Thank you for your interest in the Department of Politics at Princeton University.
This page provides a range of information about the Undergraduate Program which we hope prospective concentrators will find useful.
Welcome to the Politics Department!
My role as Chair is to provide general oversight for all our tracks and policies, manage the Department’s finances, and oversee all personnel (faculty, preceptors, staff) issues.
As you will see below, we have a lot of information we want to share with you about the Department. Among others, you will find information from:
|Professor Frances Lee||Associate Chair (responsible for curriculum)|
|Professor Markus Prior||
Director of Undergraduate Studies
|Professor Patricia Kirkland||Advisor for Juniors|
|Professor Germán Gieczewski||
Advisor for the Track in Political Economy
|Professor Keith Whittington||Advisor for the Track in American Ideas and Institutions|
|Professor LaFleur Stephens-Dougan||Advisor for the Track in Race and Identity|
|Professor Guadalupe Tuñón||Study Abroad Advisor|
Before giving way to my colleagues, I wanted to share with you three reasons why I think Politics would be a good choice of major:
- With almost 60 faculty members, we are an unusually large department both by Princeton standards and by standards of political science departments around the world. This might not seem like a very interesting or exciting fact, but from the point of view of an undergraduate it is actually quite significant. Princeton faculty around the University are often busy and over-committed. Because of our large size, our faculty/student ratios are very favorable for students, and many of our lectures and seminars are quite modest in size. I think you’ll find you get a lot of attention from faculty and staff.
- A second point is about the quality of the department. Princeton Politics is consistently ranked in the top three departments in the country, and is known for the deep and rigorous education we are able to offer our students. A number of faculty in the department are prominent voices in national and international conversations about pressing political questions, and all are leaders in their scholarly fields. I don’t need to tell you that the world is facing a number of extremely important and difficult political challenges. Russia's invasion of Ukraine leads the headlines, along with the suffering and disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But there are fundamental, longer-term issues that political scientists seek to study, as well: persistent racial and economic inequalities; the fraying of institutions of constitutional democracy; the fractures of international institutions like the EU; climate change; U.S. relations with China and Russia, just to mention a few. We have faculty experts who can help you to think rigorously and knowledgeably about all of these issues and problems and many others.
- Finally, the third point I would note is about the intellectual breadth of our undergraduate curriculum. In a sense our program is kind of a microcosm of a liberal arts education in which you are encouraged to sample from a number of different approaches to knowledge, and to specialize to some extent in one or two of them. Our courses cover a very wide spectrum of different styles of political science, from country and area-specific knowledge based on history and language; to sophisticated quantitative analysis; to economics-style formal modeling; to intellectual history and political philosophy – and everything in between. So if you’re anything like me when I was your age – and you’re still figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life – studying political science in the Politics Department is a good way of keeping your options open while getting a rigorous education at the same time.
Why Study Politics?
What can you do with a Politics degree?
At the most basic level, studying Politics will help you get a deeper and more systematic understanding of the contemporary world. Many of the world’s most pressing challenges – from wars and terrorism to global warming and pandemics – need to be addressed (at least in part) politically. If we cannot fix our politics, then no amount of economic analysis or technical and scientific advances will help us with these challenges. And before you can fix anything – including politics – you need to understand it first.
We offer courses that are geared to giving you tools and methods that are useful to a range of different problems in political science. We believe that these tools will help you to think better and to analyze information about the political world in ways that are more sophisticated than what you hear among pundits or journalists or people just hanging out at the coffee shop.
Furthermore, the analytical tools you will acquire will be helpful not only in your academic pursuits but can be applied to a broader set of problems in the real world. Many of our students explore such opportunities during their summer jobs, which include a wide range such as legal work for the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, the office of your Congressperson or a White House internship, and of course many of our students also take internships at places like Morgan Stanley. This diversity of options is also reflected in the post-graduation career paths of Politics concentrators, which in the past couple of years have ranged from jobs at the State Department and The Wilderness Society to analyst careers at top investment banks and consulting firms to the pursuit of graduate degrees (including JDs, MPAs and PhDs).
