Are you thinking of studying Politics?

Image shows the sun rising behind the Houses of Parliament.

Politics is the study of government, society and the operation of power in the modern world.
The topics you will study will range from different systems of government, to an understanding of the complex ins and outs of the British government, to specific case studies in political history such as the rise and fall of particular leaders and political parties: what caused them to succeed and what caused them to fail. Politics is often taken in conjunction with International Relations, and some ‘pure’ Politics courses have a sizeable dose of International Relations as well.
Studying Politics is a popular options for students who want to learn more about power and the ways in which it operates in our society, whether they approach this interest from the standpoint of the activist or of the establishment.

What kind of things can I expect to study?

Image shows a statue of Marx.
You’ll learn and critique the theories of writers like Marx.

First-year Politics students usually cover broad topics in the history and development of British politics over, say, the past 100 years, as well as comparative politics and an introduction to political theory. This lays the foundation for later years of study. You will address the work of influential political writers – expect to look at Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Mill and Marx in some depth – as well as looking at specific contemporary issues such as the role and development of the EU and other international organisations.
In the later years of your degree, you will have the opportunity to choose your own specialism or explore a variety of different optional modules. This will probably include the research and writing of a lengthy dissertation. Examples of optional modules include ‘War Torn States and Post-Conflict Reconstruction in the South’ (Birmingham), ‘The Rise and Fall of New Labour’ (Newcastle), ‘Political Thought of George Orwell’ (Stirling) and ‘Gender, Militarization and Resistance’ (Exeter).

What do I need for a Politics degree?

Universities are usually not specific about which A-levels are required for the study of Politics. Taking Government and Politics A-level may be interesting for prospective students of Politics but will not confer any advantage – and may in fact be seen as a weaker option than a facilitating essay subject such as History or English. Students should have at least one essay-based A-level in order to be prepared for the quantity of reading, writing and research required by a Politics degree. Subjects that may prove valuable include History, English Literature, Religious Studies, Geography, Mathematics and Languages – but this list is by no means exhaustive and students have succeeded at Politics with an entirely different combination of subjects.
What is essential is that students are keen to debate and discuss their ideas in a respectful manner with those who disagree with them. Inevitably, people interested in studying Politics are more likely than the average student to have strong political views (though this is not true in all cases) and being able to discuss your ideas dispassionately and intelligently is a must.

What skills will I acquire?

Image shows a building adorned with EU flags.
You’ll become familiar with the principles and practices of the EU.

You’ll gain a great deal of knowledge about political systems, both in the UK and across the world. Practically speaking, you’ll be able to read a news story and understand its implications and ramifications at multiple levels, being familiar with the stakeholders concerned.
In terms of transferable skills, you will gain the usual skills of a humanities degree: research, time-management, presentation, writing, oratory, self-motivation, teamwork, persuasion, open-mindedness and adaptability. In particular, your ability to put your point of view forwards in a clear, well-reasoned and unemotional way will stand you in good stead.

Will I get to travel as part of my degree?

Politics students have the usual opportunities to spend a year abroad. Some more vocational courses may even offer the chance to spend the equivalent of a year in ‘industry’ – on a placement in Westminster or Brussels, with a lobby group or a politician.
It may be worth spending time travelling or figuring out what kind of city you want to live in as an undergraduate, as careers directly related to Politics are inevitably clustered around centres of power – in the UK, that means London, Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast, or if you are interested in EU politics, Brussels, Frankfurt, Luxembourg, Strasbourg or the Hague.

What careers are possible with a Politics degree?

Image shows protesters in front of Parliament with a sign that reads "hands off".
A degree in Politics could enable you to work for a protest or lobby group.

There are a wide variety of careers that relate directly to a Politics degree, including working for an MP or a political party, working in a thinktank, campaigning and lobbying (whether for charities, NGOs or business interests), or working for the civil service.
However, a majority of Politics graduates do not go into a directly related field. Marketing, business, finance and HR are all common destinations for Politics graduates. Many also choose to do further study, whether towards a different career (such as a law conversion course or a teaching qualification) or with a view to staying in academia.

Related degrees

If you are considering studying Politics, you may also be interested in the following degrees:

  • History – an interest in Politics often goes hand-in-hand with an interest in History; History and Politics is a popular joint honours course.
  • Economics – another closely related options that is often taken as joint honours.
  • International Development – this degree may appeal to students who wish to use their political knowledge to improve the world, but who set their sights internationally or globally rather than nationally.

A final thought on Politics

Image shows protesters dressed as politicians gorging themselves on a cake in the shape of Africa.
The popular view of politics is very negative.

We live in a society that often likes to highlight our political powerlessness. The idea that all power is in the hands of whichever bogeyman suits the speaker’s political leanings – whether that’s the 1%, big business or faceless Eurocrats – is a popular one. Countless newspaper articles suggest that the public have “lost faith” in politics.
From this perspective, the study of Politics can be seen in two possible ways. The first is that it is the study of an area that holds much less power than it thinks it has, where a facade of decision-making occurs while the real power brokers meet elsewhere. Yet this is unreasonably cynical. The second option is that by studying political systems in more depth than a pessimistic newspaper opinion piece, students can come to understand why our government is the way it is, and can learn how their influence can be used in order to effect genuine change. The study of Politics allows us to understand, engage with and challenge systems of power as we see fit – and that is a goal that seems worthwhile from any standpoint.

Image credits: banner; Marx; EU; protest; politicians eating cake.