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. The department's mission is to understand the political world and to equip students and their community with the skills for a lifetime of inquiry and engagement

The mission of the undergraduate program in political science is to provide students with the knowledge and tools to understand important political ideas, political institutions (both domestic and international), and political actors themselves. The curriculum is designed to provide a base of knowledge and the skills necessary to understand and operate effectively in our political world.  Students learn the philosophical basis of justice, equality, and representation and how that relates to current trends and developments. Understanding the challenge of diversity and its consequences is an important area of study. A strong grasp of the American political system and political society is coupled with learning about how other countries and societies organize politically.  Another important component of the major includes understanding global forces and why some countries cooperate while others engage in conflict. Finally, the major exposes students to real-world problems that require political solutions. 

Areas of inquiry emphasized in our program include:

  • democracy
  • environmental politics
  • European politics
  • international conflict and cooperation
  • Latin American politics
  • political behavior and survey research
  • political economy
  • political methodology
  • representation

The program is designed to prepare students for study at the graduate level in political science, law, and other cognate disciplines, as well as to equip students with the tools and knowledge essential for work in government agencies, non-governmental organizations, non-profits, and business.

Undergraduate Learning Outcomes

The political science curriculum is designed to develop the following learning outcomes:

  • a solid grounding in politics and the ideas that motivate them at the national and international level
  • the ability to both clearly and persuasively articulate ideas and arguments in oral presentation and in written form
  • the ability to analyze problems using logical inference based on quantitative and qualitative evidence
  • the ability to critically evaluate arguments both in political science research and in our current political world

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
  • 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
    PSCI 2075 Quantitative Research Methods—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

PhD in Political Science

The Department of Political Science at  CU-Boulder has a long tradition of excellence in training graduate students. A diverse faculty of nearly 30 professors trains graduate students to conduct original research in six areas of political science:

  • American government and politics
  • comparative politics
  • international relations
  • political theory
  • public policy
  • research methods

Admission is highly competitive with approximately 15 new students enrolled each fall. This ensures a high faculty-student ratio and close mentoring opportunities. In addition, the department holds an outstanding placement record. Full-time students are expected to complete all requirements for the PhD degree within five years of entering the program; the maximum time allowed by the Graduate School is six years.

Program Requirements

  • course work
  • qualifying research paper and defense (before end of fourth semester)
  • comprehensive examinations (take before end of sixth semester)
  • doctoral prospectus defense (before end of seventh semester)
  • final dissertation defense (before end of tenth semester)
  • minimum 30 dissertation credit hours

The Department of Political Science offers graduate-level courses in the above mentioned six fields of study. While students take a wide range of courses, they must demonstrate mastery of three different 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 35 hours must be taken in the political science department. Students must also take a minimum of 30 dissertation credit hours.

Students must take the core seminar in each of the three fields they pick to study: PSCI 7011 American Politics, PSCI 7012 Comparative Politics, PSCI 7013 International Politics, PSCI 7004 Political Theory, or PSCI 7016 Public Policy. During a student’s first semester in residence, students are required to take two introductory courses: PSCI 7075: Introduction to Professional Political Science and PSCI 7085: Introduction to Political Data Analysis.

As a condition of funding, all students appointed as graduate assistants are required to enroll in two one-credit hour courses during the first year (PSCI 7008 Teaching Political Science I and PSCI 7028 Teaching Political Science II). Funded students must complete a minimum of nine credit hours per semester for their first five semesters or until they have passed comprehensive exams.

The department does not accept applications for a terminal MA in political science. Students in the PhD program earn a MA in Political Science after the completion of a successful qualifying paper and defense at the end of the second year in the program.

Students wishing to pursue graduate work toward this degree should carefully read the Graduate School requirements and review courses offered in this catalog. Requirements for the political science graduate program are clarified in more detail in the Guide to Graduate Studies posted under the graduate tab on the Department of Political Science website: http://polsci.colorado.edu.

Admission Requirements

Online applications must be submitted by the December deadline.

Applicants for the graduate program in political science must submit 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.

To apply to our program, please visit the online application: http://www.colorado.edu/admissions/graduate/apply

Decisions regarding admission and financial aid are typically completed during February of each year.