What are differences between POL and SPIA?
While there is a fair degree of overlap between the Politics Department and the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), there are two key differences. First, SPIA is much more focused on the policy side of things, whereas in the Politics Department policy implications are just one facet of our approach to studying politics. Second, SPIA is explicitly multi-disciplinary, and requires courses in several disciplines besides Politics, whereas the Politics Department encourages you to explore a greater variety of topics and methods within Politics to deepen your understanding of politics. Our curriculum also covers certain areas of the discipline that don’t really figure in the SPIA curriculum, such as political theory, law, quantitative methods, and formal methods.
What to Expect as a Politics Major
To declare Politics as your major, prospective students must have taken for a grade any two Politics courses by the end of their sophomore Spring semester. Students may still choose Politics as their concentration even if they have not taken any 200-level introductory POL courses. More information on prerequisites can be found here.
When signing into the Department, you will be asked to designate a primary field from the following: American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, or Political Theory. Please be aware that in choosing your primary field, you must be prepared to take 3 courses in that field and also will need to write your senior thesis on a topic related to that field. You may opt to change your primary field no later than January of junior year, however.
Politics majors are required to take 10 departmental courses, which include the 2 prerequisites.
Three courses must be in the primary field, two in a secondary field, and one in a tertiary field. We refer to this as the 3-2-1 field distribution. More information about departmentals and field distribution requirements can be found here. You can also view courses by sub-fields here.
All Politics majors are required to take a course that satisfies the analytical requirement no later than the Fall semester of junior year. More information about fulfilling this requirement, including a list of courses that satisfy it, can be found here.
For the remaining 3 departmental courses, students may opt to take only POL courses and/or seek approval for up to 2 cognates.
Cognates are courses outside of the department that are not cross-listed with POL but have substantial political science content of more than 50%. To seek cognate approval, students must do so from the Cognate Approval Advisor, Professor Kirkland, no later than the last day of classes within the semester they are taking the course. Cognates approvals are not retroactive to freshman or sophomore years. You can learn more about cognates here.
Junior Independent Work
In the Fall of junior year, every Politics major will take part in the Department’s Junior Independent Work program. This comprises two parts. First, there are a series of plenary lectures and precepts designed to give you an overview into the study of political science. Second, every student will be assigned to a Junior Workshop, in which you will both learn more about a specific topic and write a Research Prospectus (roughly 12-15 pages). A current list of Junior Workshops can be found here. Instructions on how to select workshop preferences will be sent soon after the sophomore declaration period. Please take your workshop selections into account when choosing the subsequent Fall semester courses, and note that Junior Workshops do not count for course credit – rather as Independent Work.
In the Spring of junior year, every Politics major will write an independent research paper under the supervision of a faculty member. A Junior Paper (JP) is an essay of roughly 20-35 pages that is clearly focused on one – or a few related - political questions, problems, or issues. Some students may even opt to use their Research Prospectus as a starting point to expand upon ideas in their JP.
Click here for more information on both the Fall and Spring junior independent work.
During the senior year, each Politics concentrator writes a thesis. The senior thesis is expected to make an original contribution to broader knowledge in the field in which the student is working. The length of a senior thesis is generally between 80-100 pages. Visit this page for more information on the senior thesis.
NOTE: If you are unsure about Politics and/or haven’t taken the required number of prerequisites, please feel free to email Professor Prior to discuss your options.
How to Choose a Primary Field
Once you have taken a few Politics courses you will probably have an idea of what topics and world regions interest you most and are ready to choose a primary field. These fields are: International Relations, Comparative Politics, American Politics, and Political Theory. You will take at least three classes in your primary field (but you can of course also take as many in another field), and you will write your thesis in your primary field.
