Department of
Political Science
Storch Building
One Trinity Place
San Antonio, Texas 78212

The Mural,   James Sicner                                              Graduate School   


Law Schools

Graduate School

Job Market






After Trinity


Considering Graduate School



Start with a solid academic record.   Admissions councils consider the following factors:  Undergraduate GPA; GRE scores; letters of recommendation;  special skills in research, statistics, computer applications, writing, and foreign languages; work experience; internships and your purpose for pursuing graduate study in political science.




You need to think about what programs interested you most.  Which of the political science subfields are you interested in focusing on?  International relations, comparative politics, political theory, public policy, U.S. Politics? Narrowing your interests helps in choosing a program but know that most Ph.D. programs in political science offer coursework in all or most of the subfields.  Lists of the best political science departments are available, though each has strengths and weaknesses in its coverage of fields. Various guides will give you lists of universities that have professional programs in international relations/affairs, public policy, or urban affairs for example. These lists don't exhaust your options since all of the regional or area studies programs (e.g. Latin American studies, Middle Eastern Studies) tend to be listed separately, though you usually can pursue an area focus in major departments or professional programs. The problem you face is too many choices. Narrowing down the list of schools you are interested in involves several steps.


Define Your Career Goals:

The first step is to define your career goals. Do they involve an academic career in research and teaching? Or, do they involve working in various governmental or non-governmental agencies or organizations concerned in some way with political or social issues? How you answer this question can help narrow down the schools you wish to look at.


Academic Careers:
If you are pursuing an academic career, you will look at schools with Ph.D. programs designed for training researchers and teachers. You would choose the program because it is the kind of place you would like to get a Ph.D., as discussed below. A very few programs offer an MA option, from which you could move directly into the job market or move on to a Ph.D. program.


Careers in Public Policy, International Public Affairs or Non-Profit:

If you are interested in pursuing a professional degree, look at programs that specialize in, or offer substantial training for a career in public policy or international public affairs. These programs may be multidisciplinary, incorporating courses in economics, law, business, and other social science disciplines.  Public policy and international public affairs are sometimes offered in a joint-degree program (e.g. MA/JD).  Many of these programs offer only M.A.s, although some also offer Ph.D.s.  Note: an alternative would be to find programs that specialize in a policy area (e.g. public health, education, urban planning, development, non-profit management) of special interest. For more information, see "In Praise of a Public Policy/International Affairs Education,"  by Susan Carroll Schwab



Define Your Regional or Thematic Interests:

Identify your regional or issue-area interests. Do you want to specialize in a particular region of the world and/or are your interests defined by issue? If you are interested in a particular geographical region, you will want to make sure that you find programs (either academic or professional) that are strong in that region.  If a regional interest is your main concern, you may want to look for programs that are devoted exclusively to the study of that region.  If you are committed to the study of a particular topic/issue area, or a particular theoretical perspective, you will want to make sure you find programs that respond to your thematic interests (i.e., human rights, electoral politics, international security, criminal justice, etc.) or perspective (positivist, poststructuralist, neo-institutionalism, realist, feminist, etc.).


Which of the Three Basic Types of Programs is Best for You:

Professional Schools of Public Policy or International Affairs
These programs offer professional training--some exclusively so, although some are equally good at preparing researchers and teachers. Professional training might lead to various careers in business, state or national government, NGOs, or International Governmental Organization.  In general these public policy programs allow graduate students to balance theoretical and practical concerns while the international studies programs balance a regional interest with the study of substantive issues. Some of these programs offer only MAs; others offer both MAs and PhDs. For more information visit, The Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs


Political Science Departments
Every major graduate department of political science allows students to specialize in any of the major subfields. These programs tend to serve students intending to pursue a career as an academic, but (in the few cases where this is possible) an MA from a good university might launch a professional career as well. It is usually possible to combine general training in political science with some specialization in a substantive issue or geographical region, but departmental strengths vary as do the theoretical perspectives dominant in the department.


Regional or Area Study Programs
If you are committed to working on a particular region, you may want to look very closely at programs that allow you to specialize in a region. Most of these programs would also allow (or require) you to emphasize political or social science as a specialty within your region. If this is a possible avenue for you, you should seek the advice of faculty who are area specialists and would be familiar with such programs.


Develop an Application Strategy 

Even if you narrow your search down to one or two of these categories, it may still be far from obvious which programs are the few to which you should apply. It is important that you narrow it to a few (5-10), because of the time and cost of making applications. Three factors are crucial in making these decisions: 1) the fit of the program with your needs; 2) the prestige of the program; and 3) financial issues.  Specifically:
Take into account the match between your interests and  the program offerings.   Most programs attempt to give very broad coverage of subfields and geographical regions if not intellectual perspectives, but often you can get a sense about their strengths from the materials they send or department or program web pages.  Apply to programs that employ faculty that support your research interest. So,  do some research on faculty: look for books and articles in your areas of interest and figure out if the author is in a program that offers graduate degrees. S/he may be someone you would want to work with. Sometimes faculty advisers can help you sort this out. However, keep in mind that your interests may shift somewhat after you get to graduate school and therefore the overall quality of the graduate program is an issue.

Although it is not recommended that you make your decisions on prestige alone, the prestige of the program is important because degrees from some schools buy more or buy different things than degrees from schools of lesser prestige. We should probably bracket the question of whether the prestige is deserved or not, because when you are on the job market that may be irrelevant. You also need to keep in mind that prestigious programs get more applications and it may be more difficult to get accepted into these programs. Various rankings of departments are available online.

You need to consider your financial aid requirements. How much do you need it and how much do you need? In your search for financial aid, keep in mind some general principles (that may not fit every case): (1) prestigious academic programs, with more competitive admissions, usually (but not always) support those they accept; (2) less prestigious institutions, with less competitive admissions, may or may not have fewer resources (NB: second-tier schools that must compete for good students often have quite generous funding for Ph.D. students; third-tier schools often have less money available); (3) programs emphasizing academic training concentrate their resources on PhD students; (4) there is more financial aid for the training of academics - teachers and researchers - than for professional training (in complete disregard of social needs or market conditions); (5) financial aid practices may treat citizens/permanent residents and international students differently; and (6) look for other scholarship programs, through your home-town organizations, major corporations, national organizations, and the U.S. or other governments.

Note: some schools send information that will give you a sense of their practices and your chances for financial assistance. In other cases, you must guess. Sometimes a look at the department's website or a phone call to an admissions director will get you a clearer answer.

Finally, in devising an application strategy, you need to think about how competitive your academic record is. You may want to develop a strategy that mixes various kinds and "levels" of schools: mixing more likely acceptances with less likely and mixing better financial aid possibilities with less likely ones. Don't underestimate your chances, but try not to hold unreasonable expectations either. Use faculty advisers as a sounding board as you devise a strategy.


Implement Your Strategy

As a general rule pay careful attention to details - don't give an admissions officer a chance to reject your application because of some minor stylistic error, a sloppy essay, or some other easily avoidable mistake. And get started early. If you really want to get into your "dream" school, you really shouldn't leave this very important process until the last minute.

Finally, good luck. And if you need any help or advice, don't hesitate to contact one of the Political Science professors



For another very helpful take on applying to graduate schools see:

Made available by the Macalester College, Department of Political Science