American politics

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American politics is one of the four subfields of the political science department. You'll be surprised how many of your Columbia College counterparts come out of the closet as aspiring politicians and lawyers on major declaration day your sophomore year! Unfortunately, this is also probably the weakest subfield in the department. For the past few years, the department has been struggling to revitalize it after several professors retired or went on leave a few years ago.


The Intro to American Gov't course was once the dept's hallmark, taught by Charles Hamilton. Now however, it's just something to get through on the way to more exciting advanced level courses. You may be tempted to jump to the dept's upper level courses immediately, but make sure you take the intro course first. The background that you learn is essential later on in the major. Rest assured that the workload for this course is generally pretty light. If you're interested in a more in-depth intro course, try taking Dynamics of American Politics at Barnard with Richard Pious. It's a difficult course, but very rewarding. Columbia doesn't technically allow you to take it to satisfy a major requirement, but they can be talked into it.

Barnard courses

The good news is that most other Barnard courses are counted towards the major. The Barnard American gov't dept is much better than Columbia's, so you should get used to exploiting the resources available to you across the street. You are required to take a senior seminar sequence to complete the major, but if you can't find any at Columbia that interest you (which is highly likely since the dept only offers one or two American seminars per semester), you can usually talk a Barnard professor into letting you do independent study with him/her on a topic that you're interested in to satisfy the requirement. You can also do an honors thesis within the Columbia department, but you have to apply for this program, and it's very competitive. If you have your eye on this goal, work hard to have a high departmental GPA!


As far as the workload in the major goes, it is reading intensive in all classes from lectures to seminars. It is manageable, however. The standard requirements for a poli sci lecture at Columbia are a midterm and an in-class or take home final. At Barnard, it's likely that you'll be required to write 3 ten page papers with no midterm or final. For seminars, there are weekly readings which your professor will usually require you to submit an e-mail response to, and a 25-30 page research paper. Much of your grade will be based on this paper and your in-class participation -- one thing to remember as a poli sci major is don't forget to speak your mind!

List of courses


The political science department is trying to become more user-friendly. We can look forward to several new hires in the American government faculty in the next couple of years, so the quality of classes at Columbia should eventually be more on par with those at Barnard. Advising is minimal at best, but if you find a professor you like, befriend him/her and they'll be more than happy to help you out. One good thing about the department's large size is that they can be talked into letting majors do almost anything. They allow a lot of leeway with related courses and it never hurts to ask about things like independent study.

In the meantime, you can have an academically rewarding experience as an American Gov't major if you are prepared to use your charm to get what you want out of the department at Columbia and if you are prepared to take a good amount of classes at Barnard. You should also take advantage of the great International Relations faculty at Columbia when satisfying the major requirements that are not in your American gov't subfield.