Political Science Major

The Political Science major at Haverford College offers undergraduates the opportunity to explore politics and government in a fast-paced and dynamic academic environment. Our courses, which span five subfields, reach into all corners of the globe while examining politics and government from a range of vantage points. And we are committed to providing our students with innovative real-world opportunities to deepen and apply their coursework and research.

Curriculum & Courses

Our faculty possess expertise in five subfields—American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Politics, Global Governance, and Political Theory—and we require majors to complete coursework in three of the five subfields. Committed to relevance as well as breadth, we offer an ever-growing array of courses. Among them are classes that arise out of today’s most pressing issues—from terrorism to income inequality, to mobilization politics—and those that enmesh students in the world around them through policy making projects, international field trips, and internships in the political and governmental sectors.

  • Major Requirements

    • Two of the following 100-level courses to enter the major: POLS H121, POLS H131, POLS H151, POLS H161, and POLS H171. These courses must represent two different subfields.
    • Six elective courses taken above the 100 level. No more than four of the elective courses for the major may come from institutions outside of the Tri-Co.
    • A 300-level research seminar, taken in the department during the fall semester of the senior year. (This is in addition to the six elective courses described above.)
    • A combination of introductory and elective courses that includes representation of three of the five subfields, with work at the intermediate or advanced level in at least two subfields.
      • Students may count some courses in either of the two subfields but not in both.
      • With the consent of a member of the department, students may substitute two or three intermediate- or advanced-level courses from another department for the third subfield, where this serves to complement and strengthen the student’s work within the department. For example, a student concentrating in international politics might offer international economics courses as a subfield; a student in comparative politics might offer courses in an area study; a student in political theory might offer social and political philosophy courses; or a student in American politics might offer social policy courses. Students can count such substitutions towards fulfilling the subfield requirement only. They cannot count these towards political science course credit and cannot use them to fulfill the introductory, elective, and seminar requirements outlined above.
    • All senior majors write a thesis and complete an oral defense of the thesis through enrollment in POLS H400.

    Senior Project

    The senior thesis represents the capstone of the political science major. It is a year-long independent research project designed and implemented by each senior political science major with the guidance and support of an assigned thesis advisor. Students receive one credit for an advanced-level seminar in the fall semester of their senior year. With few exceptions, this seminar is taken with the student’s thesis advisor. During the fall semester seminar students select a research topic, formulate a research question, begin acquiring conceptual and theoretical sophistication through a comprehensive review of the relevant scholarly literature, and prepare a thesis proposal or research design. This proposal will guide each student’s original research during the spring semester. Near the end of the fall semester seniors submit their thesis proposals to all members of the department and present their thesis proposals before the department faculty and fellow students. These proposal defenses are intended to provide students with useful critical feedback during the fall semester when there is still time to make major adjustments to the project if necessary. They are also intended to build an esprit de corps among majors while giving them valuable experience with oral presentation and public accountability.

    In the spring semester students register for POLS H400, a supervised research and writing course. During this semester, students conduct independent research and write up their findings with the guidance and feedback of their advisor. Throughout the spring semester students meet regularly with their thesis advisor and submit drafts of thesis chapters to their advisor. After students submit their final written theses in April, they are required to give a 30-minute oral defense of their theses to their advisor and at least one other political science faculty member in early May.

    Senior Project Learning Goals

    The goal of the thesis is to promote the ongoing acquisition of research and analytical skills, as well as the ability to carry out extensive projects independently and consistent with the highest standards of excellence. Most students writing a thesis will identify an interesting and important research question, explore how other scholars have attempted to address that question, and devise a viable research plan. Students who choose to concentrate in political theory pursue normative research and focus on interpretation and analysis of philosophical texts. Students are expected to conduct their own research, often using both primary and secondary sources, and to evaluate how their findings relate to existing scholarship in the field.

    Senior Project Assessment

    Students are assessed based upon their proposal, their written thesis, their oral defense, and their performance throughout the thesis process. They are evaluated according to several criteria, including:

    • their conceptualization of a research question.
    • their ability to effectively and concisely present their argument and findings.
    • their ability to draw conclusions and extensions of their research to broader arenas.
    • their engagement with secondary material and use of primary sources.
    • their ability to identify, critique, develop, and apply core concepts and theories.
    • their ability to obtain a basic understanding of research methodologies.
    • their ability to comprehend and respond to questioning.
    • the quality and organization of their writing.
    • the timely submission of work and responsiveness to feedback.
    • the originality of their ideas and the ambition of their project.
    • the breadth of their knowledge related to their thesis topic.
    • the depth of their knowledge related to their thesis topic.
    • their comprehension of the scope and limitations of their own research.

    During the fall semester, students receive feedback from their professor and their peers on various assignments that often include a combination of the following: thesis proposal, annotated bibliography and literature review. The presentation of the thesis proposal in the fall semester is an opportunity for members in the department other than the advisor to weigh in on and evaluate a student’s progress. The feedback received in the fall from fellow students and the department faculty at the thesis proposal defense is beneficial for students as they move ahead with their projects in the spring.

    Throughout the spring semester students receive feedback from their thesis advisor through regular meetings and comments on thesis drafts. The schedule for the submission of drafts and individual meetings in the spring semester is determined by the student and his/her advisor. Prior to the oral defense of the thesis in May each student submits a thesis abstract. This abstract is an important element of the defense in that it is designed to serve as a succinct overview of the thesis argument and methodology. The defense is attended by the student, the thesis advisor, and one other member of the department faculty. After the defense, the two faculty members discuss the student’s project and overall performance. Ultimate responsibility for grading of the thesis (POLS H400) belongs to the supervising faculty member.

    Requirements for Honors

    The department awards honors to senior majors who have demonstrated excellence in their coursework in political science and their senior thesis. The department may grant high honors to a select number of senior majors who have attained an outstanding level of distinction in their political science courses and senior thesis.

Research & Outreach

All Political Science majors produce a thesis—a work of original research—over the course of their senior year. During the fall semester, students are assigned an advisor. In conjunction with their advisor as well as our 400-level research seminar, they identify a compelling research question and devise a research plan. At the end of the semester, they present their research proposals to faculty and fellow majors. In the spring, students write their theses, continuing to work with their advisors one-on-one as well as in small peer groups. At the close of the spring semester, majors defend their theses in front of two Political Science faculty members.

After Graduation

Our students graduate equipped with a theoretical and practical understanding of political science as well as an abiding commitment to engaging in political issues. Whether they do so as scholars of political science or related disciplines, as professionals involved in the realms of politics and government, or as citizens, they are leaving their mark—with passion and perspective—on our world today.

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