University General Course Catalog 2015-2016 
    Aug 14, 2020  

Political Science, M.A.

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I. Contact Information

Robert Ostergard, PhD, Director of Graduate Studies
Mack Social Science Building 218
(775) 682-7767

II. Brief Introduction

The Masters of Arts (MA) program’s, accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, primary objective is to train students on policy within the context of the political science discipline. MA program guidelines aim to serve the University community by:

  • preparing graduates with opportunities for advanced, specialized careers in the discipline of political science (e.g., teaching, politics, private or public sector, government, personal advancement),
  • preparing students continuing into doctoral degree work/research, and
  • developing professional scholars of political science and leadership.

The MA program offers graduate students the opportunity to develop academically and professionally among leading scholars within the political science discipline.

III. Program Focus and Objectives

In general, the MA program focus is to provide students with a curriculum rich in knowledge of the discipline and methodology.  MA students emphasize in fields of American Politics, Political Theory, International Relations, Comparative Politics, and Public Policy. The activities of the Department concentrate upon both undergraduate and graduate education, research, and public service. In addition to the MA, the Department offers the Bachelor’s (BA) and PhD in Political Science, a Master’s of Public Administration (MPA), and a BA in International Affairs.  As a smaller program, our students are able to work more closely with faculty members and senior graduate students to tailor a program that will help them to achieve their research and professional goals. Our graduate students routinely present research at major conferences and publish on their own or with faculty members.
The MA program has the following objectives:

  • to offer students opportunities for advanced, specialized courses in the discipline of political science, leading to a graduate degree
  • to prepare students for additional graduate work leading to a PhD and a career as a political scientist
  • to offer students the opportunity to prepare for a career in teaching, politics, public service and government, or to complement their present careers
  • to support university‐based research involving issues of politics and public policy.

The courses in political science cover a full range of the discipline, both in terms of substance and methodology. Courses in research methods provide the skills necessary for sophisticated analysis of political processes, institutions and policies. More specialized interests are developed through independent courses and projects students take as part of the curriculum.

IV. Admission Requirements

Admission to the Master’s program is competitive; a limited number of applicants are accepted each year. For the Graduate Committee to consider any application, the applications and supporting documentation must be complete. Please note that the Graduate School, which has to approve all applicants, has its own deadlines and regulations. Students are expected to know these and meet and follow them.  

The Graduate Committee reviews admission applications in three cycles:

  • Priority Fall Admission with application for assistantships: February 15; this deadline is for students seeking admission for the following Fall semester with an application for a departmental research and teaching assistantship
  • Regular Fall Admission: April 15; this deadline is for students seeking admission for the following fall semester without a departmental assistantship application
  • Regular Spring Admission: November 1; this deadline is for those seeking admission for the Spring semester. Assistantship offers are generally not made for the spring admission cycle.


  • Undergraduate Degree (B.A./B.S)
  • Minimum 2.75 overall GPA (B.A./B.S.) or a 3.0 GPA for last two years of B.A./B.S.
  • GRE Scores: Verbal and Quantitative scores should be 154 or higher or in the 60th percentile range, though some exceptions are made for students based on upon their skill set and other qualifications
  • 18 credit hours (6 courses) in Political Science/Social Science

Please note that these are minimum requirements; meeting minimum requirements does not guarantee admission to the program. We take into consideration a student’s overall record, as well as fit with the faculty’s areas of expertise and research/teaching interests.

  • Undergraduate and Graduate School transcripts (if applicable)
  • Test Scores:
    • GRE/GMAT/LSAT scores are required of all students and cannot be waived. The test scores should have been taken within the past five years
    • For international students studying under a student visa, the Test of English as a Foreign Language test (TOEFL) is required and you must have a minimum TOEFL score of 500 on the paper‐based exam; 61 on the internet‐based exam, or 173 for the computer‐based exam. Students must also meet all other requirements for International Students, as established by the Graduate School and the Office of International Students and Scholars/ 0074, University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada 89557‐0074. If admitted, International Students should get in touch with the Office of International Students and Scholars immediately to make sure that all needed paperwork is processed as quickly as possible. Some paperwork needed, such as application for Social Security cards, can take weeks to complete, so students are encouraged to start this process once they are informed of their accepted application.
    • The department reserves the right to request that the English skills of incoming International Students be evaluated by the Intensive English Language Center on campus. The results of that evaluation will be used to determine if the student needs to take additional English or other classes to facilitate their success in the program.
  • Three letters of recommendation of which a minimum of two are from professors with whom you have taken and completed coursework.
  • Personal Statement or Statement of Purpose: the 500-word statement should explain to the Graduate Committee why you have chosen the department for your graduate program, your career and educational goals, your potential research agenda and interests, how your research fits with the department’s research focus and any faculty members with whom you have an interest in working.
    • All statements should be printed with double spacing in a standard 12 pt font and have your name at the top of each page.
  • Students applying for departmental assistantships must complete the department specific application for an assistantship.
  • All applicants must begin the application process by creating an electronic application account with the Graduate School of the University of Nevada, Reno.
  • All additional application materials must be mailed to the Graduate School by the appropriate application date:

University of Nevada, Reno
Graduate School/0326
Reno, NV 89557-0326

Please do not mail application material to the department without consulting with the department’s Director of Graduate Studies. The Graduate School evaluates all applications for completion and then electronically forwards them to the department’s Graduate Committee for evaluation and admission decision. We cannot guarantee that materials sent to the department will be included in the student’s application file.

