It might seem like a political science undergraduate degree would prepare you primarily for a career in politics. However, there are four million professionals with poli sci degrees—and their jobs range from attorneys to social workers to financial analysts. If you’re considering the major, or if you’re currently a major and hoping to do something other than work in government or as a poli sci teacher, you’ll be relieved to know that it’ll set you up to succeed in plenty of other jobs.
“What drew me to political science was the content, my professors, and the way we used writing, analytical skills, presentations, and engagement on a different level than a lecture,” says Tim Birmingham, who studied poli sci at St. Michael’s College, now owns a career coaching business, and works with students at his alma mater. Although he doesn’t work in politics, he uses the skills from his major every day. “Resumes and cover letters are persuasive pieces. You’re helping people understand their value and communicating that.”
The skills you gain studying political science—or something very similar, such as government, international affairs, or public policy—could make you marketable for a variety of roles. Here’s how—and which jobs you might want to consider.
4 Top Skills You Gain as a Political Science Major
Political science is actually underrated as a practical major, Birmingham argues: “It’s one of the most adaptable and versatile credentials for undergrads because it covers a variety of skills and topics: critical thinking, research, analysis, presentations, and discussion. You can apply that to a lot of career paths.” Here are some of the most transferable skills you’ll hone:
- Research: Much like with a history major, research is fundamental to a political science degree. In learning about politics in the United States and/or the world, you’re diving deeply into the study of power, organizational behavior, social and economic norms, and a multitude of political and moral viewpoints to subsequently understand how and why laws are put forward, passed, and upheld. “[Political science majors] understand, keenly, the role of various types of institutions in our lives and how society interacts with those institutions (for better or worse),” says Elizabeth Schill, manager of employer relations and industry advising for government, nonprofit, and education careers at Georgetown University. You have experience finding and using primary sources, studying a particular theory or historical event, and developing a working hypothesis in a research paper.
- Analysis: As a poli sci major, you’re likely to be analyzing data or qualitative information, then using those sources and numbers in the service of your research. Census data, surveys or polling numbers, interviews, case studies, and other primary and secondary sources might give you evidence to support a claim. Being able to not just understand facts and figures but also put them in context, grasp their implications, and use them to support a particular argument or perspective is at the heart of political science.
- Debate and public speaking: Political science majors learn to understand viewpoints, critique them, and argue for and against them. This training occurs directly with a professor during class, between students as part of formal or informal debate, or as part of a presentation assignment. It also dovetails with research for an independent project or thesis, in which you’re looking to develop a new perspective on an existing topic. Regardless of the format, the major teaches you how to make a compelling argument (using techniques like logos, pathos, and ethos), persuade an audience, and speak publicly, both spontaneously and with prepared notes.
- Written and verbal communication: All of these skills come together when you need to take what you’ve learned and communicate it in an organized way. A research paper can be several things at once: a way to show how much research you’ve done, a compelling argument that might look at an issue with new eyes, and a deeply structured learning tool that convinces others of that argument with step-by-step points. The same can be said of any form of communication, from presentations to group discussions: Political science involves all kinds and methods of conveyance, on a variety of topics, with all different sorts of people who may disagree with you.
How can you apply these skills in your career and which real-world professions would be a particularly good fit for a political science major? Check out these 10 jobs—only two of which require an advanced degree. The salary information comes from PayScale and reflects numbers from April 2021 (their database is updated nightly):
1. Political Reporter
Average salary: $41,249
Salary range: $26,000–$79,000
Political journalists report on breaking news in politics (sometimes at the national level in DC but also at the state and local level) and can also work on more long-form content like investigations, features, profiles, and explainer stories. They may work full-time in newsrooms or on a per-story basis as freelancers. They can have a particular beat (or focus)—such as a particular election, candidate, or topic—or simply take on general assignments across political topics.
In practice, the job entails interviewing people, researching, collecting data, looking for new stories, covering live events, and sometimes even following a politician around throughout their campaign. Political science majors know how to write, research, talk to people, and debate, and if you care about politics, this is one of the best ways to not just engage with the subject but to actively contribute to informing readers (and voters) and holding those in power accountable. Interested students often get into journalism as a fellow or intern and work their way up.
