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Why Study Political Science?

The study of politics is both humanistic and scientific, and is centuries old. Aristotle called it the "queen of the sciences". The American Constitution reveals a joining of political theory with the pragmatic formation of political institutions and practices. Today’s political research involves highly scientific and rigorous attempts to understand human behavior and world events. The study of political science prepares one not only for employment, but for life as an informed citizen ready to participate in political activities within interest groups or political parties; related to community organization and political advocacy; or even service as an elected or appointed official.

The major in political science offers a solid undergraduate education in the liberal arts and sciences. Such study prepares the graduate for a variety of careers by emphasizing the acquisition of skills in communication and analysis; and by encouraging independent thought, tolerance, and informed interest in current affairs. The ability to define a problem and contribute to its solution is highly valued in a variety of employment settings, as are skills in writing, research, and evaluation. These are the very elements that characterize a liberal arts education, like that offered in the political science major at FSU. Today’s graduate can expect to change jobs a number of times, and even to have more than one career, and political science is excellent preparation for the flexibility required in this modern employment market. More specifically, the study of political science provides background for careers in government at the local, state, and national levels; in international organizations; political campaigns; interest groups and lobbying organizations; journalism; business; and law.

The federal government is the country’s largest employer, using a vast variety of employees in terms of the skills and abilities they hold and their levels of responsibility. Advancement within the federal government system is more likely than entering at a relatively high position. Historically, job security, pay, and benefits associated with federal employment are quite good. Agencies do not expect new employees to enter with skills or knowledge specific to the job at hand. They look for individuals who can learn quickly, work as part of a team, and have basic understanding of the policy process and the operations of the national government. Course work on the executive branch, Congress, and the courts; on the policy process; on the activities of interest groups and political parties; and on the role of the media can be valuable.

Local and state governments provide services in nearly every area of citizens’ lives. Increased professionalizing of appointments is apparent at the local and state levels. Courses on state and urban government, public policy, and public administration would be especially valuable. The skills acquired in statistics courses and the experience an internship can provide are highly applicable at the local and state levels.

Interest groups and associations (labor unions, churches, corporations, grassroots organizations, etc.) are represented in Washington DC and in most state capitals. Expertise in public policy formation and analysis are especially prized, with many employees having a background in government service. While experience is a key element in this field, students might want to choose classes that will give them a full understanding of the American political process, background on interest groups in general, and an understanding of the public policy process.

International businesses and organizations offer a range of careers, with a growing demand for those who bring with them an understanding of the political and regulatory environment in which business is done. Political science majors with this sort of career in mind should include study in comparative politics, international relations and organizations, public policy, political development, and interest group politics. Students should choose elective courses or a minor that can train them in basic economic, statistics, computer science, or international trade.

Careers in campaign management and political polling can be pursued in political parties, individual campaigns, or a consulting firm. A person interested in this sort of career should acquire a thorough understanding of the American political system, taking courses on parties, elections, public opinion, and voting behavior; as well as acquiring skills in writing and data analysis. Given that there are over half a million campaigns in the United States annually, entry level jobs with long hours, low pay, and enormous demands are numerous. A typical career would start with an individual campaign, move to a statewide or national campaign, and then to a consulting firm, where security and pay are considerably more comfortable.

Some lawyers engage in private practice on their own or in a firm with dozens of attorneys; while others are employed by corporations, government, and organizations. Some individuals with legal training work in other areas such as corporate or public management. Primary factors for admission to law school are the student’s undergraduate grade point average and LSAT score. The content of their course work is important to the extent that it prepares them for the activities law students and lawyers undertake. Political science courses generally offer these experiences in that they include critical analysis and experience in writing; and some courses specifically deal with subject matter related to the law and the legal process.

A career in journalism is focused, of course, on the ability to communicate, especially in writing. Beyond that, the understanding of society and individuals that a liberal arts education can impart is paramount. This should include course work in such fields as political science, history, economics, and sociology. Depending on an individual’s area of interest, courses in comparative government and international relations might be valuable; and certainly, a basic understanding of the American political system would be indispensable. Participation on the staff of a school or group newspaper or campus broadcasting would be excellent experience.