Master of Arts in Political Science

The Master of Arts in Political Science is designed for students who wish to proceed to further post-graduate study at the doctoral level as well as those who seek to terminate their study with the master’s degree.

For many college graduates, an M.A. in Political Science is a good investment of time and money. Graduates from our M.A. program teach at community colleges, go on to prestigious Ph.D. programs and work in a variety of jobs: running election campaigns, teaching high school students, and as elected officials, policymakers and policy analysts.

For those who go on to a Ph.D. program, a more specialized M.A. or M.P.A., or law school, the M.A. provides both a solid substantive foundation and an advantage in admissions to top graduate and law programs.

An M.A. in Political Science is highly relevant for those who wish to go into high school or junior college teaching, or into some aspect of local, state or federal governmental work. Unlike Ph.D.s, which commonly take five to seven years to complete, an M.A. generally only takes two years to complete, and it provides an advantage on the job market over those with only bachelor’s degrees. In the meantime, students have had more time to think about the professional direction they want to pursue.

Given the cost of graduate education, two years of CSU tuition is a relative bargain for a degree that can do so much. Graduate seminars are offered starting at 4 p.m. and, occasionally, later in the evening, allowing professional students to work and attend class.

At SF State, our Political Science faculty are experienced, well-published scholars and teachers specializing in American Politics, Comparative Politics, Political Theory, Public Law and Empirical Methods. M.A. students work closely with faculty to learn how political scientists produce knowledge about politics, and contributing themselves to that scholarship. Our students have opportunities to teach classes and present their own work at conferences.

Funding Assistance

The department is not able to offer tuition waivers. We do offer some limited scholarships, and some limited financial assistance is available in the form of paid teaching assistantships. These are usually not available during the first semester of study.

Graduate Coordinator

Anyone with questions about our program is encouraged to contact our graduate coordinator, Professor Amanda Roberti, with questions by email at

Woman in yellow sweater teaching at front of classroom

Admission Requirements

Most Political Science graduate students have a B.A. in Political Science. While this is recommended, we accept applications from any major. In general, minimum cumulative grade-point average is 3.25.

Application Process

Complete the online application for graduate admission and upload your unofficial transcripts and application documents to the Program Materials section of CAL STATE APPLY.

Visit the Division of Graduate Studies Application page for general information.

TOEFL Score Requirement

  • Internet-based test: 80
  • Paper-based test: 550
  • IELTS score requirement:Overall band score of 7.0 PTE

Academic Score Requirement

  • Overall score of 65

Financial Aid

Financial aid information can be found on the SF State Future Students website as well as the Office of Student Financial Aid website. The department does not offer any scholarship or grant to incoming graduate students. Some paid graduate assistant positions are available to continuing students.

Application Deadlines

Admission deadlines can be found on the Division of Graduate Studies website. Applications may be turned in prior to these deadlines. Early applications are encouraged, but notification of admission status may not occur until the deadline.

Correspondence Address: 1600 Holloway Avenue, HUM Building, Room 304, San Francisco, CA 94132-4155

Core Requirements

Course Title Units
PLSI 700* Research Design 3
PLSI 740 Seminar in American Politics 3
PLSI 760 Seminar in Comparative Politics 3
PLSI 780 Seminar in Political Theory 3
Total Units: 12

*PLSI 700 is a required course that all incoming students must take in their first year of the program. Students who do not pass it must take it in their second year in order to be eligible to register for further classes. Students may only attempt the course twice.

Political Science Topic Seminars

(At least two courses in areas of subfield specialization selected from the following)

Course Title Units
PLSI 741-59 Various courses in American Politics 3
PLSI 761-79 Various courses in Comparative Politics 3
PLSI 781-99 Various courses in Political Theory 3
Total Units: 6


Additional Electives

Depending on how many topic seminars you have completed, the remainder of your units for the political science M.A. will come from electives. These may be fulfilled with additional graduate courses (e.g. PLSI 701, PLSI 707, and 708) and/or upper-division undergraduate courses in political science or graduate courses in closely related fields (e.g. international relations). Students must consult the graduate coordinator for permission to apply any course outside of the Political Science or International Relations Depts towards the MA Electives. Only courses closely related to political science can be used. Please note that PLSI 701, PLSI 707, and PLSI 708 do NOT count towards the PLSI Topic Seminar requirement, though they are good classes to use for the Electives portion of your degree.

