Political science contributes to a liberal education by introducing students to concepts, methods, and knowledge that help them understand politics within and among nations. A bachelor's degree in political science can lead to a career in business, government, journalism, education, or non-profit organizations. It can lead to a PhD program in the social sciences or to professional school in law, business, public policy, or international relations. Our recent majors have done all these things—and more.

If you are a Political Science major, or a prospective major, please join our listhost ugpolsall@uchicago.edu.

Program Requirements

NOTE: In 2015, the Department faculty decided to require that nine of the twelve courses required for the major be Political Science courses. The change applies to the Class of 2018 and later. 

1 Course Requirements

The Political Science major requires twelve political science courses and a substantial paper. All students must take three out of the four courses that introduce the fields of political science. All students must also take the required research methods course. Students may meet the writing requirement by completing a BA Thesis or by writing a Long Paper. The BA Thesis and Long Paper options are explained below.

1.1 Introductory Course Requirement

To gain a broad understanding of political science, the department's faculty thinks students should take a wide range of courses. To ensure that breadth, students are required to take at least three of the following four courses:

PLSC 28701 Introduction to Political Theory
PLSC 28801 Introduction to American Politics
PLSC 28901 Introduction to Comparative Politics
PLSC 29000 Introduction to International Relations

Each course will be offered every year, introducing students to the four principal areas of study in political science. The introductory courses must be taken for quality grades.

1.2 Research Methods Requirement

To prepare students to evaluate the materials in their classes and to write research papers, students are also required to take the department's research methods course, which will be offered every quarter:

PLSC 22913 The Practice of Social Science Research

The department strongly recommends, but does not require, a course in statistics.

2 Writing Requirement: Two Options

Students who are majoring in political science must write at least one substantial paper. There are two ways to meet this requirement, by writing a BA Thesis or by submitting a Long Paper.

2.a The Long Paper. The Long Paper is typically a course paper. It may be written for either a professor in political science, a professor in another department whose course is accepted for political science credit, or for an advanced graduate student who teaches courses in the political science department. Students who write a Long Paper are not required to write a BA Thesis. Students submitting a Long Paper must bring an approval form to the departmental office signed by an instructor who verifies that the paper meets two requirements: (a) the paper is twenty pages or longer, double spaced (that is, approximately 5,000 words or longer); (b) the paper received a grade of B or better (that is, a grade of B- or below does not meet the requirement).

The Long Paper might be:

  • A class paper for any course used to meet the major's requirements.
  • An extended version of a shorter paper written for a course. If a course requires a shorter paper, students may ask the instructor for permission to write a twenty-page paper instead.
  • Written for a course that did not require any papers. Students may ask the instructor for permission to write a twenty-page paper, either in place of another assignment, as an extra assignment, or as an ungraded assignment.
  • Written for a political science instructor after a course is completed. The student could either produce an entirely new paper or, with the instructor's permission, take a shorter assignment and turn it into a longer paper.

If the paper is not a graded assignment for class, it still meets the department's requirement if the instructor attests that it merits a grade of B or better. Unless the paper is written for a graded class assignment, students must ask the instructor's permission to submit any such paper.

Students are responsible for obtaining an approval form to verify the successful completion of the Long Paper from the department office and giving it to the relevant instructor. Please ask the instructor to sign the approval form and return it to the departmental office. The deadline for submitting the approval form and the paper is 4 pm on Friday of the second week of the quarter in which the student expects to graduate. Students should complete their paper before their final quarter; the approval form should be submitted to the departmental office as soon as the writing requirement is completed.

2.b The BA Thesis. Writing a BA thesis will meet the writing requirement in political science and may also qualify a student for consideration for honors; see sections below for more information. In either case, the paper is typically from thirty-five to fifty pages in length (the length of most scholarly articles in professional journals). It must receive a grade of B or higher. Students choose a suitable faculty member to supervise the research and writing. The deadline for submitting two copies of a BA thesis to the departmental office is 4 pm on Friday of the fourth week of the quarter in which the student expects to graduate. Students who write a BA thesis must participate in PLSC 29800 BA Colloquium for both quarters, enrolling for one. The BA Colloquium begins in the Spring Quarter of junior year. Students who write a BA thesis must also enroll in PLSC 29900 BA Thesis Supervision for one quarter, normally Winter of senior year (although enrollment may be in any quarter).

Summary of Requirements for Students Meeting the Writing Requirement with a Long Paper

Course List

Three of the following Political Science courses: 300

PLSC 28701 Introduction to Political Theory
PLSC 28801 Introduction to American Politics  
PLSC 28901 Introduction to Comparative Politics
PLSC 29000 Introduction to International Relations 

PLSC 22913 The Practice of Social Science Research  100

Eight additional Political Science courses *            800

Fulfillment of the writing requirement   000

Total Units          1200

*At least five must be courses in Political Science. Courses outside Political Science may be approved for the major by petition to the Director of Undergraduate Studies. (The petition form is available at college.uchicago.edu/policies-regulations/forms-and-petitions.) PLSC 29800 BA Colloquium and PLSC 29900 BA Thesis Supervision may not be used to meet this requirement.