Completed applicant files are reviewed by the department’s Graduate Committee and forwarded to the Graduate School for final approval. The Graduate Committee reserves the right to specify additional application material if necessary. It is possible that the Graduate Committee may recommend admission for a student contingent upon the student taking additional coursework to make up for deficiencies in the student’s record. Such make‐up coursework can generally be completed while the student is pursuing an approved program of graduate study.
Admitted students will receive an email welcoming them to the department, but the official letter of admission will come directly from the Dean of the Graduate School. The Graduate Dean’s letter is the official offer of admission. To accept the offer of admission, students must contact the Director of Graduate Studies by email to acknowledge that they are accepting the admission offer. This communication will allow the department to establish department records and to add the new student to the department’s list serves. If the student does not respond to the department’s offer of admission by the established deadline, they will forfeit their seat for the incoming class.

At the discretion of the Graduate Committee, the committee may recommend admission with a Prescribed Program of Study. Generally, students whose application does not meet standard admission requirements for the department can be admitted under this option. A prescribed program admission requires the completion of one semester of full-time study of 9 credits or 12 credits over two semesters for those working full-time. The student must attain a grade of at least “B” in each course taken over the probationary period.  The courses prescribed may be graduate or undergraduate classes the Graduate Committee has identified as needed to strengthen the student’s skills and academic background. Undergraduate courses cannot be applied as credit toward the graduate degree. Students who successfully complete the prescribed program then continue with regular graduate studies. Students admitted under a prescribed program should complete the Prescribed Program Form in conjunction with the Director of Graduate Studies.

For students who are not sure about Graduate School and want to try a few classes before submitting a full application, the Graduate School allows students to apply for Graduate Special status. This status allows students to take up to 9 credits without being formally admitted to the program. This program can be useful for students who want to try a few classes before making formal application to any graduate program. For those who have had a long absence from the classroom, graduate special status will provide a re-introduction to the classroom environment. The 9 credits can be applied to a degree program once a department admits the student.
Application for Graduate Special Status must be made directly to the Graduate School, not through departments. Students can receive additional information and an application status from the Graduate School’s website.
Students admitted as a Graduate Special should get in touch with the Director of Graduate Studies immediately to discuss which courses the student should take, given the student’s background and objectives.

V. Program Requirements

Students may choose among the three tracks described below to complete the MA degree. Students should discuss with their advisor which track is appropriate for them given their academic and career objectives.
Students must select a field of study from the five departmental offerings below:
1.    American Politics
2.    Political Theory
3.    International Relations
4.    Comparative Politics
5.    Public Policy

A. Thesis Option (30 units)

The Thesis option is highly recommended for students who think they may go on later to graduate work at the PhD level. For students who may pursue a PhD later, the thesis option gives them experience with writing a significant piece of original research that may lay the foundation for work at the PhD level. This writing is crucial for professors to evaluate your ability to do work at the PhD level and will often form the basis for letters of recommendation to our or other’s PhD programs. Students selecting this option do not take comprehensive examinations as the literature review and analysis of the thesis will be extensive enough to judge the student’s depth of knowledge in the field of study.

B. Professional Paper Option (33 units)

The Professional Paper option is for students who want to write a publishable quality research paper that does not require the intense background and review that a thesis will require. Students are required to take a comprehensive examination in their major field prior to beginning their professional paper.

C. Non-Thesis Option (36 units)

The Non-Thesis option is highly recommended for students who are already engaged in their career fields and are seeking to use their degree for professional advancement. A thesis is not required, but additional coursework is needed to demonstrate appropriate knowledge in the student’s major field. Once the student completes all course work, they may schedule their comprehensive examination. Note: if a student fails their comprehensive examination, they CANNOT backtrack and take a thesis or professional paper option to complete the degree. See discussion of comprehensive examinations below for details on the comprehensive examinations and their grading.

VI. Total Units

30-36 units are required.

