Majors and Minors

Q: Instead of a major in Government, some colleges have a major in Political Science or Politics. Is there a difference?

No. We are all trained in political science, and the labels for particular departments are somewhat arbitrary. The standard division of fields in each of these departments is US politics, comparative politics, international politics, and political theory.

Students majoring in Government (GOV) must take at least one class in each of four standard fields of political science: US politics, comparative politics, international politics, and political theory. View requirements for the Government major.

The International Relations (IRL) major, in contrast, is an interdisciplinary major administered by the Government Department. Students must master courses taken from at least three departments: GOV, Economics, and History. In particular, IRL majors must take six GOV courses in three fields: international politics, comparative politics, and foreign policy (a sub-field of international politics). They must also take four non-GOV courses at the 200-level or beyond. These courses include an Economics course that focuses on an aspect of international economics, economic relations among a group of countries, or the economics of a particular country other than the United States. A History course is required as well, and its primary focus must be on a non-USA part of the world and it must be fairly contemporary. In addition, two more non-GOV courses must be taken. Finally, the foreign language requirement for the IRL major is more demanding than for most majors (including Government). View requirements for the International Relations major in the College catalog.

Q: Can I minor in International Relations or Government?

There is no minor in International Relations. Because the IRL major requires courses from three different departments (Government, Economics, and History), such a minor would be too diffuse to provide a significant depth of study comparable to what students gain from minors in Government, Economics, and History. An alternative, however, is for students to design their own integrated interdisciplinary minor though the SDIMM program: Student-Designed Interdisciplinary Majors and Minors.

The closest we offer to a minor in International Relations is a minor in Government with a concentration in international politics, and all five courses for the minor are GOV courses. Four or five of the courses must be from fields of international politics or foreign policy, and one may be from comparative politics. Other concentrations for a Government minor include comparative politics, US politics, public policy, and political theory. View requirements for the Government minor in the College catalog.

Q: Can I double count courses between majors?

Sometimes. This works most easily for students majoring in International Relations and one of the non-GOV academic fields that count for the IRL major. For instance, ECO 210 (International Economics) and ECO 211 (International Trade)—among other courses—could count toward both the IRL and ECO majors (if the ECO major had this concentration). Yet other Economics courses that do not count toward the IRL major would work only for the ECO major (e.g., ECO 205 and 206, Intermediate Macroeconomics and Microeconomics). If you think that a course might double count, be sure to clear it first with your IRL major advisor.

One cannot double-count courses between majors in Government and International Relations. With six GOV courses required for an IRL major and nine for a Government major, double counting courses to get credit for two majors would be ridiculous.

Q: Is a double major desirable?

It can be, as long as acquiring two majors does not involve a thin exploration of one or both majors. For instance, a major in either Government or IRL would nicely complement a major in a foreign language. The combination would make it easier for you to conduct original research in another country. Usually, however, having just one major is fine (sometimes in combination with a minor, a center certificate, or language study). With one major, you have the time to take additional advanced courses and seminars, and perhaps you could also do original research through an honors thesis or an independent study.

Problems can arise with multiple majors that you may want to think about. First, your planning for the second major might not be conducive to gaining a mastery of the second field. Sometimes, for instance, a student may find that they have taken a number of courses in another field and then seek to learn the minimum they would have to take to complete the major requirements. The result might be a hodge-podge of courses that technically fulfills the major but which does not constitute an integrated program of study. Second, with two majors you may not be able to take additional courses in your first major (let alone explore new fields of study within the original major). Third, if there is substantial overlap between two majors (with 2-3 courses double counting), your effort might resemble "credentialism"—a desire to graduate with lots of credentials.

Remember, future employers and graduate schools are more interested in the quality of the work you have done and in the skills and knowledge you have acquired, than in the fact that you have fulfilled the requirements for several majors. Bottom line: discuss your thoughts with your academic adviser.

Q: Can I count courses for my major and a minor?

The College rule is that one (and only one) course may count for a major and a minor.

Because the IRL major has two hidden prerequisites (i.e., ECO 111 and 112, introduction to macroeconomics and microeconomics) for the required course in international economics, you are free to apply these 100-level courses toward an ECO minor.

Advanced Placement and Transfer Credit

Q: Can I get credit for Advanced Placement (AP) courses?

Not exactly, but the issue is complex. Relevant AP courses for the GOV and IRL majors could be in US politics, US history, international relations, or comparative politics. To count for anything, you must have received either a 4 or a 5 for the AP course taken in high school. AP courses that meet these criteria do not count for credit toward the GOV and IRL major (or GOV minor). What they could do, however, is to count as the relevant 100-level prerequisite for a 200-level GOV course. The details would need to be worked out with the particular professor offering the 200-level course, but in general a qualifying AP course enables freshmen and sophomores to take a 200-level course earlier than otherwise.

