Political Science or Political Science — Public Service

Which major to pick based on your career goals

If you’re interested in majoring in political science at UC Davis, you may have noticed that the university offers two undergraduate political science majors: political science and political science — public service. 

The difference between these two majors may not be immediately clear, so which one should you pick? If you find yourself facing this dilemma, this article is for you.

Why study political science?

UC Davis political science major Francois Kaepellin stands in front of a wall covered in informational posters, speaking seriously to a pair of students.
Political science major and ASUCD Chief of Staff Francois Kaeppelin answers questions at a voter registration station ahead of the 2020 primary elections. (UC Davis)

Political science is the study of systems and theories of government. This field encompasses a broad range of topics. At UC Davis, political science courses fall into four different fields: 

  • American politics
  • Comparative politics
  • International relations
  • Political theory

Within these categories, you might take courses on voting behavior, national security policy, constitutional law or medieval political philosophy.

Studying political science is a great choice for anyone interested in politics and current events, or planning a career in law, journalism or activism. If you are passionate about championing social justice or giving a legal voice to those in need, a degree in political science will give you the skills and knowledge to use systems of law and government to affect change.

If you’re not certain about those fields, there’s no need to worry. A political science degree comes with a skillset that is broadly applicable to a wide range of careers. You’ll develop proficiency in data analysis, critical thinking, writing, speaking, leadership and teamwork.

Once you’ve decided that political science might be the field for you, you’ll need to pick a major. At UC Davis, that means choosing between political science and political science — public service.

What is the political science major like?

UC Davis Political Science student Meron Gebre sits in front of her laptop in the Center for African Diaspora Student Success.
Political science major Meron Gebre attends class virtually at the Center for African Diaspora Student Success. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

The first available major is the general political science major. It offers a broad range of study. As a political science major, you will choose courses from at least three of the four fields of concentration.

You can pick which fields you would like to weight more heavily to design your own course of study. For example, if you’re interested in law, you could take mostly American politics and political theory courses, with some international relations for variety. Or, if you’re more interested in studying world governments, you can spend most of your time on comparative politics and international relations.

The main appeal of the political science major is its breadth and flexibility. This major allows you to sample from a wide variety of topics and study politics across both borders and centuries. To learn more about the major, consider reading our article “What Can I Do With My Political Science Major?”.

What is the political science — public service major like?

Faculty Lecturer Spencer Kiesel stands in conversation with several students at the front of a lecture hall.
Students ask questions of Faculty Lecturer Spencer Kiesel on the first day of Dr. Kiesel's American National Government course, a required course for all political science — public service majors. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

The political science — public service major focuses more narrowly on American politics and policy. You will take courses from a core program on institutions and processes of American government. In addition, you’ll choose courses from different areas of concentration — foreign policy, environmental policy and social policy, to name a few. These areas of concentration may allow you to take courses outside the Department of Political Science that will count toward your major.

The political science — public service major also features a required internship and research experience. You can either participate in a quarter away like the UC Davis Washington Program or UC Center Sacramento program, or you can find your own independent internship in public policy. This is a great opportunity to gain some professional experience working in the field. It may also give you a better idea of what you want to do with your degree after you graduate.

To learn more about options for the internship experience, visit the internships page of the UC Davis Department of Political Science.

This major is much narrower in scope, but it allows you to study certain areas of American politics and policy in more depth. If you know your interest lies in American government and law, the political science — public service major can help you develop skills to work with public policy after graduation. This major is especially well-suited for anyone interested in running for office or working in government.

Choose a major based on your career path

California State Senator Janet Nguyen sits in an office, passionately addressing a delegation from UC Irvine.
California State Senator Janet Nguyen meets with a campus delegation on UC Day 2017. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

The most important question to consider when choosing your major is where you want to go with it. Narrowing down what you’d like to do after graduation will help you pick which political science major best suits your goals.

If you are interested in a career in law, journalism, diplomacy, research or academia, you will want to pick a major that will afford you a broad and diverse range of knowledge and experience. The political science major is a perfect choice for these fields. By building a course of study across all four fields of political science, you can develop a broad and versatile base of knowledge.

