The Major: Learning Goals & Requirements

  • 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; and 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 development as they unfold.
  • Become informed and reflective citizens of their communities and countries and knowledgeable about the global dynamics that influence the shape and content of political life.
  • Acquire particular skills and tools important in political science, including conducting research using methodologies appropriate to the different subfields of the discipline; the ability to read complex texts closely; write clearly and well in short essays, substantive research papers, and other formats; think critically and analytically about empirical evidence and theoretical propositions; generate and test hypotheses; and take and defend a position against the strongest counterarguments.


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. 

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 107, POL4 201

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

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

The department does not grant transfer credit at the 300-level for either the major or for college degree requirements. All transfer course count at the 200-level. This policy applies to courses taken at MIT.

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 more information, contact the department transfer credit advisor, Prof. Nancy Scherer.

Advanced Placement Credit

Students may receive units of College credit if they achieve a grade of 5 on the American Government and Politics or the Comparative Politics Advanced Placement Examinations. Such AP credits do not count toward the minimum number of units required for the political science major nor for the American or comparative subfield distribution requirements for the major. If a student does receive a unit of College credit for the American politics exam, she may not take POL1 200 (American Politics). Students who are uncertain whether to receive a College AP credit in American politics or to take POL1 200 should consult with a member of the department who specializes in American politics/law or comparative politics.


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.