Once upon a time, if you told anyone you had declared political science as your major, the person automatically assumed you were destined for law school. Chalk it up as another urban legend. Contrary to popular belief, law schools do not prefer political science majors over all other applicants; in fact, most highly competitive law schools prefer English and math majors, because they develop high-powered analytic and problem-solving skills. Of course, legions of poli sci majors fill-up America’s law schools, using their command of systems and history as they master precedents, procedures, and legal reasoning. A political science major, however, opens other career paths, some of which are considerably more rewarding and remunerative than the practice of law. For example, think about…
• Becoming a college professor.
If your undergraduate career has sharpened your appetite for social science research and sustained study of how people acquire, hold, and use their power, satisfy the craving by pursuing a Ph.D. and becoming a university professor. Your Ph.D. not only will develop your investigative and analytic skills as you cultivate one area of exceptional expertise but also will provide a golden opportunity for publication. For most graduate students, their dissertations become their first books. Then, serving as a professor, you will continue scholarship and publishing as you teach and conduct office hours about fifteen hours each week. The top 100 colleges and universities pay many of their full professors six-digit salaries for just nine months’ work each year.
• Going to work for the Central Intelligence Agency or State Department
Of course, there’s always room for another Annie Walker in the spy ranks; but the majority of professionals in the CIA and State Department contribute to formation of foreign policy and national defense by studying single countries, geographic regions, economic systems, or international organizations. In the CIA, “policy analyst” is the most common job title, and the people who hold that title develop exceptional expertise in their areas of specialization, analyzing and developing policies and strategies for American relations with governments, factions, emerging revolutionary movements, and power-holders around the world.
• Serving in the Federal Bureau of Investigation
When you focus on the skills you have developed as a political science major, setting aside facts and emphasizing habits of mind, you realize you have become a skilled researcher, investigator, analyst, and advocate. You also have developed sophisticated command of English and a second language, and you probably havee sharpened your instincts and intuition about use and abuse of power in social and political structures. All those same skills work as well with criminal organizations as with governments, and the FBI likes people who understand how to ask all the right questions and then draw conclusions from the data they collect. If, as you declared your political science major, you thought you might attend law school, keep in mind that the FBI pays law school tuition for many of its most promising agents.
• Building a career in journalism
Most of your favorite television reporters and anchors added journalism as a minor while they majored in something that developed their critical skills. Soledad O’Brien majored in literature at Harvard, Savannah Guthrie went to law school at the University of Arizona, and Brianna Kiellar majored in psychology at Cal. Premier print media and the news networks now prefer applicants with subject-area majors and some prior journalism experience. Naturally, because networks and newspapers fill the majority of their “newshole” with coverage of politics and political issues, your poli sci major perfectly qualifies you. Before you graduate, make sure you dedicate some time to reporting for the school newspaper or writing every day on a reputable blog.
• Going behind the scenes as a political adviser, campaign staffer, or lobbyist
If your sustained study of political science has revealed your uncanny knack for strategic problem solving and advocacy, then participation in the political process will come naturally. Before you graduate, work in a relatively rresponsible campaign position, become a Congressional page, or lend your services to a prominent cause. Then, parlay your skills and experience into full time work in the corridors of power If, in your secret heart of hearts, you want to run for office, work in political “operations” will teach you how the system really works.
Keep in mind that declaring a major is not the same as accepting a life sentence. Political science majors occasionally go to medical school, earn Masters degrees in business administration or any of a thousand other disciplines, or they use their intimate knowledge of power dynamics to ascend the corporate ladder. Skills matter far more than the label. Earning your degree, you have become a proficient analyst and communicator, and you have become sensitive and responsive to diverse points of view. Hundreds of thousands of professional positions require precisely the skills you have mastered.
Adam Miller is a content contributor studying to earn his masters of public relations online.