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 cutting-edge research ensures that undergraduates receive world-class training and exposure to the discipline.

The Course 17 curriculum emphasizes foundational theories and current methods of political science, while cultivating critical thinking and writing skills through class assignments, research opportunities, and an optional 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, International Relations, and Political Methodology.

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, or graduate programs in political science or other disciplines.

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 Katherine Hoss (, 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.

TWO REQUIRED CLASSES (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 (CI-M, 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.


17.THT - Fall Senior Thesis Research ( 12 units)
First semester senior year
Students 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 under the guidance of a faculty advisor.

17.THU - Spring Senior Thesis Research (12 units)
Second semester senior year
Students continue to work directly with a faculty advisor and second reader to complete the thesis, with a mandatory defense in the late spring.


Students who opt to write a senior thesis and successfully complete 17.THT and 17.THU must take at least three additional political science electives representing a coherent plan of study.

Students who choose not to write a thesis must take at least five additional political science electives 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: Katherine Hoss 617-253-3649,