Total Units: 9

Culminating Requirement


Course Title Units
PLSI 898 Master’s Thesis 3
Or PLSI 896 Comprehensive Examinations 3
Culminating Requirement Total Units: 3
M.A. Degree Minimum Total Units: 30

American Politics

The study of American Politics encourages students to engage with the problems, politics, and policies that surround them, whether that be at City Hall, the state capital in Sacramento, or in Washington, D.C.

Political Theory

Political Theory is a subfield of political science that seeks to critically interrogate some of the key concepts and assumptions of political science and political life.

Comparative Politics

Comparative Politics is the study of politics and political dynamics in countries around the world.


In addition, students may study public law, empirical methods and international relations (the latter with faculty in SF State's Department of International Relations).

The program is professional in its standards, substantive offerings and levels of expectation.

About these Guidelines

These guidelines are intended as an introduction to the process of writing a thesis. They are not intended to supplant arrangements you make with your committee. Individual professors may make arrangements with you that take precedence over these guidelines. Make sure you review Graduate Studies’ web page on thesis writing before you begin the process.

A General Note

Thesis writing is an interactive process. You should not expect to simply write a thesis, turn it in and receive a passing mark. You should expect that it will take many visits and many drafts with your committee before it is considered satisfactory. This is not a reflection of your analytical or technical abilities but is a natural part of doing political science. Expect to receive pointed critiques that indicate what works and doesn’t work in your chapter/thesis, and to go away and do more work.


Work out a concrete set of deadlines with your advisors. Set dates for the completion of the proposal and the various thesis chapters. Although the overall timeline might need to be adjusted, these deadlines will help motivate you to finish each portion. You will need to work well in advance of Graduate School deadlines. For these, view the section on the gradate website for more details. For example, the Grad School requires a preliminary format check in late April and the final thesis in mid- to late May for a spring semester graduation.

Do not expect that you can turn in your thesis and have your committee read it overnight. Expect that you will need to give your committee at least one week to read each section or chapter, and in some cases, several weeks. Ask your committee when you can expect to receive your drafts back. Find out whether your committee members prefer hard copies or e-versions.

The Proposal Stage

The first step to developing a thesis is to write a proposal that outlines the project. You will work primarily with your adviser until you are both satisfied with the topic, the scope of the inquiry and the methods involved. A successful proposal will pose an interesting question, situate it in the literature, explain your plan for analysis and note what the project will contribute to our understanding of politics. Although the proposal serves as the foundation of the project, it is in no way the final word. Projects evolve. As yours changes, be sure to discuss revisions with your adviser.

About the Thesis in General

Your thesis should be an original body of work that contributes to a particular problem in political science. In most cases, it should articulate an argument and defend it with original, empirical research (some political theory papers may differ from this exact formula). It should not be a policy paper or simply assert a partisan stance on an issue. Imagine that you are writing for a skeptical, unfriendly audience that will require cool, rational persuasion of the veracity of your case.

You should be able to clearly answer the following questions for yourself and your committee:

  • What puzzle or problem am I investigating?
  • What is the answer (hypothesis/thesis) I am proposing?
  • How am I defending my hypothesis? What kinds of evidence am I using?
  • What other answers might there be that “solve my puzzle” and why don’t I think they are particularly good or useful?
  • What body or bodies of work in political science does my thesis contribute to?

In general, theses come in two main forms. The traditional thesis model and the research paper model. You should work with your advisor and committee to decide which is most appropriate for you and your project.

The Traditional Model (typically around 60-80 pages)

  • an introductory chapter
  • a chapter that situates your work in a broader set of discussions within political science (the so-called Lit Review chapter) a chapter that explains the method(s) you will use, the logic of your approach, the concepts involved and, if applicable, the measurement of those concepts (i.e., the nature of your data)
  • at least one rigorously researched chapter that defends your thesis (often empirical, but may be normative in some political theory theses)
  • a conclusion

In some theses, some of these chapters may be combined into one. The bulk of the thesis should focus on a rigorous defense of your thesis.

The Research Paper Model (around 50 pages)

The research paper model takes the format of a publishable quality scholarly journal article. In general, it will have sections rather than chapters and will be based on substantial, original research. Please speak more with your advisor for exact details.

