The Major: Learning Goals & Requirements

Learning Goals for the Major
  • Gain a broad background in the discipline of political science through courses in the four subfields that comprise it: American politics and law, comparative politics, international relations, and political theory. Explore in depth at least two of those subfields through advanced work.
  • Develop the capacity to think critically about local, national, and global politics, and bring an informed perspective to understanding and evaluating the consequences of important political developments as they unfold.
  • Become an informed and reflective citizen of one’s community and nation, and learn about the global dynamics that influence the shape and content of political life.
  • Acquire skills important in political science, including the ability to closely read complex texts; write clear and effective papers, including short essays and substantive research papers; think critically and analytically about empirical evidence and theoretical propositions; generate and test hypotheses; use methodologies appropriate to a particular research question; and take and defend a position against the strongest counterarguments.

Requirements for the Major

This handy chart summarizes the requirements.

A major in political science consists of at least nine units. Courses at the 100-level may be counted toward the major, but not toward a subfield distribution requirement (see below).
The Department of Political Science divides its courses beyond the introductory level into four subfields:
  • American Politics and Law (POL1)
  • Comparative Politics (POL2)
  • International Relations (POL3)
  • Political Theory (POL4)
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. NOTE: Students who have taken POL4 107 between Fall 2018 and Spring 2021 may count it toward the POL4 subfield distribution requirement. Beginning in AY21-22 POL4 107 will be changed to a 200 level course POL4 216. Students who have previously taken POL4 107 will not be eligible to take POL4 216 for credit.
Recommended first courses in the four subfields are:
  • American Politics and Law: POL1 200
  • Comparative Politics: POL2 202, POL2 204
  • International Relations: POL3 221
  • Political Theory: POL4 201, POL4 216
In addition to the subfield distribution requirement, all majors must do at least two units of advanced work (300 level) in two of the four subfields. A minimum of one of these units must be a seminar, which normally requires a major research paper. Admission to department seminars is by permission of the instructor only. Interested students must fill out a seminar application, which is available on the department web site prior to preregistration for each term. Majors should begin applying for seminars during their junior year in order to be certain of fulfilling this requirement. Majors are encouraged to take more than the minimum number of required 300-level courses.
A minimum of five units for the major must be taken at Wellesley, as must the courses that are used to fulfill at least two of the four subfield distributions and the seminar requirement.
Transfer Credit

A minimum of five units for the major must be taken at Wellesley, as must the courses that are used to fulfill at least two of the four subfield distributions and the seminar requirement.

The department does not grant transfer credit at the 300-level for either the major or for college degree requirements. This policy applies to courses taken at MIT.

Normally, to be counted toward the major, a course taken elsewhere should be taught by a political scientist or in department of political science or its equivalent.

Courses in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) in Political Science at MIT can count towards the Political Science major at Wellesley if the student writes a substantive research paper as part of her UROP work and that paper is evaluated by the UROP supervisor as part of the final grade. The supervisor must inform the Political Science Transfer Credit Advisor at Wellesley by email that the paper has been evaluated.

For the purpose of meeting a subfield distribution requirement in the major, a student may count a course taken elsewhere provided that it transfers as at least .75 Wellesley units.

For information about how to submit a transfer credit request, see the registrar's Transfer of Credit Guidelines.

Transfer Credit Advisor: Prof. Nancy Scherer
The only route to honors in the major is writing a thesis and passing an oral examination. To be admitted to the thesis program, a student must have a grade point average of at least 3.5 in all work in the major field above the 100-level; the department may petition on her behalf if her GPA in the major is between 3.0 and 3.5. Majors who are interested in writing a senior honors thesis are urged to discuss their ideas and plans with either their advisor or the department chair as early as possible in their junior year.
Graduate Work
Students considering going to graduate school for a Ph.D. in political science should talk with their advisors about appropriate preparation in quantitative methods and foreign languages.