Political Science FAQs
- What is political science?
- Political Science is the systematic study of politics. It is the academic discipline that analyzes how power is defined, who does or should have power in society, how those with power use or ought to use it, how those with less power challenge it, and the effect of power on people's lives. Political science courses explore a wide range of questions regarding the concepts and norms central to the study of power and politics (e.g., authority, domination, gender, freedom); the structure and operations of law and institutions (e.g., the U.S. Supreme Court, United Nations, non-governmental organizations); the historical, sociological and cultural factors involved in political and economic development; social movements and processes (e.g. women's movements, immigration); comparative political systems (e.g., democracy, Communism); political trends and transformations in various regions (e.g., East Asia, South Asia, Latin America); and analyses of current affairs in the many realms and contexts in which politics take place.
- What are the subfields of political science and how are they different?
At Wellesley, there are four subfields in political science: American Politics (POL1), Comparative Politics (POL2), International Relations (POL3) and Political Theory (POL4). You need not declare a specialization, although it is likely that you will begin to concentrate on one or two of these subfields as you undertake advanced coursework in the major.
American Politics : the study of the American political system. Courses include an introduction to American politics (POL1 200), studies of the institutions of American government (such as Congress, the presidency, and the Supreme Court), as well as of political processes outside of formal government institutions (e.g., the media, schools, political organizations, and interest groups).
Comparative Politics: the comparative study of countries, political institutions, cultures, and leadership. Courses include an introduction to comparative politics (POL2 202), studies of specific nations or regions (e.g., China, Cuba, Latin America, Europe and the European Union, East Asia, South Asia, Africa) as well as the study of such processes as economic and political development, globalization, democratization, and migration.
International Relations: the study of relations among nation-states, international organizations, and transnational (cross-border) actors, and processes. Courses include an introduction to IR (POL3 221: World Politics), as well as studies of international organizations (such as the United Nations), international economic development, foreign policy, security, international cooperation, and the causes of war).
Political Theory: the study of the conceptual underpinnings and moral bases of politics. This is, in many ways, fundamental to all the other three subfields in political science. Courses include investigations of the nature and functioning of power, democracy, political authority, dissent, violence, etc., as well as studies of race and politics, feminist theory, Muslim political thought, American political thought, and the history of Western political theory (classical, modern, and contemporary).
- What are the requirements for a major in political science?
- Every major is required to take nine courses in political science. In order to ensure that political science majors familiarize themselves with the substantive concerns and methodologies employed throughout the discipline, all majors must take one 200-level or 300-level unit in each of the four subfields offered by the department. Recommended first courses in the four subfields are:
- American Politics and Law: POL1 200
- Comparative Politics: POL2 202
- International Relations: POL3 221
- Political Theory: POL4 201, 241
In addition to the subfield distribution requirement, all majors must do advanced work (300 levels) in at least two of the four subfields, and a minimum of one of these units must be a seminar, which normally requires a major research paper (courses fulfilling the seminar requirement are denoted by an "S" after the course number). Majors are encouraged to take more than the minimum number of required 300-level courses. The department does not grant transfer credit at the 300-level for either the major or for College distribution or degree requirements. This policy applies to 300-level courses taken at any other institution including MIT.
- Can I minor in political science?
- There is no minor in political science.
- Do I have to take 100-level courses in political science?
- You are not required to take a 100-level course in political science, but it is strongly encouraged.
- What is the IR/PS major?
- IR/PS is an interdisciplinary major concerned with understanding global interactions past and present. The major is designed to expose students to a wide range of viewpoints and analytical methodologies in their study of such fields as diplomacy and foreign policy, peace, war and security, international political economy and development, and human rights.
The international relations major is an interdepartmental major organized into three tracks: International Relations/Economics, International Relations/History, and International Relations/Political Science. All three tracks of the major share a set of five common "core" courses.
The majors are administered by their "home" departments, and interested students should contact the IR-PS faculty advisor for guidance on how to fulfill this major. Students who elect one of these IR majors may not combine it with a second major in the same department-e.g. students may not double major in IR-PS and Political Science. Other double majors are permitted but generally unadvisable.
IR-PS majors consist of 14 units of course work—five core courses plus nine courses in political science. In addition to this course work, all IR students are required to demonstrate advanced proficiency in a modern language, normally defined as two units of language study beyond the minimum required by the College. Language courses do not count towards the minimum 14 courses.
- How should I choose my major advisor?
- You should look for someone who works in an area of Political Science that is of particular interest to you, a faculty member with whom you have taken a course, or a professor who seems to match your own sensibilities.
- I'm a first year and thinking of majoring in political science, but my first-year advisor is not in political science. Whom should I talk to?
- First, take a class in political science, one that seems interesting to you. Talk to the professor about your interests, and see what advice he or she gives you. All professors also have scheduled office hours each week. If there is a professor offering a course in which you are interested, set up an appointment to meet with him/her during those times.
- I'm planning to study abroad or away next year. Whom should I talk to about whether particular courses taken abroad count toward my major?