VII. Notes

  1. GRADUATE GRADES AND GRADE POINT AVERAGE STANDING: Students must maintain a 3.00 grade point average (GPA) to maintain good standing with the Graduate School. If a student’s GPA falls below a 3.00 GPA, the Graduate School will give the student one semester to increase their GPA to a 3.00 level. If the student fails to do so, the Graduate School will dismiss them from graduate studies at the university; this decision is not made by the Department of Political Science. In graduate studies, generally grades below a “B” are considered failing by the faculty and are frowned upon. These grades can seriously affect your progress and will certainly affect a student’s ability to maintain department-level funding. While the Graduate School uses 3.00 as their minimum threshold, the Political Science Department may terminate a student’s program if s/he receives six or more credits of B- or lower grades, or three credits of C or below grades
  2. ABOUT THESES AND PROFESSIONAL PAPERS: Completion of a Thesis or Professional Paper Prospectus: Students are required to write a prospectus (a research plan for the thesis) for their thesis committee, which may accept or reject the prospectus or require revisions to the prospectus. Students should arrange a prospectus meeting in consultation with their committee chairs. This document is crucial for students because it is the plan of research that the committee believes will produce a successful and defensible thesis. For students doing the professional thesis option, a proposal cannot be submitted until the student has successfully passed their comprehensive exam.
    The thesis must represent original and independent investigation that is a contribution to knowledge. The thesis must demonstrate the student’s ability to select and delimit a topic for analysis, to assemble pertinent empirical data, to ground the analysis in a relevant body of theory and literature, to execute a research design, and to express the findings effectively both in written form and in an oral defense. The oral defense is open to the public and anyone with an interest may attend the defense. Other graduate students are highly encouraged to attend defenses so they may see how this process works. The committee will collectively decide whether the student has passed their oral defense; passage of the defense may be contingent upon revisions to the thesis. Successful completion of the defense and any revisions will allow the student to file a degree completion form with the Graduate School. The form will require all members of the committee to concur with the satisfactory completion of the thesis.
  3. ABOUT COMPREHENSIVE EXAMINATIONS: Three times a year (January, May and August), the Director of Graduate Studies will put out a general call for students to notify the department and their committee chairs that they would like to take comprehensive exams. Students notify the Director and their committee of their intent to take the examination. The Director of Graduate Studies will form comprehensive examination committees that will have the responsibility to construct and to grade the examinations. The examinations are in three parts where students choose one question from each part to answer. The form of the exam is an open-book, take-home exam that the student has three days to complete (generally Friday to Monday). Students should take the exams as soon as possible after completion of the required coursework for the exam. Thesis work cannot begin unless the student has passed their comprehensive examination. Four possible grades may be awarded: Pass with Distinction; Pass; Provisional Pass (requiring additional work on the part of the student, as determined by the Exam Committee and the Graduate Director), or Fail. Students receiving a failing grade on their comprehensive exam MAY be granted the opportunity to retake the exam(s) once. PERMISSION TO RETAKE A FAILED EXAM IS GRANTED AT THE SOLE DISCRETION OF THE GRADUATE COMMITTEE.
    Students who fail their comprehensive examination are dismissed from the program. Students on a non-thesis track, WILL NOT have the option of doing a thesis to substitute for a failed examination.
  4. ADVISING, COMMITTEES, AND THE PROGRAM OF STUDY: Upon admission to the program, the Graduate Committee will assign students to an advisor who works in the area of the student’s research interests. Students should be in contact with that professor to discuss their first semester of classes and other coursework advice. 
    At the end of the second semester, students must complete a Program of Study. The Program of Study (POS) is crucial as it represents the plan of study and degree completion. Essentially, the POS is a form of contract with both the department and university— listing all of the courses required to complete degree requirements for an individual student. The POS includes accepted transfer and Graduate Special credits. The student also establishes a committee through the POS, keeping in mind that this committee is not permanent and can change based on the student’s needs and the advice of the committee chair. It is likely that the POS will change over the course of studies, and students must keep this form updated as necessary to reflect changes in their program. All committee members must sign the POS and the Graduate School must review and accept it for compliance with degree requirements.
    The chair of each committee directs class advisement, exam study, and thesis advising. Other committee members serve in an advisory capacity.  They are not the primary advisors, but they are there to offer specific advice about topics related to coursework, exams, and dissertation. Members of the committee should be individuals with whom the student can work, who have some interest in the student’s research, and who can materially aid the student’s development. All of the committee members on the faculty at the university must be designated graduate faculty (professors approved by the Graduate School as qualified to work with graduate students). MA Committees consist of three members.  The chair, a second member drawn from the Political Science Department, and a third from another department (The Graduate School Representative).
  5. TRANSFER/SUBSTITUTION OF CREDITS: A maximum of 9 semester hours of graduate credit MAY be transferred for credit towards the MA degree. These credits may be from another university or from a previous degree program at UNR. Up to nine credits may be taken as “graduate special” courses at UNR (described above). The Director of Graduate Studies, the student’s committee chair, and the Graduate School must approve credit transfers from other universities. Only those courses that relate to a student’s particular program focus will be approved for transfer and/or substitution.
    Courses older than six years, whether transferred in or taken in-residence, cannot count toward the credit requirement for the MA unless those courses were part of a student’s previously completed Master’s or J.D. program.
  6. TIMEFRAME: Students have six years to complete all MA requirements, a timeframe that begins the date of acceptance into the program. No courses taken in residence (including credits taken as a Graduate Special) in pursuit of the MA may be older than 6 years, at the time of graduation from the program.

VIII. Undergraduate Prerequisites

  • Undergraduate Degree (B.A./B.S)
  • Minimum 2.75 overall GPA (B.A./B.S.) or a 3.0 GPA for last two years of B.A./B.S.
  • 18 credit-hours of social science courses taken at the undergraduate level

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