If you are interested in international politics, please note that International Relations tends to cover topics involving relationships and events between countries (e.g., why do countries go to war with one another?; what explains trade openness?) while Comparative Politics is about domestic politics within countries (e.g., why do some countries democratize while others don’t?; what leads to partisan polarization?). Some topics (e.g., civil war; the effect of domestic politics on trade policies) can be pursued within either field. For more information about the various primary fields, please contact Professor Kirkland, the Juniors Advisor.
Why Departmental Tracks Might be a Good Fit for You
The Department of Politics offers four optional department tracks that provide more focused guidance to students who wish to address themes that bridge the sub-fields. They include the following: the Track in American Ideas and Institutions, the Track in Political Economy, the Track in Quantitative and Analytical Political Science, and the Track in Race and Identity. Students who pursue a track will still need to fulfill the requirements of a Politics concentrator. Courses may simultaneously fulfill both the track requirements and the Politics concentration requirements. Students should inform the Undergraduate Program Manager of their intention to pursue a track upon declaring the Politics concentration in Spring of their sophomore year, and no later than February 1 of their junior year. Please note that unlike university certificates, a student's track will not appear on their transcript. Concentrators who successfully complete the track's requirements will receive a departmental attestation on Class Day.
Below you will find some information about each track and contact information for the track advisors:
Track in American Ideas and Institutions
The Track in American Ideas and Institutions is available for students who have a particular interest in the three branches of the American government and the ideas, principles and laws that undergird them. This specialized track within the Politics concentration easily meshes with American politics as a primary field and provides a departmental certificate for those who complete its requirements. The track helps students navigate through this subject matter by specifying a set of courses that meet this requirement. Students are expected to take a total of five courses from the designated list, with at least one course in each of four topic areas: the executive branch, the legislative branch, the Constitution and the courts, and American political, legal and constitutional thought. In addition, the student’s senior thesis must incorporate a significant amount of content related to the themes of the track. Click here more information. Interested students should contact Professor Keith Whittington.
Track in Political Economy
Political Economy (PE) is a cross-disciplinary field for students who wish to further their understandings of social phenomena and individual behavior by combining the perspectives of its two constituent disciplines. The track allows and encourages students to use analytical tools from game theory, microeconomics and statistics to study political behavior, and to incorporate a thorough analysis of politics and collective decision-making into economic analysis. For more information on prerequisites and track requirements, please visit this page.
Track in Quantitative and Analytical Political Science
The Track in Quantitative and Analytical Political Science (QAPS) is designed for students who wish to deepen their understanding of quantitative and analytical methods to study key questions in political science. For more information on prerequisites and track requirements, please visit this page.
If you are interested in pursuing either the PE and/or the QAPS track(s), we encourage you to contact Professor Gieczewski.
TRACK IN RACE AND IDENTITY
The Department of Politics offers the Track in Race and Identity (RI) for Politics concentrators seeking a deeper understanding of the politics of race and identity. Completion of the track attests to a student having successfully taken a range of courses examining the role of race and identity in politics. The RI track offers courses dealing with moral, ethical, and legal issues relating to race and identity in the United States and around the world, such as hate speech, discrimination, and civil rights. The track also encompasses courses in international relations and comparative politics focusing on human rights, ethnic conflict, and social movements.
The Department encourages students to consider studying abroad during the Spring semester of junior year pending approval from the Office of International Programs.
Here are what we think are the top-5 reasons to study abroad:
#5 One can only learn so much in the setting of a classroom. The abroad experience is far more enriching;
#4 Cultural Immersion and Experience;
#3 Enhance second/third language;
#2 Establish and maintain new collegial/professional networks;
NOTE: Effective 2022-2023, the Department will also consider requests from concentrators to study abroad in the Fall of junior year. Requests to study abroad during Fall of senior year will be considered on a case-by-case basis. With pre-approval from the Study Abroad Advisor, a student may receive departmental credit for up to two, Politics-related courses in a given semester.
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