Message from the Graduate School Liaison in the Department of Politics and International Affairs
Associate Professor of Politics and International Affairs
Congratulations on completing your undergraduate education at Wake Forest University! Now that you are considering a graduate degree, there are many factors that you need to consider. Your professors and friends at Wake Forest are here to help you succeed! The resources on this site are designed to help you weigh these factors and make the best decision for your life and career and might serve as a starting point in a discussion with your professors and advisors about the next step in your life.
Regardless of whether you are choosing to obtain a professional master’s degree, a law or medical degree, or a PhD in an academic field like political science, it is important to understand both the risks and rewards intrinsic to each choice. Some important questions to ask are:
- What is the financial cost of this degree? Is this cost justified by the median income I could expect to make after completing the degree?
- What happens to students once they complete this degree program? What proportion of those students take jobs in their chosen field, and what is their median income?
- What is the median workload in the field? Will I need to work late nights and weekends?
- How secure are jobs in this field? Is there constant turnover, or do most people achieve significant job security?
- If I become a professional in this field, will I have control over where I live? Or will I need to accept a job wherever one is offered?
- What is the average job satisfaction in this field? Do most people in the field believe they made the right decision, or would they do something else if they had it to do over again?
- What is the best undergraduate preparation for this degree program?
- When do I need to apply, and what standardized tests do I need to take? Can any application fee be waived?
It is both appropriate and expected that you will ask these questions of faculty and administrators in the programs to which you are applying. Your advisors here at Wake Forest can also help you answer these questions or point you to places where you can obtain more information.
If you are thinking specifically about a PhD degree in an academic field, I wrote a recent article in The Political Methodologist that spells out my advice for deciding whether to go and, if so, where to go to graduate school. You may find that advice helpful, or at least a good starting point for obtaining more information as you make your decision. I’ve also written about the courses I think would be ideal to prepare for a PhD in political science.
Below this message, please find links and information that you may find helpful in your search. Please contact me if you’d like to find out more about graduate and professional school, especially a PhD in social science or quantitative social research! We also have a pre-Law advising program specifically designed for those students interested in a career in the legal profession, and a BA/MA program for students minoring in Latin American Studies; by clicking the links, you can find out more and contact the directors of these programs directly.
Cost of Degrees
The cost of a postgraduate degree varies widely by field and school. For example, nearly all academic PhD programs offer a tuition waiver and a graduate stipend for PhD candidates; these programs will pay you to attend school. Generally, it is inadvisable to accept an offer from any PhD program that does not offer a tuition waiver and funding, though the amount of the stipend varies across schools and fields of study. By contrast, a “Standard Student Budget” for nine months at Harvard Law school in 2018-2019 suggests a total cost of $95,800 per year, including $63,800 in tuition. Though scholarships and waivers may be available, most students pay for law, medical, and professional master’s degrees.
The overall cost of the degree is less important than the ratio of cost and the expected income that one can gain by obtaining the degree. A recent survey conducted by Gallup suggests that around 60% of graduates from PhD and MD programs strongly agree that their education was worth the cost, but only 23% of JD (law) graduates strongly agree with that statement.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles information on the median wage for people in many professions. It may be more appropriate to look at the 10th or 25th percentile wage, as any new entrant to a profession is likely to start nearer to the bottom of the wage distribution rather than the top; you can see this by clicking on the specific profession in which you are interested.
For example, the median income of political scientists (who generally hold a PhD in political science) is $115,110. However, the 10th percentile wage is $56,150, and this is indeed quite close to what the American Political Science Association reports as the average starting salary for assistant professors.
The best and most relevant information may come from the specific program to which you are applying. Any program should be able to provide you with detailed information about how many applicants enter the program, how many graduate, and what proportion of those who graduate take permanent, full-time jobs in a related field.
Statistics may be available for your specific field. Among political science PhD candidates on the job market in the 2016-2017 year, 77.9% of PhD candidates were placed “in some capacity,” 48.1% of candidates were placed into academic positions and 26.3%% were placed into tenure-track jobs. Among law students, the “NALP [National Association of Law Placement] figures show a 51% employment rate for 2010 law school graduates, and figures may well be as low as 45% of those who have full-time, permanent legal jobs” (https://goo.gl/q5uZKj).
However, success in the job market often varies widely among schools and individuals.
You should also be aware of hurdles later in the career after the initial job is obtained. For example, assistant professors typically endure a 6-8 year probationary period and are then comprehensively assessed to determine whether they will be granted tenure. The proportion of assistant professors granted tenure varies greatly among schools and departments. As another example, well-paying “big law” firms typically promote fewer than 16% of their associates to partner (https://goo.gl/YXED3y).
Job Satisfaction and Workload
Jobs vary widely in how much time they expect and how these expectations are distributed over the career. For example, it has been widely reported that the medical profession requires grueling hours of its young professionals, with “residents in America expected to spend up to 80 hours a week in the hospital and endure single shifts that routinely last up to 28 hours” (https://goo.gl/GMaeB5).
Find mentors and experiences professionals who will be honest with you about the time commitments and work expectations that are present in your chosen career path.
Resources for the PhD in Political Science
- American Political Science Association (APSA): Useful information on finding, selecting and applying to graduate programs in Political Science and related areas.
- Database of all graduate and professional programs in political science and public policy by subfield (gradschool.com)
- MA in international affairs for students interested in a non-academic career in the foreign policy arena (Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs)
- Launching a Career in International Affairs: Article with list of graduate programs.
Fellowships and Professional Support
- From the APSA
- For information on careers in law, see the Wake Forest Pre-law Advising Program.
Latin American and Latino Studies BA/MA
Majors in politics and international affairs who minor in Latin-American studies have the opportunity to pursue a five-year cooperative BA/MA degree program at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. For further information please contact Dr. Peter Siavelis or visit college.wfu.edu/lals