M.A. in Political Science

The Master of Arts in Political Science prepares students for a wide range of careers. In addition to preparation for teaching, research and doctoral-level work in Political Science, students with an M.A. degree in Political Science typically find careers in law, government service, election campaigns and political parties, interest groups and community organizations, business, journalism, research, the private sector and non-profit organizations. The MA program is designed to broaden the student’s knowledge of the core areas of Political Science and to foster specialization in areas of the student's interests and goals. To be fully admitted into the program, applicants must have a minimum of 30 semester hours of Political Science coursework or its equivalent and 3.2 GPA; provisional admission may be available for students with fewer than 30 hours or lower GPA.

The MA Program develops students' knowledge of political science and politics, as well as critical thinking, communication, and research skills.  This means our students gain excellent preparation for a wide range of careers in the research-based "knowledge economy," and for applying to selective graduate and law schools.  As desirable jobs become more competitive, the Political Science MA provides an edge through our flexible program requirements, small classes, and personalized faculty mentoring.

Program Co-Directors

Please note: The Master of Public Administration (MPA) program is now in the Department of Public Administration and Policy, housed within the Max S. Baucus Institute.

MA Degree Requirements - Core Courses and Options for Non-Thesis and Thesis

Complete six graduate seminar courses with at least one in each of the following four subfields - 6 courses/18 credits (the PSCI 580 Research Goals & Strategies Seminar can count for one of these subfields with the prior consent of the instructor).

  1. American Politics
    • PSCI 540
    • TBD
  2. Comparative Politics
    • PSCI 520
    • PSCI 582
    • PSCI 521
  3. International Relations
    • PSCI 530
    • PSCI 521
    • PSCI 582
  4. Political Theory
    • PSCI 553
    • PSCI 557

Pass an exam with both written and oral components, by three faculty in two or more of the core subfields of Political Science (the student may retake the exam once if a non-passing grade is received the first time).

Non-Thesis Option

  • 12 credits may be taken outside the Political Science department
  • 50% of all credits must be graduate level (500 or above)
  • 6 credits maximum can be taken in internships (PSCI 598)
  • 6 credits maximum can be in Independent Study credits (PSCI 596)
  • 400 level UG courses can be used for credit if the course's graduate increment is successfully completed

Complete 3 professional-quality research papers that include:

  • 25 pages with footnotes and references
  • Research Paper topics must be from at least twp subfields of political science
  • At least two Political Science faculty must be research paper advisors

Thesis Option

  • 6 credits may be taken outside the Political Science department
  • 50% of all credits must be graduate level (500 or above)
  • 6 credits maximum can be taken in internships (PSCI 598)
  • 6 credits maximum can be in Independent Study credits (PSCI 596)
  • 6 credits maximum can be thesis development (PSC 599)
  • 400 level UG courses can be used for credit if the course's graduate increment is successfully completed

Form a Thesis Committee of 3 or more faculty members.  The thesis committee chair and 1 other committee member must be from the PSCI department and one faculty member from another department related to your thesis.  In consultation with the committee chair, formulate a thesis topic and with the full committee develop a proposal and pass an oral exam for the proposal.  Complete the thesis research and writing in consultation with your committee and pass a final oral defense.

Complete two oral exams: a thesis prospectus oral exam and a thesis defense.  The Thesis must be completed and delivered to the Graduate School before the oral exam.

Note: Students should consult with the MA advisor regarding appropriate foreign language and/or statistics preparation relevant to their field of concentration, research interests, and career goals

Core Seminars

The Core Seminars provide a key foundation in political science, with students, required to take one approved 500-level PSCI course in each of the four main subfields of Political Science.  In addition, students are required to take two more approved courses in any subfield(s) they choose, for a total of 6 courses or 18 credits.  The Core Seminars typically provide either broad coverage of the range of research topics and issues in the specific subfield or a more focused coverage of specific issues within that subfield; the list of Core Seminars offered in each subfield is above.  The four subfields are Comparative Politics, International Relations, American Politics, and Political Theory. The Research Goals & Strategies course (PSCI 580) provides students with a background in the range of research approaches used in political science; with the prior consent of the instructor, it can be counted as a Core Seminar for any of the four subfields.  For students considering the M.A. as a terminal degree, the core seminars and research course provide an ample survey of the field; for those students continuing on to doctoral work, they serve as a springboard to further studies.

