Which is better in the field of political science: advanced college degree or practical experience?

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There are few jobs where experience eclipses a college degree of any level. Examples are masonry and carpentry, where an individual could learn the trade by watching an experienced mason or carpenter and becoming skillful that way. To become a licensed plumber, courses offered at community or technical colleges are advisable. These programs could take six months to a year as the student learns about piping, valves, and drainage systems. Then you must gain experience through an apprenticeship for 4-5 years – depending on the state laws.

In 2019, 14.59 million students attended public/state colleges, and universities and 5.14 million enrolled in private institutions, according to Statista. These numbers have doubled since 1972, whereas the U.S. population has increased from 210 million to 328 million in that timeframe. Therefore, a higher percentage of students are enrolled in post-secondary school programs across the nation. With this trend, employers have emphasized applicants with college degrees. The degree may have no application to the job, but employers must believe that the degreed candidate is smarter or is more likely to succeed.

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Job Trend?

One place where political science is beneficial is working for the federal government: the nation’s largest employer! As of June 2020, the Trump administration may change that emphasis on college degrees by executive order. If the order comes to fruition, it is not revolutionary. J.P. Morgan, the financial corporation, terminated on-campus recruiting in 2019. Tech giants, Apple and Google, have relaxed hiring practices, as these companies and many others assess talent and future success not by the degree alone. If this trend continues and extends to more job sectors, then a graduate degree could be a waste of time and money.

An article published by CNBC on June 26, 2020, states that 71 million workers are STARS: Skilled Through Alternative Routes. According to Opportunity at Work, there are 16 million STARS who have the skills for high-wage jobs; however, only 5 million have access due to lack of transportation and networking. College students have the advantage of more substantial networking capabilities and sources.

Do I need a Master’s?

The data pose a conundrum. Does an undergraduate or graduate degree warrant the time and expense (plus debt)? High school students and parents (73%) believe that a college degree is crucial to landing a job upon graduation. A third of all college students have not completed their degree in six years. About 36 million have some college education, but no degree. Furthermore, up to 41% of those with bachelor’s degrees are underemployed (Federal Reserve Bank of New York).

The above figures are averages, which do not apply to all fields. By pursuing a graduate degree in political science, you have the benefit of specialization. Depending on the concentrated area of study, you will have more job opportunities in a variety of sectors. For example, as an intelligence analyst, campaign staff, political consultant, lobbyist, legislative assistant, and more. Generally, chances of landing one of these is higher with a master’s degree.

How to gain experience?

The problem lies in that jobs often stipulate – experience required. If no one will hire an individual, then how does he/she gain experience? One method is to seek internships in places doing business associated with or directly with a government agency. The bad news is that many of the internships take only those enrolled in a college program. State and federal entities outsource work for different functions. For example, a company in Nashville, Tennessee, has an opening for a Funding Analyst Intern in their Government Services group. The caveat is that all candidates must be a junior, senior, or graduate from an accounting or finance program. This requirement certainly eliminates all high school students regardless of intelligence, integrity, and eagerness.

Companies, such as WayUp, that post internships, and entry-level jobs, focus on the college graduate. A quick review of their job postings reveals that not all require a college degree. There are job openings for cooks, dishwashers, bartenders, hostess/host, and retail sales associates (Walmart) – none of which demands more than high school or GED.

You could combine education with experience by obtaining a summer or part-time employment that applies to the field of political science. Despite what the current administration does with an executive order, the job opportunities increase with advanced education. Statistics (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) show that the potential for a higher wage exists for individuals with a bachelor’s degree and higher with a master’s.

Although the challenges might be greater sans degree, it is not a lost cause to sidestep college. The State of Colorado, for example, has a job posting on Indeed, requesting an Administrative Assistant. Many of the listed tasks are clerical; however, one does not need experience – only a high school education. This particular position is in the Office of the State Public Defender. It leans towards criminal justice more than political science, but the successful candidate will be employed by a state government department, which could lead to other jobs within state politics.


The route may be slower for someone to work for the government at the local, state, or federal levels as you gain experience. With the right circumstances, the high school graduate could be learning on the job during the four-plus years the college student is attending classes. After four years of work experience, the high school graduate might be at the same wage as the entry-level college grad. But at least during those years, this person has been making money, although nominal perhaps, and she/he has not incurred the burden of debt from college tuition.

Additional Resources: 

Top 10 Highest Paying Social Science Careers

What are some of the possible fields to work with my political science degree?

Does a Political Science student study things other than politics?

Why does it seem so many people with a degree in Political Science go on to get a law degree?

Is Washington D.C. the only place where a significant number of jobs are available for a Political Science major to work?