- While the Registrar determines the precise amount of credit assigned to any course not taken at Wellesley, it is the department chair or chair's designate who determines whether or not a course you have taken abroad will count toward the major. Professor William Joseph is the Chair's designate in all such matters for 2009-10. You should plan to consult with your major advisor, Professor Joseph and the International Studies Office before you go abroad. You will also need to provide the syllabus and assignments for evaluation once you return from study abroad. All forms and instructions regarding transfer credit are available in the Registrar's Office.
- I am interested in taking a seminar next semester. How do I apply?
- Seminars are advanced classes, open to only 15 students; admission is by permission of the instructor only. To be admitted to a seminar, you must fill out a seminar application detailing your preparation for the course, as well as why you are interested in the topic. Applications are available in the Political Science Department office and through the website prior to pre-registration for each term. Professors evaluate your application and announce acceptances before each term. Majors should begin applying for seminars during their junior year in order to be certain of fulfilling this requirement.
- How do I graduate with departmental honors?
- In the Political Science Department, the only route to honors is writing a thesis. Each honors student works closely throughout a full academic year with the faculty member(s) best able to advise her on the topic of her thesis. For qualified and motivated students, doing honors can be a very rewarding culmination to the Wellesley academic experience. Honor theses average around 70 pages in length, though this varies considerably depending on the subject matter.
To be admitted to the thesis program, you must have a major GPA of 3.5, or else convince the department to petition on your behalf ("convince" means showing mitigating circumstances or real improvements in the GPA). The deadline for juniors submitting an honors' thesis proposal is the second Monday in April.
- I'm interested in doing an honors thesis . When should I start preparing and with whom should I speak about this?
- First, think about why you are interested in the thesis. "Getting honors" is probably not enough to sustain you in thesis writing. You should have some idea of a topic you want to research, and enough course background and intellectual interest in the field to underpin a year of writing.
There are different ways in which to prepare for the thesis. First, you should make sure you have the course background to write on the topic. Substantively, you need to take, if not exhaust, courses in your specific research area. For certain kinds of honors theses, it is particularly useful to take the political science research methods course, POL 199.
Second, talk to a possible advisor, or better yet, a few possible advisors. This will help you narrow your topic into a manageable thesis, as well as ensure that your thesis is actually tenable.
Finally, attend one of the "so you want to write a thesis" meetings that will be held at various times throughout the year. This will give you the logistical overview (what's due when) as well as a forum to prepare and write your proposal. If you can't attend the meeting, contact the general honors' thesis advisor, Professor Stacie Goddard.
Note: If you're going abroad, you need to start planning early. Have a potential advisor before you go abroad, and be aware of deadlines.
- Should I plan to go to law school or graduate school immediately after college?
- There is no penalty for taking a few years off between college and your post-graduate studies; in fact, it might be to your benefit. If you do decide to work or take time off between college and post-graduate studies, do make sure you have letters of recommendation on file before you graduate. These letters can be updated later, but they ensure that you have some references, just in case you and a professor lose touch. The CWS has a letters of reference service for this purpose.
- I am considering going to law school after I graduate. What should I do to prepare and who should I speak with about law school plans?
- Wellesley's pre-law advisor, Liz O'Connell (CWS), is a great source of practical advice for the law admissions process. Additionally, Nancy Scherer and Tom Burke, the faculty pre-law advisors in the Department of Political Science, are happy to speak with you about your law school plans during office hours and by appointment.
Law school does not require any particular course of undergraduate study, so you should major and take courses in whatever you enjoy. You may consider taking law-related courses at Wellesley, particularly POL1 215: Courts, Law, and Politics, or pursuing a law-related internship, not because it will help you get into law school but simply because it will introduce you to the American legal system and help you think about whether you want to pursue a career in law. Law schools generally look at your overall record, and most students are at their best when they study something they are passionate about.
- I am considering going to graduate school for political science. What should I do to prepare and whom should I speak with about graduate school plans?
- Any of the professors here are qualified to talk about graduate school and the application process. In general, you should prepare by making sure you have an understanding of the discipline and academia, and a solid background in your area of interest. You should be taking as many 300-level courses and seminars as possible in order to prepare you for independent research.
On the logistical side, you should plan to take the nationally administered GRE tests. This is a requirement for graduate programs. Acquire relevant letters of recommendation (by relevant, they should be academic, and at least one should be subfield specific). Write, and get advice on, your personal statement. These personal statements are not the same as a college entry statement: they are much more about your proposed program of study than "who you are" as a person.
- How can I find out about internships, jobs, and events related to political science?
- The Department announces major events and internships, such as Wellesley-in-Washington. You may also want to check with individual professors, as well as with the CWS.
- Do my AP credits count toward my political science major?
- No. You may receive College credit, but cannot count this credit toward either the minimum amount of courses needed for the major, or for the distribution requirement. Moreover, if you do receive an AP credit for the American Politics or Comparative Politics exam, you may not take POL1 200: American Politics or POL2 202: Comparative Politics.
Our recommendation? Skip the AP credit and take the courses. The courses are much different from a high school level course, and more relevant to your study of political science.