Political Science

The Department of Political Science offers instruction and research in the art and science of politics. Work within the department is organized around six basic fields: American government and politics, comparative politics, international relations, public policy, political theory, and empirical theory and methodology. In addition to excellence in the traditional fields, the department is committed to a cross-field emphasis on globalization and democratic governance.

At the most general level, the goal of the undergraduate curriculum in political science at the University of Colorado Boulder is to offer students the opportunity to develop an appreciation of politics and government and of the students’ roles within them.   

The undergraduate degree in political science emphasizes knowledge and understanding of the following:

  • the values and beliefs that constitute the Western political tradition, as well as alternative ideologies and belief systems;
  • the institutions and processes of the American political system and its strengths and weaknesses in the 21st century;
  • other political systems, both Western and non-Western, which are members of the world community, our allies and competitors in international relations, and through comparative analysis offering a source of insight into American society and politics;
  • the patterns of interaction among members of the world community, the causes of war and peace, and the sources of international conflict and cooperation; and
  • the domestic and international policy issues facing the United States and the world community and the ability to make reasoned judgments—integrating facts and values, means and ends—regarding policies to address those problems.   

In addition, students completing the degree in political science are expected to acquire the ability and skills to:

  • evaluate conflicting arguments, assemble and present empirical evidence, and make reasoned conclusions from the evidence available; and
  • communicate effectively, both orally and in written form.   

Students interested in political science may want to consider the Global Studies Residential Academic Program

Course code for this program is PSCI.

Bachelor's Degree Program(s)

Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science

Students must complete the general requirements of the College of Arts and Sciences and the required courses listed below.

Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours

  • Students in the regular political science major must complete 39 credit hours in the department, of which 21 hours must be in upper-division courses. All 39 hours must be completed with grades of C- or better and an overall grade point average of 2.000. None of the required hours may be taken pass/fail.
  • Fifteen hours are required from the following lower-division fields:
    American: PSCI 1101 The American Political Systems—3
    Comparative: PSCI 2012 Introduction to Comparative Politics—3
    International Relations: PSCI 2223 Introduction to International Relations—3
    Theory: PSCI 2004 Survey of Western Political Thought—3
    Methodology: PSCI 2075 Quantitative Methodology–3 (This is a new requirement for students declaring a political science major beginning fall 2012 and replaces ECON 2020 requirement.)
  • Of the required 21 upper-division hours, students must take one course in at least four of the primary fields with two courses in one primary field. The primary fields are: American, comparative, international relations, theory, methodology, and policy. 
  • Required courses in addition to political science courses:
    ECON 2010 Principles of Microeconomics—4
    ECON 2020 Principles of Macroeconomics—4
    Continuing students who entered the political science major prior to fall 2012 have the option to take PSCI 2075 in lieu of ECON 2020. Beginning in fall 2012, new students who declare a political science major in fall 2012 or later must take PSCI 2075 and ECON 2012 but are not required to take ECON 2020.

NOTE: Students who have completed ECON 1000 prior to declaration of the major should consult an undergraduate advisor in political science.

Graduating in Four Years

Consult the Four-Year Guarantee Requirements for information on eligibility. The concept of “adequate progress” as it is used here only refers to maintaining eligibility for the four-year guarantee; it is not a requirement for the major. To maintain adequate progress in political science, students should meet the following requirements:

  • Declare major by the end of the second semester.
  • Complete PSCI 1101 and two of the following required courses by the end of the third semester: PSCI 2012, 2223, 2004, or 2075.
  • Complete the remaining lower-division political science course and the ancillary course ECON 2010 by the end of the fourth semester.
  • Complete 12 upper-division credit hours of political science courses, including at least one course in three of the following fields by the end of the sixth semester: American, comparative, international relations, methodology, policy, and theory.
  • Complete 12 credit hours of political science courses, including at least 9 upper-division credit hours and all remaining upper-division field distribution requirements during the seventh and eighth semesters.

Students seeking to combine a political science major with a social science certification in education should consult an undergraduate advisor in political science. Students who have completed ECON 1000 prior to declaration of the major should consult an undergraduate advisor in political science.

Minor Program

A minor is offered in political science. Declaration of a minor is open to any student enrolled at CU-Boulder, regardless of college or school. 

  • Students must complete 21 credit hours of political science to complete the political science minor, of which 9 credit hours must be in upper-division course work. All 21 credit hours must be completed with grades of C- or better and an overall GPA of 2.000. None of the required hours may be taken pass/fail.
  • 9 hours of lower-division courses are required:
    PSCI 1101 American Political Systems—3
     6 hours to be distributed from two of the following courses:
    PSCI 2012 Introduction to Comparative Politics—3
    PSCI 2223 Introduction to International Relations—3
    PSCI 2004 Survey of Western Political Thought—3
  • 9 hours upper-division courses must be distributed in a minimum of two primary fields: American, comparative, international relations, theory, methodology, and policy. PSCI 4938 Internship will not fulfill a primary field area in the minor.
  • 3 hours of lower- or upper-division political science.

