Choosing Courses - FAQs
- What are the Political Science major requirements?
- How should I select my classes?
- In what order should I take courses?
- When should I take 395 courses?
- What are the differences in the research methods courses?
- Can I use my AP Credit?
- When are future courses listed?
- Do Freshman Seminars count towards the major?
- Do Chicago Field Studies classes count towards the major?
- Can I sign up for graduate courses?
- What courses have prerequisites?
- What are the double-counting rules?
- Do methods courses from other majors count towards the methods requirement?
- Can I waive a requirement or substitute a class from a different department?
- Can I do an Independent Study?
- Can I get credit for an internship?
- What Political Science Courses count for the Weinberg Distribution Requirements?
- Which courses require independent research and writing?
- Are classes offered on specific regions, international relations, and law?
Please see the major requirements page.
Sampling various areas and professors is a perfectly reasonable approach and is encouraged, but you can also benefit by selecting courses that address your interests and goals. Political science is typically divided up into 4 or 5 subfields and you can find our main offerings in these subfields in the course catalog. These subfields are:
- American Politics
- Comparative Politics (all the other countries and regions in the world)
- International Relations
- Political Theory
You may also come up with your own concentrations that cross these subfields. Some that come to mind are:
- Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Politics
- Law and Politics
- Global Transformation
- Democracy and Representation
- Social and Economic Inequalities
- Terrorism and National Security
- Citizenship Studies
- Conflict Studies
You should consult with professors you know well or designated advisors about constructing a course of study that best fits your needs. In particular, students interested in pursuing graduate training in political science or certain careers related to political science (e.g., development aid, survey research) should consult with advisors about their course choices.
Students typically start out with 200-level courses, three of which are needed to complete the major. They may move on to many 300-level courses fairly quickly, though a few do have prerequisites.
Students typically take the methods course during their sophomore or junior year. They usually take 395 during their junior or senior year. It is advisable but not necessarily required to take the methods course before 395.
Junior year is probably the ideal time, especially if you are considering the honors program. It is usually best but not necessarily required to take a methods course before 395. It is not a problem to take 395 in your senior year, though the longer you wait, the more your choices are limited. Nevertheless, several 395 courses are offered every quarter.
Students should plan to complete the departmental methods requirement early. There are several options:
Political Science 210, Introduction to Empirical Methods in Political Science, and Political Science 211, Introduction to Interpretative Methods in Political Science, are designed for students who lack a strong background in research methods or have little interest in doing independent research in political science. Political Science 210 and 211 both fulfill the methodology requirement for the political science major.
Students with a stronger background in methods should skip 210 and 211 and go straight to the 300-level methodology classes; for others, 210 and 211 may be used as a stepping stone to further training in the 300-level courses. Political Science 210 and 211 are also open to non-majors who are interested in learning about how political scientists construct arguments using empirical evidence.
Political Science 310, Methods of Political Inference, focuses on conceptual elaboration, research design, and qualitative methods; Political Science 312, Statistical Research Methods, features more statistical analysis. Political Science 311, Logics of Political Inquiry, covers non-statistical analytical strategies and methodological approaches. Students can also consider Political Science 315, Positive Political Theory, which covers game theory, to fulfill this requirement, but should note that it is taught very infrequently. For more information about the specific topics covered in each course, please consult the instructor directly.
Note that these courses are not offered every quarter, and most are only offered once a year. Keep this in mind if you have a strong preference among these options so that you don’t miss the course you prefer.
If you are interested in the subject matter, you may want to take 220, since this course is probably taught very differently at Northwestern than at your high school. However, you may choose to place out of this class and instead take an extra 300-level class. You’ll need the Director of Undergraduate Studies’ permission to make this substitution official with the Registrar.
Each spring the department publishes a list of courses to be offered the following academic year. As revisions occur—and there usually are several revisions—the web site is continually updated, so it is the best source of current information.
More generally, the main 200-level courses are typically offered twice per year. Other courses are usually offered once a year and only occasionally twice, though this depends on the availability of faculty. We can’t guarantee that any particular 300-level course will be offered in any given year. We try to offer at least 4-5 395 courses each quarter.
Majors and minors can receive a maximum of one (1) political science credit from CFS. The following classes are eligible:
- CFS 391 – Field Studies in Social Justice
- CFS 394 – Legal Field Studies
- CFS 396 – Field Studies in Community Research
- CFS 397 – Field Studies in Civic Engagement
We do not give political science credit for CFS: Business Field Studies or CFS: Field Studies in the Modern Workplace.
Undergraduates may sign up for graduate classes only with the permission of the course instructor. Consult with individual faculty members about this option.
Most classes do not have prerequisites. The courses with prerequisites are listed on Caesar.
If you don't have the necessary prerequisite, but want to take the class, consult with the instructor of the course in question about whether you are qualified for admission.
The department does not have any restrictions that go above and beyond standard Weinberg rules. These rules generally prohibit one course from being counted simultaneously towards two majors or minors. Related courses and distribution courses, however, can be double-counted. Weinberg's website that describes these rules.
Some adjunct majors have exceptions to these double-counting rules. You can find the double-counting rules for International Studies and Legal Studies on their websites.
Your Political Science courses can be used to satisfy WCAS distribution requirements, so long as they are on the list of WCAS-approved courses to meet distribution requirements.
No. Students are encouraged to plan ahead and choose carefully between the several methods courses that the department offers so that there is as little overlap as possible. Consult with the department advisors or the faculty teaching these courses for specific advice.
No. Although we encourage our majors to take courses in other departments that complement or supplement their political science courses, they do not count towards the major. Only courses listed as Political Science courses count toward major requirements (for students entering 2014 and after).
Independent study (POL SCI 399) provides an opportunity to work closely with a faculty member on a topic of mutual interest. Independent study is usually open only to majors who have made substantial progress in the major. The purpose of an independent study is (a) to investigate topics not covered by regular courses in the curriculum, or (b) to explore the subject matter of regular courses in greater depth, or (c) to conduct an independent research project.
Independent study classes are arranged by finding a faculty member in political science willing to supervise the student’s project. Before approaching a faculty member to request an independent study, you should prepare a proposal that outlines the topic, describes your preparation for pursuing the topic, lists tentative readings that you expect to cover, and describes the nature of written work you plan to complete. With regard to preparation, you should have taken all of the courses that provide background for the topic you have chosen. For example, if you want to do research on Congress, you should have taken POL 325 – Congress and the Legislative Process. The better prepared you are and the more carefully worked out is your proposal, the more likely you are to find a sponsoring faculty member.
The Political Science Department has no internship program and does not typically give credit for internships. Internships on political campaigns or in politicians’ offices are increasingly popular with students, because they provide valuable work experience and useful knowledge about professional opportunities. However, they seldom entail the acquisition of new knowledge of political science equivalent to a 300-level course in the department.
The standing exception to this rule is the Chicago Field Studies program. Students can receive one credit towards the major for Field Studies in Social Justice, Civic Engagement, and Community Research, and for Legal Field Studies. We do not award credit for Business Field Studies or Field Studies in the Modern Workplace.
In some instances, a student might arrange an independent study in conjunction with an internship in which a research project is undertaken that draws on the internship experience. In such a case, credit would be awarded for the work completed in the 399, not merely for the practical experience of the internship. Each case must be weighed individually, however. If you have an internship opportunity for which you would like to receive major credit, you should consult the Director of Undergraduate Studies well in advance of the start of the program. A final decision about political science credit cannot be made until you have completed the internship.
Every year Weinberg publishes an updated list of courses that fulfill the Weinberg distribution requirements, which can be found here.
All 395 courses culminate in a lengthy (often 15-20 page) paper. Students can also apply for the honors program and write their own senior thesis. More information on our honors program can be found here.
Our yearly course planner can help you plan out which courses you’d like to take. You may also find it helpful to browse our faculty by subfield and read their individual profiles. You may also check out course offerings in International Studies and Legal Studies for additional courses.