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Success stories for people without a relevant undergraduate degree?


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I graduated with a degree in healthcare management from a top 20 public university. I completely was too narrow-minded in finding a job and did not focus on what I really liked. I have a great GPA (3.9/4.0), some research experience in psychology, some volunteer experience with service trips, and a lot of professional experience in healthcare through internships. 

Eventually I would like to teach at a university or even just be a higher up administrative person. My old boss told me that in order to go through the ranks of higher ed administration you need a phd as most of his colleagues with one were getting promoted faster than those without. 

Has anyone with a completely different degree gotten a PhD in political science from somewhere competitive (top 20)? what did you do? 

I sadly got talked out of applying to the honors program (I transferred and wanted to do it as a junior) and have no thesis or real writing samples. knowing this, I feel I should pursue a masters, but thats SO expensive and time consuming. I can't find funded political science MA's nonetheless. 

I have thought about getting an MPP or MPA but all I have heard is that it is more application focused and less research focused. 

I'm completely lost but I feel some success stories or advice would be incredibly appreciated. 

Edited by midastwentytwo
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I'm confused why you want to pursue a PhD only in poly sci.  It makes sense if you want to teach poly sci at the college/university level, but if your goal is to work in college administration then a doctorate in any field is acceptable.  A EdD in college admin is preferable since it usually takes less time to complete than a PhD and you don't need to transition from teaching to admin.  But if your primary goal is to teach poly sci, then your lack of prior coursework is problematic.  I would recommend that you apply for an MA first at a public in-state college/university which will be much cheaper than a private institution and will provide the poly sci training you need before you apply for a PhD.

Edited by ltr317
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1 hour ago, Comparativist said:

I don't think your intentions are the right ones.

I have a simple question for you: do you know what you are getting yourself into when you enter a Ph.D. program in political science?

Thanks for your reply @Comparativist. I understand my intentions may seem hazy from this forum post but I assure you that I know what I am getting myself into.

I want to live, breathe, and sh!t academia. I want to be dropped into the deep end and claw my way out under the weight of Aristotle, Marx, and many others as I learn languages, perform research, and hope to publish. Yes, I also understand it can be one of the most math-intensive fields of higher education as with any humanities or social science doctorate. This does not worry me at all. I have taken Calc 1 and 2, statistics, micro and macroeconomics, and have already begun venturing into SaS, Python, and Java coding - although I am quite naive in this venture as of now. 

Yes, I may not finish in four years - or even five or six - but nothing comes easy and the thing I have been told time and time again is that you have to be obsessed with what you are pursuing your PhD in and I am just that. Whether it be the radio, TV, and podcasts or books, articles, and magazines everything I do has some social, political, or economic ties to it whether it is for business or pleasure. I want to teach and do research. I understand that getting a PhD is not some fluffy happy-go-lucky thing as I have some friends that are currently pursuing that route, but I know what I want and it has taken years of battling internal and external barriers to finally realize this. I pursued my undergraduate study because I thought of it as secure and safe for my loans - and so I tailored everything in my undergrad to keep that route secure and safe: high GPA, relevant internships, and any extracurriculars somehow tied to healthcare, education, or social well-being. 

 

If I have missed out on anything - which I am sure I have - I am willing and able to listen to any and all criticism, feedback, and instruction as to what I am getting myself into when I enter a PhD program in political science. It is both a depressing and enlightening time as one is bogged down with assignments, readings, seminars, etc for more than three years and then faced with an ever-daunting academic job market that seems to be ever-shrinking. 

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On 10/2/2017 at 11:47 PM, ltr317 said:

I'm confused why you want to pursue a PhD only in poly sci.  It makes sense if you want to teach poly sci at the college/university level, but if your goal is to work in college administration then a doctorate in any field is acceptable.  A EdD in college admin is preferable since it usually takes less time to complete than a PhD and you don't need to transition from teaching to admin.  But if your primary goal is to teach poly sci, then your lack of prior coursework is problematic.  I would recommend that you apply for an MA first at a public in-state college/university which will be much cheaper than a private institution and will provide the poly sci training you need before you apply for a PhD.

Thanks for your reply @ltr317 and I can understand why my intentions may seem obscure. My ultimate goal/dream is to teach and do research at the university level. If this does not work out then my secondary goal is to work in administation (dean of so-and-so, provost, assistant to the president) if the first goal does not work out. 

