Degree requirements

Students enrolled in the Political Science MA degree must select a non-thesis (37 credit hours) or a thesis track (30 credit hours). Each track has its own set of requirements and components. The thesis track is recommended only for students intent on and passionate about pursuing a Ph.D.

The program is divided into three areas. The first two areas are the core elements of the degree plan. Students are required to take at least two courses in both Area I and in Area II. All students are also required to complete POLS 5310 Analyzing Politics: Research Design and Methods.

  • Area I: American Politics and Policymaking
  • Area II: International Studies
  • Area III: Data Analysis

Area I: American Politics and Policymaking

This area concentration focuses on political processes, institutions, and behaviors in the American context. It also includes American judicial politics, public policymaking, and public administration.

Area II: International Studies

This area concentration explores issues in world politics and in comparative politics. Other regions and countries of the world are studied (such as the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, Latin America, and the Far East), as are issues related to global politics, such as international conflict, economic transactions, and international justice).

Area III: Data Analysis

This area concentration includes courses dedicated to studying research and methods, advancing student skills in understanding how to identify, collect, analyze, and present data and information.

It is strongly recommended that students complete the general course relevant to their area concentration as early in their degree plan as possible.

For American Politics and Policymaking:
• POLS 5300 American Government and Politics
• POLS 5324 Public Policy: Issues and Analysis

For International Studies:
• POLS 5303 Comparative Political Systems
• POLS 5332 Paradigms and Problems in International Relations

Non-Thesis Track

The non-thesis degree plan requires 36 hours of graduate coursework, including three hours of POLS 5310, plus one hour of POLS 5197, the required course for the degree’s comprehensive exit exam. Students will consult regularly with the Graduate Adviser on their degree plan.

Comprehensive Exam

All candidates for the degree of Master of Arts in Political Science must pass a final examination. For students enrolled in the non-thesis track, this is a comprehensive exam at the end of their degree. The exam will be written in the last semester of the student’s program; the semester in which they graduate.

Students will select two professors from a specific area concentration and with whom they have taken courses. Students will also identify one sub-field within this area concentration (see below for a list of subfields).

The exam has two Parts. Students will be provided two questions per Part, and must answer one question in each Part. Questions are drawn from specific courses, but students should be prepared to include material from other courses in their answers.

• Part 1: a general question about their area concentration.
• Part 2: a question from a specific sub-field of study within the area concentration.

Each question is designed to (a) prompt students to think about course materials; (b) think about the connections between their courses and the skills and knowledge they’ve learned; and (c) apply what they’ve learned to specific issues (real-world or theoretical). There is no minimum or maximum length for an answer, but students should consider each answer a short paper. Students should speak directly to both their committee members about members’ expectations regarding page length, content, citations, and so on.

Students have one week to answer the questions. The exam committee has two weeks to assess the answers, and decide on an outcome: 1) Pass unconditionally without oral defense; 2) Oral defense required. An oral defense of the answers will only be required if the committee decides that the answers are incomplete or do not demonstrate a sufficient grasp of the material. In the event of an oral defense, the committee can ask the student whatever they wish regarding the answers the student has given. The committee will then decide on an outcome: 1) Pass unconditionally; 2) Revise written answer or answers; 3) Fail. In the event of a decision of Revise, students will resubmit their written answer or answers and the committee will then decide to Pass or Fail. In the event of a decision of Fail, students may appeal to the POLS Graduate Studies Committee to retake the comprehensive exam. The appeal and the retake must be conducted within 60 calendar days after the decision of Fail has been rendered. Only one reexamination is permitted.


American Politics and Policymaking

  • Campaigns and elections
  • Civic engagement and mobilization
  • Judicial politics 
  • Political institutions
  • Political organizations and parties 
  • Public opinion
  • Public policy
  • Race and ethnicity
  • State and local politics
  • Women in politics

International Studies

  • American foreign policy

  • Foreign policy analysis

  • International security studies

  • IR theory

  • Middle East politics

  • Latin American politics

  • Post-Soviet politics

  • Theories of comparative politics

Thesis Track

The thesis degree plan requires 24 hours of graduate coursework, including three hours of POLS 5310, plus six hours of POLS 5698, the required thesis course for the degree’s thesis plan. Students will consult regularly with the Graduate Adviser on their degree plan.

Writing a thesis is an energy- and time-intensive project. It is recommended only for students who intend to and are passionate about obtaining a doctoral degree and then going on to become a university professor. Note that a thesis will take at least two full semesters to research and write, and usually more. It must go through several iterations, that is, the committee will likely require several revisions to the thesis throughout the writing process. Your committee must approve both a thesis proposal and the thesis itself.

All students are automatically enrolled in the non-thesis track upon entry to the degree. After two semesters’ worth of courses (at least four courses in total), students must: 1) Find a faculty member to serve as their thesis supervisor; 2) Find two other faculty members to serve on their thesis committee; 3) Receive permission from the Graduate Adviser who will consult with the potential thesis committee.

Students will then write a thesis proposal, a 10-15 page outline of the thesis. The proposal must be approved by the thesis committee before the full thesis can be written. See here [insert pdf file] for more information on how to write a thesis proposal.

See here [insert pdf file] for more information on the timeline and checklist for an MA thesis.

[Insert table 3X5 of requirements of non-thesis and thesis tracks]