Political Science

Degrees BA, MA, PhD

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.

The department participates in the distributed studies program. Programs leading to the MA and PhD degree are offered.

At the most general level, the goal of the undergraduate curriculum in political science at the University of Colorado at 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 values and beliefs that constitute the Western political tradition, and 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. See Residential Academic Programs in this section for more information.

Bachelor’s Degree Program +

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

Required Courses Semester Hours
Students in the regular political science major must complete 36 credit hours in the department, of which 21 hours must be in upper-division courses. All 36 hours must be completed with grades of
or better and an overall grade point average of 2.000. None of the required hours may be taken

Twelve hours are required from the following lower-division fields:
PSCI 1101 The American Political Systems
PSCI 2012 Introduction to Comparative Politics
PSCI 2223 Introduction to International Relations
PSCI 2004 Survey of Western Political Thought

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
ECON 2020 Principles of Macroeconomics

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 beginning of the second semester.
Complete PSCI 1101 and two of the following required courses by the end of the third semester: PSCI 2012, 2223, or 2004.
Complete the remaining lower-division political science course and the two ancillary courses, ECON 2010 and 2020, 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, Theory, Methodology, and Public Policy.
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.

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. For more information, see www.colorado.edu/artssciences/students/undergraduate/academics/minors.html.

Graduate Degree Programs +

Applications for the MA and PhD degrees 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 the global political economy. The curriculum is structured to lead to the PhD degree and also offers several programs culminating in the MA degree. In addition to the regular master’s degree in political science, special focus is placed on two professionally oriented MA degrees: one oriented toward entry into the public sector as a policy analyst; and one that prepares students for careers in global affairs.

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. 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 to the department by December 31. Decisions regarding admission and financial aid are typically completed during March each year.

Master of Arts in Political Science +

Students shall concentrate in any one of seven 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, law and politics, international politics, comparative politics, political philosophy, and empirical theory and methodology.

Students are responsible for familiarizing themselves with all degree requirements, some of which are outlined in the Graduate School section of this catalog. In brief, the degree requirements include a minimum of 31 credit hours of graduate credit, including at least 24 credit hours at the 5000 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 of residence. 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 (International Affairs) +

The increased participation of the United States in world politics has opened a variety of new careers in international affairs. The master’s program in international affairs of the Department of Political Science is designed to provide a well-rounded education in international affairs for students who are seeking careers of international service with the national government, with international organizations, with private business, with nongovernmental organizations, or in the fields of teaching and research. This MA program is also a logical step toward obtaining a PhD in political science at the University of Colorado or elsewhere.

Degree requirements include a minimum of 31 credit hours of graduate credit, 24 of which must be at the 5000 level or above. Of the required 31 credit hours, students desiring an MA in political science (international affairs) must include, in addition to the required seminars, 12 credit hours of work in the international area and 9 of the 12 credit hours must be in the field of international relations. It is advisable for the student to include the international relations core seminar in the 9 hours in the field of international relations. If a student plan of study so indicates, and permission is granted by the student faculty advisor and the department chair, the student may substitute up to 6 hours of credit from another department for the 3 hours in each of the other two areas of study.

Each student in this program must pass a GSFLT proficiency test in a foreign language approved by the student advisors and/or present evidence of an advanced proficiency in social statistics or computer science. The latter proficiency may be achieved by obtaining a B or better in a sequence of courses to be identified by the student’s advisory committee. A list of the course sequences that have been approved to meet this requirement is available in the departmental office. In exceptional cases, the graduate curriculum committee may accept other evidence that the student has acquired a good working knowledge of a foreign language or the advanced proficiency in social statistics or computer science.

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 environmental policy.

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 five required seminars in policy analysis, introduction to data analysis, and context-sensitive methods. Specific courses in economics are not required, but there is a strong expectation that all students should be familiar with the tools of economic analysis, particularly in the policy area in which they are interested. The remaining 12 hours of electives should be used to develop additional analytical skills and/or a specialization in the student’s area of substantive interest. The certificate program in environmental policy 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 into 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. As a general rule, the policy thesis is somewhat shorter (but not less analytical) than a standard MA thesis.

Doctor of Philosophy +

For the PhD, the Department of Political Science requires at least 42 hours of course work (with a grade of A or B) beyond the bachelor’s degree. Except for 3 credit hours that may be taken at the senior undergraduate level in a cognate field at this university, all 42 hours must be at the 5000 level or above. Not to be included in the 42 hours are dissertation and research hours, master’s thesis hours, or those hours used to fulfill the language requirements.

The PhD candidate must present three fields of competence. The first two, labeled the major field and second field, are to be the subject of the PhD comprehensive examination. A minimum of three seminars must be presented in these fields. Additional course work is anticipated in the major and second fields. Competence in the third field may be demonstrated by completing two graduate seminars in that field with a GPA of 3.50 or higher, or through comprehensive examination. Each student shall select three course seminars from the following seven concentrations: American politics, public policy, law and politics, international politics, comparative politics, political philosophy, and empirical theory and methodology.

Students taking comprehensive exams will have the option of offering a “thematic” cross-field topic for the second exam field for their written and oral comps, with the agreement of their advisor. To do so, students must still meet the three-course minimum for a second field from the seven designated fields before the last day of the semester prior to taking comps, submit to the director of graduate studies a written agreement with an advisor on a reading list appropriate for the cross-field examination and a list of names of political science faculty conversant with the topic who have also approved the reading list. Approval of the cross-field topic is at the discretion of the director of graduate studies; the minimum criteria include bringing together two distinct fields of study. The director of graduate studies will select the committee for the written and oral exams in this cross-field exam, as for the other field exams.

Of the 42 required hours, 35 hours must be taken in political science. Of this 35, 32 must be in regularly scheduled seminars. Not more than 6 hours of political science graduate research topics combined are allowed toward the degree. The maximum amount of work that may be transferred to this university for the PhD is 21 semester hours.

First-Year Requirements. All graduate students in the PhD program are required to take PSCI 7008 and three core field seminars. At least two of the core seminars must be in the fields of American politics, comparative politics, and international relations. During the first year in residence, two core seminars in at least two fields must be completed. Also during the first year in residence, students enrolled in the PhD program must take PSCI 7075 (Introduction to Professional Political Science) and PSCI 7085 (Introductory Data Analysis).

Qualifying PhD Research Paper. Each PhD student is required to select a topic that leads to the formulation, execution, and written presentation of a piece of original research. This research paper is expected to be of potentially publishable quality.

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 who have not previously earned a master’s degree in political science 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.

Advisory Committee. The role of the advisory committee is crucial; its function is to guide students through their degree programs. Students select a chair for the committee no later than the end of the second semester in residence. If a student does not select a chair during the time specified, the departmental chair will designate such a chair for the purpose of administration and advising.

The advisory committee consists of three regular faculty members in residence who are members of the political science graduate faculty and who each represent one of the student fields of concentration. The second and third members of the advisory committee are selected by the student with the approval of the chair of the committee. The advisory committee meets with the student at least once during each academic year to review the student’s progress and to assist in planning the student’s future course of study.

Research Competence. Each PhD student must fulfill the research competence requirements as determined in conjunction with the advisory committee.

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).

Committees may set higher research competence standards for the student than those outlined above.

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. Written comprehensive examinations are administered once each semester during the first week of classes. Oral examinations are scheduled individually, within three weeks of the completion of the written part of the examination.

A final grade of pass or fail is assigned following the orals. Students who fail the written exams are provided a single opportunity to retake them, and are given an explanation of the failure by the readers.

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 dissertation advisor 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. These steps must be completed at least eight months prior to the dissertation defense.

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.

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