What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s in Political Science Program?

An online master’s in political science introduces students to complex concepts related to the three branches of the government system and the historical impacts and contemporary issues that affect politics on local, state, national, and global levels. Many brick and mortar colleges and universities offer online programs in political science with the same rigorous curriculum as on-campus programs. These programs appeal to full-time or part-time graduate students looking for convenient online sessions they can often complete at their own pace but are ideal for working professionals wanting to enhance their careers and don’t have time to attend traditional classes. Ensure you choose the right online master’s in political science program for you by comparing the program descriptions, concentrations and costs.

Concentrations Offered for an Online Master’s in Political Science

CONCENTRATION DESCRIPTION POSSIBLE CAREERS THIS CONCENTRATION PREPARES FOR
Public Policy Analysis Covers policy analysis and program evaluation, including the appropriate techniques in various stages of the policy process. Public policy analyst for government or political groups, director of public policy, labor union analyst
International Relations Focus on explaining cooperation in world affairs, including the balance of power and economic interdependence. Diplomat/foreign service officer, intelligence analyst, foreign policy advisor, foreign affairs officer
Political Campaigns Examines the history, techniques and trends in modern political campaigns, including what works and why. Political campaign manager, political consultant, career politician

Curriculum for an Online Master’s in Political Science

The curriculum for an online master’s in political science covers a wide range of subjects with students receiving advanced training in political science theory, research and methodology. When comparing online programs, students should consider whether the program is offered through synchronous (taken at the same time as other students) or asynchronous (self-paced) classes. Working adults often need asynchronous classes so they can plan coursework into their professional and family schedules.

Required classes vary by school, so consider your personal career goals and how your objectives mesh with the curriculum offered. Some colleges and universities require specific classes to complete your degree, while others have a combination of required and elective courses. These programs allow you to concentrate on a specialized pathway, which requires electives in your chosen field. Below are some examples of common classes you might encounter.

COURSES DESCRIPTION
Public Policy Examine the historical and political origins of national health and social welfare programs.
Policy Analysis and Implementation Provide a deeper understanding of public policy processes at the federal, state and local levels.
American Foreign Policy Analyze foreign policy and global affairs from the Cold War to the present.
Intro to the American Legal System Gain a basic understanding of how the American legal system works, including basic elements of criminal and civil procedure.
Seminar in American Politics An overview of the American political system and how it works, including the three branches of government, elections and political parties.
Political Science Research Methods Covers the knowledge and skills to analyze and critique applied research in public policy and public affairs.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s Degree in Political Science?

Several factors affect how long it takes to complete your online master’s degree. A synchronous program has a set time frame because even though you’re not attending on-campus classes, you’re required to log in and take live classes online at set times. Programs that offer individually paced or asynchronous classes can be completed at an accelerated pace, but they rely on your motivation and self-discipline to overcome procrastination and finish quickly.

Most online master’s programs in political science require 30 to 40 credits for competition. Some programs may offer thesis and non-thesis tracks, with the thesis option requiring fewer credit hours. Many programs are offered completely online, but some require in-person attendance for testing or special events. On average, students should complete a typical program in 18 months to two years.

Certifications and Licenses an Online Master’s in Political Science Prepares For

A master’s degree serves as a stepping-stone for students who plan to earn a doctoral degree in political science, which enables them to pursue work as a political science professor or academic researcher. Some community colleges or career and technical schools may hire teachers with only a master’s degree, and your master’s could also qualify you for high school teaching positions, but you must still earn your teacher certification, usually through testing that varies by state.

CERTIFICATION DESCRIPTION
Certified Political Scientist After earning a master’s in political science with at least 18 hours of political science and legal courses and gaining two years of professional experience in the political, governmental or public service field, you can apply for board certification through the Academy of Certified Political Analysts (ACPA) as a CPS.
Certified Political Manager Also available through the ACPA and with the same requirements as the CPS, you can apply for board certification as a CPM, which is ideal for campaign managers and analysts.
Certified in Public Policy The ACPA also offers board certification in public policy with the same requirements as the CPS, which offers a good professional credential for policy analysts.
Chartered Certified Political Analyst Students pursuing a journalism career with their master’s in political science can also apply for political government journalism certification and earn a ChPA through the ACPA with the same requirements as the CPS.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Political Science

Before signing up for a master’s in political science program, ensure the college or university has accreditation status. While some online master’s programs receive programmatic accreditation through professional organizations, online master’s programs in political science currently don’t. However, the college or university itself should be accredited through an agency recognized by the Department of Education or Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Whether or not a school is accredited affects your eligibility for federal and state financial aid and certain scholarships, and it may also impact your professional reputation and ability to find gainful employment.

