10 Top Degrees for a Career in Politics
Pair your passion for politics and public service with a degree to help you meet your career aspirations and get your foot in the government door.
Last Updated: 02/04/2021
Maybe you want to improve your hometown by running for mayor. Maybe you want to make a difference by swaying public policy from the inside. Whatever it is that has ignited your interest in the political world, there is no shortage of noble reasons to get involved. There’s also no shortage of paths to gain entry. Like many other interdisciplinary fields, the political workforce is made up of professionals with diverse skills and backgrounds. However, there are a handful of degrees that lend themselves especially well to a career in politics.
Continue reading to find the degrees best suited for a political career and learn how you can align your degree with the area of the field that interests you most.
Political science is the study of how politics work. As a political science major, you’ll study different political systems and ideologies including democracy, socialism, communism, anarchism, and totalitarianism. Your courses will look at how governments work and how laws are created and upheld in these different systems. You’ll learn about the philosophy behind our politics here in the U.S. and will compare and evaluate the effectiveness of political systems that differ from our own. You’ll also valuable gain experience when it comes to making compelling arguments, whether written or spoken. You can earn your political science bachelor’s degree online or in a traditional, on-campus program.
Political science is one of the best pre-law majors and a good percentage of people who run for office hold law degrees. But a political science degree opens the door to many other career options in politics outside of the legal realm as well. For example, you might parlay your degree into a job working for a politician as a policy or intelligence analyst, market researcher, or legislative assistant. You also might use the speaking and writing skills you honed to work for a lawmaker as a media spokesperson or as a social media manager, helping your legislator track and shape constituent views. These behind-the-scenes roles put you in the thick of the political action.
Does working at a local, state, or federal regulatory agency such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission or the Environmental Protection Agency interest you? If so, you might start with a public administration degree. As a public administration major, you will study a variety of topics including economics, communications, public finance, budgeting, business and government law, administration, human resources, and ethics. Your coursework will help you develop communication, organizational, decision-making, and leadership skills that will be necessary for positions in government. You’ll have the choice of earning your public administration degree online or in-person.
A degree in public administration can put you on a path to leadership or managerial jobs in federal, state, or local governments as well as nonprofit agencies and private organizations. Jobs in public administration likely require you to analyze information, draft and oversee budgets, and implement governmental and public policies. You are a steward of the public interest, much like the elected officials with whom you’re likely to serve and work closely with. Some job titles in public administration include public works director, director of policy research and public affairs, and manager of contracts and procurement. Jobs in public administration are a great way to learn what goes on behind the scenes in politics, build a firm understanding of how to draft sound policies, and network with politicians of all types.
With an economics degree, you’ll study the factors that affect economies, such as interest rates, inflation, unemployment, and taxes. Your courses are likely to cover politics and government and their role in economic policy as well as the role history and leadership have played in economic events around the world. You’ll learn to evaluate economic problems and develop policies to combat them, present research findings, and convey complex information clearly.
Governments at all levels—federal, state, and local—hire those with economics degrees for various positions. You could work as an economic or financial analyst or as a trade specialist for a government agency or an elected leader. Your research and communications skills can be valuable to political leaders in helping them develop and promote the economic policies that they believe would best help their constituents. You might aim to work in financial management for a local, state, or federal office—all the way up to the White House Office of Budget and Management.
Government agencies have customers to serve and goals to meet, just like traditional businesses. Having a degree in business administration and applying that business mindset to help agencies achieve their goals can be a good way to get a foot in the door. As a business administration major, you’ll study management, finance, operations, marketing, and human resources. Your coursework will be designed so that you develop a firm understanding of not only how businesses operate but also how to lead and motivate people who work for you. For that you’ll need to learn effective communication skills, how to make sound business decisions, and how to troubleshoot and resolve issues that arise. To target a career in politics, you may want to focus your business administration degree on logistics, marketing, or project management.