I want to teach. I want to do research. And I want to do both of those things very well. If that does not work out, then I still want to work in higher education. I am interested in political science because I enjoy reading political science and have always been fascinated by it along with history. I understand it is an intensively daunting task that is not for the feint of heart but I still want to try to achieve my main goal. I understand that an MA is a possibility but I was wondering if there was anyone that had a similar experience as mine (pursuing a graduate degree in a completely different field) and succeeded to tell the tale. 

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39 minutes ago, midastwentytwo said:

If this does not work out then my secondary goal is to work in administation (dean of so-and-so, provost, assistant to the president) if the first goal does not work out. 

Then you will need secondary credentials in ed or student affairs. Or a lot of experience working in student affairs along side your research/teaching. Admin jobs want you proficient is student learning theories. Look into their accreditation body ACPA for more info:   http://www.myacpa.org/accreditation-and-role-student-affairs-educator

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@midastwentytwo

The audience of TV, podcasts, articles, and magazines is not PhD holders - which is good for those outlets because otherwise most of them would be out of business and credibility. Most people who like to shoot the shit about The Economy are not PhD holders. Maybe it would be good for the more vocal among them to try a PhD, in order to learn how much they don't know, most likely fail out, and shut up - but it is what it is. Don't even mention that your love of podcasts etc inspired you to study political science or that it qualifies you for admittance to a program; it sounds woefully naive.

The problem with evaluating applicants with your profile - good profile, but for a completely different field - is that there is no way of knowing that you'll end up willing and able to do the work. I'm not gonna patronize you about whether you dearly and truly want to commit to the life of the mind - which is irrelevant - but even assuming you are, you have said nothing so far to indicate that you know what academic political science or even academia in general entail. The obvious problem is that you have no relevant coursework or research experience, which is a hurdle but can be overcome. The other problem is that your college education seems essentially vocational. Part of it is appearances and snobbism, and part of it is the question of whether you can write to the level of a graduate student in the social sciences, whether you can synthesize difficult texts and ideas, and basically how much work it would take on the part of the department to get you up to speed. It's one thing to dump 20,000 pages of reading on an otherwise prepared economist or to teach quant methods to an anthropologist, and a wholly different one to teach someone how to research via academic sources and write in the academic register. Academia requires a lot of not soft, but hidden skills that people without exposure to western academia (people from low-ranked institutions, international students, people from vocational majors) sometimes don't have or can't demonstrate.

There's no harm in applying to t20 schools if you can spare the time and money, but I don't see it happening tbh. These programs are extremely competitive, and even people with perfect profiles don't get in. Without a good sample, relevant experience, and good recommenders, I just don't think there's a saving grace here. That said, PhD admissions is increasingly competitive and many people get a master's first, especially if switching fields - there's no shame in it. Some master's are partially or fully funded. If you do end up going that route, the end goal is to come out with 3 really good letters and a curated writing sample/research agenda. And the knowledge and experience of which the latter are symptoms, most importantly.

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2 hours ago, ExponentialDecay said:

@midastwentytwo

The audience of TV, podcasts, articles, and magazines is not PhD holders - which is good for those outlets because otherwise most of them would be out of business and credibility. Most people who like to shoot the shit about The Economy are not PhD holders. Maybe it would be good for the more vocal among them to try a PhD, in order to learn how much they don't know, most likely fail out, and shut up - but it is what it is. Don't even mention that your love of podcasts etc inspired you to study political science or that it qualifies you for admittance to a program; it sounds woefully naive.

The problem with evaluating applicants with your profile - good profile, but for a completely different field - is that there is no way of knowing that you'll end up willing and able to do the work. I'm not gonna patronize you about whether you dearly and truly want to commit to the life of the mind - which is irrelevant - but even assuming you are, you have said nothing so far to indicate that you know what academic political science or even academia in general entail. The obvious problem is that you have no relevant coursework or research experience, which is a hurdle but can be overcome. The other problem is that your college education seems essentially vocational. Part of it is appearances and snobbism, and part of it is the question of whether you can write to the level of a graduate student in the social sciences, whether you can synthesize difficult texts and ideas, and basically how much work it would take on the part of the department to get you up to speed. It's one thing to dump 20,000 pages of reading on an otherwise prepared economist or to teach quant methods to an anthropologist, and a wholly different one to teach someone how to research via academic sources and write in the academic register. Academia requires a lot of not soft, but hidden skills that people without exposure to western academia (people from low-ranked institutions, international students, people from vocational majors) sometimes don't have or can't demonstrate.