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Political Science Graduates

Job Placement: Master’s v. Bachelor’s

Political science is a relatively small, specialized field with strong competition for available jobs. Earning your online master’s makes you more appealing as a job candidate, and a master’s is often required for political scientists and other popular careers in the field. Political science professionals with a master’s degree also have lower unemployment rates than those with lower credentials, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Expected Salary

A master’s in political science opens up numerous job opportunities in a variety of fields, but most especially in the political, public policy and public relations fields. An advanced degree can increase your chances, and potentially your starting salary, in jobs that often are highly competitive. Learn more about typical salaries in popular fields for political science graduates by considering these salary ranges.

Job Title Salary Range
Political Scientist $29,975–$98,515
Lobbyist $43,283–$132,216
Compliance Manager $49,320–$116,031
Regulatory Affairs Manager $63,975–$132,637
Campaign Manager $35,600–$83,262

Source: PayScale.com

About half of all political scientists are employed by the federal government and work in other sectors. Your chosen sector impacts your salary as demonstrated by the following table.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Opportunities

After earning your online master’s in political science, you may apply the knowledge you gained to a career in a variety of sectors or more easily move up in your current position. An advanced political science degree allows you to work in government and politics, but you also have new career opportunities in advocacy, business, journalism, legal arenas and other community sectors.

JOB TITLE JOB DESCRIPTION MEDIAN SALARY PROJECTED GROWTH RATE
Political Scientist Political scientists study the history, development and operation of various political systems. Political scientists who research the effects of government policies within a certain region, whether domestically or internationally, may provide information and analysis to help in the planning, development and carrying out of new policies. They may work for the government or political groups, in academia or as policy analysts for organizations with a stake in policy. $115,110 per year 3%
Public Relations Specialist Public relations specialists create and maintain a favorable public image for the person or organization they represent, which can include crafting media releases and developing social media programs that impact public perception. In government, public relations specialists are often called press secretaries and inform the public about the activities of a government official or agency, which often includes public speaking engagements conducted by themselves or a government official using speech materials prepared by them. $59,300 per year 9%
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers Public relations and fundraising managers create promotional materials and secure funding for the person or organization they represent, which is often a political candidate, elected official, advocacy group or other entity involved in the government. $111,280 per year 10%
Political Fundraisers Fundraisers organize events and campaigns to raise donations for a person or an organization and may design promotional materials to increase public awareness. Job duties include researching potential donors and examining records of previous donors. Political fundraisers work for new or incumbent political candidates and must be thoroughly knowledgeable about campaign finance laws. $55,640 per year 15%

Professional Organizations

Professional organizations help students learn more about their chosen career and let recent graduates connect with other professionals in the field. These organizations host vital networking events and often provide training opportunities, job boards, professional journals and other valuable member-only services. Some prominent organizations for political science professionals include:

American Political Science Association: The APSA is a leading professional organization for the study of political science that hosts networking events, publishes four peer-reviewed journals and offers a comprehensive database of jobs related to political science.

International Political Science Association: IPSA supports the development of political science in all parts of the world, including establishing academic networks linking professionals worldwide and publishing leading professional journals.

Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management: APPAM fosters excellence in public policy and management, which includes hosting a multidisciplinary annual research conferences, publishing a peer-reviewed multidisciplinary journal and running a mentor matching program for student members in search of career development guidance and support.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Political Science

Online programs are typically less expensive than on-campus programs, but many students still require financial assistance. Online students enrolled at an accredited college or university qualify for state and financial aid and many of the same grants and scholarships as traditional students. You may also find awards specifically for distance learners, occasionally with emphasis in your chosen field. Always start with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, which is required for grants, loans and other financial aid offered through the state and federal government. Move on to other resources, such as those listed below.

Resources

Scholarships

Scholarships

Details

Sam Houston State University / Goodson-COE Endowed Scholarship

Award: $1,000

Deadline: March

Eligibility: Full-time or part-time graduate students majoring in history or political science and taking a minimum of 9 credit hours/semester.

Richard M. and Barbara A. Wukich Political Science Scholarship at Sam Houston State University

Award: $1,000

Deadline: March

Eligibility: Full-time graduate students majoring in political science and taking a minimum of 6 credit hours/semester.

SR Education Group

Award: $5,000

Deadline: March

Eligibility: Needs based scholarship for current graduate students.