time conducting research pertaining to legislation, polling reports, public opinion, and even other politicians' opinions. Once you have conducted your research, it is likely that you will prepare a report and provide media talking points.
Political aides who hold senior roles can also be responsible for writing speeches based on what the political party wants to get across and what the public wants to hear. In a senior role, you could also assist with drafting legislation and negotiation briefs. Since political work is quite complex, politicians usually require several staff members to assist them.
- Average yearly pay—$57,678†
11. Policy Analyst
Policy analysts research, formulate, and analyze new or existing policies. If you are working in the area of new policies, you will research current policies that are in place (or the lack of existing policies), and determine the changes that should be made. You will report on your findings and may even assist with drafting the policy language. If you are focusing on existing policies, you will research a policy's effect on the public and whether there are areas that need to be improved. You may also collect and report on opinions from the public, businesses, and other policy analysts.
Being thorough and detailed is critical in this line of work. You must look at all aspects of a policy's applications and consequences. You may also choose to focus on one specific area of policy, such as employment, environment, or immigration. Although most job opportunities are found within government agencies, you may also find work with media outlets or non-profit organizations.
- Average yearly pay—$54,909***
- Top pay—$83,219 and higher***
12. Survey Researcher
Survey researchers determine public opinion about a particular topic, or they collect factual data such as employment statistics. You could work closely with marketing and advertising professionals to look at areas like how to best sell a new product or target a specific consumer demographic. Or you could work with government officials to uncover items like specific public health issues. This career path could have you examining just about anything from politics and the economy to education and healthcare.
Whatever issue you are involved with, you will start out by determining exactly what information you want to collect. Then you will design a survey, create and test the questions, pick the best means to distribute the survey (e.g., by phone, online, through the mail, etc.), decide how to select a sample target group, and put controls in place for potential problems or errors. Once you have collected all of your survey data, you will compile and analyze the data and prepare a report.
Most survey research jobs are found within advertising and marketing firms, educational institutions, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and political groups and organizations.
- Average yearly pay—$54,730
- Top pay—$95,070 and higher
- Anticipated job growth—12 percent
Put Yourself on a Meaningful Career Path Today
Here's the bottom line: The world might have many problems. But you can be part of the solutions. So start taking action right now. Discover top political science schools by searching with your current zip code!
* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on March 31, 2016.
** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, website last visited on March 31, 2016.
*** PayScale, website last visited on March 31, 2016.
**** The Center for Responsive Politics, website last visited on March 31, 2016.
† Salary Expert, Political Aide Salary in United States, website last visited on February 21, 2017.