Major Explorations: Political Science

Welcome to the Political Science Department

Political Science at Amherst College promotes humanistic perspectives, critical thinking, and scientific scales as essential tools for understanding politics.

Curriculum of Major Requirements in Political Science

What do we mean by politics? Amherst’s Department of Political Science treats the study of politics as a liberal art, offering students new perspectives on political phenomena. The Department offers a diverse range of courses in three broad areas of study: 1) Political Theory, 2) Domestic Politics and State–Society relations, and 3) International Politics and Practices. Our courses engage theoretical assumptions that underlie political life and examine different institutional arrangements and political practices. They provide the resources by which students can critically evaluate and engage contemporary political life.

The Major

Majoring in Political Science requires the completion of 9 courses. These courses are grouped into four distinct categories as follows:

100 Level Courses - Introductions:

These courses emphasize writing, critical reading, and analytical interpretation and introduce students to the study of politics from a variety of perspectives. The department recommends that these courses be taken in the first and second year, or immediately following the declaration of the major. These courses may be offered in either lecture or seminar format.  FYSE courses taught by members of our department can also count toward introductory courses.

200 Level Courses - Surveys:

These courses survey broad topics in the study of politics. They engage students in the study of different institutions, countries, regions, theories, and modes of political thought. They focus on such key phenomena as power, justice, order, conflict, mobilization, and development. These courses may be offered in either lecture or seminar formats.

300 Level Courses - Research Seminars:

Research Seminars in politics allow students to deepen their own inquiries into politics. They encourage students to develop research skills through examination of particular debates and topics in politics. Students should take at least one of these courses in their second or third year in order to facilitate subsequent work in the Department’s thesis program. These courses have prerequisites, limited enrollment, and may have a substantial writing requirement.

400 Level Courses - Specialized Seminars:

Specialized seminars might include in-depth investigations into specialized or conceptually complex issues, may utilize new pedagogical approaches, may require more engaged forms of writing than lower-level courses, and may allow students to design and implement research in novel settings. These courses have prerequisites and limited enrollment.


Prior to declaring a major in Political Science, students should have completed the following:

At least 2 courses in Political Science, one of which should be at the 100 level

Majors in Political Science must take 9 courses:

Of the 9 courses, students must take a minimum of 6 within the Political Science department at Amherst College, at least one from each of the four levels (but no more than two 100 level courses will be counted toward the major).

Majors may also include among courses to complete the major 1 course from outside the discipline of political science. Such a course should be designated as counting toward the major at the end of registration, or, if the course is completed prior to declaring the major, at the time of the declaration.

Credits are available for study abroad, 5 college courses, and transfer students.

No courses in political science taken under the pass/fail option will count toward completion of major. EXCEPTION: Courses taken in the spring 2020 semester with a Pass grade will count toward the major.

In total, majors in Political Science must complete 9 courses for rite, or 11 for honors (a result of 2 additional thesis research courses in the senior year), in courses offered or approved by the Amherst College Political Science Department.

Please note:  We made important changes to the requirements for the major approved on July 28, 2020.  These changes apply exclusively to the classes of 2021 and 2022:

  • The number of required courses for the major has been reduced from 9 to 8.
  • The number of courses that must be taken in the Department has been reduced from 6 to 5.
  • Flexibility with the distribution requirement.  Our current policy requires students to take one department course at each level.  We will now allow juniors and seniors to petition to have either a 200- or a 300-level class count for a level above.  If you are interested in this option, here are the steps:
    • Obtain the approval of the faculty member teaching the class.  This involves negotiating with your professor the additional work and standards required to meet the higher level.
    • Obtain approval from your Political Science faculty advisor.
    • Have your faculty member and advisor send an email to the chair and Theresa Laizer confirming their approval. 
    • Regrettably, your transcript cannot be adjusted to reflect
Honors Requirements

Students intending to write a thesis must successfully complete at least 1 research seminar before the conclusion of the second semester of their junior year. 

Students who wish to be considered for graduation with Departmental Honors in Political Science must have an A- cumulative average or higher after six semesters.  Prospective applicants should consult with members of the Department during their junior year to define a suitable Honors project and to determine whether a member of the department is competent to act as an advisor and will be available to do so.

Information about topics that faculty members would like to advise on is posted on our website. We will give preference to working with students whose research interests coincide with our own.  In assigning advisors for honors work, in addition to the expertise/interests of the faculty, we will also consider equitable distribution of the workload and student preferences. Permission to pursue projects for which suitable advisors are not available may be denied by the Department.

Five College Professors who regularly teach in our department may serve as primary advisors or as second and third readers. In assigning second and third readers, the principal advisor shall play a primary role. Colleagues from other departments at Amherst or in the Five Colleges may serve as second and third readers. Only one member of a thesis committee may be from another department at Amherst or from the Five Colleges.

The Department Chair will organize three meetings for juniors who hope to do honors work, in December, February and April. Students should attend as many of these meetings as possible. Those who are studying abroad should communicate with prospective thesis advisors before leaving and while abroad.

Credits for Study Abroad, 5 College Courses, and Transfer Students

Students must take a minimum of 6 courses, at least 1 at each level, from within the Political Science Department at Amherst College. Students who are enrolling in elective courses taught abroad for one semester may count up to 2 elective political science courses toward the major; they may count up to 3 elective courses if they are abroad for 1 year. 

Students may take up to two courses in political science from Smith, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke, and the University of Massachusetts. Such courses must 1) be taught by someone with a degree in political science or have substantial political content; and 2) not be redundant with other courses already taken. The chair of the department will decide which 5 College courses will be given credit toward the major. 

For transfer students, the Department will accept up to three courses for the major from the school from which they transferred.  We may waive the introductory course requirement if the transfer student has had an equivalent course.

For students coming to the College with a BA we will accept 4 courses and waive the introductory course requirement.

Decisions Regarding Credit or Requests to Vary the Requirements for Completion of the Major

Decisions regarding credit or requests to vary the requirements for completion of the major shall be made by the Department Chair.

Declaring Your Political Science Major

To officially declare your major in Political Science with the Registrar's office, you must print and complete the form at the link below.  Your form will need to be signed by your current advisor and the chair of the Political Science department and then brought the Registrar's office.

Form to declare a Political Science major.

When students declare their Political Science major, the department chair will assign you a major advisor.  Once you have decided to declare, please send an email to the department chair. The email should include the following information:

  1. A copy of the Political Science Major Advising Form (please include courses you have taken and are currently taking)
  2. Preferences for a major advisor indicating whether you have already spoken to him or her about serving as your advisor
  3. Other majors you have already declared or intend to declare.
  4. You should arrange for a time to meet with the department chair to have your advisor assigned and major declaration form signed. Open office hours for the department chair can be found here

After your major advisor has been assigned, you should arrange a meeting with your new advisor to talk about your plans to complete the major requirements for graduation.