Community Resources: Politics & You
September 27, 2021
If you are on a quest for political change, choosing to make politics a career for yourself is one of the best ways to have a more direct say on what policies are made and how they will be enforced.
Politicians and public servants come from a wide range of backgrounds, but having at least a bachelor’s degree is expected. While you aren’t required to have a college degree, an overwhelming majority (about 95%) of Congress has at least a college education, and so do 100% of Senators. 68% of House members and 77% of Senators have degrees beyond a bachelor’s. The most popular professions are in public service/politics, business, and law (Congressional Research Service, 2020). If you’re interested in a political career, consider obtaining a degree in political science, public administration, legal studies, business, economics, history, or in other related fields (10 Top Degrees for a Career in Politics, 2021). Each degree teaches different skills useful to various sides of politics and each comes with different perks and likely job prospects. Research the fields and jobs most suited to your interests before deciding on a degree. Political science is the most recommended major for starting a career in politics, as political science skills transfer easily to positions such as data analysts, economists, lawyers, lobbyists, social media strategists, political scientists, pollsters, staff assistants, campaign organizers, and other professions (TBS Staff, 2021).
A degree isn’t just a necessary qualification of course—a college education is helpful for learning the skills and acquiring the knowledge needed to influence public opinions and policies. Devoting yourself to politics will require the dedication to learn about political structures, the policymaking process, international affairs, government theory and practices, etc., in order to best serve the public interest (Missigman, 2020). Colleges and universities, in addition to being degree-granting institutions, are also opportunities to join various political, non-profit, and advocacy organizations that can help you build the necessary skills, experiences, and relationships for your political pursuits (Indeed, n.d.). Networking is important for job-seekers, and college is the prime time to start building those connections with student organizations, internships, associations, professors, grassroots campaigns, etc.
Beyond a educational degree, volunteering is a great way to accumulate political experience and learn firsthand the ins and outs of the political landscape and its activities. There are many volunteer opportunities available, whether for political campaigns, internships, or non-profit organizations, if you reach out. For starters, you can check out Volunteering for Political Campaigns [LINK] and Getting Involved in Local Nonprofits [LINK]. If you’re interested in gaining experience through political internships or entry-level jobs, remember to check their requirements.
Once you’ve gotten the education, skills, and experience necessary, you can search for government positions or start your own campaign for political office. For the aspiring activist pursuing politics as a career, work can be found in lobbying organizations, government offices, political action committees (PACs), non-governmental organizations, thinktanks, and/or political campaigns (upper-level government positions are usually located in Washington, D.C) (TBS Staff, 2021). Know the requirements of the positions you are applying for or the offices you’re running for, such as any age, education, skills, or citizenship requirements. It’s best to start local when you first begin—look for entry-level jobs in your local/state offices or committees. Starting local will help you establish yourself as a political player, and will undoubtedly be useful experience before starting your own campaign or moving upwards to higher government positions (Indeed, n.d.).
In pursuing a political career, you’ll inevitably encounter the quirks of the U.S. political party system. Politics in the U.S. is structured by its political parties, each with their own political platforms and leaders. The major parties in the U.S. are the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, the former more liberal and the latter more conservative. It is recommended that you join a political party, as they open up a wide political network that’ll help you be discovered by other political actors and will open up resources that’ll help you pursue your political career goals. Determine your political affiliation and do some research to see which party most appeals to you. For example, find out whether you’re more liberal or conservative with this Political Typology Quiz by Pew Research Center and check out AASCU’s U.S. Political Parties and Organizations list to see what best aligns with your ideologies.
If you’re eager to tackle a large time and money sink, running for an elected office is a great way to serve the public interest and advance your political career. There are many offices ranging from local to presidential. Be sure to check the requirements for your desired position of office. Connections are vital for running for office. Successful campaigns can’t rely on passions alone—they also need hefty amounts of money and people, as well as a winning personality and appealing issue stances on your part (Missigman, 2020).
NCIL has a list of resources that can help you obtain support and learn the necessary skills to prepare you for the campaign process. Their list of organizations, training programs, and books can be found here.
10 Top Degrees for a Career in Politics: Programs for Getting into Government. (2021, February 4). Public Service Degrees. https://www.publicservicedegrees.org/resources/degrees-for-a-career-in-politics/.
Congressional Research Service. (2020, December 17). Membership of the 116th Congress: A Profile. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R45583.pdf
Indeed Editorial Team. (n.d.). How to Pursue a Career in Politics. Indeed Career Guide. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/how-to-get-into-politics.
Missigman, S. (2020, June 25). The 4 Crucial Steps to Becoming a Politician. The Borgen Project. https://borgenproject.org/how-to-become-a-politician/.
Pew Research Center. (2020, August 27). Political Typology Quiz. Pew Research Center - U.S. Politics & Policy. https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/quiz/political-typology/.
Resources on Running for Office. (2019, July 30). National Council on Independent Living. https://ncil.org/run-for-office/.
TBS Staff. (2021, June 15). How To Launch a Career in Politics. The Best Schools. https://thebestschools.org/careers/career-guide/politics/.
U.S. Political Parties & Organizations. American Association of State Colleges and Universities. https://www.aascu.org/programs/adp/votingresources/politicalparties.pdf