2. Social Media Manager
Average salary: $51,585
Salary range: $35,000–$79,000
This job can encompass anything and everything around running social media accounts for a business, nonprofit, person, or group. “Social media marketing can be on a political campaign—or not—but it requires those analytical skills,” Birmingham says, along with the ability to communicate and persuade. You might need to come up with ideas for content; write captions for posts; take photos; respond in real time to questions from users, constituents, or customers online; share and promote services or content; grow the accounts’ followers; and otherwise engage with an audience.
Lots of employers and public figures know they need social media accounts but don’t know what to do with them, so you can start as an intern, a social media coordinator, or a marketing assistant and build your career from there. You’ll use the accounts to engage with an audience and be responsive to questions, concerns, and complaints. A social media manager is even more important now that brands and organizations must address diversity and inclusion and other pressing matters every day. If you’re a poli sci major who understands the current internet culture, can research an audience’s needs, and is able to speak its language via social media, this role might make good use of some of your skills.
Average salary: $85,920
Salary range: $51,000–$158,000
The sky’s the limit on what you could do with a law degree, which may be why law school is such a popular track for poli sci majors. You could become a lobbyist or work with a representative to craft legislation at the local, state, or national level. You could be a trial lawyer, defending clients in civil or criminal cases. You could be a corporate lawyer working out arbitration for a business. You could be working with individuals trying to get visas or with a nonprofit to get laws passed to combat the climate crisis.
The aptitude for, and love of, debate make law an intuitive fit for a poli sci major. The ability to research, analyze, and deeply understand a situation and then craft and communicate compelling arguments are crucial to work your way up as a legal assistant or paralegal (which do not necessarily require an advanced degree) and to succeed as a lawyer.
4. Social Worker
Average salary: $48,500
Salary range: $34,000–$69,000
Social work will require you to get a master’s degree. But you can’t beat it in terms of direct impact on underrepresented and disadvantaged people. Working directly with patients—who might vary from students to seniors to military veterans—social workers address a wide variety of social issues that individuals may be facing and serve as advocates from an educational and occupational (and sometimes medical) standpoint. They need to learn how to juggle a caseload of patients, work with local and national resources, and conduct evaluations to assess whether a particular intervention is working.
Lots of students are attracted to political science because they care deeply about political activity and social issues. If you want to work on the ground to ensure people’s rights are respected and protected, social work might be a perfect role for you. Thinking about opportunities to make a difference in the world post-graduation puts you in good company with other poli sci majors, Schill says: Georgetown students often “look at organizations where they can have an impact helping to better the lives of others via various nonprofit organizations or post-graduate service organizations.”
5. Campaign Manager
Average salary: $60,204
Salary range: $40,000–$97,000
Working on and contributing meaningfully to a candidate’s campaign would be a great fit for someone who loves politics and wants to be deeply embedded in the political process. This role might include overseeing fundraising, volunteers, polling, media requests, scheduling, and other strategies to get your candidate in the public eye and in front of constituents.
You’d potentially start as some sort of aide, administrator, coordinator, or other entry-level position and work your way up to the head of a campaign, but you don’t necessarily need an advanced degree to get there. As you advance to more senior campaign roles, you’ll also need to manage and lead others, a responsibility your major prepared you well for. “There’s a leadership component to poli sci,” Birmingham says. “You’re studying institutions and institutional behavior and you get a really strong historical understanding of leadership.”
6. Human Resources (HR) Generalist
Average salary: $55,067
Salary range: $42,000–$72,000
HR professionals manage the people within an organization, with responsibilities including onboarding and offboarding employees when they join or leave a team, offering perks and services to workers, supporting recruitment and professional development efforts, and handling disputes and legal matters. You can get into HR as an entry-level employee after gaining experience with a summer job or internship, depending on the organization.
Why is political science a fit here? You have an understanding of how people and groups behave and interact with institutions, and that’s what this job is all about. You have to understand an organization’s policies and history and know how a person’s needs might fit within that organization. Plus, it’s a lot of paperwork, organization, and documentation—which all those research projects and papers prepared you well for.
