Complete Guide to Political Science Internships

This article is designed to help political science students find, choose, and get the best political science internships. So you’ve decided to embark on a career in political science. Congratulations! In time, you will come to find that a political science degree is a rather useful thing to have, and an internship is a great way to experience the real world of political science.

A political science internship in Washington D.C. can be an amazing experience.

A political science internship in Washington D.C. can be an amazing experience. (photo credit: harshlight)

Political science majors have quite a number of career avenues they could possibly explore. These fields include but are not limited to: law, local, state and federal government, business, non-profit organizations, international organizations, polling, research, campaign management, journalism and teaching, both at the college and pre-college level. Many of these careers require individuals who are skilled at analyzing and communicating, as well as those who can display competence at the administrative level.

Of course, while a degree is a good thing to have, education alone isn’t always a fast-track to a lucrative position, especially in a super-competitive job market. Employers are constantly on the lookout for well-seasoned candidates; experienced individuals that can quickly adjust to the workplace and can contribute with minimal on the job training or supervision. How is a Political Science student or a recent graduate supposed to gain this type of vital experience? It’s quite simple. The answer lies in political science internships.

What is a Political Science Internship?

In case you weren’t aware, an internship is basically the white-collar, professional equivalent to what an apprenticeship is for vocational and trade jobs.  An internship is a type of on-the-job training in those white-collar or professional environments, and political science is no exception.

Why Should I Get a Political Science Internship?

There are a number of benefits that come with working as an intern.  Firstly, you’ll get that all-important hands-on experience from working with the company / organization of your choosing. In addition to helping shape that resume of yours, you’ll also get a sense of whether or not you’d like to continue working for the host the company / organization, or if you even want to remain in that particular career field. Secondly, internships are a great way to build professional contacts. You won’t only be fleshing out your list of references with supervisors; you’ll also have a pool of fellow interns who hopefully will be more than eager to put in a good word for you, should the opportunity arise. Thirdly, depending on the type of internship and your educational status, you might be able to obtain college credit for the work you do. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, internships can act as a stepping stone to paid employment with your host company/organization (many professionals begin their careers with a particular company as interns).

How to Choose the Best Political Science Internship

Clearly, the benefits of internships are what make them so worthwhile to many students. Now let’s say you’ve decided to go through and apply for an internship in a Political Science-related field. This does raise some more questions, however. Not all internships are created equal, and you need to decide which one is best suited to fit your educational and career goals. This may seem like a daunting task at first (for as many career options there are for a political science major, there are even more options for internships), but with a bit of research, you will be able to determine the right plan of action.

Washington D.C. is a Great Place to Look

In the world of real estate, there exists a popular maxim; “location is everything”. For individuals pursuing a career in Political Science, this holds especially true when determining which part of the country would be most amenable to that goal. It should come as little surprise then that the very epicenter of American government, Washington, D.C., would be a treasure trove of potential internship opportunities. Unique to the D.C. area are the opportunities to work as an intern for the U.S. Congress, the Supreme Court, and even the White House, along with the numerous government agencies and non-profit organizations that operate out of our nation’s capital. Internships are so valued in D.C., that there exist organizations that specifically deal with filling intern positions and helping new interns get settled in. Washington Student Intern Housing (WISH for short) was established over two decades ago and currently offers placement and oversight services for students and instructors.

Specific Political Science Internships

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There are a lot of options for political science internships.

Of course, not everyone seeking to work in Political Science lives in, or has access to D.C. Not to worry though, there are still internships available elsewhere. Virtually every major university offers Political Science Internships for both undergrad and graduate students (which tend to put greater focus on positions on local and state governments). There are also options aimed specifically at minority students. Intern positions are offered by both the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The Morris K. Udall Foundation Native American Summer Congressional Internship Program is designed to give individuals of Native American heritage a chance to gain experience working in the federal government. For prospective Asian students, the Southern California-based organization, Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics, INC. (LEAP) is helpful in finding internships with non-profits.

The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) is associated with a number of political science internship programs. They have a Summer Internship Program, Wal-Mart Emerging Leaders Internship Program, Communications Internship Program, and CBCF Eleanor Holmes Norton Capitol High School Leaders Program.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) offers a Congressional Internship Program for Latino students that lasts for 8 or 12 weeks on Capitol Hill. This internship is paid, covers transportation and housing, and may be eligible to convey academic credit. It focuses on getting first-hand work experience, leadership development, community service, and networking.

The Fund for American Studies (TFAS) helps manage six internship programs. These programs are Engalitcheff Institute on Comparative Political and Economic Systems (summer), Institute on Political Journalism (summer), Institute on Business and Government Affairs (summer), Institute on Philanthropy and Voluntary Service (summer), Capital Semester (fall and spring), and International Institutes in Prague, Hong Kong and Greece (summer).

The Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI) offers a Leaders Internship and Fellowship Program for undergraduate and graduate students. This program lasts between 12 and 16 weeks anytime during the fall, spring, and summer semesters. Interns work closely with Congress and corporations in Washington, D.C. They also take classes as George Washington University and are given a stipend and have their living expenses paid.