Q: Could I get transfer credit toward the major or minor for a college course I took while in high school?

Maybe. College courses taken in high school at a quality college or university could satisfy a 100-level GOV course requirement. You would need to discuss the issue with the GOV professor who is your academic adviser, and sometimes also the member of the faculty who teaches the relevant course.

Q: Can I transfer political science courses I took during my freshman year at another college?

Yes, with permission of your academic adviser, if you were assigned a Government professor in anticipation of your declaring a major in GOV or IRL. In general, political science courses taken at quality colleges and universities can count toward the GOV major and the GOV courses required for the IRL major. Concerning non-GOV courses that might count toward the IRL major, discuss them with your IRL major adviser.

Courses at Connecticut College

Q: I am not a GOV or IRL major or minor, and I do not intend to declare the major or minor. I want to take a 100-level GOV course, however. Is this possible?

Yes, if you are a freshman or sophomore. Our 100-level courses satisfy the General Education requirement for a social science course, and they are open to all students. They are designed for freshmen and sophomores, however, and juniors and seniors should seek alternative courses.

Q: How many 100-level GOV courses should I take?

Both the GOV and IRL majors count up to two 100-level GOV courses toward the major. The GOV minor counts one 100-level GOV course in the field of the minor's concentration. View requirements for the government major and minor.

Q: Can I take a GOV course without a prerequisite?

It depends. Some courses beyond the 100-level have a prerequisite that applies to all students. For instance, GOV 206 (US Foreign Policy toward Latin America) requires GOV 113 (International Politics) for all students. Many other courses require an appropriate prerequisite for sophomores but not for juniors and seniors. There are additional variations. For accurate information on prerequisites for particular courses, please follow the links to the course descriptions in the College Catalog.

Q: If I preregister for a GOV course, am I likely to get in?

It depends. If a course has a prerequisite and you have not met the prerequisite, then you will not be admitted. If you have met the prerequisite, your chances are better but are not assured. Our 100-level courses have an enrollment limit of 40, freshman seminars a limit of 15-17, 200- and 300-level courses a limit of 30, and 400-level seminars a limit of 15. For high demand, limited enrollment courses, priority is given to declared GOV and IRL majors over non-majors; to declared GOV minors over other students; to seniors over juniors and sophomores, and juniors over sophomores.

Q: What if I am a declared major or minor but I get deferred from a GOV course?

You can try several approaches. First, if you are a sophomore, your chances of getting in will be much better the next year. Second, you could email the professor and explain how the class fits into your planned course of study. With electronic preregistration, however, professors have less control over admission to their courses than in the past. Still, it could be worth a try. Third, seek advice from your academic adviser.

Q: Can I take a second 400-level seminar?

Yes, space permitting. The first priority goes to senior GOV and IRL majors who have not yet had a 400-level seminar.

Q: If I do an Honors Thesis or an Independent Study, do I still have to take a 400-level GOV seminar?

It depends. If the thesis or 400-level independent study is supervised by a Government professor, and if it fits your major, then you do not have to take a GOV seminar. You may take a seminar if you wish, however.

For IRL majors, if the thesis or independent study is not supervised by a Government professor, you may be able to count it as one of your non-GOV courses needed for the major. You would still need to take the GOV seminar, however.

Study Away Courses

Q: If I study away during my junior year, how many courses can I count toward my major?

Up to two or three, depending on how long you are gone. For both the GOV and IRL majors, if you study away one semester you may count up to two of the courses. If you are gone two semesters, you may count up to a total of three courses. To count, the courses must be appropriate. You should work out possible courses with your major adviser before you study away. When you return, you need to meet with your major adviser again to decide which of the courses you intend to count toward your major. Your adviser will have a blue form, "Variation in Courses Used to Satisfy the Major or Minor," and together you will fill it out and sign it. Then you will take the form to the Department Chair for his/her signature, and the Chair will deposit the form in the Office of the Registrar.

Q: What if I study away on a SATA (Study Away/Teach Away) program?

On a SATA program you will be taking some courses with Connecticut College faculty. For these courses, it is just like your having taken the courses at Connecticut College; that is, they are not study away courses. If these courses count toward your major in GOV or IRL, then you will receive full credit for them. If you take courses at a college or university in the SATA country, however, then those courses are study away courses—and the rules for study away courses then apply. Please see the answer to the preceding question.

Q: How do grades for study away courses apply?

For study-away courses that you and your advisor decide apply toward your major, the grades for these courses count toward your major GPA. At the end of the senior year, moreover, they also count as the Department Chair calculates grades for the "distinction in the major" honor.

For Latin Honors, grades for all study away courses are counted.


Q: How do I find an academic adviser for my major or minor?

