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College of Arts and Sciences

Undergraduate Programs

department of political science

Undergraduate Program Description

An undergraduate major in Political Science provides a foundation for careers in politics, public administration, international service, law, business, and journalism, as well as a foundation for graduate work and teaching in the social sciences.

The Political Science major at Boston College consists of ten courses (30 credits): two introductory courses (those beginning with the number "zero"); at least one course in each of the four subfields of political science (American Politics; Comparative Politics; International Politics; and Political Theory); and four electives from any of the subfields.


The Introductory Sequence

With some exceptions as noted below under Qualifications, Exceptions, and Special Rules, all majors must take one of the following introductory courses: Fundamental Concepts of Politics (PO 041) or How to Rule the World (PO 021). After taking one of these two courses, students will be able to choose from among Introduction to Modern Politics (PO 042); Introduction to American Politics (POLI 1061); Introduction to International Politics (PO 081); or Introduction to Comparative Politics (PO 091).

NB: It is not essential to take Fundamental Concepts of Politics or How to Rule the World before Introduction to Modern Politics, Introduction to American Politics, Introduction to Comparative Politics, or Introduction to International Politics; nor is it essential to take either or both of the introductory courses in the freshman year. Many students do not begin their major until the sophomore year, and they have no difficulty finishing it on time. Students who scored a 4 or 5 on either of the AP exams in Government and Politics (American or Comparative) may place out of the requirement for the second introductory course (but not the first). It will still be necessary to take 10 courses (30 credits) in the major. You will need to get a form from the Office of Student Services signed by the Director of Undergraduate Studies in order for this waiver to be reflected on your Degree Audit.

The introductory curriculum in political science is not like that in other majors, such as economics or the natural sciences. Ours does not present a single curriculum that all students are expected to know before moving on to higher-level courses. Rather, the introductory curriculum is designed to expose students to the study of politics in a variety of ways. For example, each faculty member who teaches 041 Fundamental Concepts has his or her own particular style of doing so.

There is, however, some common ground. 041 Fundamental Concepts and 021 How to Rule the World, usually taught in the Fall, are devoted principally to a study of some of the classic texts in political theory. 042 Introduction to Modern Politics, 061 Introduction to American Politics, 081 Introduction to International Politics, and 091 Introduction to Comparative Politics, all emphasize philosophical, conceptual, and analytical foundations for understanding their substantive domains. Critical dialogue—in the classroom and in some cases, in discussion sections—is central to the way these introductory courses are taught.

Some introductory courses—PO 061 and similar courses to be offered in the future—are open to non-majors as well as majors, and satisfy the University Core Social Science requirement. The latter is also true of PO 041 and PO 042.

To summarize: Students will be required to take two introductory courses: Fundamental Concepts or How to Rule the World; and one additional course from the introductory list: Introduction to Modern Politics (PO 042); Introduction to American Government (PO 061); Introduction to International Politics (PO 081); and (PO 091) Introduction to Comparative Politics.


Beyond the Introductory Courses

Students go directly from introductory courses into upper-level electives. These electives do not have to be taken in any particular order, and the course numbers do not indicate a preferred sequence or level of difficulty. The numbers indicate only the category in which the courses fall: courses beginning with a “3” are in American Politics; courses beginning with “4” are in Comparative Politics; courses beginning with “5” are in International Politics; and courses beginning with “6” are in Political Theory. Students must take eight courses (24 credits beyond) the introductory courses, and at least one course (3 credits) must be taken in each of the four subfields: American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Politics, and Political Theory. All courses (credits) that do not fulfill the subfield or introductory requirements will be counted as electives in the major. The subfield requirements must be satisfied by courses taken (credits earned) in the department; courses taken (credits earned) abroad or transferred from other institutions may be used to fulfill elective requirements, or the second introductory course. To fulfill the major, at least six courses (18 credits) of the ten courses (30 credits) required must be taken at Boston College.

There is a considerable variety in these elective offerings, because each faculty member has a rotating set of courses and usually teaches four of these each year. There are approximately 100 courses open to undergraduates over a four-year period. Some of these courses are seminars, which meet once a week, and are usually limited to 19 members so that there is much more opportunity for sustained and intense analysis of texts and problems than there is in a conventional lecture/discussion format. With the exception of the special Sophomore Seminars, seminars are open only to juniors and seniors.

The amount of work required in all of our courses is generally high. Clarity of thought and writing are two sides of the same skill, and for this reason, our courses place special emphasis on writing skills. In addition, most courses encourage classroom discussion on a regular basis, so that students may be graded on their participation in class as well as on their writing and exams.


Degree Requirements

Fields and Electives

Two introductory courses (six introductory credits) including, Fundamental Concepts of Politics (PO 041) or How to Rule the World (PO 021) and one course 3 credits from the list of other introductory offerings: Introduction to Modern Politics (PO 042); Introduction to American Politics (PO 061); Introduction to International Politics (PO 081), or Introduction to Comparative Politics (PO 091).

At least one course (3 credits) in each of the four subfields of Political Science: American Politics (PO 300-399), Comparative Politics (PO 400-499), International Politics (PO 500-599), and Political Theory (PO 600-699), for a total of four subfield courses (12 subfield credits).

Four electives (12 credits) from among any courses offered by the department that are not introductory courses.

NB: PO 021 (How to Rule the World) may also satisfy the subfield requirement in Political Theory. It may not, however, satisfy the Introductory requirement and the Political Theory subfield requirement at the same time.

Note: Courses designated as PO 200-299 count as electives toward the major but do not fulfill any of the four subfield distributional requirements. Courses numbered PO 700 and above are graduate courses.

Qualifications, Exceptions, and Special Rules

Introductory courses do not have to be taken in any particular sequence, and students entering the major late may have to take one of the “second” Introductory courses before Fundamental Concepts or How to Rule the World.

Students who join the major after their sophomore year are not required to take Fundamental Concepts or other Introductory courses. With department permission, they may substitute other courses (credits) for the standard introductory courses (credits) (PO 021, 041, 042, 061, 081, 091). Students who have scored at least a 4 on the American Government or Comparative Government AP exams may place out of the second introductory course (042, 061, 081, 091). In either of these cases, students will still need to take ten courses (30 credits) and will need to see the director of undergraduate studies in order to get this waiver recorded on their degree audits.

There are courses in Political Science offered in the Woods College of Advancing Studies (WCAS). These courses may only be used to fulfill elective requirement in the major, and only with the prior approval of the Department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies. The Fundamentals of Politics course taught in the WCAS does not fulfill the introductory requirement for political science majors in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Students may transfer up to four courses (12 credits) from other institutions, including foreign study programs. But in no case may a student earn a degree in Political Science without taking at least six courses (24 credits) in the department. Transfer credits and foreign-study credits may not be used to satisfy the four subfield distributional requirements.

Note: Even after the University has accepted a transfer or a foreign study course (credits) for your A&S requirements, you will still need to see the Director of Undergraduate Studies or one of the Foreign Study Advisors for special forms to move those classes (credits) into the appropriate categories on your Degree Audit.