Top 12 Best Political Science Schools in the U.S.

Top 12 Best Political Science Schools in the U.S.

If you have an interest in politics, law, and the many other ways in which society and government interact, political science may be the right area of study for you. But, what are the best political science schools? For prospective students, there are numerous options for getting a degree, from large university centers to small liberal arts colleges.

Political science, or "poly-sci," is an increasingly popular major, thanks to a jump in interest in political activism. The study of politics is a social science and involves political institutions and political behavior. This may seem to be sharply focused on politics. But, a closer look reveals that the political process is all around us. It affects more than elections. It impacts businesses, groups, and individuals.

Why Study Political Science

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There are several reasons to study political science. If you want to learn more about how society interacts with the government and the political process, you might find the study of political science exciting and rewarding. Political science prepares students for a wide range of careers, too.

Political science is more than politics

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The political science major is not only for those with aspirations to run for office. The best political science schools provide knowledge about how the political process affects everyday life. The degree prepares students for government work, of course, but politics and government expertise can be put to use in a private job as well. Some of the many career options with a political science degree include:

  • ​Lobbying
  • ​Public administration
  • ​Government support, such as clerking or legislative aide
  • ​Journalism and communications
  • ​Nonprofit
  • ​Management

​A political science degree is also a good launching point for a law career and is a traditional pre-law major. Some political science courses, such as those in civil liberties and the constitution, serve as introductions to law school courses.

Political science has many specializations

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You'll find core political science required courses, such as in American Government, statistics, and political philosophies. In addition, students can also branch off into various other concentrations. Those looking for a career in polling can focus on public opinion, policymaking, analysis, and related coursework. International relations scholars study the global political environment, learning relevant information in an increasingly connected world.

Some of the best political science schools feature numerous options for tailoring a course of study to a desired next step in education or one's career.

​The Best Political Science Schools

​To determine which institutes of learning offer the best political science majors, it's helpful to break the field down a bit. Of course, there are elite schools that provide the finest educational opportunities in the world. But some of these are unrealistic choices for many students due to rigorous admissions standards and high cost. Also, there may be advantages to a particular location, such as schools that are present in or near a state capital.

Let's take a look at 12 of the best political science schools. We'll discuss what makes each college or university special, and some other helpful tips for those seeking a poly-sci degree.

The elite field of political science education

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​These are the titans of higher education and offer political science programs that open up doors to global and high-level national politics. The political science departments at these Ivy League schools (and "West Coast Ivy League") provide unique programs with some of the world's foremost experts in government and politics.

Harvard

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Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is considered by many to be the best university in the world. It's also one of the oldest, with a 375-year tradition of educating leaders. Although it is one of the best political science schools -- arguably the ultimate poly-sci school -- it teaches political topics through its government college. The program of study covers basic courses, such as political theory, comparative government, and the American government. The undergraduate school has new programs of study that incorporate technology and research into a standard government degree.

As a world-class research institute, Harvard has several graduate school opportunities as well. Its Kennedy School of Government has a mission of solving the world's public challenges by connecting the ideas of the world's greatest scholars. Graduate degrees include public policy, public administration, social policy, health policy, political economy, and government.

​Stanford University

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On the complete opposite side of the country from Harvard, Stanford University holds a firm position as a great university. A few decades ago, the university was often called the "Harvard of the west." Today, some wonder if Harvard is the "Stanford of the east," as the university has grown to be one of the world's greatest.

Its location near Silicon Valley gives students access to the intersection of technology, government, and society.

The university calls its political science program the "science of politics." And the course availability includes the study of data science, elections, international relations, law, and political economy. One program unique to Stanford is its Summer Research College. This program provides stipended undergraduate research positions in a vast array of areas. Recent research studies involved immigration policy, terrorism, and social topics such as the politics of divorce.

​Georgetown

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​Of course, one of the best political science schools is located in the Washington, D.C. area. Georgetown University's Government, Politics, and Policy department provides one of the leading educational programs in the United States. Georgetown's undergraduate degree offerings include government, political economy, and three bachelors of science in foreign service degrees in culture and politics, international political economy, and international politics.

Georgetown's location in the Washington, D.C. area means that students benefit from a government-focused environment. Proximity to federal government leaders gives students opportunities for practical application of theory through internships.

Regional powerhouses as best political science schools

Ivy-League study in the Northeast, tech-empowered academic excellence in Northern California, and hobnobbing with the D.C. political machines all offer amazing study experiences. But, these upper-echelon schools do not have a monopoly in political science. The following schools are some of the best universities in the country. They are also some of the best political science schools.

​NYU

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New York University is a private research university based in New York City, but has a global campus network. NYU has a massive undergraduate enrollment of over 25,000 students. It is not a quiet school. It's right in the middle of the chaos and energy of Manhattan, unlike Columbia University, which is in a less frantic uptown campus. For many students, NYU's bustling environment is key is its allure.

NYU's Politics department offers degree study in politics and international studies. Where NYU shines, however, is in its six political science research centers. These include:

  • ​Center for Social and Political Behavior
  • ​NYUAD Social Sciences Experimental Laboratory
  • ​Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) Lab
  • ​Center for Experimental Social Science
  • ​The Public Safety Lab
  • ​Center on U.S.-China Relations

​As a major research university, NYU also has world-leading graduate studies programs in politics, social and cultural analysis, and a new experimental humanities and social engagement program focused on a wide range of ways in which politics and society intersect.

