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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.
Please Note: The University has converted from a course-based system to a credit-based system, beginning with the Class of 2014. Therefore, for students in the Class of 2014 and beyond, special information on course requirements is included in (bold).
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: Fundamentals of Politics I (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 Fundamentals of Politics II (PO 042); Introduction to American Politics (PO 061); Introduction to International Politics (PO 081); or other introductory courses as they become available in the future (and they will be clearly identifiable by their course number, which will always begin with "zero").
NB: It is not essential to take Fundamentals of Politics I or How to Rule the World before Fundamentals II, Introduction to American 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 section of the AP exam in Government and Politics 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 sequence in Political Science is not like the introductory courses in some other majors, such as economics or the natural sciences. That is, it does not present a single curriculum or a precise body of knowledge and techniques which all students are expected to know before moving on to higher level courses. Rather, the Introductory sequence is designed to introduce the student to the study of politics in a variety of ways, and each faculty member who teaches introductory courses has his or her own particular style of doing so.
There is, however, some common ground. Fundamentals I, usually taught in the fall, uses a variety of reading materials to explore fundamental political ideas and problems: political philosophy texts, biography, history, speeches, and other public documents, along with writing assignments and classroom discussions. This is generally the approach taken by our new course, How to Rule the World.
Fundamentals II, usually taught in the spring, takes as its focus an understanding of the modern state and modern politics, using the United States as a central example, but teaching American politics from a comparative perspective by looking at other modern states as well.
Classroom discussion is central to the way Fundamentals is taught and is encouraged by the diverse and seriously provocative works read in class and by the manageable size of the classes. We try to limit enrollment in the Fundamentals courses to 40 students or fewer. That is small enough to foster not only conversation but also close associations among students and with faculty that often endure.
The other introductory courses—PO 061, PO 081, and similar courses to be offered in the future—have a few things in common as well. First, they are open to non-majors as well as majors, and satisfy the University Core Social Science requirement. This is true of Fundamentals I and II (PO 041 and PO 042) also. For this reason they will usually have much larger enrollments than Fundamentals I and II, and will feature lectures by full-time faculty members and discussion sections led by advanced graduate students. Each of these introductory classes focuses on one of the subfields of political science.
To summarize: Students will be required to take two introductory courses: Fundamentals I or How to Rule the World; and one additional course from the introductory list: Fundamentals II (PO 042); Introduction to American Government (PO 061); Introduction to International Politics (PO 081); and other introductory courses as they become available.
Students go directly from Fundamentals or other introductory courses into upper-level electives. The courses
taken beyond Fundamentals 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.
Fields and Electives
- Two introductory courses (six introductory credits) including, Fundamentals I (PO 041) or How to Rule the World (PO 021) and one course 3 credits from the list of other introductory offerings: Fundamentals II (PO 042); Introduction to American Politics (PO 061); Introduction to International Politics (PO 081), or other introductory courses as they become available.
- 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 Fundamentals II, or one of the other “second” Introductory courses before Fundamentals I or How to Rule the World.
- Students who join the major after their sophomore year are not required to take Fundamentals of Politics I or II. With department permission, they may substitute other courses (credits) for the standard introductory courses (credits) (PO 021, 041, 042, 061, 081). 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). 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). WCAS courses may be used to fulfill elective requirements only. The Fundamentals of Politics course taught in the Woods College does not fulfill the introductory requirement for political science majors in the College of Arts & Sciences. Students should consult in advance with the Department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies, if they intend to use a WCAS course to fulfill a major requirement.
- 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.
Please 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.
The Department of Political Science has established its own Honors program to encourage and reward high academic achievement among its majors. Admission to the program is by invitation from the Department. Each year 15 to 20 Political Science majors who have completed the sophomore year are invited to join the Honors program. Selection is based on academic records within the major and overall. The Honors program seeks to provide additional opportunities for intellectual exchange and friendship, among students as well as with the faculty. The Department hopes that the spirit of the Honors program will in turn extend to all our classes.