As a politician, a business administration degree can help you develop economic policies that would help your constituency or help you steer a political campaign’s finances. A business administration degree might also lead to jobs with government agencies as logisticians, management or financial analysts, or human resource specialists. There’s also the possibility of a job as a meeting, convention, and event planner or a training and development specialist. Your communication and problem-solving skills will be as important in these public sector roles as your understanding of money and finance.
International relations is the study of relationships between countries and governments around the globe. This interdisciplinary major draws from economics, history, geography, philosophy, sociology, psychology, and political science. Some programs also include classes in anthropology, international law, and religion, and many have a language requirement. These disciplines will set the stage for a deep understanding of current topics related to world affairs, including pandemics, global warming, human rights, terrorism, arms control, trade policies, and immigration.
Like other liberal arts degrees, an international relations major does not prepare you for a specific job or occupation; rather, it prepares you to succeed in a variety of fields. For example, your degree could prepare you for jobs such as foreign affairs specialist, international marketing specialist, political analyst, or nonprofit program coordinator; someday you could even find yourself working as a diplomat or ambassador. You could also put your communications and research skills to work in the foreign service or the Peace Corps or for other non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International or Greenpeace.
A public policy major gives you the tools and background to understand how public policy is made and implemented and how it affects people and societies. This major includes political science as you learn the process of political decision-making and economics as you learn how resources are allocated. Add to that an understanding of mathematics and data collection so that those in charge of public policies are able to make informed decisions. You’ll also take courses in sociology, law, philosophy, and ethics. This major requires you to share your findings with stakeholders, so learning to hone communications skills is important. After earning your public policy bachelor’s degree, you can even go on to earn your master’s in public policy online or in-person.
An undergraduate major in public policy is a good way to land an entry-level position in politics doing research or analysis for government agencies, nonprofits, political parties, or elected officials. You could do the same for the private sector, working for a bank, real estate firm, or healthcare system that has projects involving government agencies. You might get involved in working to influence lawmaking at the local, state, or federal level or have a job collecting, analyzing, and presenting data. Some public policy majors also pursue careers in law enforcement or corrections, while others choose law or healthcare. These specialties all provide a bank of experience that is highly valuable for jobs in politics.
As a communications major, you’ll take courses in journalism, mass media, social media, public relations, and marketing that prepare you to develop and deliver effective messages using various communications platforms. If you’re looking to work in politics, courses in history, psychology, sociology, economics, political science, and other humanities can round out your studies and put your communication in context, allowing you to communicate easily with people of different cultures and backgrounds.
A degree in communications can lead to many different jobs in politics such as campaign director, lobbyist, media consultant, press secretary, speechwriter, public affairs specialist, or community affairs specialist. A communications major could also become a candidate; politicians need to express their messages clearly and speak coherently off the cuff. You also can pursue careers in government and nonprofit agencies that require top-notch communications skills such as press spokesperson, market researcher, and promotions manager. If you’d rather approach politics from the outside looking in, a communications degree could work as a path to a career as a political reporter or commentator.
This timely degree focuses on disease outbreaks, health education, and safety standards. As a public health major, your coursework will give you a greater understanding of the many factors that influence the health and well-being of different populations. Initially, to earn a bachelor’s in public health, you’ll take courses in economics, sociology, statistics, science, and history. As an upperclassman, you’ll study analytical methods, environmental health, health promotion, and the U.S. public health system. The major builds on your ability to think critically, analyze data, and communicate effectively. Most schools will offer both in-person and online public health degree programs.
Your bachelor’s degree in public health may lead to a job in research or with a nonprofit or government agency working on disease prevention. You also could work at a for-profit company, such as a medical or pharmaceutical company working to influence public policies that affect people’s health. With an advanced degree, your title could be biostatistician, health educator, or administrator, working to prevent outbreaks and control them once they occur. As we’ve seen recently, careers at the Centers for Disease Control, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and state and local health agencies combine politics, health, and science in a high-profile way.
