Zoe Berg, photo editor
The political science major adds several requirements that the department says will equip students with deeper knowledge in the field.
The changes to the major will take effect for the Class of 2026 and will not affect any of Yale College’s current classes. The common core will remain 12 courses but will now include three additional requirements: an introductory course, a methodology course and an intermediate course. This scaffolding will help students deepen their understanding of the field, according to undergraduate studies director David Simon. The department will also introduce a two-tier senior dissertation system that will allow seniors to choose between a standard seminar-style dissertation and a more comprehensive “honours” track with more counseling resources.
“We emphasize[d] make sure there is [was] some breadth of what the students learned, but we didn’t have much to make sure the students got the kind of in-depth knowledge that some sort of major entails,” Simon said. “We try to have a little more control over the trajectory of the student who comes [into the major] and the student coming out the other side.
These changes were approved at a Yale College faculty meeting in December and will take effect next year for students in the incoming Class of 2026. Declared and potential majors graduating in 2025 and earlier will continue to use the department’s current main roadmap.
About eight percent of undergraduates major in political science, making it the second most popular major at Yale College, after economics. Professors are happy with the major’s historic popularity, Simon said, but want to put in place a more consciously designed framework for students to work in. The major will continue to have no specific prerequisites or required courses.
Laying of tracks
The first of the planned changes, the introductory course requirement, will require students to take at least two of the department’s five introductory courses, each focusing on one of the department’s five sub-areas: international relations, government American, political philosophy, comparative politics. and methodology and formal theory.
Previously, students were not required to take any of the department’s introductory courses, although they were required to take two courses, which could include introductory courses, in each of three of the department’s five sub-areas . The department originally considered creating an “Introduction to Political Science” course, but scrapped the plan after receiving negative feedback from students.
The fifth subfield is currently known as Analytical Political Theory but will take on the new name “Methodology and Formal Theory” as part of the redesign of the major. Courses in this subfield include quantitative courses such as “YData: An Introduction to Data Science”, as well as qualitative courses such as “Strategic Models of Politics” and “Mixed Methods Research”. Students in the major will be required to take a course in the subfield of methodology and formal theory.
“In political science, as in some other social science disciplines, quantitative and formal methods are used more today than in the past, so the department has decided to add a course requirement to this as well, so that their students can access this type of literature more easily, as well as understand its strengths and weaknesses,” Divisional Dean of Social Sciences Steven Wilkinson wrote in an email.
Students in the major will also be required to take an intermediate lecture course. About 20 courses, mostly larger courses taught by basic political science teachers, will meet this requirement, including “The Politics of American Public Policy” and “Game Theory and Political Science.”
Overall, Simon said, having all students take basic introductory and methodological courses will better prepare them for higher-level seminars, many of which assume a base of methodological knowledge. These seminars, he added, could in turn add more advanced and engaging content to their programs.
These additional requirements can make dual majoring in political science more difficult, especially for those adding the major during their junior or senior years. About 15% of political science majors are double majors, though Simon said fewer than 10 students typically add the major in their senior years.
Seniors graduating in 2026 and beyond will be able to choose an “Honours” thesis track, pursuing a more intensive thesis topic that may require additional counseling resources. These students will be able to write one- or two-semester theses as part of a seminar or a directed reading course. The track would be an incentive and encouragement, Simon said, for students to pursue a particularly special project.
Nondistinguished essays, on the other hand, will only be written as part of a semester-long seminar, and the determination of whether that essay meets the department standard will be made by the instructor of that seminar. Currently, all graduate-level essays are assessed by a second reading, but this new change allows the department’s counseling resources to focus more on honors students.
Currently, to graduate with honors in the political science major, students must receive an A or A- in three-quarters of the courses counting toward their major. Now, students will instead complete an honors thesis as a way to graduate with honors.
“The bar [for receiving honors] is a bit higher, but we don’t think that’s anything punitive,” Simon told the News. “We think it’s a response to a demand for a more rigorous experience. In a way, we’re just acknowledging what students are already doing, pursuing some kind of project that is really a special endeavour.
The move comes in response to a broader move away from honors standards across the University, allowing each department to design its own honors system instead, according to Simon.
Contribution of students
The News spoke to five current political science majors, four of whom welcomed the changes. Theo Haaks ’24, a member of the department’s undergraduate advisory committee who met with Simon to make suggestions on changes, said he liked the extra scaffolding, and he noted that many major students naturally fill in the new requirements during their four years.
“The goal of the committee was to make sure that we build the major so that people who want to get a lot out of it can do so,” Haaks said. “It might push people out of their comfort zone a bit and build a sense of structure and rigor, which I think is important for a college major.”
Haaks further noted that political science is seen by some peers as a less rigorous major and said these changes could improve the major’s reputation.
Political science major Diba Ghaed ’24 agreed, saying that while she appreciates the major’s “current flexibility,” she also thinks it helps to add more structure.
“I think having a bit more structure in the major would be great to ensure students hit target areas and get a well-rounded political science education,” Ghaed said. “I think a method class requirement is a great addition to the major; I took a course in political science and statistics and thought it was really helpful.
Matthew Pecoraro ’22, who studies political science and is also enrolled in the combined bachelor’s and master’s degree program in chemistry, was less enthusiastic about the additional requirements.
He originally intended to pursue only chemistry, although he is interested in US government and has taken courses in that area, and was eventually able to do a double major due to the flexibility of the major. current in political science.
“I really had no intention of being a double major in political science until my senior year started,” Pecoraro said. “I’m usually against changes just because someone like me wouldn’t be able to waltz into the second major if he was stiffer. One of the good things right now is that it’s very flexible. Now I just have to complete the senior requirement, and that’s it.
But Simon expressed confidence in the major’s lasting attraction.
“Political Science will continue to be a popular major for students because it will offer both a wide range of thematically and intellectually interesting courses, and now, with the roadmap, we will have more guidance on how to think like a political scientist,” Simon said.
The Department of Political Science is located in the Rosenkranz Hall.