Why Study Political Science?

There are many definitions of political science. But whether a definition focuses on the analysis of governmental structures, or influences on voter choice, or the relationship between national governments, or the best form of government, at base, political science is about the systematic study of power. Whether power is exercised formally, as is the case between government and the individual, or informally, as is the case between individuals, it is the systematic study of power relationships that provides the subject matter for the discipline. Majors in political science obtain not only an understanding of the workings of government, but they also develop important skills in critical thinking and analysis. These skills make them ideal candidates for careers in law; in government at the state, national, and international levels; in business; in journalism; and in politics.

What careers do Political Science majors pursue?

Poli Sci majors learn quickly, work well in teams, and have basic understanding of the policy process and the operations of government. Poli Sci majors understand that for every endeavor, no matter how important, there is a mountain of ordinary grunt work that has to be done. Poli Sci majors can be counted on to do the foot-work, put in the face-time, and endure the slog necessary of everything of consequence.

Poli Sci majors go on to work in all levels of government. Local and state governments have a direct impact on the quality of life of all Americans. Courses on state and urban government, public policy, administrative law, and public administration are especially valuable. Quantitative and statistical skills developed in these courses and applied in the internships many of our students do provide a powerful combination.

Poli Sci majors go on to work in a wide range of International careers, in business, Foreign Service, and non-governmental organizations. Political Science offers a wide variety of courses in comparative politics, international relations and organizations, public policy, political development, and interest group politics. These courses in combination with economics, statistics, computer science, and international trade.

Poli Sci majors pursue careers in campaign management, political polling, national political committees, and consulting. They will have taken multiple courses in the American political system, comparative political parties, elections, public opinion, and voting behavior; as well as committing themselves to developing their writing and data analysis. There are over half a million campaigns in the United States annually, and while entry-level jobs have long hours, low pay, and enormous demands, they are places where you can "cut your political teeth." Local campaigns lead to statewide or national campaigns, and then perhaps to consulting and polling if that strikes your interest.

Poli Sci majors have also traditionally gone into law. Some lawyers are litigators while others are employed by corporations, government, and other organizations. Political Science track fits nicely for students seeking law degrees as official credentials to "practice law" and those students who seek a law degree as an additional "tool" to make positive impacts in their professional areas of interest. Some individuals with legal training work in other areas, such as corporate or public management. The department offers a wide variety of political theory, constitutional law, and public policy courses that will help you explore the interaction between law, politics, and society.

How to Get in

Students in the College of Letters & Science can declare Political Science by completing a form on the department website

Students in other schools and colleges interested in adding the Political Science major to their primary degree program need an online form signed by the Political Science advisor in order to obtain permission from their home school/college to add the additional major.  

Students declared in the Political Science certificate may not be declared in the Political Science major at the same time. Students who do wish to declare this major must first cancel their declaration in the certificate.

University General Education Requirements

All undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are required to fulfill a minimum set of common university general education requirements to ensure that every graduate acquires the essential core of an undergraduate education. This core establishes a foundation for living a productive life, being a citizen of the world, appreciating aesthetic values, and engaging in lifelong learning in a continually changing world. Various schools and colleges will have requirements in addition to the requirements listed below. Consult your advisor for assistance, as needed. For additional information, see the university Undergraduate General Education Requirements section of the Guide.

General Education
  • Breadth—Humanities/Literature/Arts: 6 credits
  • Breadth—Natural Science: 4 to 6 credits, consisting of one 4- or 5-credit course with a laboratory component; or two courses providing a total of 6 credits
  • Breadth—Social Studies: 3 credits
  • Communication Part A Part B *
  • Ethnic Studies *
  • Quantitative Reasoning Part A Part B *

* The mortarboard symbol appears before the title of any course that fulfills one of the Communication Part A or Part B, Ethnic Studies, or Quantitative Reasoning Part A or Part B requirements.

College of Letters & Science Degree Requirements: Bachelor of Science (BS)

Students pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in the College of Letters & Science must complete all of the requirements below. The College of Letters & Science allows this major to be paired with either the Bachelor of Arts or the Bachelor of Science degree requirements.