International affairs majors who wish to minor in political science must apply the following additional rules:

  • No more than 9 credit hours toward the PSCI minor can come from courses which count toward another major.
  • International affairs majors must take PSCI 1101; at least one upper-division course in American Politics; one course (lower- or upper-division) in political theory; plus one upper-division elective.

Graduate Degree Program(s)

Graduate Study in Political Science

Applications for the MA in public policy and the PhD in political science are accepted from qualified and motivated students wishing to probe deeply into the analysis of political life. Professional courses in the graduate curriculum range from problem definition in policy analysis to the study of global political economy. The curriculum is structured to lead to the PhD degree and also offers several programs culminating in an MA degree. In addition to the master’s degree in political science, the department offers a professionally oriented MA degree for students working toward entry into the public sector as a policy analyst. 

Students wishing to pursue graduate work toward one of these degrees should read carefully the Graduate School requirements for admission and degrees in this catalog. In addition, they should refer to the departmental website for additional information on graduate programs.

Departmental Admission Requirements

Applicants to the graduate program in political science should normally present evidence of at least 18 credit hours of course work in political science or in related fields, 9 of which should be at the upper-division level. In addition, the department requires applicants to present quantitative and verbal GRE scores that total at least 1100 and that show a score of at least 500 on the verbal section or 300 overall and 153 on the verbal section of the new exam. Three letters of recommendation, an undergraduate grade point average of at least 3.00, official transcripts, and a short essay detailing interests and plans also are required to complete the application packet. Foreign applicants must supplement their application by presenting TOEFL scores or other proof of English proficiency. Online applications should be submitted by December 15. Decisions regarding admission and financial aid are typically completed during March each year.

Master of Arts in Political Science

The department does not accept applications for a terminal MA in political science. Students in the PhD program earn a masters degree in political science at the completion of their second year in the program. Students concentrate in any one of six political science fields and take 3 credit hours of work in regularly scheduled political science seminars in each of three areas defined as follows: American politics, public policy, international relations, comparative politics, political philosophy, and empirical theory and methodology. 

Students are responsible for familiarizing themselves with all degree requirements, some of which are outlinedin the Graduate School section of this catalog. The degree requirements include a minimum of 31 credit hours of graduate credit, including at least 24 credit hours at the 7000 level or above (at least 15 credit hours of work must be in regularly scheduled political science seminars), and 4 credit hours for the MA thesis. Students may take up to 6 hours in political science graduate research topics, and up to 6 hours in a cognate discipline (senior undergraduate course, or independent study), but not more than a total of 9 hours combined. The 9 credit hours may not be substituted for required seminars. MA students on assistantship are required to take PSCI 7008 Teaching Political Science.

A thesis based on original investigation and showing mature scholarship and critical judgment, as well as familiarity with tools and methods of research, is required.

Students select a faculty advisor from among the regular members of the department graduate faculty at the earliest possible date, but no later than the end of the second week of the second semester. The faculty advisor must have general competence in the student primary field of emphasis and serves as the first reader of the MA thesis. The second reader, who likewise has general competence in the topic of the MA thesis, must be associated intimately with the thesis from its inception and in no case after the student begins writing. The completed draft of the thesis must be in the hands of the second and third readers at least four weeks prior to the comprehensive-final examination.

Each candidate for a master’s degree is required to take a comprehensive final examination after the other requirements for the degree have been completed. This examination may be given near the end of the last semester of residence while the candidate is still taking required courses for the degree, provided satisfactory progress is being made in those courses. The examination is oral and lasts approximately two hours. It concentrates on the student field of emphasis as well as the MA thesis. The comprehensive final examination committee has three members, including the faculty advisor (the chair) and the second reader of the thesis. At least two committee members must be chosen from among regular members of the graduate faculty of this department, in consultation with the faculty advisor; the third committee member may be a graduate faculty representative from a cognate discipline. Satisfaction of the examination requires the affirmative vote of each of the three committee members.

Master of Arts in Political Science (Public Policy)

The goal of the MA program in public policy is to train professional policy analysts for nonacademic careers. The curriculum is designed to provide the analytical skills necessary to participate responsibly and effectively in the policy process. The MA in political science (public policy) may be taken concurrently with the interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate Program in Environment, Policy, and Society.

This is an MA with thesis, requiring 33 credit hours. It includes 27 hours of course work, 2 hours in an applied research internship, and 4 hours of thesis credit. Completion of these requirements normally takes two years and at least one summer.

The core curriculum consists of three required seminars in policy analysis, introduction to data analysis, and either qualitative methods or research design. Twelve hours of electives should be used to develop additional analytical skills and/or a specialization in the student’s area of substantive interest. The Graduate Certificate Program in Environment, Policy and Society provides one alternative for substantive specialization, drawing on courses in economics, philosophy, geography, and the law school. The internship is a supervised applied research project for a policy client, which should lead to the thesis project.

The thesis is a research report on a policy problem that provides concrete demonstration of the student analytical skills, intellectual perspective, and substantive knowledge. 