If you are more interested in government, campaign or nonprofit work or specific areas of law like environmental and public interest law, the political science — public service major may be the choice for you. This major suits these careers because it gives you a more specialized line of insight into policy-making and policy implementation without requiring a broader knowledge of political theory or international affairs.

The political science — public service major is also ideal for students interested in immediately getting involved in community organizing, state and local government or nonprofit work rather than pursuing a higher-level degree.

Deciding which major to pick based on your desired career path can help you optimize your time in undergrad. However, both majors can give you the skills needed to enter many fields, so don’t panic if you don’t know which one to choose. And remember — you can always switch majors. Some of the coursework for one political science major will be transferable to the other; check with your advisor to see which courses can be applied to both.

Two perspectives from political science majors

A group of UC Davis students, headed by Political Science major Ryleigh Praker, poses in the Arboretum during Aggie Orientation 2022.
Political science major Ryleigh Praker (front) poses in the Arboretum with the group of first-year students she guided during Aggie Orientation 2022. (Ryleigh Praker/UC Davis)

R.J. Praker: Political Science A.B.

I started at UC Davis as a declared political science — public service major. Partway through my first year, I decided to switch to the political science major. Why?

Early on in my college career, I realized I didn’t want to work in government. Instead, my interest lay in nonprofit and private law. I was fascinated by constitutional law and legal theory, so I wanted to include political theory courses in my major program. The political science major gave me the breadth I desired to explore the political science field.

My switch in majors also allowed me to incorporate my other interests. In addition to my major, I am minoring in Russian. By choosing the political science major, I was able to count the Russian and Eastern European politics courses I was taking supplementally toward my major.

I love the flexibility my major offers! By choosing political science, I’ve been able to stack my schedule with constitutional law and Slavic politics, which wouldn’t be possible in a different major.

Cynthia Hoang-Duong: Political Science — Public Service A.B.

Cynthia plans to attend law school and become an attorney. She entered UC Davis as a psychology major, but after her first quarter, she decided to switch to political science — public service. When asked why she switched majors, she had three reasons:

  1. Political science — public service has an internship requirement. I felt like I really needed an internship but was scared I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t need to in order to graduate.
  2. Public service has a greater range of fields — like social policy, which I’m interested in. Political science would have allowed me to take pre-law classes, but I preferred to also have the option to take sociology classes.
  3. Being able to take sociology courses like ‘The Criminal Justice System’ and ‘Sociology of Law’ means I’m able to learn more about criminal law, which is what I want to do in my future career.

Cynthia recommends the political science — public service major to students who are interested in an internship in political science but aren’t sure where to start. She also recommends it to students who want to incorporate other fields, like sociology or economics, into their political science major.

Choosing political science at UC Davis

A large group of students and staff members in business attire pose on the steps of the California State Capitol.
Delegations from every UC campus pose on the steps of the California State Capitol on UC Day 2017. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

The bottom line is that it’s best to explore your options thoroughly before making a decision. Remember — over half of UC Davis students change their major at some point in their undergraduate career. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting with different programs to see what’s right for you.

If you’re interested in political science but aren’t sure these majors are for you, you should also investigate the international relations major or political science minor.

Now that you understand the difference between UC Davis’ two political science majors, you’ll be better equipped to choose which major suits you better. Take some time to review the requirements for both and to reflect on your interests and career goals.

To learn more and make a concrete plan, explore advising resources at the UC Davis Department of Political Science Advising Center.

View our political science major 

View our political science — public service major

R.J. Praker (she/her) is a third year pursuing a bachelor’s degree in political science with minors in professional writing and Russian. She currently works as a writing intern for UC Davis' Office of Strategic Communications and an academic peer advisor for the Department of Political Science. She also serves as chief copy editor at the Davis Political Review. R.J. is from Placerville, California and loves to hike in the Sierra Nevada with her family’s dogs.

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