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First-Year Focus

Welcome to the Political Science Department! This page contains more information about how to start studying political science at Northwestern.


What is Political Science?

Political science is the study of politics and power from domestic, international, and comparative perspectives. It involves understanding political ideas, ideologies, institutions, policies, processes, and behavior, as well as groups, classes, government, diplomacy, law, strategy, and war. Political scientists explore a variety of questions, such as: 

A background in political science is valuable for citizenship and political action, as well as for future careers in government, law, business, media, or public service.

What kinds of classes can I take?

The Political Science Department provides students an opportunity to learn about politics from various perspectives. Classes are offered in the four major subfields of political science: American politics, comparative politics, international relations, and political theory. Many courses engage with multiple subfields. While some students choose the majority of courses from within one or two subfields, most take a wide variety of courses that span different areas.

What can I do with a political science degree?

The Political Science Department’s curriculum focuses on critical thinking, data analysis, and ethical reasoning, and provides students with knowledge about current and past political events across the world. Studying political science equips students with widely applicable skills that prepare them for a diverse range of careers. Through political science courses, students can learn to critically evaluate problems and solutions; develop skills in research, writing, and argumentation; acquire quantitative skills; and become familiar with multiple research methodologies.

Political Science students pursue careers in a variety of fields after graduation, including:

How can I start studying political science as a first-year student?

First-year seminars

Political Science first-year seminars dive into specific topics ranging from U.S. electoral campaigns to classical Greek political thought to political violence around the world. These 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 with interesting issues. These seminars do not count toward the political science major or minor. However, they do fulfill the Weinberg College first-year seminar requirement and offer a fantastic introduction to thinking like a political scientist.

Gateway courses

We 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.

200-level courses are broader than 300-level electives, which 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 earlier you take 200-level courses in your political science education, the more that you will get out of the foundational knowledge that they provide.

Methodology courses

The political science major requires one class in political science methodology. While gateway courses 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? Taking a methods course will help you assess the strengths and weaknesses of the research you study in other political science classes, and also give you the tools you need to do your own research.

We offer three 200-level methodology courses (Poli Sci 210, 211, 212) and three 300-level methodology courses (Poli Sci 310, 311, 312). You must take one for the major. Many students start with one of the 200-level methods courses. Students with a stronger background in research methods can begin with a 300-level methodology class. 

Good Classes for First-Year Students in 2024-25

The table below shows good classes for first-year student to take during the 2024-25 school year. You can see the full list of our course offerings for 2024-25 on our course page.

Fall 2024 Winter 2025 Spring 2025
POLI_SCI 201 Introduction to Political Theory Introduction to Political Theory
POLI_SCI 210 Introduction to Empirical Methods in Political Science Introduction to Empirical Methods in Political Science
POLI_SCI 220 American Government and Politics American Government and Politics
POLI_SCI 240 Introduction to International Relations Introduction to International Relations
POLI_SCI 250 Introduction to Comparative Politics Introduction to Comparative Politics


What are the requirements for the political science major or minor?

The political science major requires twelve courses and the minor requires six courses. Visit the Major & Minor page for more information on the requirements for the political science major and minor.

Can I use AP Credit towards the Political Science major/minor?

If you received a 5 on an AP exam in American Government or Comparative Politics, you can place out of the equivalent 200-level course, but it 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.

Who do i contact if i have questions?

During the academic year, Political Science Department advisors are available most days of the week to chat with you about the major, minor, course selection, or other questions you might have about studying political science. Department advisors are not assigned in the Political Science Department. You are welcome to reach out to and meet with any of the Political Science advisors.

During the summer, you contact the Political Science Undergraduate Program Coordinator, Briana Martinez, with advising questions.

For information about Weinberg College advising, policies, and resources, visit the Weinberg College Advising and Support page.

For academic support and tutoring resources, visit the Academic Resource Directory.

What else?

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