There's no harm in applying to t20 schools if you can spare the time and money, but I don't see it happening tbh. These programs are extremely competitive, and even people with perfect profiles don't get in. Without a good sample, relevant experience, and good recommenders, I just don't think there's a saving grace here. That said, PhD admissions is increasingly competitive and many people get a master's first, especially if switching fields - there's no shame in it. Some master's are partially or fully funded. If you do end up going that route, the end goal is to come out with 3 really good letters and a curated writing sample/research agenda. And the knowledge and experience of which the latter are symptoms, most importantly.

Thank you for your reply @ExponentialDecay This was the type of reply I am looking for. I am in no way, shape, or form prepared for applying to a PhD program - that is why I created this post. I am aware of my ignorance and lack of eligibility for the sheer consideration of acceptance. I understand my profile does not warrant my acceptance to any degree which is why I am looking for a route to supplement my position through a graduate degree or an RA position somewhere where I can gain analytical and research skills that could further augment my application. I have been researching programs that provide partial or full funding in the realms of political science and thought I would post here to open up another medium. My hope was that someone would be like "hey, yeah, I was x major but I wanted to do y, here is a program that I did and some others that someone suggested." A pipe dream, I know, but I thought I would post this question and provide some context because you never know what you could find. 

And I would never say podcasts or any of that related material inspired me to study political science; it obviously takes more than scripted 20 minute segments to have someone commit four to seven years of their lives to something. 

Edited by midastwentytwo
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I think others on this thread have given excellent responses so I won't repeat what has already been said.  The problem I'm seeing, beyond what others have already mentioned, is that you do not really have an idea of what political science scholars actually study and research.  As exponential decay has already pointed out, what I would call "lay" political science and "academic" political science are two very different things.  Have you read any articles in journals such as the American Political Science Review or the American Journal of Political Science (just to name a few)?  Have you read books from scholars in academia?  Because it's not enough to just say "i really love political science" and not actually have an understanding of what academic political scientists study.  

If you haven't, then what I think is really important that you do to determine if academia in general, and political science in particular, is for you is to start reading work that scholars in political science write (if you haven't done so already).  Political science is a very broad subject that has many sub disciplines and fields of study, with the four main ones being international relations, political theory, american politics, and comparative politics.  Start by going to the faculty pages of top 20 schools, reading their profiles and seeing if their research sounds interesting to you.  If it does, then try reading articles these scholars have written (which can often be found on their faculty page via a link to their own personal website).  If you have read enough of these articles and you find them compelling--and reading these articles causes you to have questions/ideas regarding the field that you want to further explore--then perhaps getting your PhD in political science may be for you.

The other thing I would say is, although it probably doesn't happen as often, but there are still a good amount of people who have an undergraduate degree that is not in political science but are still able to get into a top PhD program.  To be sure, it will be harder for you, but it's not impossible.  If this is something you are truly passionate about and really want to do, then I say go for it.  But this means other areas of your academic profile will have to be stellar: glowing letters of recommendation from people who know you very well, an exceptionally well written statement of purpose, and very high GRE scores.  

I also think you should really consider getting your MA in political science.  It will you give a taste of what academics in political science actually study, it will give you the ability to have work product in political science you can demonstrate to admissions committees, and it will give you the opportunity to hopefully have faculty in political science that can write you glowing letters of rec.  I also really think it will prove to you whether or not academia is right for you.  Hope this advice helps.  

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I had at least four professors in undergrad who had never studied political science before embarking on their PhDs. The first majored in commerce and french literature, but found the business politics class he took the most interesting. The second was initially involved in musicology and event tech, then law school, then a PhD. The other two initially majored in physics. In each case they found their way into graduate school on a bit of a circuitous path. I say this to highlight that it's certainly possible, but it's important to know what you're getting into before you get there.

