2021 Best Online PhD in Political Science Programs

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By earning an online PhD in Political Science, you can develop expertise in your chosen areas of research, equip yourself for university teaching, and learn advanced research methods.

PhD in Political Science

Your research expertise can also translate to public relations consulting, political campaign work, or public policy or public affairs leadership roles. Professionals in the field can also work for the government or conduct political or social survey research and analysis.

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In addition to the status, expertise, and future job prospects that can come with a doctoral degree, you may also enjoy a learning experience that’s rich in critical inquiry, passionate debating, and practical opportunities for professional networking.

Online Political Science Doctoral Programs

Political Science Doctoral Programs

Political science doctoral programs can vary by school, but you’ll generally take interesting classes and seminars and learn research and analysis methods. A PhD in this field can help you qualify for careers in politics, industry, government, international relations, or public policy.

Part of your studies will focus on acquiring a broad and comprehensive understanding of political institutions and systems. Other parts of your learning are likely to focus on comparative politics. There tends to be an emphasis on empirical data and abstract modeling methods that are anchored in quantitative and qualitative analysis.

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The lecture hall will be only a small component of your learning. You may also engage in smaller seminars and apply new and previous learning in discussion groups. The following are commonly found in a poli sci discussion group:

  • Socratic inquiry
  • Critical debate
  • Defense or refinement of your claims
  • Evaluation of your peers’ claims

As a doctoral student, you may want to align your studies with your other interests and career goals. You may be interested in working in academia, law, or international relations, or you may want to perform public research or consulting related to political campaigns or public affairs.

Careers in Political Science

Careers in Political Science

Some graduates may choose to pursue state or national elective office. Others may want to work in urban and regional planning or work as political consultants, political pollsters, or market research analysts.

Some political scientists with advanced degrees work for the federal government as state department analysts or advisors. Others work with government leaders or NGOs in international relations. Specialists in constitutional law might work for law firms, advocacy groups, think tanks, or the US Department of Justice.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a doctorate in political science could help make you a good candidate for specialized research, writing, leadership, or analysis roles in a range of related occupations.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Political Scientists, Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services $136,640
Political Scientists, Federal Government $133,460
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers $118,430
Postsecondary Political Science Teachers $85,760
Urban and Regional Planners $75,950
Political Scientists, Educational Services $75,260
Market Research Analysts $65,810
Historians $63,100
Public Relations Specialists $62,810
Reporters, Correspondents, and Broadcast News Analysts $49,300

You’ll be doing specialized research in a doctoral program, so your career path will likely depend on how you choose to apply your knowledge. An online doctorate can also help qualify you to pursue careers in public research or academia—teaching at a university or publishing books or articles based on original research in the field.

Other occupational roles in the field can include political leadership or consulting, political or historical research, and public policy research and advocacy.

Political Science Doctorate Curriculum

Political Science Doctorate

Your courses will vary greatly by school, but many curriculum formats emphasize key branches of the major, such as American politics, comparative politics, political theory, and international relations.

  • American Political Institutions: This course is an advanced study and discussion of the powers of institutions aligned with the three main branches of government, including the laws and mechanisms extending and limiting their powers.
  • American Political Parties: You’ll examine and analyze the history, evolutions, ideologies, and power dynamics of US political parties.
  • Constitutional History and Law: This course is a comprehensive overview of the constitution, its origins, competing interpretations, and legal statues, with selected topics for advanced research.
  • Comparative Politics: You’ll assess various social, behavioral, economic, and political data to create predictive comparative models related to political dynamics and trends.
  • Introduction to Political Methodology: This is a course on abstract theoretical models and statistical methods for qualitative and quantitative research designs for the study of political institutions and related sociological and behavioral phenomena.
  • Discrete Research Methods: This course provides in-depth examinations of specific research methods, their empirical features, and considerations of their applications for research into distinct branches of political science.
  • International Relations: This course discusses dominant topics in international relations, including studies in international conflict, theories of diplomacy, cold-war conflicts, international alliances, international law, and economic development.
  • Political Theory: You’ll perform advanced research and investigation into topics selected from historical political theory, empirical political theory, or comparative politics.
  • Dissertation Colloquium: You’ll discuss and critique research methodologies and research proposals as you develop dissertation research and prepare to complete and defend your dissertation.

Some programs group broad areas of investigation and discussion into a small number of extended seminar formats. In most cases, though, you’ll still study topics in various branches of political science as well as advanced research design, methodology, and analysis.

Admissions

PhD in Political Science Admissions

Admissions requirements for political science doctoral programs will vary by school. You don’t need to have a masters for admissions, but at some schools you might.

Common admissions requirements include:

  • Bachelors or masters in political science or related major
  • Satisfactory GPA (often 3.0 or 3.5)
  • GRE or GMAT scores (if required)
  • Letters of recommendation

You don’t always have to get a masters first to earn a PhD, but some program structures either allow or require PhD candidates to earn a masters degree in their PhD program.

Accreditation

PhD in Political Science Accreditation

Accredited schools and curricula meet recognized standards for academic quality and resources that support students’ success.

Pursuing your degree at an accredited school can also be a condition for receiving certain forms of financial aid. A degree from an accredited institution is recognized and respected by other universities and prospective employers.