A Word on the "Literature Review" Section/Chapter

The point of a literature review is to connect your work to the existing work. It situates the framework you will use to evaluate your research problem and distinguishes the analytical tools you will use from other possible approaches. The point of the literature review is not to describe all the work ever done on your subject. Remember to clearly state which approach you prefer and why. Keep your own analytical voice constantly present. Remember to categorize types of approaches rather than run through them one by one.

About References and Sources

Follow the guidelines in the American Political Science Association’s writing style manual for citing sources, using footnotes, etc. Your bibliography should be extensive. If you are recounting background material or conducting a literature review, do not simply rely on a few sources. Be careful to not overuse quotes, to accurately paraphrase others, and to properly cite all sources.

Other Points

  • Pick a subject you like.
  • Keep in touch with your adviser and your committee.
  • Remember that critiques of your work are intended to improve it and should not be taken personally.

About these Guidelines

These guidelines are intended as an overview to taking comprehensive exams. They are not intended to supplant arrangements you make with your committee. Individual professors may make arrangements with you that take precedence over these guidelines.

Basic Exam Information

Political Science graduate students who choose the comprehensive elective to fulfill their culminating experience requirement must take two separate exams in two of the following three subfields of political science: American politics, political theory or comparative politics.

Students who wish to take the comprehensive exams must have taken both the core seminar in that subfield as well as one graduate-level elective in that same subfield.

Students doing the M.A. exams register for PLSI 896 in the semester in which they take the exams.

In general, exams must be taken during the regular academic year, in fall or spring semesters.

Committee Selection

Students are responsible for selecting an exam committee, which consists of two faculty members from the Department of Political Science. Each committee member will be responsible for one subfield exam. It is best if committee members are faculty members who taught the student in either the core or elective seminars in the subfields in which the student is taking the exams. Be aware that sometimes faculty members may not be able to work with you because of time constraints or other factors. For this reason it is a good idea, where possible, to take at least one subfield elective from an instructor other than the individual who taught the core seminar.

Students should generally expect to meet with their committee members individually at least two or three times throughout the semester to discuss expectations for the exams and review assigned materials.

Special Note Regarding Political Theory Exam

The department has separate guidelines for students taking a subfield exam in political theory. Please consult the guidelines for the Political Theory exam.

Readings: Content and Number

Material included on the exams will include books, scholarly articles and other literature from the chosen subfields. Usually these are considered key texts in the field. Texts will be drawn primarily from the core seminar and electives taken in this subfield. Additional materials may be added to the list by the instructor, student, or both. Depending on the instructor and the subfield, a typical number of texts per subfield might range from 15 to 45 (which would include at least 10 books, in addition to book chapters and articles).

Students should expect to be able to identify and evaluate the significance and/or main argument of the texts, and discuss them in some detail.

Format and Length of Exams

Exams are conducted on a written, take-home format. Students and committee members will arrange a suitable time. Depending on the instructor, students normally seven to 14 days to complete the exam for a subfield. Exams should be taken in the same semester, and often (but not always) are arranged so that students will take them back-to-back. For example, they take one exam in one subfield in one week, and the next exam in the next subfield the next week.

Faculty members vary in the number of questions they ask students to answer, but most will ask two or three questions. Students are usually, but not always, given a choice of questions to answer (i.e., they are asked to answer three out of five questions). Exam questions are usually drafted by faculty members, sometimes individually or sometimes in coordination with the other committee members, although sometimes the student may be involved in drafting an exam question. Depending on the instructor and the arrangement between student and instructor, these questions will be emailed or collected in hard copy by the student.

Exam essays are generally between 10 - 15 pages each, depending on how many questions the students are asked to answer. Total writing for exams in both subfields usually works out to between 60 and 80 pages. Students should work closely with committee members to ensure expectations are clear; in general, essays should demonstrate mastery of the assigned literature, make connections across topics, and provide critical comment.

At the discretion of the committee members, if a student fails an exam he or she may be permitted to take that exam again. Failure to pass the exam a second time will result in a failure to receive the degree. Note that there is no guarantee that committee members will permit a student to take an exam again, especially in cases of plagiarism.


Exams are graded pass or no pass.

The Division of Graduate Studies handles all registration and administrative issues for SF State graduate students. Grad Stop is located in Administration 254. You can visit the Division of Graduate Studies website to download forms and find information about graduation and other petitions.

