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. 

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 2.00. 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. 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
    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 2.00. 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 at least one upper-division course in American Politics and one course (lower- or upper-division) in political theory, in addition to the regular minor requirements.

Graduate Degree Program(s)

Graduate Study in Political Science

Applications for the PhD in political science and the MA in public policy are accepted from qualified and motivated students wishing to probe deeply into the scientific study of politics. 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 two different MA degrees. One is the MA in political science, although applicants are not accepted for a terminal MA in political science. The department also offers a professionally oriented MA in Public Policy 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 present the following:

  • Official transcripts and a cumulative undergraduate grade point average of at least 3.00 (out of 4.00) from an accredited university in the United States, or equivalent credentials from a non-U.S. institution, or a graduate cumulative grade point average of at least 3.50 on a 4.00 scale.
  • A cumulative score on the Graduate Record Examination of at least 300 (verbal + quantitative), with a score of at least 153 on the verbal examination. (This equates to 1100 and 500, respectively, under the old scoring system.)
  • Three letters of recommendation from members of the profession who can judge the student’s ability to participate in a graduate program.
  • A statement of professional and academic goals and intent.
  • International applicants must supplement their application by presenting TOEFL scores or other proof of English proficiency. The department requires minimum scores of 90 for TOEFL and 7.0 for IELTS. 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 usually earn an MA in political science at the completion of their second year in the program. MA students concentrate in one of five fields (called the major field) and complete at least three credit hours in each of the three following general areas: (1) American government and politics or public policy; (2) international relations or comparative politics; and (3) political theory or empirical theory and research methods.

Students are responsible for familiarizing themselves with all degree requirements, some of which are outlined in the Graduate School section of this catalog. The degree requirements include a minimum of 30 credit hours of graduate credit, including at least 21 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 six credit hours of independent study listed as Topics in Political Science (PSCI 7901 through 7908). 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’s primary field of emphasis and serves as the first reader of the MA thesis. The completed draft of the thesis must be in the hands of the second and third readers at least one week prior to the oral examination and defense of the thesis. The examination is oral and lasts approximately two hours, and the committee of faculty members 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 the political science 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 at least two of the 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 students to conduct original research for public or private sector careers. The department trains students for careers as policy analysts in the public, private, or non-profit sector. The emphasis is on conceptual frameworks and methods applicable to applied research in a wide variety of substantive policy areas.

The MA in Political Science (Public Policy) may be combined with the Graduate Interdisciplinary Certificate in Environment, Policy, and Society, or the Science, Technology, and Policy Certificate, or the Interdisciplinary Energy Certificate Program (under development). This program 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. Fourteen 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. Requirements are spelled out in more detail in the Guide to Graduate Studies posted on the Department of Political Science website.

Course Work. The Department of Political Science offers PhD-level courses in six fields: American Politics, Public Policy, Comparative Politics, International Politics, Political Theory, and Empirical Theory and Methodology. While students take a wide range of courses they must demonstrate mastery of three fields: the major or first field, the minor or second field, and the third field. Students must complete a minimum of 42 hours of course work with a B average or better. Of these 42 hours, 39 must be at the 7000 level or higher and only 6 hours of independent study will be counted. Also, 35 hours must be taken in the political science department.

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. (If a student chooses empirical theory and methodology as a major or minor field, then the student must take at least three additional courses beyond PSCI 7085. These students need only take the core seminar in two of five fields, rather than the standard three of five.) PhD students are also required to take the courses Introduction to PSCI 7075 Professional Political Science and PSCI 7085 Introduction to Political Data Analysis. These two introductory courses are to be taken during the student’s first semester in residence. Funded graduate students are required to take PSCI 7008 and 7028 Teaching in Political Science 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 three graduate seminars in that field with a GPA of 3.00 or higher.

Qualifying Research Paper. With the assistance of their advisor, students select a qualifying paper committee of three faculty members (at least two from the Department of Political Science). All PhD students must submit a qualifying research paper to their qualifying paper committee by April 15 of their fourth semester in residence (although application for a master’s degree must be filed with the Graduate School by March 15). This paper must be defended in an oral examination by the end of that semester. The qualifying paper committee will write a report which will include a recommendation to the graduate committee to 1) admit into the PhD program, 2) award a terminal MA, or 3) fail the student.