Additional Course Work

Master’s level work in political science broadens and deepens students’ understanding of the key issues, theories, controversies, and research findings in political science, and trains a student in professional standards of research – both as critical readers analyzing research, and as researchers designing, conducting, and analyzing their own research and writing. Additional course work (consistent with the Graduate School requirement for 500-level courses) provides a vehicle, particularly within the Comprehensive Study Option, for students to pursue their personal and career interests by developing their skills and expertise.

Additional coursework (beyond the Core 18 credits) can be in political science (PSCI) courses at the 500- level or 400 level with graduate increment, in Independent Study (6 credits max.) or Internships (6 credits max.), or in graduate (400-level + graduate increment or 500-level courses) outside the department (12 credits max. for the Comprehensive Study Option; 6 credits max. for the Thesis Option). 

Comprehensive Exam

The goal of the comprehensive written and oral exam is to demonstrate that the student is conversant with the professional goals, concepts and problems of the discipline of political science at the M.A. level. A student should be familiar with the scholars, literature, research questions and substance of the main subfields of political science.  Students will take the comp exam by the end of or shortly following their second semester unless they will not have completed 15 credits by the end of their 2nd semester, in which case they must take the comp exam by the end of their third semester.

The comprehensive exam has a written and oral component. The student chooses three faculty members for the exam committee and selects one faculty member to chair the committee.  Each faculty member on the committee will submit two questions for the written exam.  The exam chair collects the two questions each from the other faculty on the committee and gives the members' questions to the student on a date agreed to by the student and committee.  The written portion of the exam is open-book, open-note. The student has four days to submit answers (sent as email attachments) to one of the two questions from each faculty member, for a total of three.  The answers, each 3-5 pages in length double-spaced, will be emailed by the student to all three of the faculty examiners, with the question writer taking the lead on that question during the oral exam.  The oral exam will be 1-2 hours and will take place within 7 days after the written exam.  Comprehensive exams are graded distinction/pass/fail with students allowed to re-take a failed exam once.

Comprehensive Study (professional paper) Option and Thesis Option

The Comprehensive Study option maximizes the student’s flexibility in designing their curriculum and research focus. Students complete three research papers of professional journal quality on different topics, working with at least two Political Science faculty members. These papers are typically expanded and revised versions of research papers written by students in their core courses and other graduate courses reflecting their research interests.
The Thesis Option represents a major opportunity at the M.A. level to study a single subject in depth. The thesis also demonstrates one’s ability to formulate a research question, conduct independent research under the guidance of a thesis advisor, write up the findings in a professionally-competent fashion and defend the results before a faculty committee of three (one from outside Political Science).

Past experience indicates that students can progress well with the thesis if they can get organized early in their M.A. studies and pick a thesis topic, faculty advisor and committee. Once a defensible prospectus evolves (normally with advance consultation with the thesis committee), a group meeting is held to make sure that the committee and the student are in agreement concerning the project. The final oral defense of the thesis (l to 2 hours, open to the UM community and public) may also include some reference to course work and the written field exams.

Students should check with the Graduate School regarding requirements concerning final copies of their professional papers or thesis, as well as other administrative details relevant to completing and receiving a graduate degree.

Foreign Language/Statistics

Depending upon a student's field of concentration and career goals, the M.A. advisor and other faculty will recommend appropriate preparation in foreign language study and/or statistics. Competence in language and/or statistics is not only a research tool but an important part of the craft if one is to be prepared professionally to deal with the various fields of political science.