Graduate School FAQ
Why should I go to graduate school for political science?
Graduate degrees promote career advancement. A graduate degree may be beneficial if you want a higher position in the federal or state governments or in a consulting firm. They are a prerequisite for faculty job at the college and university levels. A master’s degree (M.A.) qualifies you to teach at a community college, while a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) qualifies you for university-level teaching and research appointments. See why our graduate program stands out.
Do I need a master’s degree to apply to your Ph.D. program? What if I didn’t major in political science?
A master’s degree is not required to be admitted to the Ph.D. program in political science, and most applicants apply right after completing their B.A. Students in our Ph.D. program receive a master's degree in political science after they complete their comprehensive exams (provided they haven’t already earned a master's in political science elsewhere). Having majored in political science, or related fields, may give you some advantage in the course of your Ph.D. study, but a degree in political science is not required.
I already have a master's in political science. Can I transfer my credits to the Ph.D. program?
UCR does not allow transfer credits if a degree has already been awarded on the basis of those credits. The graduate advisor may grant permission to substitute courses for required courses, if there is significant overlap in content between the required courses and the courses you have already completed.
If you have taken graduate courses, but have not completed your degree, a limited number of course credits may be transferred with the graduate advisor’s approval.
Isn’t grad school really expensive?
Not always. Ph.D. students typically receive funding to attend graduate school that covers their fees and provides them with a stipend. The funding can be in the form of fellowships or teaching/research assistantships. Funding tends to be less likely for M.A. programs. Many programs, including UCR, only provide funding for their terminal degrees, so if you are looking for a M.A. program, it may be worth your while to look at departments that don’t have a doctoral program. See the financial support offered to UCR political science graduate students.
What qualifications are required for most graduate programs?
Most graduate schools require that you:
- Have a 3.0 GPA in political science
- Provide letters of recommendation
- Take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
- Take the TOEFL (international students)
While the GRE is only one of several criteria that graduate schools use to evaluate your application, it is one of the most important. This is particularly true if your college GPA is not as high as you’d like. Exceptional GRE scores can open up new opportunities for graduate school. Most graduate schools consider the verbal and quantitative sections to be particularly important. You may want to take a prep class to get ready for the GRE.
How do you evaluate my statement of purpose?
Our graduate program trains you to become a researcher. Therefore, we would like to hear about the qualities, interests, and experiences that will help you become a good researcher. Tell us about any original research you have done, whether as part of coursework, a thesis, or if you have worked with your professors or others on research. If you have taken courses in political methodology or statistics, or have experience working with statistical (or other research related) software, you should mention it.
If you don’t have any research experience, then you might want to approach your professors about research opportunities or consider writing a senior thesis if you are not already doing so in the process of applying. If that is not an option, read about research and try to put extra effort into explaining why pursing a Ph.D. is the right path for you.
A common reason for students dropping out of Ph.D. programs is that their expectations don’t match up with the reality of working towards a Ph.D. Thus, one of the things we look for in the statement of purpose is an understanding of what obtaining an Ph.D. involves and what doing research involves.
Tell us what you are interested in studying and what questions excite you. These do not have to be carefully formulated questions and research plans – that is what graduate school is for – the main purpose is to give us a sense of what motivates you and also simply to demonstrate that you have given some thought about why you are planning on a Ph.D. and what it involves. And don’t worry, the statement of purpose is not a contract – it is perfectly normal, if not expected, that students write a dissertation on something entirely different than what they discuss in their statement of purpose. And, of course, you should highlight your demonstrated strengths (such as awards and a high GPA).
We also want to know why you think UCR is a good fit. In part, your discussion of your research interests will make that clear, but it never hurts to be explicit about why you are applying to UCR and indicate which of our faculty you could see yourself working with.
Do I need to pick an advisor when I apply?
No, but you should consider who you might end up working with. If you have a problem identifying a faculty member who you could see chairing your dissertation committee, then the program may not be a good fit. This does not mean that the faculty member(s) have to work on exactly the thing that you are interested in, but there should be a reasonable overlap of interests. At UCR, incoming students are assigned faculty mentors who act as a resource for students in planning their first few years in the program. An effort is made to assign mentors based on shared research interests, but there is no expectation that the mentors will continue as the students’ dissertation advisors. Students typically find a dissertation advisor during their third year when they start planning their dissertation prospectus.
If I choose to get an M.A., do I have to keep going and get a Ph.D.?
No. You can just get your M.A. if you want. You can also choose to pursue an M.A. at one school and a Ph.D. at another. However, you are far more likely to receive financial help (paid tuition, scholarships, teaching assistantships, etc.) if you pursue a Ph.D.
What is a graduate program like?
Typically, you take classes (seminars) in different subfields of political science such as international relations, comparative politics, American politics, political behavior, political theory, and methodology. At the end of your coursework, you take written examinations in a couple of subfields that you choose.
Classes are usually much smaller at the graduate level compared to the undergraduate level. Most classes require that you read the assigned material and participate in discussions. The professors do not really lecture; instead, they present ideas from the assigned readings for the students to discuss. As an undergraduate, you spend much of your time learning facts about politics, reading about research, discussing ideas, and writing about the things that you read. In a Ph.D. program, and in some M.A. programs, the goal is for you to learn to produce the type of research that you read in your undergraduate courses. That implies that in your master's or doctoral study, you invest a significant amount of time learning how to identify research questions, design a study, gather and analyze data, interpret the results, and write up the findings.
What happens next depends on whether you are in an M.A. or Ph.D. program. If you are Ph.D. student, you write a dissertation. If you are an M.A. student, the final step depends on the program you enroll in. In some instances comprehensive exams mark the final requirement, while other programs might require you to write a shorter version of a dissertation called a thesis. How long it takes you to finish your dissertation can depend on your topic and methodology. For example, if you have fieldwork abroad or seek to develop skills in statistical analysis, acquiring those skills might add to the time it takes to complete your dissertation.
How do grad schools vary?
There are wide differences among graduate programs. Some schools have strengths in particular areas of the world, while others are known for particular subfields. Do some research, talk to people, and look for programs that are a good fit for what you are interested in studying. A good way to figure out whether a program is a good fit for you is to look at faculty member's research interests.
Should I apply to UCR?
When deciding where to apply, you want to consider both what the professors in the department study and how they study it. The "what" refers to the substantive topics the faculty work on. The "how" they study them refers to the methodologies they use in their work. Some areas of strengths in terms of substantive areas of research at UCR are:
- Political behavior
- International political economy
- Race, ethnicity, and identity
- Comparative political institutions
- Civil–military relations
- Latin American politics
- Skepticism, liberalism, and hermeneutics
Our faculty employ a wide variety of methodological approaches and we train our students in both quantitative and qualitative methodology while also allowing students room to specialize. However, as you decide whether UCR is for you, it is a good idea consider what methodological approaches the faculty members who you think you might be most interested in working with use in their own work.
Can I enroll as a part-time student?
No. Graduate students are expected to be full-time students and to be in residence. Students can petition for part-time status under specific circumstances for a limited period of time.
Can I request an application fee waiver?
UCR’s Graduate Division offers a limited number of application waivers. If you think you qualify, apply for one as soon as possible as these are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis (provided you meet the eligibility requirements). Apply for a fee waiver.
How can I find out more?
The best way to start finding out about graduate school and what it is like is to ask your teaching assistants and professors about their experiences. You can find out more information about our graduate program here. If you have questions, please contact the Director of Graduate Admissions Indridi H. Indridason.