Dr. Kat’s List: Five Colleges for a Major in Government

The election results are in and whether or not your preferred candidate won the race, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of campaigns and politics. Students can discover or pursue their political interests in college by taking political science courses, government courses, and volunteering on local politicians’ campaigns. Political science is one of the 10 most popular majors in the US, according to Careerbuilder.com.

Although political science is a popular major, many schools do not have what might seem to be its obvious counterpart, government, as a major offering. If you are looking to head to your state’s capital or even the White House, government may be the path for you. A major in government will provide you with an understanding of how the US government functions, and it will also shed light on the world’s political systems, providing you with a global perspective. Course listings might include Public PolicyDemocracy and Dictatorship, and Political Parties.

If being able to affect policy and international affairs are goals of yours, Dr. Kat and the Ivywise counselors have compiled this list of five schools to consider if you’re thinking of majoring in government:

Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, CA
Originally founded as Claremont Men’s College in 1946, this private college changed its name to Claremont McKenna College (CMC) and became co-educational in 1976. Though government is one of the top seven majors at the school, students benefit from having an engineering and science school nearby, Harvey Mudd, and three liberal arts schools, Scripps, Pomona, and Pitzer. Being part of the Claremont College system means students from each school have the opportunity to enroll in classes at all five institutions. Not to mention the use of all the libraries on the five campuses, and access to knowledge of all the professors!

As government majors, students have access to the wide range of centers on campus. However, look no further than The Rose Institute of State and Local Government. As a public policy institute, it focuses on state and local government issues, specifically in Southern California. Or conduct research on critical issues in world affairs at The Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies. Or, perhaps you’re looking to take your studies to Washington D.C. over the summer? There’s an internship for that! The CMC Washington Program has been sending students to D.C. for summer internships for over three decades. Internships have included positions at the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs in the White House and the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee in Congress, among countless others.

As a government major you may start your concentration path with The American Presidency with Professor Andrew Busch. You’ll investigate the domestic and international sources of power, which have led to the dominant position of the US presidency. Or, you may end up taking a class taught by Professor P. Edward Haley, Heroes, Villains, and Clowns. In it you’ll examine the heroism, and clownishness associated with western politics and represented in literature, plays, and film.

Enrich your learning experience by joining one of the hundreds of student organizations on campus. Join the Claremont Colleges Debate Union. As the nation’s largest college debating society, the CCDU competes nationally and internationally, with parliamentary debate style. The tournaments utilize team competition with a different topic for each individual debate. Follow in the footsteps of CCDU alumni who have gone on to become members of the US Department of State in the diplomatic and international educational missions. Others have gone on to serve as international environmental consultants for the United Nations!

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Eight U.S. Presidents, including current commander-in-chief Barack Obama, attended Harvard Law School. The government program at this private university is popular — it is the second largest concentration at Harvard. This level of popularity provides government students with the advantage of more professors, graduate students, and visiting scholars than most departments at Harvard. This means you can find a faculty member who is an expert in just about anything! For example, Professor Jeffry Frieden specializes in the politics of international monetary and financial relations. Discuss Russian politics with Professor Timothy Colton, whose expertise is Russian and post-Soviet government and politics. Undergraduate government students can take classes on in-depth topics like Mexico: Problems and Prospects for Development and Democracy and The Politics of American Education.

Looking for something outside the classroom? Join Harvard’s Model Congress (HMC), the nation’s oldest government simulation club. Each year HMC’s undergraduate students arrange a conference for high school students, where they learn about US government by assuming the roles of congressmen, senators, and other members of government. In these positions, Harvard students guide high school students to work through and solve proposed problems and issues. When it comes to government, Crimson students, named for the school’s defining color and mascot, can become leaders. Consider this: President John F. Kennedy attended Harvard!

Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
Princeton’s concentration in public and international affairs through the Woodrow Wilson School (WWS) is the university’s only selective major — this means you must apply to the program. Each graduating class is limited to 90 students (this year’s freshman class is 1,313 students), making the competition fierce to join such alumnae as former U.S. Secretaries of State, Defense, and Treasury. The school provides students with centers and programs like the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics and the Research Program in Political Economy (RPPE), among many others. RPPE sponsors research workshops, conferences, and visits to Princeton by political economy scholars. Each junior in WWS enrolls in two policy seminars, one each semester, and can choose from approximately 20 seminars offered each year, like U.S. Nuclear Weapon Policies in the 21st Century, taught by Harold Feiveson. During the seminars, students work with a faculty member to propose solutions to current problems around the world. Each student then conducts ongoing research into an area related to the seminar concept topic. The majority of seminars are taught at Princeton, while a few are taught abroad in locations like Shanghai, China and Havana, Cuba!

Perhaps one of the most distinctive aspects of campus life at Princeton is the eating clubs. There are 10 eating clubs on campus, all co-ed, open to juniors and seniors only. The clubs act as dining halls and social centers for their members. Often, members invite professors to share a meal or host a discussion. Regardless of whether you join an eating club, there are many opportunities for faculty interaction. Perhaps you can attend a talk given by Princeton Professor Edward Felten. As a WWS faculty member, he researches computer security, privacy, and technology policy. Images of prominent government figures may be seen around campus or between the stacks at Firestone Library — James Madison and US Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan both attended Princeton, while Thomas Jefferson’s papers reside at Firestone.

Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
Georgetown sits on the doorstep of the nation’s capital. As a student at this private university, you can learn from former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, among other national figures. As a Professor of Diplomacy at the School of Foreign Services, Albright offers a wealth of real-world knowledge to her students.

Georgetown prides itself on academically inspiring its community; this is illustrated by the school’s American Government Speaker Series. The series has brought speakers like Cornell University’s Professor Eric Oliver who specializes in urban politics and public opinion, and Georgetown’s own Professor Michael Bailey whose talk was titled “The Constrained Court.”

As a Georgetown student, you can get involved in On the Docket, the student Supreme Court society at Georgetown. According to their website, members “promote an understanding of the US constitutional legal system primarily through attendance at Supreme Court hearings and discussion of the history and merits of relevant cases currently before the Court.” While exploring all of the programs and offerings at Georgetown, you are reassured to know you are walking, and perhaps even following, in the footsteps of Presidents Bill Clinton and Lyndon B. Johnson.

The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA
This public college in historic Virginia follows a close second to Harvard for producing presidents — think Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler. William and Mary (W&M) is the second oldest institution of higher education in the country and it founded the prominent Phi Beta Kappa honor society in 1776. The government program at W&M prides itself on small class size; most seminars enroll 15 students or fewer. The courses focus heavily on interaction, research, and writing. Students and faculty often work together on joint research projects and papers that lead to publication; check out their undergraduate research index for a list of examples!

Apply to the Sharpe Leadership Program to work with other students on developing your leadership, problem solving, public communications, and project planning skills. According to W&M, by “creating and implementing team-based service projects, first-year students learn how to catalyze, organize, and lead initiatives on campus and in the community.” If you’re looking for a forum to debate and discuss international relations, look no further than the International Relations Club, one of the largest student organizations at W&M.

Whether you aspire to a position in student government or on Capitol Hill, these five schools will prepare you for a future in government. However, don’t limit yourself to just these schools! There are many other options. For example, Wellesley College, in Wellesley, Massachusetts, has political science programs where students can flex their government skills in the Madeline Korbel Albright Institute for Global Affairs. The Institute features a winter session intensive program that brings in speakers and lets students research and create their own projects. The Institute also includes a summer internship component (with a stipend!). During its inaugural year, 2010, Secretary Madeline Albright taught during the winter session program. Or check out Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Ranked number six in the nation for liberal arts, as a government and legal studies major at Bowdoin you could follow in the footsteps of Franklin Pierce, America’s 14th president and class of 1826. Enroll in Ending Civil Wars with Assistant Professor Shelley Deane who specializes in ethnic conflicts, peace processes, and Irish politics, among other topics!

While you’re still in high school, try to get involved in your school’s student government or explore options of taking on small roles in town government or administrative meetings. Attend school board meetings and speak up to start making a difference on the policies that will impact you and your fellow students directly. Join Model UN, a United Nations simulation club that organizes international student conferences. Starting a club or becoming the President of a student organization can also help you hone your leadership skills in preparation for a government major, while indicating your governance interests to admissions readers. So, go forth and lead!