Declaring the GOV or IRL major or a GOV minor requires that you have a Government professor for your academic adviser. Most students declare a major or minor with a person they have had a course or two with. Sometimes that person may have too many advisees, however, or will be on sabbatical the semester you intend to declare. In this circumstance, see the Department Chair to discuss other possibilities for an adviser.

If you plan to major or minor in Government, the standard procedure is to select an adviser whose field of expertise overlaps your primary interest.

  • US politics: Professors MaryAnne Borrelli, Bill Frasure, Dorothy James
  • International politics: Professors Tristan Borer, Alex Hybel, David Patton, William Rose, Caroleen Sayej, John Tian
  • Comparative politics: Professors Tristan Borer, Jane Dawson, Alex Hybel, David Patton, Caroleen Sayej, John Tian
  • Public Policy: Professors MaryAnne Borrelli, Tristan Borer, Jane Dawson, Bill Frasure, Dorothy James
  • Political theory: Professor John Coats
  • If you wish to major in International Relations, the advisors are Professors Borer, Dawson, Hybel, Sayej, Patton, Rose, and Tian.

When you think you know who you would like to be your adviser, visit that person during his or her office hours. Bring with you the appropriate form from the Office of the Registrar. For declaring a major, it is the small blue and white form: "Petition for Declaration or Change of the Major/Advisor." For a minor, it is the small red and white form: "Petition for Declaration or Change of the Minor/Advisor."

Q: What if my adviser will be on sabbatical or on a SATA program?

If your adviser is going to be away for one or two semesters, the department will allocate that person's advisees among other department faculty. Generally, the "substitute advisor" will be listed your regular adviser's office door, along with his or her office number and office hours. The substitute adviser will have your advisee file and therefore will be prepared to offer you sound advice. If you have any questions, see the Department Chair.

Q: What if I wish to change advisers?

The first step is to approach a potential new advisor and learn if he or she has room to take on new advisees. If a shift is possible, then you could discuss substantive issues that might justify the switch. Bring with you the small form to change advisers: "Petition for Declaring or Change of the Major (or Minor) / Adviser." The one for majors is blue and white, and the one for minors is red and white.


Q: I am thinking about doing an Honors Thesis during my senior year. How do I proceed?

Begin reading about Honors Study in the Government/International Relations Course Brochure.  If you wish to apply for Honors Study, download the Government/IR Honors Study Application

Q: What does it take to earn "Distinction in the Major"?

As the Department Chair goes over a senior's final grade transcript, 3.50 is the threshold GPA in courses that apply toward the GOV or IRL majors. Courses taken while studying away present special complexities that are discussed under the fourth question above.

Q: What about "Honors and Distinction in the Major"?

To earn "Honors and Distinction in the Major," a senior GOV or IRL major must earn an A or A- grade for the Honors Thesis and have at least a 3.70 GPA in courses that count toward the major.

Q: What is Pi Sigma Alpha?

Pi Sigma Alpha is the national political science honor society, and we have a chapter here at Connecticut College. Admission into the society requires a high GPA in political science courses that count toward the GOV or IRL major. The GPA requirement is 3.70.

Q: Latin Honors

Latin honors are determined by your overall GPA, including major and non-major courses. Grades for all transfer credits and courses taken away count toward this GPA. For more information, see the College Catalog.


Q: I am a GOV (or IRL) major, and I would like to gain some practical experience through an internship to complement my course work. How do I find out about my options?

The simplest approach is to view the link about internships. It will likely answer many of your questions.

Q: I am a GOV (or IRL) major and I would like to participate in a certificate program. Those programs involve an internship. Can I get credit for the internship toward my major?

It depends. The internship could count toward the GOV or IRL major if it fulfilled the requirements for credit. 

Q: I am a sophomore major, and I have an opportunity to do a summer internship with an interesting organization. They say that academic credit must be earned from the experience, however. How do I pursue that?

The answer depends on if you are seeking one general credit or four credits toward the GOV or IRL major. The one-credit option is easier to pursue than the four-credit option.

The Career Office has a one-credit course in which students earn one academic credit for an internship by working with a Connecticut College faculty member on an associated written project. This arrangement gives the internship site reassurance that the student and the college are serious about the learning experience.

It is more challenge, however, to obtain academic credit toward the GOV or IRL major. See the departmental course brochure, which elaborates upon this issue. The short answer, however, is that to gain academic credit the internship must be planned in advance with a faculty member and must constitute an academic experience. Some students fulfill these requirements through an established internship in an excellent study away experience (e.g., with the Washington Semester at American University). Others may work with a member of our Government faculty here to construct an academic experience, which involves about as much work and commitment as an independent study.

To help students navigate through the various options through their programs, students are advised to consult with Career advisers, faculty affiliates of the four centers, career counselors, or their major adviser.