The Department offers special Honors Seminars on a variety of topics to members of the program. These are topics not ordinarily available in our course offerings, and they frequently focus on the special interests of faculty in important policy questions or intellectual puzzles. Members of the Honors program must take at least two Honors Seminars during their Junior and Senior years, in addition to the ten courses (30 credits) otherwise required for the major. Students seeking to complete the Honors program and graduate with Honors must, therefore, take at least 12 Political Science courses (36 credits) in all.
Honors Seminar: One Honors seminar is given each semester. The seminars are scheduled a year in advance so that students can plan their programs (especially important for students who will be studying abroad for one or two semesters). These seminars are considered electives in the major, and so they do not exempt the student from the requirement of taking one course in each of four subfields in Political Science. The intention of these seminars is to provide a setting in which students who have shown their lively and nimble engagement with politics can come together with others who share their enthusiasm, for the enjoyment and rewards of shared scholarly exploration. With the permission of the Director of the Honors program, Honors students may substitute one graduate seminar for one of the two required Honors seminars, subject to the approval of the faculty member teaching the seminar.
Honors Thesis: As a culmination of the Honors program, members are strongly encouraged to write an Honors Thesis during their senior year, and in recent years almost all seniors in the Honors program have done so. An Honors Thesis is generally a two-semester project, for which students earn credit for two elective courses in the major (Honors Thesis I and II, designated in the catalog as PO 291 and PO 292). Although the challenges of a senior thesis can seem daunting at the outset, the rewards upon completion are satisfying and enduring.
Students participating in the Honors program are eligible for one of three Honors designations when they graduate: Honors, High Honors, and Highest Honors in Political Science. All members of the program who complete at least 12 courses (36 credits) in Political Science, including two Honors Seminars, are eligible to graduate with Honors, if they have sustained a record of academic excellence in the major. Members of the program who choose to write an Honors Thesis will be eligible to receive High or Highest Honors.
For further information on the Political Science Honors Program, contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies.
Study abroad is an excellent way for Political Science majors to gain a comparative and cross-cultural perspective on politics. Study abroad is encouraged by the Department, so long as students have prepared themselves with a strong academic background and have chosen their study abroad location with care, to assure that the courses taken abroad meet the Department's expectations with respect to quality and content.
Students planning to go abroad will be given a form by the Office of International Programs in Hovey House, which must be filled out in consultation with the one of Department's two study abroad advisors, Professor Gerald Easter and Professor Kenji Hayao. The purpose of this consultation is to make sure that a student is far enough along in the major so that he or she can finish in time to graduate and can successfully integrate the study abroad program with other academic plans. Students who are in the Department's Honors Program, for example, need to plan carefully to coordinate study abroad with the Honors requirements. Information on specific foreign study opportunities can be obtained from the Office of International Programs in Hovey House and by speaking with Professor Easter or Professor Hayao.
To be eligible for elective course credits toward the Political Science major while studying abroad, a student must have at least a 3.2 GPA generally and in the Political Science major before departing.
Political Science majors should be aware that not all study abroad sites available to Boston College students will have courses (credits) acceptable toward the major. Some sites lack political science departments or have weak political science offerings. In these cases, students should be careful to consult with the department's Foreign Study Advisor or the Director of Undergraduate Studies.
Because gaining foreign-language fluency is one of the main benefits of study abroad, Political Science majors seeking to study abroad in an English-speaking country need to have a compelling academic reason for doing so. Students who believe that their foreign-language skills are not advanced enough to take college courses abroad in a foreign language should consider study-abroad programs in foreign-language countries where universities offer their own students courses in English. Information about such programs can be obtained from the Office of International Programs in Hovey House.
The Department’s study abroad advisor can advise students about which programs and courses abroad will be acceptable. Students are urged to gain approval for specific courses from the Department’s study abroad advisor before departing. A student who seeks approval only after he or she returns from abroad risks not getting Political Science credit for study abroad courses. Always ask first, and if circumstances in the host country change (as they frequently do), email the foreign study advisor or Director of Undergraduate Studies for advice.