The primary 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 genesis of the ideas in this paper may come from a variety of sources. For example, students may rework a seminar paper, condense and elaborate prior MA work undertaken at CU or elsewhere, or start an entirely new project.

Students are eligible for a plan II MA upon completion of 32 hours of graduate course work (subject to other requirements listed in the Guide to Graduate Studies) and successful defense of a qualifying paper. 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. Students must also acquire a “research competence” through their course work or demonstrate that they have acquired one elsewhere. Research competence is demonstrated through either the completion of at least two methodology courses beyond PSCI 7085 with a average or better or through the completion of a fifth semester college-level foreign language course with a B average or better. Competence in a foreign language may also be demonstrated by the GSFLT or other standardized examinations recognized by language departments at the University of Colorado. A student’s committee may always set higher standards for research competence.

Comprehensive Examination. Students must take rigorous comprehensive examinations by the end of their sixth semester in residence. Comprehensive exams may be scheduled earlier for those students who have entered the program with a MA. Students, with the support of their advisor, may also petition (in writing) the graduate committee for a one-time postponement of the examinations. The exams have both written and oral components and are designed to demonstrate intellectual maturity and creativity, a command of the literatures relevant to the chosen fields of study, and an ability to articulate and defend a position on the important controversies in those literatures. The comprehensive examinations serve to demonstrate that the student has acquired the skills and knowledge necessary to function as an independent scholar in political science generally, and in his or her chosen fields of specialization. We expect not only broad knowledge, but also a critical understanding of the literatures and the ability to apply that understanding to the central, enduring questions of politics and government. The student’s first two fields, labeled the major field and minor field, are to be the subject of the PhD comprehensive examination. 

Comprehensive examinations will be administered in-house. The exams will be “closed book” with no outside materials allowed. Comprehensive examinations are administered once each semester, and the written portions are usually held during the last week of the break before the semester begins. The oral portions are held during the first two weeks of the semester. Oral examinations are scheduled individually. The written portion of the major field lasts two days and that of the minor field lasts one day. The oral component component lasts one to two hours for each field.

The written examinations are constructed by faculty members within each designated field. The structure of the exam will be established for the entire academic year by the examination committee and approved by the director of graduate studies. It is the general practice that students have some range of choice in the questions they answer; that range, however, is at the discretion of the examination committee.

The director of graduate studies will select the examination committees for each field. The oral part of the comprehensive examination is conducted by the same committee that graded the written examination. A final grade of pass or fail in each field is assigned by the majority vote of the examination committee. Each committee has three members, so a student must receive a vote of “satisfactory” from at least two members of the committee to pass that field’s examination. Students must pass examinations in both their major and minor fields to be admitted to PhD candidacy and proceed in the PhD program. Failing a field involves retaking both the written and oral examination at the next administration of the exam. According to Graduate School policy, students are allowed only one retake attempt. If a student fails the exam, the committee provides a written explanation to the student.

Dissertation Requirements and Final Examination. Once students have successfully completed their comprehensive examinations, they should be involved in consultations with their advisor about forming a dissertation prospectus committee. The dissertation prospectus committee (which often times becomes the dissertation committee) is comprised of at least three faculty members (two of which must be from the Department of Political Science). This committee guides the student through the writing of a dissertation prospectus: a written document laying out the intended course of doctoral research. The specifics of the dissertation prospectus vary from student to student and are worked out with the student and her or his advisor. Students must successfully defend the prospectus through an oral examination by the end of their seventh semester in residence. With compelling reasons and the support of their advisor, students may petition the graduate committee for an extension in the above deadline for successfully defending their proposal.

A completed dissertation is defended orally before a committee comprised of at least five faculty members with regular or tenure-track positions. Three members must be CU faculty members. One member must be from outside the Department of Political Science, either a qualified faculty member from another department at CU or another institution. Each member must hold a CU graduate faculty appointment, either regular or special. Additional faculty members may be either CU faculty members or members of another institution. All graduate faculty appointments must be current. External committee members may be approved with a special appointment. The oral examination will be open to the public. More than one dissenting vote by the examining committee will constitute disqualification of the candidate. Only one re-examination is permitted.