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Trying to find the perfect degree program (political science)

rocky1307rocky1307 Registered User Posts: 7 New Member
Hello all! I'm currently a rising junior at a small liberal arts college in SoCal. I've been trying to find a good graduate degree program that fits what I want to do, but my indecisiveness has left me at a crossroads. I feel like at this point I should at least have an idea of what can work, but I have not been able to narrow down my options. I hope to work in environmental policy but would be open to anything government related. First, here are my stats:

Major: Political Science, emphasis in Law and Public Policy, minoring in Environmental Science
Graduating: 2019
Current GPA: 3.84
Will be studying abroad at Oxford University in Fall studying government
Internship in a local government office plus a part time job on campus
Deeply involved with one political club and one environmental club on campus


-Go straight into a masters program (either political science of public policy) - I'm not sure which is best if I hope to continue in environmental policy/government work. Public Policy requires some math background and my worst subject is math, so that may bring my GPA down. Most programs ask for microeconomics and some pre-calc background.

-Try for combined degree with a masters/phd - Not sure if my stats would be good enough for this, also unsure which subjects

-Take a gap year to work in the CA Capitol (or try for the DC program), and then apply for masters/phd - One of my professors said I may be a good fit for one of these programs, but my parents are opposed to taking a gap year mostly because they believe it'll put a stop in my efforts (even though I'll be working in the field I hope to eventually make my career).

-Law school - If I go into law, I'll be studying something I don't necessarily have passion for (while putting myself into massive debt), though it'll give me a better shot when making my career, but I won't have to take classes out of my comfort zone and I can continue to study things I love while still in undergrad

So far these are my choices, though if I'm missing anything I'd love to hear it. I honestly have no idea which option would be best for me and I hope I can get some insights

Replies to: Trying to find the perfect degree program (political science)

  • MandalorianMandalorian Registered User Posts: 1,554 Senior Member
    Have you taken the GRE or LSAT yet? Do that and you can use the scores as somewhat of a barometer.

    Otherwise, there isn't really such thing as a "combined" MS/PhD program, it's a PhD program that gives you a Master's at the halfway point.
  • rocky1307rocky1307 Registered User Posts: 7 New Member
    @Mandalorian not yet, as I'm only a rising Junior at this point. Would you suggest taking practice exams to see where I'm at?
  • MandalorianMandalorian Registered User Posts: 1,554 Senior Member
    @rocky1307- It's not a bad idea, but take the score with a grain of salt.
  • juilletjuillet Super Moderator Posts: 11,783 Super Moderator
    If you're just now a rising junior, it's still too early to be looking for specific graduate programs - especially if you aren't quite sure what you want to do yet. There's little utility in making three separate sets of school lists. The earliest you should be making graduate school program lists is maybe the end of your junior year/summer between junior and senior year. And there's no deadline - there's nothing saying you HAVE to go to grad school right after college. You should wait until you have a decent idea of what you want to do and what degree you need to get it.

    -If you don't know what you want to do, taking a couple years to work and figure it out is always a good idea.

    -At this point your parents' opinions are more or less irrelevant. This is your career, not theirs.

    -That said, I've always thought this argument didn't make much sense. If you find a job you really like in your field, climb the career ladder and never go back to graduate school...that's a win! You didn't spend thousands of dollars on a degree you don't need. You don't keep going in school just to do it. You do it because you need the degree.

    If you do work for several years and then hit a ceiling and need to go back, maybe your company will pay for it. But if you really want and need to get the degree, you will, eventually. Thousands of people go back to get graduate degrees after working every year. In fact, the average age of students in most public policy programs suggests that MOST of them have at least 2-3 years' of work experience.

    Don't limit yourself to formal programs, either. You can apply for jobs, too, just regular jobs.

    -If you don't have a passion for law, why would you go $180K+ in debt to study it? It won't necessarily position you better in your career: look up the law field crisis. Lawyers, especially public interest lawyers, face high unemployment and lower salaries than they would expect.

    -You don't need a PhD unless you are deeply interested in a career as a researcher. So if you want to be a researcher - I mean hardcore, like leading your own lab, climbing the research ladder and directing research at a think tank or NGO, working at a university professor - then consider a PhD. But if you aren't particularly interested in research as a career, or you'd be perfectly happy being a research associate outside of academia, then you don't really need one and shouldn't necessarily spend the time and energy.

    Look at the people who are doing what you want to do. When you intern, when you work part-time, look at the folks - at all career levels, junior, mid-level and senior - who are following a career trajectory that you think is cool. Then look them up on LinkedIn and look at their networks, too. What kind of education do they have? You'll find a lot of different paths, likely, but does there seem to be an overall theme (e.g., that all of them had 2-5 years of work experience before they got their MPP/MIA/MPA, or that everyone above a certain level has a master's degree, or that there just seems to be a hodgepodge of people at the top but work experience is the common denominator)?

    You can conduct some informational interviews, too.
  • rocky1307rocky1307 Registered User Posts: 7 New Member
    @juillet thank you so much for your thoughtful reply! That makes a lot of sense. I think most of my hesitation at waiting a bit after I graduate is that I see many of my peers already making plans for their futures while I still don't know what I want to do. But your reply definitely gave me some insight. Thank you!
  • juilletjuillet Super Moderator Posts: 11,783 Super Moderator
    Half your friends' plans will change between now and the end of your senior year. The other half are probably just saying things that sound good and make them sound super decided when they're really not :) Try not to compare your insides to other people's outsides. Folks often look like they are more together than they really are!
  • rocky1307rocky1307 Registered User Posts: 7 New Member
    @juillet You're totally right. This definitely eased my worries a bit. Thanks so much!
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