Political Science

Rachel Henry


Political science is the systematic study of government, politics, and public policies in the United States and around the world. Students in political science courses learn to frame thoughtful questions, consider diverse perspectives, marshal convincing evidence, and communicate with clarity and conviction about the major issues of public life.

Many political science courses at St. Olaf carry OLE Core curriculum attributes. The Political Science Department shares faculty and courses with Asian studies, environmental studies, Latin American studies, Russian studies, and gender and sexuality studies. It also cooperates with the Education Department in its social studies education major.

The study of political science is often combined with majors in English, economics, history, philosophy, world languages, or any of a number of interdisciplinary majors and concentrations. Many political science students go on to complete graduate and professional degrees, not only in political science but also in law, education, public policy, international affairs, management and administration, or communications. Our graduates become policy analysts, teachers, legislators, advocates, attorneys, business owners, consultants, public relations managers, ambassadors, administrators, researchers, and journalists. The study of political science enriches students’ experience of the liberal arts and prepares them to engage in public life as responsible citizens and reflective leaders.

Overview of the Major

The political science major provides broad exposure to the discipline and develops skills in critical thinking, systematic inquiry, and effective writing and speaking. Students majoring in political science complete courses in four areas: American politics and public policy, comparative politics, international relations, and political theory. Political science majors also encounter and apply a variety of approaches to studying political behavior and public policy, with particular emphasis on social scientific inquiry. Advanced seminars and independent study courses provide opportunities for specialized study and advanced research. Off-campus courses, internships, and other experiential learning experiences engage students with the realities of public life.


See Academic Honors

See Political Science Department website for details.

Special Programs

Political science students may choose from a rich assortment of domestic and international study opportunities, some during January term and others lasting a semester or more. See the Smith Center for Global Engagement section of this catalog. They can also arrange for credited internships in a wide variety of settings, from law offices and campaign organizations to the national or state legislature. Further information on internships, January term study abroad and away course offerings, and other special programs such as the Washington Semester and international programs with political science credit, is available in the department or from the Smith Center for Global Engagement.