The Department will accept no more than two courses (six credits) per semester from an institution abroad or four courses (12 credits) for an entire year. These courses (credits) will count as major electives only. The four courses (12 credits) for the field distributional requirement in the Political Science major (one each in American, Comparative, and International Politics and in Political Theory) must be taken at Boston College. No courses taken (credits earned) abroad will be accepted for these distributional requirements. Final approval of courses (credits) taken abroad requires the signature of the Department's Study Abroad Advisor on the Approval Forms available from the Office of International Programs in Hovey House.
The university offers semester-long internship programs in cooperation with universities in Washington, D.C. These programs combine academic courses with internship placements in legislative, executive, and interest-group offices in the nation's capital. Students sometimes do a Washington internship semester as an alternative to study abroad. The academic requirements for participation are the same as those for study abroad (i.e., a 3.2 GPA overall and in the major). Students interested in the Washington Semester programs should schedule an appointment with Christina Dimitrova at the Office of International Programs. For more information, visit www.bc.edu/international.
Thesis Writing Outside the Honors Program
With department permission, students who are not members of the Honors Program may still have the opportunity to write a thesis, by enrolling in PO 283-284 (Thesis I and II). This is an opportunity open to seniors, and the first step is to speak with a faculty member, during your junior year, who might be willing to act as your thesis supervisor. The thesis courses do not satisfy subfield requirements in the major but may be used to satisfy elective requirements.
Scholar of the College Program
Scholar of the College is a special designation conferred at Commencement on seniors who have successfully completed particularly creative, scholarly, and ambitious Advanced Independent Research projects during their senior year, while maintaining an overall cumulative grade point average of 3.700 or better. Students interested in this program should consult the University’s website for further information. (In this Department, Scholars projects are done under the course number PO 399 Advanced Independent Research.)
Awards & Fellowships
Advanced Study Grants
The Boston College Advanced Study Grants were established to encourage, support, and give visible recognition to undergraduates who have that special spark of scholarly initiative and imagination. Students with these qualities should also be thinking of themselves as prospective candidates for national fellowships, such as the Rhodes, Marshall, Fulbright, Goldwater, or Truman. An Advanced Study Grant for a summer project can be an important step along the way. For more information on the ASG program, consult the University’s website.
Advanced Study Grants are for student-designed projects. They are not awarded for projects in which a student proposes to work with a faculty member on the faculty member's research. For such faculty-designed projects, Boston College has Undergraduate Research Fellowships.
Undergraduate Research Fellowships Program
The Undergraduate Research Fellowships program enables students of at least sophomore status to gain firsthand experience in scholarly work by participating with a faculty member on a research project. Faculty members select students, and students receive a monetary award based upon the scope and duration of the project. Students do not receive academic credit for these fellowships. Their value lies in the close mentoring relationship students can form while working with a faculty member. All full-time undergraduates of at least sophomore status are eligible. Fellowships are available for the fall, spring, and summer semesters. For more information on the program and application deadlines, consult the website for the University Fellowships Committee, or inquire directly with faculty to express your interest in being involved in their research.
National Fellowships Competitions
Boston College students need to be aware, early in their undergraduate careers, of the fellowships and awards given on a competitive basis by national foundations. Fulbright Grants, Marshall Scholarships, Mellon Fellowships, National Science Foundation Fellowships, Rhodes Scholarships, and Truman Scholarships are among the major grants available. Some of these are available to Juniors and Seniors for undergraduate study. In order to have a realistic chance of competing for one of these awards, students need to plan ahead. The Department Sponsor for these fellowship opportunities is Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs, Professor Donald L. Hafner. Many of these opportunities are especially for students planning a future in public service, so they are very appropriate for Political Science majors. In recent years, several of the Department's majors have been awarded Truman Scholarships, for instance. But early planning and preparation are important—the freshman year is not too early.
For further information about national fellowships, consult the website for the University Fellowships Committee.