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Best Online Master’s Degrees in: Political Science

Editor’s Picks: Online Schools for Political Science

Value
The best online master’s degree in political science for value is offered by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, better known as Virginia Tech, which offers a fully online Master of Arts in Political Science. The university had an annual return on investment of 11% for in-state students, according to PayScale.com’s 2012 ROI rankings. For students receiving financial aid, that went up to 12.3%. In addition, Virginia Tech is ranked among the top 100 national universities by U.S. News & World Report.

Flexibility
The award for best online master’s degree in political science for flexibility goes to the University of Nebraska Omaha, which offers a fully online Master of Science in Political Science. Graduates can take advantage of 100% online, asynchronous course delivery, allowing them to log in to their classes at any time that fits with their schedule. Added flexibility comes from students’ ability to tailor their own specialization and create their own program of study, incorporating the graduate study of political science with other disciplines such as social work, public administration, or economics, to name a few. Last but not least, students also have the flexibility of choosing a thesis or non-thesis option.

Career Support
Virginia Tech wins the award for best online master’s degree in political science for career support because of the many amenities available through its career services department. Services include career counseling, career and job fairs, seminars and workshops for graduate students, and help with job searching, resume writing, and interviewing. In addition, all students and alumni have access to Virginia Tech’s Hokie Nation Network, a free social and professional networking site exclusive to VT students where students can search for jobs and internships.

Financial Support
American Military University, a member of the American Public University System (APUS), is committed to providing an affordable higher education to working adults, particularly military service members. As a marker of this commitment, the university boasts on its website that it has not raised its undergraduate tuition in 11 years and that it waives admission fees for active duty, guard, and reserve members. The university’s financial aid staff are dedicated to helping students receive the maximum amount of financial aid for which they qualify, including federal loans and grants, veterans benefits, scholarships, private loans, and employer benefits. In addition, students can take advantage of a payment plan that allows them to spread out the cost of their tuition over time rather than paying in one lump sum. For these reasons, American Military University wins the award for best online master’s degree in political science for financial support.

Technology Support
Virginia Tech is the winner of the award for best online master’s degree in political science for technology support because it offers its students a 24/7 customer support center to help with technical issues such as resetting your password, assisting in the event of a system outage, and responding to technical questions. In addition, students who need help over the phone can receive phone support Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to the university website.

Student Engagement
The award for best online master’s degree in political science for student engagement goes to the University of Nebraska Omaha. Student engagement in the program is driven by the fact that students can tailor their degree program to fit their specific interests in consultation with a graduate advisor. The program accepts up to 18 hours of credit outside of political science, according to the program website, which allows students to explore a broad range of areas that interest them rather than being bound to a more rigid selection of prescribed courses. Students also stay engaged in their program by communicating with their professors and classmates via email, phone, video conferencing, live chat, forums, and threaded discussions.

Disability Support
The best online master’s degree in political science for disability support is Virginia Tech because of the extensive services available through the university’s Services for Students with Disabilities (SDS) department. Students with a documented disability who register with SDS have access to academic coaching, which provides valuable advice in areas like time management, communicating with professors, organization skills, and stress management. The SDS department provides disabled students with appropriate accommodations, including testing accommodations, alternate text, note-taking services, assistive technology, priority registration, and more.

Library and Research Support
The University of Nebraska Omaha wins the award for best online master’s degree in political science for library and research support. The university’s Dr. C.C. and Mabel L. Criss Library has a dedicated distance education coordinator to provide specialized support to online learners. The university also has subject librarians in the disciplines of political science and public administration, who can provide specialized consultations for graduate students conducting research in these areas. Distance learners can get in touch with university librarians via email, phone, or even text message. Last but not least, distance learners can have print materials delivered to their home and receive priority status when utilizing their interlibrary loan privileges.

Learning Support
The award for best online master’s degree in political science for learning support goes to Virginia Tech, which offers a wide array of student support services. Through Virginia Tech Online, students can access academic success seminars, proctoring services, disability services, academic advising, library services, and more. All students also have access to the Virginia Tech Writing Center, whose staff provide one-on-one instruction in writing with the goal of improving the student’s overall writing skills, not simply providing editing or proofreading.

Faculty Credentials
Virginia Tech’s master’s degree in political science wins the award for best faculty credentials. All political science faculty, including online master’s faculty, hold doctoral degrees, according to the 2011-2012 program brochure. Faculty include published authors and recipients of significant research grants. Faculty research interests and specializations are varied, and include judicial behavior and appellate court decision making, legislative-executive relations, international relations theory, and more.