M.A. Degree Guidelines and Procedures

Graduate Assistants are primarily responsible for assisting the course instructor with facilitating a learning environment for students. The role of a graduate assistant can be challenging and very rewarding. Besides possibly receiving three units or financial compensation, GAs are able to gain valuable teaching experience and are often provided with professional references upon completion.

Graduate Assistants are Required to:

  • Attend the course
  • Hold office hours
  • Being a liaison for students via email or in person
  • (possibly) Facilitate discussion sections
  • Facilitate online forums (if online course)
  • Become ilearn capable (if online course)

Graduate Assistants Might be Able to:

  • Grade assignments; quizzes, term papers, exams (develop grading rubrics)
  • Giving a guest lecture
  • Hold midterm and final review sessions
  • Develop a syllabus
  • Provide administrative support for Professor
  • Select course readings and structure class

Expectations and requirements of any individual TA are determined by the course instructor and depend on the abilities and the needs of the course instructor and the specific course.

General Qualifications

  • Must be currently enrolled and in good academic standing
  • Reliable/professional
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Self Motivated
  • Good, clear communication skills
  • Good sense of judgment
  • B.A. in social science or related subject
  • Detail oriented and well organized
  • Interested in pedagogy/teaching process

Known University Restrictions on Being a Graduate Assistant

  • The graduate student cannot be enrolled as a student in the class they are GA for.
  • The graduate student cannot receive credit (PLSI 708) more than once.
  • The graduate student cannot receive credit (Independent Study) more than once.
  • The graduate student cannot receive payment and credit for the same course.
  • The graduate student cannot be a GA for more than one class per semester.
  • It is not possible for grad students to GA for grad level classes.

Fill out a Graduate Assistant Performance Evaluation.

PLSI 700 Research Methods (Units: 3)

Prerequisite: Graduate Standing.

Introduction to methodologies that pertain to designing a research project in political science. (Plus-minus AB/NC, CR/NR not allowed)

PLSI 701 Graduate Writing in Political Science (Units: 3)

Prerequisite: Graduate standing or consent of the instructor.

A hands-on study of the practice of writing for graduate-level political science. Foundations of good political science writing, the revision process, and writing for scholarly publications. Topics to be specified in the Class Schedule. It may be repeated when topics vary.


  1. Graduate Writing in Political Science: Foundations
  2. Graduate Writing in Political Science: Workshop

PLSI 707 Practicum in Teaching in Political Science In Higher Education (Units: 3)

Prerequisite: Graduate standing or consent of the instructor.

Focus on pedagogical techniques to be used by teaching assistants in higher education in political science, as well as for possible work teaching in higher education after earning the M.A. [Formerly PLSI 781]

PLSI 708 College Teaching of Political Science (Units: 3)

Prerequisite: Graduate standing.

Planning and teaching college-level political science courses. Supervised experience to be evaluated through examination of contemporary literature and practice.

PLSI 740 Seminar in American Politics (Units: 3)

Prerequisite: Graduate standing or consent of the instructor.

American government and politics: political parties, interest groups, presidency, legislative assemblies, judiciary, electoral behavior, and political opinion.

PLSI 742 Public Opinion, Elections, and Media (Units: 3)

Prerequisite: Graduate standing or consent of the instructor.

The seminar seeks to evaluate key elements of the transformation of American politics by focusing on recent developments in political science that model contemporary public opinion, electoral and media processes. (Plus-minus letter grade only)

PLSI 743 Racial Politics and American Democracy (Units: 3)

Prerequisite: Graduate standing or consent of the instructor.

How immigration impacts the practice of racial and ethnic politics in the U.S. Focus on Asian Americans, Blacks, and Latinos.

PLSI 744 U.S. Courts and the Making of Public Policy (Units: 3)

Prerequisite: Graduate standing or permission of the instructor.

Examine how U.S. court decisions affect politics and policy-making in various areas and how citizens and interest groups shape legal outcomes. Topics may include legal activism and the impact of court decisions in areas such as civil rights, abortion, freedom of religion, voting rights, and gun control.

PLSI 746 Urban Politics and Power (Units: 3)

Prerequisite: Graduate standing or consent of the instructor.

Study of urban politics, including competing theories of power, racial and ethnic politics in the urban context, and various issues concerning cities, including governance, gentrification, and globalization.