Bachelor of Science Degree Requirements

Mathematics Complete two courses of 3+ credits at the Intermediate or Advanced level in MATH, COMP SCI, or STAT subjects. A maximum of one course in each of COMP SCI and STAT subjects counts toward this requirement.
Language Complete the third unit of a language other than English.
LS Breadth Complete:
• 12 credits of Humanities, which must include at least 6 credits of Literature; and
• 12 credits of Social Science; and
• 12 credits of Natural Science, which must include 6 credits of Biological Science and 6 credits of Physical Science.
Liberal Arts and Science Coursework Complete at least 108 credits.
Depth of Intermediate/Advanced Coursework Complete at least 60 credits at the Intermediate or Advanced level.
Major Declare and complete at least one major.
Total Credits Complete at least 120 credits.
UW-Madison Experience Complete both:
• 30 credits in residence, overall, and
• 30 credits in residence after the 86th credit.
Quality of Work • 2.000 in all coursework at UW–Madison
• 2.000 in Intermediate/Advanced level coursework at UW–Madison

Non–L&S students pursuing an L&S major

Non–L&S students who have permission from their school/college to pursue an additional major within L&S only need to fulfill the major requirements. They do not need to complete the L&S Degree Requirements above.

Requirements for the Major

30 credits are required in the following areas:


Three courses and three areas required: 9-12
International Relations
Introduction to International Relations
The U.S. & Latin America from the Colonial Era to the Present: A Critical Survey
The European Union: Politics and Political Economy
Theories of International Security
Conflict Resolution
China in World Politics
Analysis of International Relations
International Political Economy
International Institutions and World Order
Principles of International Law
American Foreign Policy
Nuclear Weapons and World Politics
Study Abroad Topics in Political Science: International Relations
Government and Natural Resources
African International Relations
The Politics of Development
American Government
Introduction to American Politics and Government
Introduction to American Politics
Introduction to State Government
Introduction to Political Psychology
Law, Politics and Society
Politics in Multi-Cultural Societies
Introduction to Public Policy
African and African-American Linkages: An Introduction
Mexican-American Politics
The Political Economy of Race in the United States
Elections and Voting Behavior
American Political Parties
United States Congress
Criminal Law and Justice
Legislative Internship
Wisconsin in Washington Internship Course
State Government and Public Policy
The American Presidency
The American Constitution : Powers and Structures of Government
The American Constitution: Rights and Civil Liberties
The Supreme Court as a Political Institution
Community Power and Grass Roots Politics
The American Judicial System
Administrative Law
The First Amendment
Honors Seminar on Race and Politics in the United States
Study Abroad Topics in Political Science: American Government
Campaign Finance
Public Opinion
African American Political Theory
Wisconsin in Washington Advanced Public Policy Course
Political Theory
Introduction to Political Theory
History of American Political Thought
Contemporary American Political Thought
Athenian Democracy
Literature and Politics
Christian Political Thought
Machiavelli and His World
Topics in Political Philosophy
Deception and Politics
Women and Politics
African American Political Theory
Study Abroad Topics in Political Science: Political Theory
Comparative Politics
Introduction to Comparative Politics
Introduction to Comparative Politics (Honors)
Politics in Multi-Cultural Societies
Introduction to Southeast Asia: Vietnam to the Philippines
Russia: An Interdisciplinary Survey
Eastern Europe: An Interdisciplinary Survey
Introduction to East Asian Civilizations
Latin America: An Introduction
Africa: An Introductory Survey
African and African-American Linkages: An Introduction
Governments and Politics of the Middle East and North Africa
Politics of Southeast Asia
Chinese Politics
Social Movements and Revolutions in Latin America
Indian Politics in Comparative Perspective
Politics of East and Southeast Asia
African Politics
Political Economy of Development
German Politics
Russian Politics
Democracy (and Its Uncertain Future)
The Civil-Military Paradox in U.S. Politics and Society
Israeli Politics and Society
The Russian War on Ukraine: Causes and Consequences
Global Access to Justice
Labor in the Americas: US & Mexico in Comparative & Historical Perspective
Islam and Politics
The Challenge of Democratization
Latino History and Politics
Gender and Politics in Comparative Perspective
Contentious Politics
Comparative Legal Institutions
Religion and Politics
The Politics of Human Rights
Politics of Gender and Women's Rights in the Middle East
Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict
Comparative Political Culture
The Comparative Study of Genocide
Arab-Israeli Conflict
Socialism and Transitions to the Market
Politics and Policies in the European Union
Comparative Politics of Sport
Study Abroad Topics in Political Science: Comparative Politics
Total Credits9-12

Research Methods

Complete one course from:3-4
Research Methods in Political Science
Understanding Political Numbers
Political Choice and Strategy
Analysis of International Relations
Introduction to Survey Research
Total Credits3-4


Additional POLI SCI courses to attain 30 credits in the major.2

Residence and Quality of Work

  • 2.000 GPA in all POLI SCI courses and courses that count toward the major
  • 2.000 GPA on 15 upper-level credits in the major, taken in residence3
  • 15 credits in POLI SCI, taken on campus

Honors in the Major

To declare Honors in the Major, students must have at least one POLI SCI course for Honors, at least a 3.300 University GPA, and meet with the major advisor to discuss the requirements.  

