Political Science analyzes political systems and processes on the local, state, national, and international levels. The goals of the major include enhancing knowledge of the political world, the examination of values, the sharpening of analytical and writing skills, and the formulation of well-considered viewsWe assume our prospective majors come to us with an interest in politics and government. We offer no single gateway course as a step toward developing this interest within the discipline of political science. Instead, we offer (and require) that students take fourinitial steps toward completing the political science major. Each step lies within one of the four subfields of the discipline: American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, and Political Philosophy. Introductions to American Politics, International Relations and Political Philosophy are offered at the 100-level. The Comparative Politics introductory step can be taken in Comparative Politics 150 or any 200-level Comparative Politics course. 

Courses appropriate for prospective majors

The department recommends that a student test his/her interest in Political Science by taking one or more of the four introductory courses:

POSC 120, American Government
POSC 150, Comparative Politics
POSC 170, International Relations
POSC 180, Political Philosophy

These courses may help the student decide whether to consider additional courses in the field and, at the same time, will meet departmental major requirements.

NOTE: The numbering of the four introductory courses is arbitrary and is NOT meant to indicate the relative difficulty or the order in which they should be taken. Where one begins should be determined largely by student interest.

For course descriptions and requirements for the major, refer to the Academic Bulletin: Political Science.

Courses that fulfill distribution requirements

Social Sciences (Division II):
POSC 120, American Government
POSC 150, Comparative Politics
POSC 170, International Relations
POSC 180, Political Philosophy

Upper level classes also meet Division II, and some meet other requirements such as U.S. Diversity or Writing in the Discipline.

Suggested curricular flow through the major

There is no necessary or preferred “path” through the Political Science major. Many students arrive on campus knowing that Political Science is the major for them. Many other majors discover their interest in politics and government after taking classes or becoming involved in campus activities.

The POSC major was designed to provide students with a solid foundation in the four subfields of Political Science (American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, and Political Philosophy) and to enable students to tailor the major to their own interests as much as possible. In addition, the major’s flexibility allows students to complete the major while studying off campus and to combine the major with a certificate, a minor, or even a second major.

Completion of the Political Science major requires ten courses.

  • Students must take POSC 120, POSC 170, POSC 180, one Comparative Politics course, and a senior seminar.
  • The other five courses are chosen by the student.
  • Students, beginning with those who enter the College as First-Years in Fall 2018, must also take 239 Research Methods or any other course with a Political Science Methods Designation as one of the ten courses required for the major. 
  • Some of our majors pursue an interest in a region of the world (e.g., Latin America, East Asia, Africa, or Western Europe).
  • Some of our majors focus on foreign policy and global politics.
  • Some of our majors concentrate on American politics and political  institutions.

The department offers courses in all of these areas and members of the department specialize in each of these areas.

Anyone considering the Political Science major should feel free to contact members of the department with any questions about the major. The faculty will gladly answer questions and explain the strengths and requirements of the major.


The honors in the major option involves one semester of independent research in the spring of the senior year leading to a defense of a major project before the political science faculty at the end of the spring semester. Candidates interested in pursuing honors in political science must obtain a faculty supervisor during the fall semester and submit an annotated bibliography and a well-developed thesis statement explaining the project's goal by December 1. A grade point average of 3.50 in the major and 3.25 overall are required to undertake an honors project. Students who plan to complete the honors option are strongly encouraged to take POSC 239: Research Methods, in their junior year.  Detailed guidelines can be found on the department's web page.

Independent study and independent research

Many majors take courses in independent study, independent research, and student/faculty collaborative research, as well as internships. A major will receive political science credit for one internship (if taken for academic credit) if the subject matter is within the field of political science and if the academic advisor is a full-time member of the Political Science department, a faculty member of a Dickinson overseas program, or a faculty member of an off-campus program with which Dickinson College is affiliated. A major may petition the chair to count an additional internship as a political science course. A major will receive political science credit for all courses of independent study (or research) if supervised by full-time members of the Political Science department. A student may petition the chair to count an independent study supervised by any other individual. If students have any questions about receiving political science credit for internships or independent studies, they should consult the department chair.

Opportunities for off-campus study

Majors may apply to spend: (1) their junior year in Bologna, Italy, as students at Dickinson's K. Robert Nilsson Center for European Studies specializing in European and International Studies, or (2) in Washington, D.C. in The Washington Center Program specializing in a wide variety of programs, such as American Government, Justice, Foreign Policy, and International Development. Please see the appropriate coordinator for these and many other off-campus study possibilities.

Additional Remarks

After Dickinson: Many Political Science majors go on to study at leading law schools or graduate schools in the social sciences or business, or to careers in state, national or international government service, domestic and international corporations, and journalism.