Faculty Accessibility
Faculty accessibility is important when it comes to online master’s programs since distance learners do not have the opportunity to talk with professors in person each week. Therefore, the best online programs are those in which faculty members are open and make themselves readily available to their students. American Military University has a reputation for faculty accessibility. APUS, which encompasses AMU, was ranked in the top 20 by College Prowler for having the most accessible professors, and has earned our award for best online master’s degree in political science for faculty accessibility.

Alumni Engagement
The award for best online master’s degree in political science for alumni engagement goes to Virginia Tech, whose alumni association has more than 130 chapters across the nation where alumni can connect locally, according to the alumni association website. In these local chapters, former students gather to watch games, attend social events, participate in golf tournaments, and more. In addition, graduates of VT’s programs have access to the Alumni Career Resources Program, which includes alumni career coaches and continuing career management and advice. Alumni can also attend annual events, such as Homecoming.

Prior Learning Options
The University of Nebraska Omaha wins for best online master’s degree in political science for prior learning options because of its generous graduate transfer credit policy. The university allows up to one-third of the graduate course work required to complete a graduate program to be transferred in to UNO from other regionally accredited institutions, provided the credits are deemed acceptable by the student’s advisor and the graduate program committee, according to the university website. This policy works in favor of students who have already completed a significant amount of graduate-level course work at another university and wish to transfer into UNO’s online master’s program in political science.

New Online Student Orientation
The winner of the award for best online master’s degree in political science for new online student orientation is Virginia Tech, which provides a helpful eLearning Orientation meant to introduce students to their online courses and provide tips for succeeding in an online learning environment. Orientation topics include time management, communication, study skills, academic resources, student life resources, technical support, and more.

Explore a Master’s Degree in Political Science

Political science is the study of states, governments, and politics as it relates to the formation of laws and policies. This discipline also examines an individual’s attitudes toward politics and how that is shaped by his or her community or culture. Finally, political science examines how international organizations and governments resolve or avoid conflict.

An online master’s degree in political science is a good choice for a student who wants to work in government, business, and public policy. A political science master’s degree may take a minimum of 30 semester credit hours to complete, which includes the completion of a thesis. However, the length of the program varies by institution. Students can typically complete their degree on a full or part-time basis.

Class Curriculum

Online master’s degree programs in political science typically require students to complete a core set of classes, which may include research methods and contemporary political theory. Depending on the institution, students may have the option to specialize in a specific area within the field, such as American politics, comparative politics, international relations, and more.

  • Research Methods. A research methods course introduces the problems, purposes, and methods of political research, including research design, scientific inquiry, concept formation, and the testing of hypotheses and theories. The course may also provide instruction in factor analysis, scaling, causal analysis, and students may learn how to discover relationships by analyzing data. Some colleges or universities offer this course as two separate classes.
  • Political Behavior. Political behavior covers how people form their attitudes about politics and to what extent their attitudes are affected by their environment. The course may examine political psychology, socialization, communication, and public opinion and participation.
  • International Politics. International politics courses examine international organizations, such as the United Nations or the European Union, and relations among nations. Key topics include foreign policy, conflict resolution, and the global political economy.

Students of an online master’s degree program in political science will be required to complete reading assignments and demonstrate their understanding of the material in class discussions. Most political science courses require students to complete weekly papers and a final research paper, which typically accounts for a substantial percentage of the student’s overall grade for the course.

Building a Career

A master’s degree in political science can lead to a wide range of career options, including in federal, state, and local governments, business, non-profit organizations, journalism, and politics. Options for political science graduates include employment as urban and regional planners, political scientists, editors of an online political journal, CIA analysts, policy analysts, and more. Because of the nature of the course work, political science graduates excel in positions that require employees to have strong analytical, communication, and administrative skills.

Urban and regional planners work with city and community officials and developers to come up with plans and programs to create communities, accommodate growth, or revitalize certain areas within a community. Planners gather and analyze economic and environmental studies, census data, and assess the feasibility of proposals. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), urban and regional planners earned a median annual salary of $63,040 in 2010, and employment of planners is expected to grow by 16% between 2010 and 2020. Typically, a master’s degree is required to work as an urban and regional planner.

Meanwhile, political scientists are employed by political organizations, lobbying firms, and non-profit organizations to research public policy and political issues. Their expertise is used to manage complicated legal and regulatory policies and to research how policy applies to a specific area, such as healthcare or the environment. According to the BLS, political scientists earned a median annual salary of $107,420 per year in 2010. However, only 5,600 political scientists were employed in the United States in 2010, and employment in the field is expected to increase by 8%, which is slower than average, between 2010 and 2020. These statistics are no guarantee of job availability or actual salary, which are determined by the state of the economy, the hiring organization, and the needs of the local area.

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