With an international business degree, you’ll take courses such as accounting, global business, international finance, comparative economic systems, and business analysis. You also are likely to be required to be fluent in a foreign language and to study abroad for a semester or more. Your goal is to develop a greater understanding of how world markets conduct business and you might specialize in a particular part of the world such as China or Latin America. You may also be able to focus your studies on the area of business you enjoy most, such as accounting, management, finance, marketing, or entrepreneurship. The courses you’ll take will teach you creative problem-solving, public speaking, and cultural awareness and sensitivity.
People who major in international business have jobs as foreign service officers, trade specialists, import/export coordinators, logistics managers, and financial analysts. With an advanced degree, you also can work as an economist, policy analyst, human resources manager, management analyst, or executive with an international company. The ability to make recommendations from a global perspective is valuable to government agencies, politicians, and private companies looking to influence public policy, making this degree a good one to get into the political realm.
Criminal justice is another popular degree for future politicians, especially those who aspire to go to law school before entering politics. In criminal justice, you learn the mechanics of the justice system. In addition to courses about the courts, due process, homeland security, criminal theory, and evidence, you will take courses in sociology and psychology, as understanding people and their motives is an important part of the field. You’ll also need to study research methods, the law, and communications. Most undergraduate criminal justice programs are a combination of theoretical and practical knowledge that you will find useful as a politician or in a political career. You can find both online criminal justice degree programs as well as hybrid and traditional programs.
Your undergraduate degree in criminal justice can help you get into politics as a criminal justice lobbyist, working in a state capitol or Washington, D.C. Your employer could be a private-sector company or a nonprofit. You might also work as an investigator for a district attorney or a government agency. Politicians also rely on people with knowledge of criminal justice to help them draft and enact criminal justice reforms. You might be interested in working for organizations that lobby for criminal justice reforms including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Innocence Project, or Penal Reform International.
Other Degrees Well-Suited for a Political Career
While the ten degrees profiled above are the top choices for future political professionals, there are other subjects that lend themselves to a career in politics. Here are five more degrees that will equip you with knowledge and skills that can complement a political career.
As an English major, you’ll study language and literature. You’ll learn how to comprehend material, analyze it, and make persuasive arguments about it. As a politician, you need to look at the issues, analyze them, and make arguments to support your position and sway others to do so as well. You can use your English degree to land a job for a politician as a writer, researcher, or spokesperson. By helping candidates get their ideas across through writing speeches and campaign materials, you’ll prove to be a valuable part of any political team. Your English degree may also be helpful in jobs with the government, working in public relations or marketing, or with news organizations covering politics.
Finance is the study of banking, financial markets, and economics. With a finance degree, you’ll study how a company’s past performance may predict its future and learn how to analyze markets and best business practices. This degree requires you to communicate complex financial information and ideas clearly. Working on projects and case studies enhances your problem-solving skills and your ability to work well with others. These personal skills as well as the financial knowledge you acquire in this major can be very valuable for a career in politics.
A degree in history can be applied to a number of careers and politics is one of them. If you’re interested in politics, you might focus your history studies on how government systems are developed and how different political leadership styles affect outcomes. As you study historical events and people, you’ll also learn how to think critically, research all sides, and communicate your ideas. As a politician, you may draw on your knowledge of the past when proposing legislation for the future. Your ability to communicate and cite precedents will be helpful as a speechwriter or as a researcher for a politician or government agency.
Although you may not immediately think of politics when you think of an education degree, the two can be quite complimentary. Your courses may focus on the way people learn and best practices for teaching material so others comprehend it. As with most majors, education requires you to learn and apply critical-thinking skills. You could use your education degree to work in educational policy, helping to set rules and laws that govern educational systems. Or you could use your educational background as a politician and apply your teaching skills to promote your ideas and policies. Whatever route you choose to take, online education and teaching programs can make getting started simple.
Psychology majors study the human mind and behavior. What motivates people? What makes people think about things the way they do? What might affect their behavior? The answers to these questions can be valuable to political leaders who write and vote on public policies. A background in psychology can help you see how effective your legislation might be and can be useful when analyzing campaign data or conducting polling. Psychology majors do extensive writing, and you can parlay your writing skills into a job writing for a politician’s office or a media company covering politics. You can opt for an online psychology degree or enroll in an on-campus program.