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First-Year Focus

Welcome to Political Science!

We are very happy that you are interested in our department. What is political science? To learn the basics about the field and how to study it at Northwestern, please start by checking out our undergraduate page

Now, how can you start studying political science as a first-year?

First-year seminars

We offer a range of first-year seminars, including those on the schedule for this academic year. Each carrying the number Poli_Sci 101, first-year seminars dive into specific, fascinating topics ranging from U.S. electoral campaigns to classical Greek political thought to political violence around the world. With a class size of around 15 students, seminars offer a chance to get to know a professor in a small setting, have robust discussions with classmates, and improve your writing as you engage issues interesting to you. These seminars do not count toward the political science major or minor. However, they do fulfill the WCAS first-year seminar requirement and offer a fantastic introduction to reading and thinking like a political scientist.

Gateway courses

We also encourage first-year students to begin with our 200-level introductory courses, described in more depth here. We call these “gateway courses” because they provide an ideal entry point to each of the four major subfields of political science: American politics, comparative politics, international relations, and political theory. We also offer a fifth gateway course, Introduction to Law in the Political Arena, which is a great fit for anyone who is interested in the judicial system or considering a career in law.

Gateway courses offer broad introductions to an entire field of study, giving students a sound grasp on its essential theories, concepts, approaches, and debates. 200-level courses are more broad than 300-level electives which, as you can see on our yearly class schedule, offer in-depth study of more specialized topics.

Not all of our 300-level courses require 200-levels as a prerequisite. However, 200-levels provide an ideal preparation for subsequent advanced coursework. The political science major and minor require three or two gateway courses, respectively. The earlier you take them in your political science education, the more that you will get out of the foundational knowledge that they provide.

Introductory methods courses

The political science major requires one class in political science methods. Whereas gateway course prepare students with foundational knowledge in the study of politics, methodology courses train students to think about how we gain that knowledge in the first place. They consider questions such as, what is evidence about the political world? How do we acquire evidence, make sense of it, and use it to answer research questions?  How can we identify the causes and effects of political phenomena or understand their meanings?

Taking a methods course will help give you the analytical tools you need to do your own political science research. It will also help you assess the strengths and weaknesses of all of the research that you study in other political science classes.

We offer two 200-level method courses and you must take one for the major: Poli_Sci 210: Introduction to Empirical Methods in Political Science examines how to assess data and evaluate explanatory arguments through techniques such as experimentation, quantitative analysis, and qualitative case studies. Poli_Sci 211: Introduction to Interpretive Methods in Political Science considers how we generate understanding though close readings of texts, critical thinking about concepts, and application of a range of theories to gain insight into political experiences.

AP Credits

Receiving a 5 on an AP exam (either American Government or Comparative Politics) can place students out of the equivalent 200-level course, but does not reduce the total number of courses required to complete the major or minor. Visit the major and minor requirements page to see more information on how to use your AP credit in this way.


Political science advisors are available most days of the week during the academic year to chat with you about the major, minor, course selection, or other questions you might have. 

Department advisors are not assigned in Political Science; you are welcome to reach out to and meet with any of the Political Science advisors.

What else?

Follow the links below for other useful information about undergraduate programming in political science. Here are some that might be especially useful:

If you have decided to declare Political Science as your major or minor, it is a simple process. See the How to Declare page for instructions.

For both Weinberg College and university academic advising:

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