7. Financial Analyst
Average salary: $61,678
Salary range: $48,000–$82,000
Financial analysts analyze trends, reports, data, sales, and other facts to evaluate past performance and help support decisions for the future. You might often see analyst roles within a financial or government institution, but you could just as easily be working with a startup, nonprofit, or other organization that’s trying to make sense of its numbers. A financial analyst could be making reports on how a division is succeeding at its goals, creating models for pricing of products and services, or working on revenue projections for various business scenarios.
You can do this work at the entry-level; in fact, the 2020 employment report for Georgetown University students shows a significant number of them pursued roles in finance. If you didn’t work with quantitative analysis in your poli sci degree, you might have to supplement here with financial coursework or other relevant experience. But if you love data and communication, this is a terrific combination.
8. Public Relations (PR) Specialist
Average salary: $49,785
Salary range: $36,000–$73,000
Public relations is all about taking something—a business, person, brand, or service—and making people aware of it. In this position, you could be emailing a journalist or editor to see if they’ll consider writing about whatever or whoever it is you represent. Your job could also include organizing other elements of a media coverage strategy, such as videos, blog posts, social media, or other digital content.
As a public relations professional, you’re trying to influence public belief that it’s worthwhile to buy or support a person, product, service, or brand, which speaks to the persuasion and debate abilities you’ve likely honed in your degree: You may have already learned how to sell a concept to someone who might not understand why it’s a good idea. Combine that with strong writing capabilities and the ability to speak directly to people, and you’d flourish in PR.
9. Nonprofit Program Coordinator
Average salary: $44,241
Salary range: $33,000–$61,000
Nonprofits focus on causes that need support, from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to Planned Parenthood. They’re often looking for volunteers, so you can start contributing meaningfully as a student. In an entry-level program coordinator role, the job responsibilities can vary, but encompass everything needed to execute and run a particular initiative—for instance, the rollout of a new capital campaign to raise much-needed funds. You could be coordinating events, writing communications materials, doing administrative work, working with other professionals, organizing an agenda, or otherwise doing project management in service of that capital campaign.
Political science majors often do well at nonprofits because they care passionately about particular causes, from civics to free speech to the rights of underrepresented people. Plus, they have the research, analysis, and communication skills to make the case for why those issues matter and channel their passion into action.
10. FBI Agent
Average salary: $65,852
Salary range: $40,000–$116,000
In an entry-level role with the FBI, you could be helping a more senior agent, doing administrative work, studying and analyzing imagery and reports, doing basic investigative work, applying specific skills you may have like technological or linguistic capabilities, and eventually learning how to interrogate, interview, and investigate. This work would then prepare you to enter the field as an agent or support the organization in an operational or management capacity. (Full disclosure: The FBI is a current client of The Muse.)
This could be incredibly relevant work for a poli sci major: You’re working in government on important cases and projects. You’d need to look into the physical and psychological requirements before you pursue this path, so be sure to understand what you need to do before you apply. You might also consider similar roles with the CIA and law enforcement.
Some Quick Advice for Job Searching as a Political Science Major
Since political science allows you to hone wildly varied capabilities, your first step is to find the three or four skills that you excel at and enjoy the most. When Schill is advising students, she says, “I often ask them Father Himes’ three questions: What are you good at (academic or otherwise)? What do you enjoy or what brings you contentment? And what does the world need you to be? This last question can help you better understand issues of importance to you and help you narrow down the field of possible next steps.”
Then, you match industries and job descriptions to those abilities and passions. Network actively with people who are doing the type of work you want to do, and see what they like or don’t like about it. Seek out early job and internship experiences as much as you can. And don’t be afraid to be proactive! “There are so many internships that are not posted, which is why you should reach out directly to employers,” Birmingham says. Finally, keep an open mind, and get creative. “Your position might not have been invented yet—that’s how much things are changing.”
Your path might not be precisely linear as you determine the exact fit between job and ability, Birmingham says, but that’s absolutely normal. Keep exploring!