I wouldn't write off an MA program just yet - though you might find yourself traveling a bit to do one that is both suited to preparing you for a doctoral program and also affordable. Take a look at the Canadian context. Programs tend to offer financial assistance, or at least teaching positions that cover the cost of tuition. While programs may not directly fund you, there is also the possibility of external scholarships. Take a look at UBC, McGill or The University of Toronto - all are renowned for filtering MA students into either the private sector or PhD programs. 

That said, and and I see that you've been told this, but pursuing a PhD in political science to climb the ranks of a university administration is not the reason you want to go to graduate school. I say this as someone who had someone in their MA cohort do this, and openly claim so. They walked away two weeks in, realizing that the academic pursuits weren't up their ally. This is a 5-7 year commitment for most people. If your heart isn't in it for the research, it can be very difficult , if not impossible, to stick it out. Take a look at top journals and recent work. Talk to current PhD students about their experiences at a number of institutions. Embarking on a PhD in Political Science is certainly not a "safe" path - so why the change now? What topics do you want to eat, breathe and explore for five years? Are you okay with delaying developments in your personal life and committing to 15 hours of seminar a week and at least another 40 hours of work and reading on top of that for the short term?  Are you okay with the idea that your work will always be with you (and far from a 9-5pm job that gives you spare weekends?). Are you okay with living on a fellowship that has you earning less than 30k a year in most places? 

Edited by CarefreeWritingsontheWall
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11 hours ago, midastwentytwo said:

Thanks for your reply @ltr317 and I can understand why my intentions may seem obscure. My ultimate goal/dream is to teach and do research at the university level. If this does not work out then my secondary goal is to work in administation (dean of so-and-so, provost, assistant to the president) if the first goal does not work out. 

I want to teach. I want to do research. And I want to do both of those things very well. If that does not work out, then I still want to work in higher education. I am interested in political science because I enjoy reading political science and have always been fascinated by it along with history. I understand it is an intensively daunting task that is not for the feint of heart but I still want to try to achieve my main goal. I understand that an MA is a possibility but I was wondering if there was anyone that had a similar experience as mine (pursuing a graduate degree in a completely different field) and succeeded to tell the tale. 

The first goal doesn't necessarily lead to the other; just because it doesn't pan out.  You need to demonstrate a high capacity to be a top level administrator.  How are you going to gain administrative experience while you are teaching?  From my experience with past and present professors who became administrators, all had or have extensive teaching experience.  It took a while for them to move up, and all were well into middle age before that happened.  It is a rarity for anyone under forty to even be in such a position; unless one earned a professional degree like an EdD.

If your ultimate goal is to earn a PhD, then a "MA is a possibility" is wrongheaded.  It should be an absolute necessity given you have no background in political science.  Since you want a success story about getting into a PhD program from a completely different field, I'll offer a partial one for now: me.  My undergraduate major was in experimental psychology.  I had a career in budget management, but finally decided to go back to the academy because I developed a strong interest in history a few years ago.  I knew that reading history books for the general public was not the same as reading academic monographs or journal articles.  Given my lack of prior historical knowledge and methodology, I had to build my credentials just to get accepted into a master's program.  So I audited two advanced undergrad history classes, but more importantly I requested to the professors that I would be completing the course requirements and to treat me as if I was taking it for a grade.  They happily complied to my wishes, and both wrote outstanding LORs that helped get me into a master's program.  I am now almost done and hope to finish my master's thesis by the end of next semester, but by early summer at the latest.  Almost all of my professors in my master's program have encouraged me to apply to PhD programs for next fall.  I know the deck is stacked against me, because of my non-traditional, older status, but I am going to give it my best shot because I find academic research and writing fits my character.  If I do get into a PhD program, then it will be a success story.  

I agree with ExponentialDecay's and Neo_Institutionalist's advice that you need to learn some basic political science concepts before you even apply.  Then apply to political science MA programs to get a good grounding because your naivete is obvious.  I say this because you posted in the government affairs sub-forum that you're applying to MPP/MPA programs.  Those are professional programs, much different than political science: practice vis-a-vis theory.  I have an MPA, which is why I worked in budget management.  I'm not sure how interested you are in political science if you're applying to a very different program.  Maybe you should just sit back and think for a year or two, and get some focus.  That's my .02 cents.

 

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If you are serious about doing an MA before PhD, you might look at Canadian schools. There are several programs that offer fully funded MAs. Waterloo, for example, does not have a PhD program but offers an MA in P.Sci with guaranteed funding (through scholarships and TAships) upon acceptance. They also have a great faculty (eg Homer-Dixon, Helleiner, Ravenhill, etc).