PLSI 760 Seminar in Comparative Politics (Units: 3)

Prerequisite: Graduate standing or consent of the instructor.

A graduate-level introduction to the field of comparative politics. Topics include the nature of the contemporary state, state-society relations, democratic and authoritarian regimes, regime change, social movements, nationalism, and ethnic conflict.

PLSI 765 Social Movements of the Islamic World (Units: 3)

Prerequisite: Graduate standing or consent of the instructor.

Examines social movements in different Muslim countries and societies, with an emphasis on the Middle East. Topics include social movement theory and comparative case studies of 20th and 21st-century religious and national movements.

PLSI 766 State-Society Relations (Units: 3)

Prerequisite: Graduate standing or consent of the instructor.

State-society relations in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Development of the modern state; how states and societies interact; how social groups limit and empower states.

PLSI 780 Seminar in Political Theory (Units: 3)

Prerequisite: Graduate standing or permission of the instructor.

Graduate-level study of the field of political theory. Reading and analysis of key texts in political theory and how theorists "produce" political theory. Study of political theory methods and how political theory relates to other subfields of political science.

PLSI 786/GER 786/HUM 725 Great Theorists: Walter Benjamin (Units: 3)

Prerequisite: Graduate standing or permission of the instructor.

Walter Benjamin was one of the premier thinkers of the 20th century and a major influence on figures such as Hannah Arendt, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and others. To thoroughly examine Benjamin is to make inquiries into the basis of thought for the previous century and our own.
(This course is offered as PLSI 786GER 786, and HUM 725. Students may not repeat the course under an alternate prefix.)

PLSI 787 The Political Theory of Franz Kafka (Units: 3)

Prerequisite: Graduate standing; upper-division standing is permitted with the instructor's consent.

The writings of Franz Kafka and his influence on philosophers and thinkers ranging from Derrida to Arendt to Benjamin. Although Kafka often seems to be oriented precisely against any kind of system or order from which one could derive any kind of "political theory," this course will look at the ways that Kafka's work supports consistent and specific types of radical and anarchic politics even as it busily undermines and subverts other more conventional and normative forms. (Plus-minus letter grade only)

PLSI 788 Latin American Political Theory (Units: 3)

Prerequisite: Graduate standing or consent of the instructor.

Examination of Latin American political thought from the 16th century to the present. Focus on arguments about Spanish colonialism and Latin American independence and identity, the value of European thought and other sources of knowledge, and the nature of populism and revolution.

PLSI 789 Political Theories of Colonialism and Anti-Colonialism (Units: 3)

Prerequisite: Graduate standing or consent of the instructor.

Explores political theories of colonialism and anti-colonialism from various time periods, geographic spaces, and ideologies. Analyzes how these theories have traveled and been appropriated. (Plus-minus AB/NC/RP grading only)

PLSI 896 Preparation for Written Comprehensive Examination (Units: 3)

Prerequisites: Restricted to Graduate Political Science students with approval of Advancement to Candidacy (ATC) and Culminating Experience (CE) forms by Graduate Studies.

Directed reading in two subfields of Political Science, based upon a standard bibliography and consultation with departmental specialists in that field. Not open to Master of Arts candidates who choose to write a thesis. (CR/NC, RP grading only)

PLSI 896EXM Culminating Experience Examination (Units: 0-3)

Prerequisites: Consent of the instructor, committee chair, and approval of Advancement to Candidacy (ATC) and Culminating Experience (CE) forms by Graduate Studies. ATC and Proposal for Culminating Experience Requirement forms must be approved by the Graduate Division before registration.

Enrollment in 896EXAM is required for students whose culminating experience consists of an examination only. Not for students enrolled in a culminating experience course numbered PLSI 898. (CR/NC, RP)

PLSI 898 Master's Thesis (Units: 3)

Prerequisites: Advancement to candidacy (ATC) for the master's degree and consent of the candidate's committee chair, and approval of Advancement to Candidacy (ATC) and Culminating Experience (CE) forms by Graduate Studies.

(CR/NC, RP grading only)

PLSI 899 Independent Study (Units: 1-4)

Prerequisite: Consent of the graduate major adviser, supervising faculty member, and department chair.

The study is planned, developed, and completed under the direction of a member of the departmental faculty. Open only to graduate students who have demonstrated the ability to do independent work—enrollment by petition.