To earn Honors in the Major, students must satisfy the requirements for the major (above) and these additional requirements:

  • Earn a 3.300 or higher University GPA
  • Earn 3.500 GPA or higher in all POLI SCI courses
  • Complete at least 15 credits in POLI SCI for Honors to include:4
Complete one of these Thesis sequences:6
Senior Honors Thesis
and Senior Honors Thesis
Senior Honors Thesis Seminar
and Senior Honors Thesis Seminar
Additional POLI SCI courses taken for Honors 49
Total Credits15



Courses may only meet one Distribution area.  A course may meet both a Distribution and the Research Methods requirement, but will only be applied once toward the 30 credits required in the major.


 No more than 6 total credits of Directed Study (POLI SCI 199POLI SCI 698POLI SCI 699) and Internship (POLI SCI 315) may count in the major.


 POLI SCI courses numbered 300 and higher count as upper-level in the major.


A grade of B or higher is required to earn Honors credit.

University Degree Requirements 

Total Degree To receive a bachelor's degree from UW–Madison, students must earn a minimum of 120 degree credits. The requirements for some programs may exceed 120 degree credits. Students should consult with their college or department advisor for information on specific credit requirements.
Residency Degree candidates are required to earn a minimum of 30 credits in residence at UW–Madison. "In residence" means on the UW–Madison campus with an undergraduate degree classification. “In residence” credit also includes UW–Madison courses offered in distance or online formats and credits earned in UW–Madison Study Abroad/Study Away programs.
Quality of Work Undergraduate students must maintain the minimum grade point average specified by the school, college, or academic program to remain in good academic standing. Students whose academic performance drops below these minimum thresholds will be placed on academic probation.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Develop an understanding of and appreciation for the methods and approaches of diverse subfields in Political Science-­‐American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, and Political Theory-­‐and their relevance to important theoretical and pragmatic questions.
  2. Analyze different forms and practices of governance both democratic and non‐democratic.
  3. Argue effectively and defend propositions with intellectual integrity, while considering a range of alternative points of view and evidence.
  4. Analyze relations among individuals, civil society, political institutions, and states.
  5. Analyze the motivations and consequences of political decision‐making and activities.

Four-Year Plan

This Four-Year Plan is only one way a student may complete an L&S degree with this major. Many factors can affect student degree planning, including placement scores, credit for transferred courses, credits earned by examination, and individual scholarly interests. In addition, many students have commitments (e.g., athletics, honors, research, student organizations, study abroad, work and volunteer experiences) that necessitate they adjust their plans accordingly. Informed students engage in their own unique Wisconsin Experience by consulting their academic advisors, Guide, DARS, and Course Search & Enroll for assistance making and adjusting their plan.

First Year
POLI SCI 104, 120, 140, or 1603-4POLI SCI 104, 120, 140, or 160 (complete two)3-4
Communications A3Literature Breadth3
Quantitative Reasoning A3Foreign Language (if needed)4
Foreign Language (if needed)4 
 14 15
Second Year
Declare the major POLI SCI elective3
POLI SCI/​CHICLA  231, 297, or 355 (satisfies Ethnic Studies requirement)3-4Communications B4
POLI SCI 270, 274, or 348 (satisfies Quantitative Reasoning B requirement)3-4Physical Science Breadth3
Biological Science Breadth3Literature Breadth3
INTER-LS 2101 
 15 16
Third Year
POLI SCI course 300 and above4POLI SCI course 300 and above3
Humanities Breadth3Humanities Breadth3
Science Breadth3Science Breadth3
 Apply for Senior Thesis (optional)1
 14 15
Fourth Year
POLI SCI course 300 and above4POLI SCI course 300 and above6
POLI SCI 681, 683, or 691 (optional)13-4POLI SCI 682, 684, or 692 (optional)13-4
 16 15
Total Credits 120

Students wishing to write a senior thesis (with or without Honors) should apply in the spring of their third year.

Three-Year Plan

This Sample Three-Year Plan is a tool to assist students and their advisor(s). Students should use it —along with their DARS report, the Degree Planner, and Course Search & Enroll tools — to make their own three-year plan based on their placement scores, credit for transferred courses and approved examinations, and individual interests.

Three-year plans may vary considerably from student to student, depending on their individual preparation and circumstances. Students interested in graduating in three years should meet with an advisor as early as possible to discuss feasibility, appropriate course sequencing, post-graduation plans (careers, graduate school, etc.), and opportunities they might forgo in pursuit of a three-year graduation plan.

Departmental Expectations

Students planning to graduate within three years with a Political Science major should enter the University with a minimum of 18 advanced standing credits, and have satisfied the following requirements with course credit or via placement examination:

  • Communication Part A
  • Quantitative Reasoning Part A
  • 18 credits of any elective coursework
  • 3-4 units of foreign language

Students missing one or more of these requirements upon entering the University should talk to their advisor about completing coursework over Summer terms to stay on track for a three year timeline.

First Year
POLI SCI 104, 120, 140, or 1604Declare the Major
POLI SCI 104, 120, 140, or 1604POLI SCI 104, 120, 140, or 1604
Biological Science Breadth3POLI SCI Elective3
Literature Breadth3Communication B4
Intermediate or Advanced COMP SCI, MATH, or STAT (if BS) or Elective (if BA)3Literature Breadth3
 Physical Science Breadth3
 17 17
Second Year
POLI SCI/​CHICLA  231, 297, or 355 (satisfies Ethnic Studies)3-4POLI SCI course 300 and above4
POLI SCI 270, 274, or 348 (satisfies Quantitative Reasoning B)4POLI SCI course 300 and above3
Humanities Breadth3Humanities Breadth3
Science Breadth3Intermediate or Advanced COMP SCI, MATH, or STAT (if BS) or Elective (Intermediate or Advanced level) (if BA)3
Elective3Elective (Intermediate or Advanced level)3
 INTER-LS 2101
 Apply for Senior Thesis (optional)1
 16-17 17
Third Year
POLI SCI course 300 and above4POLI SCI course 300 and above4
POLI SCI 681, 683, or 69114POLI SCI course 300 and above3
Science Breadth3POLI SCI 682, 684, or 69214
Electives (Intermediate or Advanced level)6Electives (Intermediate or Advanced level)6
 17 17
Total Credits 101-102

Students wishing to write a senior thesis (with or without Honors) should apply in the spring of their second year.

Advising and Careers


The Department of Political Science has academic advisors who are available to meet with you to offer guidance on:

  • Course selection
  • Program planning
  • Internship opportunities
  • Study abroad programs
  • Scholarship opportunities
  • Student research interests
  • Transfer and study abroad credits

Information about scheduling appointments can be found here. Please note that no advising appointments are scheduled via email.

Enrollment Information

Political science majors who wish to enroll in the following course(s) must obtain prior consent/authorization:

  • Directed Study
  • Thesis
  • Proseminars (varies by specific course; check footnotes in the class schedule)
  • Specific Topic
  • Other advanced-level coursework with consent of the instructor in lieu of other required courses

Information and course descriptions are posted on the department website prior to each enrollment period. POLI SCI 315 Legislative Internship is available by application only. Specific deadlines will be announced each semester. Students with a classification making them ineligible for certain courses due to retroactive or AP credits may see the instructor for possible permission to enroll on a space available basis. Students who wish to enroll in a course that is closed may use the online wait list available through the Student Center in MyUW. The number of credits for variable credit courses is determined by course format and contact periods for a specific semester as noted in the class schedule. For graduate programs, see the Graduate section of this Guide.

L&S Career Resources

Every L&S major opens a world of possibilities.  SuccessWorks at the College of Letters & Science helps students turn the academic skills learned in their major, certificates, and other coursework into fulfilling lives after graduation, whether that means jobs, public service, graduate school or other career pursuits.

In addition to providing basic support like resume reviews and interview practice, SuccessWorks offers ways to explore interests and build career skills from their very first semester/term at UW all the way through graduation and beyond.

Students can explore careers in one-on-one advising, try out different career paths, complete internships, prepare for the job search and/or graduate school applications, and connect with supportive alumni and even employers in the fields that inspire them.


Please see the Faculty and Administration and Staff sections of the Political Science website.