The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities National Internship Program (HACU) has had thousands of students go through it over the years. Interns get weekly pay, paid travel and housing, academic credit, and the experience of a lifetime. Potential interns must be enrolled in a degree seeking program and have a minimum 3.0 GPA.

How to Get an Internship in Poli Sci

Now that you have some knowledge about the types of internships that are being offered, your task is figuring out how to obtain the internship of your choosing. There are several ways to go about doing this. First of all, it would be immensely helpful if you had a plan of action with respect to your degree program and career goals. Should the need arrive, consult a guidance counselor to determine exactly what it is you hope to do, and what degree program would be most useful in achieving that end (since you’ve settled on Political Science, it only makes sense to ask to be referred to the professors and administrators that happened to work in that department). These staff members should be able to clue you in what courses you need to take, and if there are any courses that are prerequisites to entering an internship program. Armed with that information, you should then enroll in the necessary classes and be prepared to work incredibly hard in order to convince your professors that you truly are serious about your goals (not to mention that a recommendation from an esteemed instructor or program director can go a long way).

Look to the Internet for Poli Sci Internships

Another option you might want to look into is online resources for interns and internships. Nearly all of the organizations listed above have websites which give detailed descriptions of their histories, mission statements, internships offered, and contact information, and other tidbits you might find helpful. Your school’s political science department may have a webpage with links to available internships. Help wanted ads for interns will occasionally be posted on online job boards. Websites like monster.com, careerbuilder.com, and indeed.com, all have extensive listings for available internships. There are also websites that specialize solely on internships, such as internshipprograms.com, and internmatch.com. These sites will not only tell you what internships are available, but will also offer guides everything from how to obtain an internship to how one should conduct themselves in a professional manner during the course of the internship. Finally, it never hurts to lean on your contacts for a little bit of help, especially if said contact is a close friend or family member who’s involved with political science. It is strongly advised that you seek out as many opinions and as much guidance with regards to your career plans as you possibly can.

Political Science Internship FAQ

Now by this point, you have a pretty clear of idea of what you expect from a political science internship and what to expect from such an endeavor. However, you still might have some lingering questions about some of the finer details involved with interning. This next section will bring up a number of commonly-asked questions that prospective interns tend to have prior to embarking on this line of work. Hopefully, the answers below will clear the air of any confusion or ambiguity that’s still on your mind:

#1: Are internships paid or unpaid positions?

The simplest answer to this question is; it depends. Not all internships are created equal, and each organization will have a different set of rules and regulations that deal with the duties of an intern and how they are to be compensated, if they are to be at all. As of 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor has established a set of guidelines in order to determine the circumstances under which for-profit private sector organizations and training programs can allow interns to work without financial compensation. There are 6 criteria for unpaid internships:

-1. “The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;”

-2. “The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;”

-3. “The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff”;

-4. “The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded”;

-5. “The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship”;

-6. “The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.”

There are also state laws of which to be mindful. For example, in California, there are additional criteria that must be met to justify an unpaid internship:

-“Any internship should be part of an “educational curriculum”;

-“The interns should not receive “employee benefits”;

-“The training received by interns should be general “so as to qualify the [interns] for work in any similar business, rather than designed specifically for a job with the employer offering the program”;

-“The screening process for interns should not be the same as for regular employment, but rather must be based on “criteria relevant for admission into an independent educational program”;

-“Advertisements or postings for internships should clearly describe the positions as educational or training-based rather than as employment.”

With regards to actual payment that receive, employers are legally prohibited from paying interns wages that are below the federal minimum wage (which as of 2009, is $7.25 per hour).

#2: Is a polisci internship really necessary to find employment?

Surprisingly, the verdict is somewhat mixed on this one. As mentioned earlier, the idea of an internship is to gain enough practical workplace experience that you’ll be attractive to employers who know you won’t need to be held by the hand when you start your job with the company. There is evidence that internships can improve your chances of landing a job; a 2012 survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers revealed that 60 percent of college graduates that participated in paid internships received at least one job offer. There was, however, a gap between paid and unpaid interns. The same survey also found that only 37 percent of graduates who worked as unpaid interns received job offers, whereas 36 percents of graduates without internship experience received job offers. This discrepancy likely stems from the fact that the bulk of paid interns performed more “real work” duties than their unpaid counterparts did, and thus have the type of profile that appeals more to potential employers. In fact, the survey discovered that paid interns spent 42 percent of their time working on professional tasks versus only 30 percent for nonpaid interns.

#3: How frequently do Political Science students get internships?

It’s difficult to give a definitive answer for this one, as the number of political science students and the number of internships being offered will vary between various colleges and companies, though internships in general are still a popular career move for many students. In a 2012 U.S. News study, of the top 330 colleges and universities, 36.9 percent of those schools’ students held an internship prior to graduation.

One comment on “Complete Guide to Political Science Internships
  1. Maina Joseph Kenneth says:

    Wow! Dats a great job the US govt is doing of helping the students to perfect their carriers in that great field of study and experience. If granted a chance to come for an Internship by the US govt,can be very grateful as this would help me to perfect my carrier and realize my potential as i gain more experience in field of study.Thanks to you all guys .
    May God bless Kenya, and de US..

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