Advice on Applying to Graduate Programs in Political Science and International Relations



            First, the conventional wisdom, which in this case actually is wise:  apply to five or six programs, not just to see where you get in, but to see where you get funding.  Apply to one or two that are a reach, one or two “safety” programs that you should easily get into, and one or two in the middle.  Be realistic about your prospects and gather data on acceptance rates, test scores, and grades.


            Second, choosing which graduate programs to apply to is an inverse “pyramid” from choosing among colleges for your undergraduate education.  Applying to colleges as an undergraduate, your first concern should be the overall reputation of the university and the degree to which it focuses on undergraduate education.  You may have a general idea of whether you care more about the university’s emphasis on social sciences, physical sciences, or arts and humanities, and perhaps you have a vague notion about individual departments, but you probably don’t know much about and shouldn’t focus on individual faculty members, as you don’t know how your academic interests might evolve.


            Applying to graduate schools is just the opposite.  Your first concern should be individual faculty members in the sub-field that interests you (such as the international relations subfield in political science).  Are they first-rate scholars in your area of interest?  Do the faculty in the subfield cover the methodological, theoretical, regional, and substantive issues that interest you?   Can you put together an excellent thesis committee from among the faculty that covers all four of these issue areas?  Do they have a reputation for being attentive to, helping, and co-authoring with their graduate students?  Beyond the subfield, you should be somewhat interested in the overall reputation of the department, but you should have little interest in the overall reputation of the university, as all but one or two of your courses will be in your chosen program or department.  It is far better as a graduate student to go to a stellar department at a  mid-level university than to go to a mid-level department in an otherwise stellar university.   Pockets of excellence can arise in surprising places - - sometimes the best group of scholars or best research institute on a particular subject, especially a narrow or under-studied region or issue, will be at a university not generally known for its excellence in related fields.  Look for a department or program whose comparative advantages fit your interests.


 Advice on Applying to the Georgetown Department of Government


The Georgetown University Department of Government is what I call a “full service” department: we have a large faculty that collectively covers pretty much every methodological and theoretical approach and every functional and regional issue in political science, especially if you include faculty jointly appointed with the School of Foreign Service and other programs and research centers.   Our department web site gives a good accounting of our particular comparative advantages within this broad coverage.


We received 700 PhD applications in 2007, and many more for our MA programs, which makes it difficult for individual faculty like me to respond to all the queries we get by email.  If I (or a colleague) do not respond to a query, please do not be insulted; we have to give priority to the students already in our program.  The best way to get an answer to any inquiry is to make sure it is not already answered on our web site, to keep it short and to the point, and to use a subject line that makes it clear your email is not spam.  Our web site has a lot of information for applicants; the most useful links are below.


There is no secret on how to do well with your application: grades, test scores, letters of recommendation, and the overall c.v. are what count.  Any publications you have, especially in a peer-reviewed academic journal, will make your c.v. stand out, but don’t be worried if you do not have this, as most applicants are at a stage at which this is uncommon.  It is useful to visit our department if you can, but more for you to get a feel for the place than in the hope that a faculty member will be so taken with you that it will improve your odds of acceptance.


General Information on our Government PhD and MA programs:


Information on PhD applications and admissions, including average grades, test scores, and acceptance rates:


Specific MA programs in Government:



Information for foreign students is here: