Change the World

Major in Political Science

A Political Science major at MIT provides a highly personal, hands-on learning experience. Small classes and seminars ensure extensive faculty contact, and the department's emphasis on fieldwork provides many opportunities for students to serve not just as assistants, but also as true collaborators on groundbreaking research.

The Course 17 curriculum emphasizes foundational theories and current methods of political science, while cultivating critical thinking and writing skills through class assignments and a required senior thesis. Introductory and advanced classes provide majors with solid competency in the discipline as a whole and its subfields – Political Theory, American Politics, Public Policy, Comparative Politics, and International Relations. These classes draw heavily on recent and current developments, such as elections, health policy debates, sustainable development, Chinese foreign policy, African issues, technology and development in Latin America, and the effects of globalization.

Political science graduates have many avenues for employment and/or advanced study. Majors typically go on to successful employment in government, private industry, and non-governmental organizations in the U.S. and abroad directly after graduation. Other graduates are admitted to top-rated law and business schools, and graduate programs.

Requirements for the Major in Political Science


Political Philosophy or Theory
examples include:

  • 17.01J - Justice
  • 17.03 - Introduction to Political Thought
  • 17.035J - Libertarianism in History

United States Politics
examples include:

  • 17.20 - Introduction to American Political Process
  • 17.263 - Electoral Politics, Public Opinion, and Democracy
  • 17.269 - Race, Ethnicity, and American Politics

Public Policy
examples include:

  • 17.30J - Making Public Policy
  • 17.309J - Science, Technology, and Public Policy
  • 17.315 - Health Policy

Politics of Foreign Countries / International Relations / Comparative Politics
examples include:

  • 17.42 - Causes and Prevention of War
  • 17.53 - The Rise of Asia
  • 17.571 - Engineering Democratic Development in Africa

These are only suggestions for each field, check with Tobie Weiner (, 253-3649) or Scott Schnyer (, 258-5883) in the Undergraduate Office (E53-484) if you have questions about whether a class falls within a certain field.

II. BOTH THESE CLASSES ARE REQUIRED (27 units – taken junior year)

17.801 - Political Science Scope and Methods (CI-M, 12 units)
Introduces principles of empirical and theoretical analysis in political science through research projects currently conducted in the department. Introduces students to major research questions in political science - and to different ways of examining those questions. Emphasizes how this research in progress relates to larger themes, and how researchers confront obstacles to inference in political science. Includes substantial instruction and practice in writing (with revision) and oral presentations.

17.803 - Political Science Laboratory (LAB, 15 units)
Introduces students to the conduct of political research using quantitative methodologies. The methods are examined in the context of specific political research activities like public opinion surveys, voting behavior, Congressional behavior, comparisons of political processes in different countries, and the evaluation of public policies. Students participate in joint class projects and conduct individual projects. Does not count toward HASS Requirement.

III. THESIS RESEARCH AND WRITING (minimum of 24 units)

17.THT - Thesis Research Design Seminar (CI-M, 12 units)
First semester senior year
Seminar participants will develop their research topics, review relevant research and scholarship, frame their research questions and arguments, choose an appropriate methodology for analysis, and draft the introductory and methodology sections of their theses.

17.THU - Thesis (minimum of 12 units)
Second semester senior year
Work directly with a faculty advisor and second reader in a program of research and writing leading to the writing of an S.B. thesis.


Three additional political science subjects representing a coherent plan of study. Specific subjects satisfying these criteria should be chosen in consultation with a faculty advisor.

These classes will add up to approximately 135 units. You will need 45 more units beyond your General Institute Requirements (180) in order to graduate.

Questions: Contact Tobie Weiner 253-3649,