Doctor of Philosophy in Political Science

Requirements for the PhD in political science fall into the following major categories: course work, qualifying research paper defense, comprehensive examination, doctoral dissertation, and other requirements.

Course Work

Students must complete a minimum of 42 hours of course work with a cumulative GPA of 3.000 or higher beyond the bachelor’s degree. At least 39 hours must be taken at the graduate level and 35 of these must be taken in political science. A maximum 6 hours of independent study may be counted toward the PhD. Dissertation and research hours, master’s thesis hours, and hours used to fulfill the language requirement do not count toward the 42 hours. The maximum amount of course work that may be transferred to this university for the PhD is 21 semester hours.

PhD students are required to take PSCI 7075 Introduction to Professional Political Science and PSCI 7085 Introduction to Political Data Analysis during the first semester. Funded graduate students are required to take PSCI 7008 and 7028 Teaching in Political Science during the first year. All PhD students must take the core seminar in at least three of five fields: PSCI 7011 American Politics, PSCI 7012 Comparative Politics, PSCI 7013 International Politics, PSCI 7004 Political Theory, or PSCI 7016 Public Policy. Two of these core seminars must be completed during the first year.

PhD students specialize in three fields of study. The first two fields, the major and minor fields, are areas in which the student takes comprehensive examinations, and students must take a minimum of two seminars beyond the core seminar in these two fields. In meeting these minimums, seminars cannot be double counted in more than one field. Competence in the third field may be demonstrated by completing two graduate seminars in that field with a GPA of 3.000 or higher.

Qualifying Research Paper

Each PhD student is required to write and defend to a faculty committee an original research paper of potentially publishable quality by the end of their fourth semester. The purpose of the qualifying paper is to demonstrate the student’s ability to independently identify an important question in political science and to bring relevant theory and evidence to bear in evaluating that topic. The formulation of the ideas in the paper may come from reworking a seminar paper, condensing and elaborating prior MA work undertaken at CU or elsewhere, or starting an entirely new project.

The research paper is read by the student’s three-person advisory committee, consisting of the student’s major advisor, a second major field reader, and a representative of the student’s second field of concentration. Following consideration of the written work, an oral examination is conducted by the advisory committee to test both the depth of the student research as well as the breadth of the student’s general training. Competence in core seminar materials is expected.

The oral examination committee is charged with the task of evaluating the potential of each PhD student. Students whose work is deemed inadequate are asked to leave the program.

Students are eligible for a plan II MA upon completion of 32 hours of graduate course work. The awarding of the Plan II MA is at the discretion of the examining committee. This decision is independent of the decision to encourage or discontinue the student in the PhD program.

Research Competence. Each PhD student must fulfill the research competence requirements as determined in conjunction with the advisory committee. Committees may set higher research competence standards for the student than those outlined below.

Methodological competence is demonstrated by completing PSCI 7095 with a grade of B or better, and requires completion of at least two advanced methods courses beyond PSCI 7085.

Language competence is evidenced by completion of a fourth-semester college-level language course of 3 or more credit hours with a grade of B or better, high GSFLT scores for the language, high scores on another standardized examination recognized by University of Colorado language departments, or other evidence of competence in the language. Advanced competence is demonstrated by completion of at least a fifth-semester language course or other work deemed appropriate by the advisory committee.

The competence requirement also may be met by demonstrating basic competence standards in both methodological and language skills (i.e., by completing PSCI 7095 and fourth-semester foreign language skills).

The competence standard must be communicated in writing to the Director of Graduate Studies by the end of the second year in residence. Both the principal advisor and the student must signify that they accept the committee determination of research competence standard. Required course work (or its surrogate) must be completed no later than the semester in which the PhD comprehensive examination is taken.

Comprehensive Examination. The comprehensive examination serves to demonstrate that students have acquired the skills and knowledge necessary to function as independent scholars in political science generally and in their chosen fields of specialization. Broad knowledge is expected as well as a critical understanding of the literature and the ability to apply that understanding to the central, enduring questions of politics and government.

Comprehensive examinations are administered once each semester. Oral examinations are administered one to two weeks after written examinations.

A final grade of pass or fail is assigned following the orals. Students who fail an exam are provided a single opportunity to retake it and are given an explanation of the failure by the committee. 

Dissertation Requirements and Final Examination. A dissertation based on original investigation and showing mature scholarship and critical judgment, as well as familiarity with tools and methods of -research, is required. A candidate for the PhD selects a dissertation topic in consultation with a dissertation advisor who is rostered in the student’s primary field of emphasis, a second reader who has general competence in the dissertation topic, and at least one additional faculty member rostered in the student’s primary field of interest. The student submits the topic, along with the names of the second reader and other faculty consulted in its selection, to the director of graduate studies for approval. 

Once the dissertation has been accepted tentatively by the first two readers, a final oral examination is conducted by the dissertation committee. Approved by the dean of the Graduate School, the committee shall consist of not fewer than five representatives from those departments in which a student has worked, including at least one professor of authority outside the political science department who qualifies for university graduate faculty membership.

The examination is open to the public. More than one dissenting vote from the committee disqualifies the candidate in the final examination.