Approximately 6,010 political scientists are employed in the United States. Political science is a popular major among undergraduates, so practically every college and university has a political science department. Political scientists find work at public and private universities, and at community colleges. They teach in undergraduate, master's, and doctoral programs. Teaching jobs at doctoral institutions are usually better paying and more prestigious. The most sought-after positions are those that offer tenure. Many political scientists work for the federal government. Others work for scientific research and development services, and religious, grantmaking, civic, and professional organizations.
Most graduate schools accept a very limited number of applicants every semester, so there's a lot of competition for admittance into some of the top programs. Applicants are admitted on the basis of grade point averages, test scores, internships performed, awards received, and other achievements.
Once you're in graduate school, you'll begin to perform the work you'll be doing in your career. You'll teach undergraduate classes, attend conferences, present papers, and submit articles to political science journals. Your success as a graduate student will help you in your job search. After completing a graduate program, you'll teach as an adjunct professor or visiting professor at various schools until you can find a permanent tenure-track position.
Membership in APSA and other political science associations entitles you to job placement assistance. APSA can also direct you to a number of fellowship and grant opportunities. Due to the heavy competition for these jobs, you'll need an impressive C.V., including a list of publications in respected political science journals, a list of conferences attended, and good references attesting to your teaching skills.
In a tenure-track position, political scientists work their way up through the ranks from assistant professor, to associate professor, to full professor. They will probably have to work a few years in temporary, or visiting, faculty positions before they can join the permanent faculty of a political science department. They can then expect to spend approximately seven years working toward tenure. Tenure provides political scientists job security and prominence within their department, and is awarded on the basis of publications, research performed, student evaluations, and teaching experience. Some political science professors become department heads or serve in other administrative positions.
Political scientists outside of academe advance by taking on managerial positions, earning higher salaries, or working for more prestigious organizations.
Tips for Entry
Talk to political science professors about the profession.
Read American Political Science Review and other political science publications, available from the American Political Science Association (APSA) (https://www.apsanet.org/journals).
Visit the Careers in Political Science section on the APSA Web site at https://www.apsanet.org/PScareers.
Get a part-time or summer job working for a politician to gain experience.