Summary of Requirements for Students Meeting the Writing Requirement with a BA Thesis

Course List

Three of the following Political Science courses: 300

PLSC 28701 Introduction to Political Theory
PLSC 28801 Introduction to American Politics
PLSC 28901 Introduction to Comparative Politics
PLSC 29000 Introduction to International Relations 

PLSC 22913 The Practice of Social Science Research  100

Six additional Political Science courses * 600

PLSC 29800          BA Colloquium  100
PLSC 29900          BA Thesis Supervision    100

Total Units          1200

*At least three courses must be courses in Political Science. Courses outside Political Science may be approved for the major by petition to the Director of Undergraduate Studies. (The petition form is available at college.uchicago.edu/policies-regulations/forms-and-petitions.)

Pass/Fail Courses

Courses that meet requirements for the major are normally taken for quality grades. The three required introductory courses must be taken for quality grades. However, students may take up to two courses on a P/F basis with the prior consent of the instructor.

Independent Study

Students with extensive course work in political science who wish to pursue more specialized topics that are not covered by regular courses have the option of registering for PLSC 29700 Independent Study, to be taken individually and supervised by a member of the political science faculty. Students must obtain prior consent of the program director and the instructor, as well as submit the College Reading and Research Course Form that is available from their College adviser. The substance of the Independent Study may not be related to the BA thesis or BA research, which is covered by PLSC 29900 BA Thesis Supervision. Only one PLSC 29700 Independent Study course may count toward requirements for the major.

Courses Taken at Other Universities by Students Who Transfer to the University of Chicago

Student who transfer into the University of Chicago and wish to transfer courses into the major should see the Director of Undergraduate Studies soon after matriculation. The Introductory Course Requirement and the Research Methods Requirement cannot be satisfied by courses taken elsewhere but courses may be counted toward the major by petition.

The BA Thesis Process

1 The BA Colloquium

Students who choose to write a BA thesis are required to enroll in PLSC 29800 BA Colloquium in the Spring Quarter of the third year and continue to attend the BA Colloquium in the Autumn Quarter of their fourth year. The colloquium is designed to help students carry out their BA thesis research and to offer feedback on their progress. Although the course meets over two quarters, it counts as a single course and has a single grade. The final grade for the colloquium is based on the student's contribution to the colloquium during both quarters. Registration for PLSC 29800 BA Colloquium is normally in the Spring Quarter, but in some rare cases, students will register in the Autumn Quarter.

A few students each year study abroad in the Spring Quarter of third year or in the Autumn Quarter of the fourth year and also intend to complete the Political Science major by writing a BA thesis. Students who study abroad in the Spring Quarter are not required to enroll in the BA Colloquium in the Spring Quarter, but are expected to enroll and participate in the BA Colloquium in the Autumn Quarter. Students who study abroad in the Autumn Quarter must enroll in the BA Colloquium in the previous Spring Quarter, but are not required to participate in the Autumn Quarter.

All students who intend to write a BA thesis must submit a proposal for the thesis by the end of Spring Quarter, regardless of residency. Students who are away from campus in the Spring Quarter should line up an adviser and discuss ideas about a thesis topic while they are abroad, or even during the Winter Quarter before departure. The department has arranged the BA thesis process so that students arrive back on campus for senior year ready to execute the research for the thesis in the Autumn Quarter, rather than compressing research and writing both into the Winter Quarter. Students who will be abroad in Spring Quarter and unable to participate in the Spring BA Colloquium should contact the department's Undergraduate Studies office during the Winter Quarter to receive instructions about the preparations they should expect to make while they are away.

2 BA Thesis Supervision

During their fourth year, students who choose to write a BA thesis must register with their BA thesis faculty adviser for one quarter of PLSC 29900 BA Thesis Supervision. Students may also elect to take a second quarter of PLSC 29900 BA Thesis Supervision, which will count toward the 12 required courses. To enroll, students are required to submit the College Reading and Research Course Form, which is available from the College advisers. The final grade for the course will be based on the grade given the BA thesis by the faculty adviser. Although most BA theses are supervised by Political Science professors, the adviser need not be a member of the Department.

Double Majors

Students who plan to double major may complete the political science requirements by either the BA Thesis option or the Long Paper option. Students who write the BA thesis must attend the political science BA Colloquium even if the other major also requires attendance at its colloquium. A request to use a single BA thesis for two majors requires the approval of both program directors on a form available from the student's College adviser or at college.uchicago.edu/policies-regulations/forms-and-petitions.

Honors in the Major

Students who do exceptionally well in their course work and who write an outstanding BA thesis are recommended for honors in the major. A student is eligible for honors if the GPA in the major is 3.6 or higher and the overall GPA is 3.0 or higher at the beginning of the quarter in which the student intends to graduate. Students who wish to be considered for honors are required to register for PLSC 29800 BA Colloquium and PLSC 29900 BA Thesis Supervision and to submit a BA thesis. To graduate with department honors, then, a student must have both honors-level grades and a BA thesis that receives honors.

Becoming a Political Science Major

Most students declare a major at the end of the second year or beginning of the third. The Department encourages students to try out the major even before. To receive announcements about the program in the major and other information about the Department of Political Science, students should sign up for the undergraduate email list either in the departmental office or at https://lists.uchicago.edu/web/info/ugpolsall.