Organizations such as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) have more information on accreditation.

Financial Aid

PhD in Political Science Financial Aid

It can take quite a few years to finish a doctoral program, so relying on financial aid is common for many PhD students.

Common forms of financial aid for students include state and federal grants, need-based or merit-based scholarships, work study programs, and student loans. Financial aid packages may combine several types of aid. Loan terms can vary, so it’s helpful to review your package carefully.

With the right circumstances, you might also qualify for employer-sponsored tuition assistance, research assistant jobs, or even a research fellowship. If you anticipate seeking need-based financial aid, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can be a good first step.

What Can I Do with a PhD in Political Science

PhD in Political Science Careers

What you do with a PhD in Political Science often depends on your individual interests and your professional experience and skills, among other factors.

Some people who study political history want to compete for elective offices. Others will engage in nonprofit, nonpartisan public advocacy work, and some may pursue careers in international relations or postsecondary teaching.

Working as a campaign consultant or doing political fundraising work is another career path you might pursue as a political scientist. You’ll generally learn advanced research skills in a PhD program, so working in consulting, public policy, think tanks, and academia are additional pathways to consider.

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs for both political scientists and market research analysts will experience faster than average job growth over the next decade. These positions are expected to see 6% and 18% job growth respectively.

Other related careers for political scientists include public relations managers, fundraising managers, urban and regional planners, and postsecondary teachers.

How Many Years Does It Take to Get a PhD in Political Science?

Get a PhD in Political Science

Getting a PhD in Political Science online typically takes 3 to 5 years, but your timeline can vary according to your program and schedule.

Getting an online doctorate in political science is likely to involve designing, researching, and writing a dissertation in addition to advanced coursework and seminars. So, some students may end up needing more time than others, similar to the experience of earning an online masters in political science.

Programs can also vary in their approach and emphasis. Some are designed to get students finished more quickly while others focus more on breadth and depth of learning.

Is a PhD in Political Science Worth It?

Get a PhD in Political Science Professionals

Yes, a PhD in Political Science is worth it for many professionals. Jobs for political scientists, which includes work in international relations, are forecast for 6% growth (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Jobs for market research analysts, which can include campaign consulting and polling research work, are forecast for 18% job growth.

Even postsecondary teaching positions and jobs for public relations and fundraising managers are anticipated to grow 9% over the next decade. Meanwhile, urban and regional planners are expected to experience 11% job growth.

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That said, many people who pursue a PhD don’t base decisions on job prospects alone. Many PhD candidates have an intellectual curiosity and drive that can make research and learning rewarding processes in their own right, making this political science degree worthwhile.

Universities Offering Online PhD in Political Science Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Liberty University

Liberty University

Liberty University offers an online PhD in Public Policy program. Courses last for 8 weeks. The program requires 60 credits to complete, and up to 30 qualifying credits can be transferred in.

Students may choose a specialization in Economics, Education, Foreign Policy, National Security, and Social Policy. Applicants must have a master’s degree and a GPA of 3.0.

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University offers an online PhD in Public Administration and Policy. The program requires students to complete 49 credit hours, with 12 credit hours dedicated to a dissertation. Applicants must have a master’s degree, a minimum GPA of 3.25, 3 letters of recommendation, and a 3 to 6 page personal essay about their goals.

Old Dominion University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Salve Regina University

Salve Regina University

Salve Regina University offers an online PhD in International Relationships. Students must complete 13 courses, including a dissertation. They must also pass a written examination with three questions based on general knowledge and the specific areas of study.

Applicants can be accepted year-round. When applying, applicants must submit all transcripts, a resume, 2 letters of recommendation, and at least 5 years of professional experience.

Salve Regina University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

Valdosta State University

Valdosta State University campus

Valdosta State University offers an online PhD in Public Administration program. To graduate, students must complete 54 credit hours but have the option to transfer in up to 15 qualifying credits. Students may also choose a specialization. Applicants must submit their GPA, their GRE scores, and 3 letters of recommendation.

Valdosta State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Walden University

Walden University

Walden University offers an online PhD in Public Policy and Administration program. Students must complete 58 credits and a 4 day residency to graduate. They can choose to transfer in up to 41 qualifying credits from another institute.

The program must be completed within 8 years of starting. Applicants must have a master’s degree and must submit all transcripts.

Walden is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Earning Your PhD in Political Science Online

PhD in Political Science Online

The advanced knowledge, professional status, and pure intellectual rewards that come with getting a PhD can all be very exciting and rewarding. When it comes to earning a political science PhD, some students want to accelerate an important career step while others want to pursue their passion for research and new ideas.

Online political science degrees tend to come in all shapes and sizes. You may want to take stock of your goals and then take a look at the many online political science doctoral programs out there from accredited institutions. You can then discover which programs excite you most!

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Keith Nickolaus
WRITTEN BY
Keith Nickolaus
Keith has a Ph.D. and Master's in Comparative Literature from the University of California - Berkeley and a Bachelor's in Literature from the University of California - Santa Cruz. A retired educator, Keith lives in Berkeley and researches and writes about trends in innovation, policy, and education leadership.