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What is Political Science? A subject guide

What is political sciencePolitical science is a fascinating area of study and suitable for those with a keen interest in their community and the workings of society as a whole.

Studying political science will provide students with a wide range of transferable skills and will provide them with a diverse range of career prospects, including directly related roles in government and public policy as well as less obviously related work, for example in journalism or PR.

Those with a keen interest in social justice and making a difference to the world around them may choose postgraduate study in political science to enable them to further explore the topic and give them the knowledge and skills to work in this field.

In this article we are going to explore political science in more detail – looking at the various areas of study involved, how it is taught, and what careers it can lead to.


What is political science?

Political science deals with the systems of governance and power, and political science students will analyse various aspects of politics at local, national and international levels.

Focusing on both the theory and the practice of governments and their embedded politics and the distribution of power, areas of study on a political science masters will focus on three key areas – political theory, international relations and comparative politics.

Within these key areas, modules of study are likely to include:

  • History of politics
  • Conflict resolution
  • Defence policies
  • Global co-operation
  • Diplomacy
  • Environmental issues
  • European democracies
  • US foreign policy


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Areas of study within political science

What is political science?

Let’s take a look at the three main areas of study within political science.

  1. Political theory
  2. International relations
  3. Comparative politics

1. Political theory?

Political theory explores the foundations behind a country’s political system and institutions, considering why they exist and how they serve their community. By examining politics and related human behaviour from a historical perspective, students will gain a deeper understanding of political science as a whole.

As well as examining politics from a historical perspective, political theory also considers it from a philosophical perspective, considering issues that arise in current political life and how this could be made better in the future. Exploring the strategy of politics to make modern life and situations better will also play a part in this area of study.

2. International relations

International relations is concerned with the interaction of nations worldwide in terms of alliances, conflict, trade and overall communication. The importance of global organisations – such as the United Nations and NATO – as well as massive multinational corporations will come under scrutiny, with students examining why such organisations are so important in today’s world.

The topic of international relations will also look at the reasons behind conflict and war, why these situations arise in the first place and how they could be resolved. National security, defence programs and foreign policies will also feature.

Global environmental issues have also become an increasingly important area of investigation within this field, and the way different governments and countries tackle climate change is very much at the forefront of this area of research.

3. Comparative politics?

Comparative politics compares and contrasts different political belief systems, governments and institutions – weighing up their various pros and cons and looking at their strengths and weaknesses.

In comparative politics, students will look at why some political systems thrive whilst others fail their community and how the different types of political systems can learn from one another. This provides students with the ability to critically evaluate political theories, concepts and contexts.

Is politics a social science?

Political science is an intrinsic subject within the social sciences, drawing on many of the other social sciences including economics, history, law, sociology, philosophy and psychology.

Social sciences study the interaction of people and how they relate to each other, and with its focus on government and policies, and how these affect populations worldwide, political science is one of the social sciences.

Is politics a natural science?

Although they sound like they could be tackling similar areas of study, political science and natural science are largely unrelated.

While political science is the study of politics, governance, power and humanity, natural science is concerned with the physical world and universe from a scientific perspective. Branches of study in natural science include physics, chemistry, biology and maths.

What is political science?

Why study political science?

The study of political science is extremely important for the development and improvement of the world in which we live. By studying political science students will be able to understand the importance of participating in the actions and decision of their community and country – and will hopefully be able to make a positive difference in the future.

Studying political science could lead to a future role in politics and the ability to make a change in the world. For example, those with a concern about climate change issues can pursue this passion in a political arena and really make a difference. For instance, during her time as Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Arden was passionate about tackling climate issues in her country and on the global stage. The climate champion orchestrated several climate policies during her term, such as pushing through New Zealand’s Zero Carbon Act. Now, the former PM is joining the board of Prince William’s Earthshot Prize, the environmental charity that awards five £1m prizes every year for work providing innovative solutions to major environmental problems including nature conservation, waste-free living and air pollution.

Improving the world around us and being able to make a positive difference are excellent reasons to study political science.

How is political science taught?

A political science masters degree is a fascinating area of study and can be studied as a taught or a research program. There are several differences between taught and research based political science courses, which we discuss below.

Taught courses

Most political science masters are taught programs, which means students learn the topic through a combination of lectures, seminars and tutorials. This is very similar to the teaching style of undergraduate study, which most graduates will be familiar with.

Grading is likely to be done through a combination of course work, examinations and a final dissertation project.

This is the most common type of political science masters course, and is a great way for students to learn from experienced academics and peers – as well as complete a final research project of their own. 

Research courses

However, there are some research masters courses available in this field, for example the MRes in Political Science at the University of Essex. In this instance, students will be expected to study more independently, although this will be guided study so there will be contact time with professors and academics.

Students on a research masters will be taught research methods and then put their new skills into practice. Assessment and grading will mostly centre around an extensive research project hat students complete throughout the course.

MA or MSc in Political Science?

Political science can be studied as a MA (Master of Arts) or an MSc (Master of Science). An MA in Political Science will focus more on the historical and philosophical approaches to the topic while the MSc in Political Science is likely to take a more scientific approach. Students who choose to study an MSc in Political Science will probably need a strong grasp of statistical mathematics to analyse and research the subject effectively.

Political science tuition fees

The tuition fees for studying a masters degree in political science at a university in the UK are usually around £10,000 per year for home students and £20,000 for international students.

This amount will vary depending on the institution you choose to study at, for example the MSc in Political Science at LSE is £25,920 for all students (both Home and International), while the MSc in Political Science at the University of Essex costs £9,660 for Home students and £20,700 for International students.

Entry requirements

To be eligible to study a masters in political science at a UK university, students usually need to have a high second-class bachelors degree (or equivalent) in political science or a relevant subject. Relevant subjects at undergraduate level could include international relations, economics or history. Some universities will accept a 2.2 at undergraduate level, so it is worth checking with the admissions department of your preferred institution if this applies to you.

International students will also need to prove their competency in the English language.

Political science careers prospects

Studying a masters program in political science will be excellent preparation for a range of interesting careers in the following fields:

  • International organisations
  • Government and public policy
  • National security
  • Consultancy
  • NGOs
  • Business and finance

For those interested in continuing in the world of academia, a masters in political science will also provide great grounding for continued study, for example a PhD program.


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