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Intermediate · Specialization · 3-6 Months
Politics is the process of making decisions among groups of people, whether in a small community or an entire country. While politics is an especially popular topic of conversation around national elections - at least, in a democracy where political leaders are elected by the public - understanding politics is important for understanding the forces that structure our lives every day. Politics doesn’t just impact who’s serving in the government; it shapes economics, the law, and social justice in ways that affect us all.
Because politics is such an all-encompassing subject, there are a variety of different lenses through which you can learn and think about it. Political science is the study of how government works, the factors influencing behaviors of voters and politicians, international relations, and other practical questions about how politics works. By contrast, political philosophy focuses on asking the big questions of what the proper role and purpose of government should be, the nature of equality and justice, and the relationship between politics and the course of history.
Many people may opt to study politics through a more particular focus. Feminism and social justice discourses seek to describe the ways that the forces of patriarchy and racism create structures of oppression in subtle as well as obvious ways. Marxist political analysis focuses on the ways that economic conditions shape politics, instead of the other way around. Environmentalism considers the ways in which politics and society can destroy or protect the natural world and all the resources and services that it provides.
Ironically, the way we think and feel about politics is very personal even though it is fundamentally about how we live and work together as a society. Learning about the different ways that people understand and participate in the political process can thus improve your own ability to appreciate how different people see the world.
If you have a passion for politics, you can pursue a career working on political campaigns in all kinds of roles. In today’s data-rich world, successful candidates running for office often have a campaign staff with expertise in areas such as branding and writing, communications and digital marketing, and polling and data analysis. Working in politics is hard but exciting work, and helping a candidate you believe in win a race can be incredibly rewarding.
If you are more interested in developing your understanding of politics than in running races, you can pursue a career as a political scientist. These academic experts on the development and operation of political systems typically work at universities or in the government, and usually have a master’s degree or even a PhD. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, political scientists earn a median annual salary of $122,220, and these jobs are expected to grow faster than the economy-wide average over the next decade.
Absolutely. Coursera lets you learn about politics from prestigious universities from all over the world, with courses covering everything from political philosophy to political science to the role of politics in law and history and much more. You can learn remotely from top-ranked schools like Yale University, Rutgers the State University of New Jersey, University of London, and Utrecht University from wherever you are in the world. Learning about politics online has other advantages such as significantly lower tuition fees than learning on campus and a flexible schedule for completing course materials, making it an increasingly popular option for learning about a wide range of subjects.
If elections are to you what March Madness is to basketball fans, then a job in politics may be just what you're looking for. Ideally, people in politics have an interest in government here and abroad, a strong belief in political principles, and a commitment to public service. To have a successful career in politics, it helps to be a strategic thinker, have a genuine affinity for other people, and possess good conflict-resolution and communication skills. If you're interested in running for office, you can also benefit by having a can-do spirit and a thick skin.
As mentioned, a background in politics is helpful if you want to be a political candidate. You can run to be a city or state council member, a state representative, a mayor, a congressperson, a senator, a governor, or—if your aspirations are very high—the president. If you'd rather work as a support person to a candidate, you can become a campaign manager and oversee all of the details involved in a campaign, or you can be a communications coordinator. This job involves creating press releases, writing speeches, managing social media, and overseeing communications strategies for candidates or legislators. If you enjoy gathering and analyzing data, you may want to consider a career as a political pollster, and if creating government policy is appealing, you can become a policy analyst. More positions in politics include press secretary, lobbyist, legislative aid, and legislative correspondent.
If you study politics, you'll have many workplace options. You can become an aide in a local, state, or federal government office or work as a lobbyist for a nonprofit or private corporation. If you enjoy writing, you can work as a legislative reporter at a newspaper or a magazine. And if you want to be a teacher, you can get a job at a college or university as a political science professor. More places that hire people with a background in politics include public relations firms, law firms, law enforcement agencies like the FBI, and intelligence agencies like the CIA and NSA.
Politics-related topics you can study include history, international relations, law, criminal justice, communications, public health, economics, business administration, and/or finance. Extracurricular activities that relate to politics include running for student body government or joining activist organizations.