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What is political science?

Political science is the study of politics and power from domestic, international, and comparative perspectives. It entails understanding political ideas, ideologies, institutions, policies, processes, and behavior, as well as groups, classes, government, diplomacy, law, strategy, and war. A background in political science is valuable for citizenship and political action, as well as for future careers in government, law, business, media, or public service.

The political science department provides undergraduate students with an opportunity to learn about politics from a variety of different perspectives. Classes are offered in the four major subfields of the discipline (American politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, and Political Theory), but many courses cut across subfields. While some students choose most of their courses from within one or two subfields, most take a wide variety of courses that span different areas.

Concentrations are not required, but majors are encouraged to consult with department advisers to design individualized programs of study. For example, students have designed concentrations around themes such as race, ethnicity, and politics; global transformation; representation and law; social and economic inequalities; terrorism and national security; and citizenship studies.


As a field of study, political science tries to understand how politics works. Why do countries fight wars? Why can’t the Democrats and Republicans in Congress cooperate with each other? Why are some countries rich and others poor? What does it mean to act ethically in politics? Our field tries to answer these questions and many others. If you are interested in how politics works in America and around the world, then this is the field for you.

Political science helps you to develop skills in critical thinking, data analysis, and ethical reasoning and provides you with knowledge about current and past political events across the world. Majors in the department go on to a number of different careers. These include government service—at federal, state, and local levels—nonprofits, law, campaigns and polling, journalism, consulting, and business.

Why major in political science?

Northwestern students major in Political Science for many reasons, including:

For questions pertaining to enrollment, please review our Frequently Asked Questions.

How I chose to major in Political Science

Personal stories from recent graduates on why they chose to major in Political Science. 

Kate Schlough, class of 2018

I chose to major in Political Science because it incorporated all of my interests in one - elements of history, writing, and social science. In terms of classes, the selection and ability to formulate your own concentration is unparalleled. Most importantly, I found that a degree in Poli Sci can lead to so many different career possibilities, anything from law to foreign service to nonprofit work. Since I know what I'm interested in but not necessarily the exact career to which I want to apply my interests, Political Science offers the maximum number of open doors in the future. If you have any questions or are seeking advice about the major or the department, please don't hesitate to send me an email.

Julianna Astarita, class of 2017

Like many freshmen, I came to Northwestern undecided about what I wanted to study, but I only took a few classes in the political science department before I could tell that it was right for me. I chose political science because it isn’t just about studying the past but also about understanding what’s happening in the present and what might happen in the future. One of the best things about taking political science classes is being able to apply what you’ve learned to current events, and feeling as though you better understand how the world works because of the classes you take here. I feel like no matter what path I take after graduation, political science will always be relevant and the skills I’ve gained will always serve me well. If you have any questions about the department or what it’s like to be a political science major or need any advice, please feel free to reach out! I’d be more than happy to talk.

Consider joining Northwestern's Political Science Facebook Group!

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