How do I Earn a Political Science PhD?

Elva K.
Elva K.
Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Doctoral level political science specialists study the functions of government, the actions of political leaders, and the development processes governments go through. Also, the work might involve doing quantitative or qualitative research pertaining to political issues. If you hope to get a political science PhD, you will generally need a college degree and a graduate degree.

For your undergraduate college preparation, getting a bachelor's degree in political science is recommended if you hope to eventually get a political science PhD. Getting a political science undergraduate degree is not an absolute requirement, however, it will demonstrate that you have strong political science interest and this could be helpful in the graduate school application process. Also, doing undergraduate coursework in political science will give you the background you need to successfully pursue graduate study.

While working on the bachelor's degree, try to become a professor's assistant if you hope to eventually become a political science PhD. Not all colleges offer undergraduate students the opportunity to assist a professor; however, if your school offers this opportunity, take it. Working with a professor will not only help you to gain valuable research experience but also it will demonstrate to prospective graduate schools that you are serious about getting a doctorate and pursuing a political science career.

After your bachelor's degree, it's best to work in a political science-related job for at least two years and then decide which political science graduate programs you want to apply to. The American Political Science Association (APSA) has a listing of schools that offer the political science doctorate. Look at that list and consider your budget. Read political science journals and note which programs are the best programs for your needs. Generate a list of schools that interest you and then narrow your list.

Apply for a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program. Submit your bachelor's degree academic transcripts and take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). Also, get letters of recommendation, write an application essay explaining why you want to pursue a PhD, fill out applications to schools you are interested in, and polish your interviewing skills in the event your school of choice wants to interview you as part of the application process.

Once you are accepted into a political science PhD program, successfully finish the required courses and complete any other necessary requirements. Most likely your political science PhD coursework will take three or four years. Then you will likely be required to pass a comprehensive exam where you will be asked to answer several questions pertaining to political science research and literature. Also, complete, defend, and publish the required dissertation which will involve you doing original research under the supervision of a dissertation committee chairperson and other committee members.

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Discussion Comments


@Soulfox -- The competition for a job as a political science professor is tough, indeed. But teaching isn't the only thing you can do with a PhD in political science. Campaign consultants, city planners and other people hold such doctorates.

Do most folks with political science doctorates wind up teaching? I am not sure about that, but I do know that the degree can be more flexible that is commonly believed.


A very good question is whether you actually want a PhD in political science and what you plan to do with it. It seems a lot of people getting doctorates in political science want to be college professors. That is a great career and that means there is a lot of competition for the few open jobs in that field out there.

It could be that you go to the right schools, get great grades, do plenty of volunteer work in your chosen field and still find it tough to get a career as a political science professor. That's not meant to be discouraging, but do think seriously before heading down that path.

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