​UNC-Chapel Hill

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What about the south? Political science programs are available throughout the country, and the University of North Carolina is one of the best public schools for political science research. Primarily, the university is world-renowned as one of the best political science schools. However, students can also explore Health Policy and Management, City and Regional Planning, American Studies, Military Science, Public Policy, and more.

One area in which UNC-Chapel Hill excels is in its variety of unique courses. While students can learn the basics of government and politics, they can also study topical issues such as race, innocence, and the decline of the death penalty, international migration and citizenship, and southern politics. Students looking to extend their studies can benefit from UNC's highly selective graduate program.

​UT Austin

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​The University of Texas is one of the best public universities in the country and world. UT Austin is the crown jewel of the Texas university system, and it also sits in the center of Texas' capital. Students have access to the capabilities of a major research institute and numerous internship opportunities through Texas government. Internships provide practical political and policy experience through the Texas Senate, United States Senate, and House of Representatives, and through several think tanks and lobbying groups.

UT Austin also has several ongoing political science projects. These projects cover Texas politics, comparative political agendas, public policy, and applied political strategies. Some of the many research projects include topics such as:

  • ​Chinese politics
  • ​Distributive politics of development
  • ​Voting behavior
  • ​Fiscal policy

​These areas and more provide a broad, international flavor to UT's Texas-sized government and politics programs. The best political science schools offer varied programs, and UT Austin excels at these offerings and more. Also, as anyone who's ever been to the Texas capital city will attest, Austin is proudly weird. So, students not only get a top-notch education but a cultural immersion, too.

​​University of Pennsylvania

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The University of Pennsylvania is well-regarded as an excellent educational institution. It is also a member of the Ivy League and was recently ranked as the eighth best university in the country overall. UPenn is the sixth-oldest institution of higher education in the country. It is one of the best political science schools because of this long history, including a strong connection to the Founding Fathers. Benjamin Franklin was the primary founder of the university. Its mission statement back in the colonial times was to provide the knowledge and skill necessary for public service.

One of UPenn's greatest assets to the study of political science is the Fels Institute of Government, which offers graduate programs in public policy and public management. The Fels Institute began in 1937 as a training school for local government officials. Today, above all, the school prepares students for work in state and federal government, and nonprofit organizations.

UPenn's unique offerings also include its Middle East Center, Penn Program on Democracy, Citizenship, and Constitutionalism, and a dozen additional intensive programs focused on all aspects of political science study.

​​​Sometimes the best political science schools are smaller in scope

​So far, we've discussed studying politics and government at some of the world's greatest institutions, including Ivy League colleges and major research institutions. What about small liberal arts colleges? Is there a benefit to studying political science in an arena somewhat removed from the political centers of our nation? These smaller schools offer excellent political science programs and provide other benefits that can only come from a small liberal arts college environment.

​Skidmore College

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Located about three and a half hours north of New York City, Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs is a bit off the beaten path. It's just a half-hour drive from Albany, New York, the capital of the state, so there are ample government internship opportunities for those who can travel.

Skidmore is a strong liberal arts school. So, students benefit from a broad-based learning philosophy that provides exposure to literature, arts, sociology, and sciences to complement a political science course of study. Skidmore's political science department mission statement is to instill a lively interest in politics and political systems while finding new ways to make these systems work better.

​Chatham University

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​Students looking to learn in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area should check out Chatham University. This 150-year old institution has a leading program in political science. It has a strong policy center on the role of women in politics, and most importantly, features accelerated graduate degree options.

Students pursuing a Chatham University political science degree can also take courses on international relations, global sustainability and the interplay of government and business. Chatham also participates in the Public Leadership Education Network, which offers opportunities to study in Washington, D.C.

​Pomona College

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​One of the best political sciences schools in the country is small, unassuming, and richly diverse. The college is small, with only 1,600 undergraduates. But, its Greater Los Angeles metropolitan area location means that the educational experience is anything but small and quaint. Students at Pomona College get the best of both worlds: a small, New England-style liberal arts education and the excitement and vibrancy of Southern California.

Pomona College has all of the political science academic tracks of larger universities, and it boasts its Summer Undergraduate Research Program. Projects that emerged from this program include homelessness studies, the role of women in Japanese politics, and several immigration studies.

​Rhodes College

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Located in Tennessee, Rhodes College is a small private liberal arts college with an extensive focus on politics and public policy studies. The college offers a major in political science, but what makes it one of the best political science schools is its related programs of study. Students can either major or minor in such areas as international studies and urban studies.

The college recently unveiled a new program covering the political economy. This major fosters the study of the moral, financial, and democratic implications of the economy. Students learn economic theory from a government perspective, which helps them understand the impact of economic policy on society.

​​​​The Best Political Science Schools

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This list of 12 colleges and universities features some of the best political science schools. These range from large institutions to smaller, more regionally focused colleges. Political science can prepare students for various career paths. Determining which is the right school for you involves developing clear educational goals. Where do you want your political science degree to take you? Each of these schools is challenging and unique. Each has its benefits.

The best political science school begins with academic excellence. From there, internship and research opportunities can further support career goals.

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