M.A. Political Science

The Master of Arts in Political Science prepares students for a wide-range of careers. In addition to preparation for teaching, research and doctoral-level work in Political Science, students with an M.A. degree in Political Science typically find careers in law, government service, political parties, interest groups and associations, business, journalism and private or non-profit organizations. The M.A. program is designed to broaden the student’s knowledge of the core areas of Political Science and to permit specialization. For admission into the program applicants must have a minimum of 30 semester hours of Political Science or its equivalent.

Program Co-Directors

Please note: The Master of Public Administration (MPA) program is now in the Department of Public Administration and Policy, housed within the Max S. Baucus Institute.

Degree Requirements

The Master of Arts in Political Science program consists of 30 semester credits (Thesis Option) or 36 semester credits (Comprehensive Study/Non-Thesis Option) of graduate work. The degree requirements are as follows:

  1. PSCI 520, 530, 540 and either PSCI 553 or 557, Core Seminars in Political Science (12 credits), and PSCI 480 Research Goals & Strategies (3 credits);
  2. Four Field Exams based upon four core fields of Political Science;
  3. Thesis Option: additional coursework in the areas of the student’s particular interest (12 credits  minimum, up to 6 of which may be taken outside the Department with advisor approval) and a thesis, including an oral defense; a maximum of 6 thesis credits may be taken;
  4. Comprehensive Study (Non-Thesis) Option: additional coursework based upon a Curriculum Plan appropriate for the student’s educational objectives approved by the student’s major advisor (24 credits, up to 12 of which may be taken outside the Department with advisor approval), and completion of three research papers with tenure-track political science faculty (paper format provided by the Department).

Note: Students should consult with the MA advisor regarding appropriate foreign language/statistics preparation relevant to their career goals.

Core Seminars

The Core Seminars comprise a required series of courses covering an introductory survey of professional literature and selected research projects in comparative government (PSCI 520), international relations (PSCI 530), American government. (PSCI 540) and political theory (PSCI 553 or PSCI 557). For those students considering the M.A. as a terminal degree, the core seminars will be an ample review of the field; for those students continuing on to doctoral work, the core seminars will serve as a springboard to further studies.

Additional Course Work

Master’s level work in political science primarily surveys the field and trains a student in professional standards of research. Additional course work (keeping an eye on the Graduate School requirement for 500-level courses) provides a vehicle, particularly within the Comprehensive Study Option, for pursuing personal study interests. This additional course work also offers an opportunity for students selecting the Comprehensive Study Option to work on the three required research papers (see “Guidelines for Comprehensive Study Research Papers”) and for students opting for the Thesis to select future members of the thesis committee. The thesis committee consists of three members, two from the Department of Political Science and one from outside the Department. Selection of committee members is generally made easier if the student has taken classes from the faculty member who may be asked to serve on the thesis committee.

Comprehensive Field Exams

The goal of the comprehensive written exams is to demonstrate that the student (at M.A.-level competency) is conversant with the professional goals, concepts and problems of the discipline of political science. A student should be familiar with the scholars, literature, research questions and substance of political science.

The four written field exams will be administered at the conclusion of each core seminar and as a precondition for the defense of the thesis. The basis for the exam will be the four core seminar areas, with the person from whom the student took the core seminar being the person to write and grade the questions from that area. Since the goal of the exam is to demonstrate such student abilities as generalizing, integrating, comparing and contrasting, the exam may also include other relevant coursework. The Department expects that there will be advance consultation between the student and the four examiners so that there will be a clear understanding of the material to be covered by each exam.

The exams will be four 2-hour written exams covering the four core areas of the field of political science. The  professor administering the exam will determine the format. The field exams are offered only to students who have been formally admitted into the Political Science M.A. Program by the Graduate School; they are not offered to graduate non-degree students. If a student expects to complete examinations, defend a thesis. or submit research papers, and receive a degree in a given semester, then the examinations must be held no later than the last week of regularly scheduled classes. The draft of the thesis to be defended should be made available to the Graduate School as early as possible during the final semester to aid in the timely processing of graduation materials.

Students must receive a distinguished pass or a passing grade (B-) in each of the four examination areas. An unsatisfactory performance in an examination area may be made up by repeating the exam with at least a B- grade. Only one repeat performance is permitted.


The thesis represents a major opportunity at the M.A.-level to study a particular subject in depth. The thesis also demonstrates one’s ability to formulate a research question, conduct independent research under the guidance of a thesis advisor, write up the findings in professionally-competent fashion and defend the results before a faculty committee of three (one from outside the Political Science Department).

Past experience indicates that students progress quite well with the thesis if they can get organized early and pick a thesis topic/advisor/committee. Once a defensible prospectus evolves (normally with advance consultation with the thesis committee), a group meeting is held to make sure that the committee and the student are in agreement concerning the project. The final oral defense of the thesis (l to 2 hours) may also include some reference to course work and the written field exams.

Students should check with the Graduate School regarding requirements concerning final copies of the thesis as well as other administrative details relevant to receiving a graduate degree.

Foreign Language/Statistics

Depending upon a students field of concentration and career goals, the faculty advisor will recommend appropriate preparation in foreign language study and/or statistics. Competence in language and/or statistics is not only a research tool but an important part of the craft if one is to be prepared professionally to deal with the various fields of political science.