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Political Science

morrissey college of arts and sciences


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: two introductory courses; 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. Please note that courses not credits are the fundamental building block of our major. In order to complete the major, students must complete 10 political science courses that are each worth at least 3 credits. Thus, for the purposes of the major, three 4-credit political science courses from another institution are counted as three courses (they are not equivalent to four 3-credit courses). The larger number of credits for a single course from another institution may count toward the aggregate credits required for BC graduation, but that course will still count as a single course toward the major’s ten course requirement. (A “double course” transferred from abroad, however, that spans two semesters, and carries 6–8 credits, will be counted as two elective courses for the major).  

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The Introductory Sequence

With some exceptions as noted below under Qualifications, Exceptions, and Special Rules, all majors should take one of the following introductory courses: Fundamental Concepts of Politics (POLI1041) or How to Rule the World (POLI1021). In addition, students should take a second introductory course, selected from the following: Introduction to Modern Politics (POLI1042); Introduction to American Politics (POLI1061); Introduction to International Politics (POLI1081); or Introduction to Comparative Politics (POLI1091).

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 in the major. You will need to have a “Degree Audit Course Substitution and Waiver Form” 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 POLI1041 Fundamental Concepts has his or her own particular style of doing so.

There is, however, some common ground. POLI1041 Fundamental Concepts of Politics and POLI1021 How to Rule the World, are devoted principally to a study of some of the classic texts in political theory. POLI1042 Introduction to Modern Politics, POLI1061 Introduction to American Politics, POLI1081 Introduction to International Politics, and POLI1091 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.

To summarize: Students are normally required to take two introductory courses: either Fundamental Concepts of Politics (POLI1041) or How to Rule the World (POLI1021); and one additional course from the introductory list: Introduction to Modern Politics (POLI1042); Introduction to American Government (POLI1061); Introduction to International Politics (POLI1081); and (POLI1091) Introduction to Comparative Politics.

  • POLI1021, POLI1061 and POLI1091 satisfy the Social Science core and are open to majors and non-majors.
  • POLI1041, POLI1042, and POLI1081 satisfy the Social Science core and are major restricted only.

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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. The second digit of course numbers indicate their subfield. Courses with a “3” in that location (e.g., 2300) are in American Politics; courses with a “4” in that location (e.g., 2400) are in Comparative Politics; courses with a “5” in that location (e.g., 2500) are in International Politics; and courses with a “6” in that location (e.g., 2600) are in Political Theory. Students must take eight courses beyond the introductory courses, and at least one course must be taken in each of the four subfields: American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Politics, and Political Theory. All courses 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 in the department; courses taken abroad or transferred from other institutions may only be used to fulfill introductory or elective requirements. To fulfill the major, at least six courses of the ten courses required must be taken in the Boston College Political Science Department. No more than four courses in total, then, can be transferred from other U.S. institutions, study abroad, or Woods College of Advancing Studies (WCAS).

There is a considerable variety in our 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 15–19 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.

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Degree Requirements

Fields and Electives
  • Two introductory courses including, Fundamental Concepts of Politics (POLI1041) or How to Rule the World (POLI1021) and one course from the list of other introductory offerings: Introduction to Modern Politics (POLI1042); Introduction to American Politics (POLI1061); Introduction to International Politics (POLI1081), or Introduction to Comparative Politics (POLI1091).
  • At least one course in each of the four subfields of Political Science: American Politics (POLIX300–X398), Comparative Politics (POLIX400–X499), International Politics (POLIX500–X599), and Political Theory (POLIX600–X699), for a total of four subfield courses.
  • Four electives from among any courses offered by the department that are not introductory courses. NB: POLI1021 (How to Rule the World) may also satisfy the subfield requirement in Political Theory; and POLI1081 (Introduction to International Politics) may also satisfy the subfield requirement in International Politics. They may not, however, satisfy the Introductory requirement and the subfield requirement at the same time.

Note: Courses designated as POLIX200–X299 count as electives toward the major but do not fulfill any of the four subfield distributional requirements. Courses numbered POLI7700 and above are graduate courses.

Qualifications, Exceptions, and Special Rules
  • Introductory courses do not have to be taken in any particular sequence: thus, students may 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 Introductory courses. With department permission, they may substitute other elective courses for the standard introductory. Students who have scored at least a 4 on the American Government or Comparative Government AP exams may waive the second introductory course. In either of these cases, students will still need to take ten courses and will need to see the Director of Undergraduate Studies in order to get this waiver recorded on their Degree Audits.

The courses in Political Science offered in the Woods College are separate from the courses offered in the Department and cannot generally be used towards the major. Students who believe they have a compelling reason to use a Woods course for the major must petition the Department's Director of Undergraduate Studies prior to the start of the class to see whether an exception can be made.

  • Students may transfer up to four courses from other institutions, including study abroad programs. But in no case may a student earn a degree in Political Science without taking at least six courses (18 credits) in the Department. Transfer credits and study abroad credits may not be used to satisfy the four subfield distributional requirements.

Please Note: Even after the University has accepted a transfer or a study abroad course for your MCAS requirements, you will still need to see the Director of Undergraduate Studies or one of the Study Abroad Advisors for special forms to move those classes into the appropriate categories on your Degree Audit.

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Honors Program

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.

Honors Seminar: 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. 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. Members of the Honors program must take at least two Honors Seminars over the course of their junior and senior years, in addition to the ten courses 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 in all.

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. 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 may write an Honors Thesis during their senior year. 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 POLI4961 and POLI4962).

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 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, and do so successfully, will be eligible to be considered for High or Highest Honors.

For further information on the Political Science Honors Program, contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

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Study Abroad

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 Kenji Hayao and Professor Jennie Purnell. 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 study abroad opportunities can be obtained from the Office of International Programs in Hovey House and by speaking with Professor Hayao or Professor Purnell.

To be eligible for elective course credits toward the Political Science major while studying abroad, a student should have at least a 3.2 GPA generally and in the Political Science major before departing. Students with GPAs below this should contact one of the Department's study abroad advisors about the possibility of being granted a waiver to this requirement.

Political Science majors should be aware that not all study abroad sites available to Boston College students will have courses 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 one of the department's study abroad advisors 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), e-mail the study abroad advisor or Director of Undergraduate Studies for advice.

The Department will accept no more than two courses per semester from an institution abroad or four courses for an entire year. These courses will count as major electives only. As noted above, the four courses 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 abroad will be accepted for these distributional requirements. Again, bear in mind that courses not credits are the building blocks of our major. Single courses taken abroad that carry 3 or more credits will be counted as single courses in the major. Thus, for the purposes of the major, three 4-credit political science courses from another institution are counted as three courses (they are not, in other words, treated as equivalent to four 3-credit BC political science courses). Final approval of courses 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.

Washington Semester

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 American University Washington Semester Program should schedule an appointment with the Office of International Programs. For more information, visit

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Special Programs

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 POLI4951–4952 (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 POLI4921 Advanced Independent Research.)

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Awards and 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.

Students intending to write an Honors Thesis or Senior Thesis should consider applying in their junior year for Advanced Study Grants for Thesis Research, which fund summer research or skills-acquisition projects in direct support of a senior project that will be undertaken during the student’s senior year.

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. Students interested in pursuing any of these opportunities should contact Dr. Jason Cavallari, the Associate Director of the University Fellowships Office. 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.

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