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You should take the "do you really know what you're getting into" posts above very seriously for two reasons. First, getting a PhD in political science is really a waste if you don't have some hard-nosed empirical questions you want to research for roughly forever. Second, if you can't succinctly explain your passion to the members of this board, you'll have a hard time convincing an admissions committee.

That said, I graduated with degrees in theatre and english and presently attend a top ten program. My road was tough. After about seven years of professional experience in semi-policy oriented field, I took two undergraduate courses in political science and one in statistics. My applications at all T20 schools were then denied, and I attended a two-year IR MA program on scholarship. Only at this point was I accepted.

Good luck.

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I feel like if your passion is education research/policy and you want to go into higher ed admin, a PhD in Education makes more sense than a PhD in political science. So maybe look into research doctorates (PhDs) in education programs.

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  • 1 month later...
On 10/5/2017 at 12:08 AM, ltr317 said:

The first goal doesn't necessarily lead to the other; just because it doesn't pan out.  You need to demonstrate a high capacity to be a top level administrator.  How are you going to gain administrative experience while you are teaching?  From my experience with past and present professors who became administrators, all had or have extensive teaching experience.  It took a while for them to move up, and all were well into middle age before that happened.  It is a rarity for anyone under forty to even be in such a position; unless one earned a professional degree like an EdD.

If your ultimate goal is to earn a PhD, then a "MA is a possibility" is wrongheaded.  It should be an absolute necessity given you have no background in political science.  Since you want a success story about getting into a PhD program from a completely different field, I'll offer a partial one for now: me.  My undergraduate major was in experimental psychology.  I had a career in budget management, but finally decided to go back to the academy because I developed a strong interest in history a few years ago.  I knew that reading history books for the general public was not the same as reading academic monographs or journal articles.  Given my lack of prior historical knowledge and methodology, I had to build my credentials just to get accepted into a master's program.  So I audited two advanced undergrad history classes, but more importantly I requested to the professors that I would be completing the course requirements and to treat me as if I was taking it for a grade.  They happily complied to my wishes, and both wrote outstanding LORs that helped get me into a master's program.  I am now almost done and hope to finish my master's thesis by the end of next semester, but by early summer at the latest.  Almost all of my professors in my master's program have encouraged me to apply to PhD programs for next fall.  I know the deck is stacked against me, because of my non-traditional, older status, but I am going to give it my best shot because I find academic research and writing fits my character.  If I do get into a PhD program, then it will be a success story.  

I agree with ExponentialDecay's and Neo_Institutionalist's advice that you need to learn some basic political science concepts before you even apply.  Then apply to political science MA programs to get a good grounding because your naivete is obvious.  I say this because you posted in the government affairs sub-forum that you're applying to MPP/MPA programs.  Those are professional programs, much different than political science: practice vis-a-vis theory.  I have an MPA, which is why I worked in budget management.  I'm not sure how interested you are in political science if you're applying to a very different program.  Maybe you should just sit back and think for a year or two, and get some focus.  That's my .02 cents.

 

@ltr317 thanks again for your reply. I stopped getting notifications on my profile and didn't notice that this post kind of blew up. Thanks for your sharing your story, insight, and feedback. I really appreciate it. 

To reply to some of your observations - yes, I am thinking of applying to HKS. I understand it is an investment, it is different from political science, and it does not seem to check out. But from my research I have witnessed numerous people graduate from HKS and go on to prestigious political science, sociology, and public policy PhD programs. I have contacted some of these people as well and they stated that they used the HKS MPP program as a stepping stone to gather solid LoR, take sample courses in their areas of interest, and really test their overall interest and drive in attending further graduate studies. 

I am trying to live near Boston, build my network, do some research, and gain some solid recommendations before applying to PhD programs. I have a solid GPA, a solid GRE score, and some good recommendations along with great extracurricular involvements that I feel would boost my chances of getting in. I have obviously given this some thought - and will give it much more thought - before I embark on another $120,000+ investment. 

Thank you for your feedback and story. I respect the fact that you went to audit classes and went back to school. With the way things are going with this economy I feel people get frowned upon more than ever for pursuing their dreams and risking financial instability. I wish you the best on your success story and the completion of your thesis. 

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On 10/16/2017 at 1:15 AM, GopherGrad said:

You should take the "do you really know what you're getting into" posts above very seriously for two reasons. First, getting a PhD in political science is really a waste if you don't have some hard-nosed empirical questions you want to research for roughly forever. Second, if you can't succinctly explain your passion to the members of this board, you'll have a hard time convincing an admissions committee.

That said, I graduated with degrees in theatre and english and presently attend a top ten program. My road was tough. After about seven years of professional experience in semi-policy oriented field, I took two undergraduate courses in political science and one in statistics. My applications at all T20 schools were then denied, and I attended a two-year IR MA program on scholarship. Only at this point was I accepted.

Good luck.

Thanks for sharing your story. I have been thinking of enrolling in some political science/statistics courses at my local university, but the state school classes are pretty expensive (a whole paycheck per class, basically) which I simply cannot afford whilst paying off prior loans.

I am hoping for a full MA scholarship in order to boost my references, gain some research experience, and write a solid thesis. If you don't mind me asking, how did you find your area of interest to research/propose? I am interested in racial demographics and how they correlate with education/QALY. But I have a slew of other interests in social policy and how it really improves people's quality of life - a matrix of housing, education, and health policy. I have so many interests its very hard to dial in on one. 

Thanks for your reply. I will check out those threads again. 

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On 10/4/2017 at 3:40 PM, Neo_Institutionalist said:

I think others on this thread have given excellent responses so I won't repeat what has already been said.  The problem I'm seeing, beyond what others have already mentioned, is that you do not really have an idea of what political science scholars actually study and research.  As exponential decay has already pointed out, what I would call "lay" political science and "academic" political science are two very different things.  Have you read any articles in journals such as the American Political Science Review or the American Journal of Political Science (just to name a few)?  Have you read books from scholars in academia?  Because it's not enough to just say "i really love political science" and not actually have an understanding of what academic political scientists study.  

If you haven't, then what I think is really important that you do to determine if academia in general, and political science in particular, is for you is to start reading work that scholars in political science write (if you haven't done so already).  Political science is a very broad subject that has many sub disciplines and fields of study, with the four main ones being international relations, political theory, american politics, and comparative politics.  Start by going to the faculty pages of top 20 schools, reading their profiles and seeing if their research sounds interesting to you.  If it does, then try reading articles these scholars have written (which can often be found on their faculty page via a link to their own personal website).  If you have read enough of these articles and you find them compelling--and reading these articles causes you to have questions/ideas regarding the field that you want to further explore--then perhaps getting your PhD in political science may be for you.

The other thing I would say is, although it probably doesn't happen as often, but there are still a good amount of people who have an undergraduate degree that is not in political science but are still able to get into a top PhD program.  To be sure, it will be harder for you, but it's not impossible.  If this is something you are truly passionate about and really want to do, then I say go for it.  But this means other areas of your academic profile will have to be stellar: glowing letters of recommendation from people who know you very well, an exceptionally well written statement of purpose, and very high GRE scores.  

I also think you should really consider getting your MA in political science.  It will you give a taste of what academics in political science actually study, it will give you the ability to have work product in political science you can demonstrate to admissions committees, and it will give you the opportunity to hopefully have faculty in political science that can write you glowing letters of rec.  I also really think it will prove to you whether or not academia is right for you.  Hope this advice helps.  

Thanks for your reply. I have actually been researching a TON of professors, visiting websites, reaching out, and reading their work. Thanks for this advice and I will continue doing it. 

As for the MA, I have also been emailing numerous programs (think: Syracuse, Marquette, George Mason, Columbia, Georgetown, Duke, etc.) that host an MA but they are all non-funded. The answer I would continuously get was 'we may have funding left over after we admit the PhD students' and that is just not an answer I am looking for. I understand that MA's are not usually funded - nor should they be - but it still would be re-assuring to earn at least a partial scholarship for an MA. The cost is simply too great to add onto all of the other extraneous variables (transportation, books, and other living expenses). 

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I didn't realize how expensive professional graduate programs have gotten.  It was a quarter of HKS's cost when I completed my MPA at another Ivy.   If you decide to apply there, you should also apply to less expensive programs in case you don't get a full free ride.

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