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How to Become a Politician: Requirements, Experience & Salary

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If you want to impact policy, change how government functions, and create positive change in people’s lives, then becoming a politician may be perfect for you! Anyone, with any background and education, can become a politician. But if you want to increase your chances, you need the right education and a background that transitions into a political career path. In this article, we’ll answer a variety of topics related to how to become a politician, including:

How to Become a Politician

Lots of people want to be a politician. But few want to go through the long process to become a politician, which can be exhausting and frustrating. However, there really are no requirements to be a politician. In fact, the only requirements to be a politician are the will to go through the long and uncertain process of getting into politics. If you want the life as a politician, there really is is no specific path.

For some careers, there are clear steps, steps that are almost mandatory, and, in some cases, literally mandatory. Take a doctor or engineer as examples. If you want to work in one of these careers, you need a specific education and specific experience. You cannot work in these careers if you don’t have the right education and training.

But how to get into politics is much different than how to become a doctor or lawyer.

Yes, there are some “typical” or “common” backgrounds for how to get started in politics, but politicians come from all sorts of backgrounds.

Past jobs from current and former U.S. Senators and Representatives include:

  • Mayor
  • Physician
  • Attorney
  • Accountant
  • Social worker
  • Journalist
  • Engineer
  • Psychologist
  • Sheriffs
  • Microbiologist
  • Educator
  • Business owner

This list, which is far from comprehensive, shows that large variety of past careers for politicians.

However, it appears that there are a few careers and industries that supply a large portion of our county’s politicians. These careers include law, education, and administration. If you are wondering become a politician, it may be best to study these academic areas.

There really is no clear-cut path to becoming a politician. Working as an aide for an established politician is certainly a common way to enter the field and make the right contacts. Law school is also common; it’s no coincidence that another word for politician is “law maker.”

In general, it’s common for politicians to start small and work their way up to higher positions. Many begin by working on city councils or county boards, then moving to state legislators, then becoming part of the federal government through elected office, including the House of Representatives and the Senate, the two bodies that make up the United States Congress.

So if you want to become a politician, you can do just about anything. But if you want to have a high chance of earning an income in this career, there are some common steps for how to become a politician, steps that will increase your chances of having the honor to participate in local, state, and national governments.

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Politician Job Description: What Does a Politician Do?

A politician is someone who participates in how the country, state, county, or city is organized and operated. Politicians, at least in this country, are elected through voting. Many people who are involved in politics, however, are not elected but are instead appointed. The Secretary of State, for example, is not an elected position but is instead appointed by the U.S. President and confirmed by the Senate. Most people consider the Secretary of State as one of the most powerful offices in the country, although they are not elected, but rather appointed by and serve under the will of an elected official.

Generally speaking, we all know what a politician is, but can we really define what a politician does? Of course, that depends on the specific position. But most politicians share similar responsibilities.

Common duties will include:

  • Listening to public concerns
  • Proposing new laws
  • Reviewing proposals from other politicians
  • Voting on potential laws or to withdraw existing laws
  • Attending public meetings
  • Serving on committees
  • Meeting with constituencies in large and small gatherings
  • Campaigning for election

As you can see, a politician job description includes many different tasks.

Some politicians are full-time, meaning it’s basically the only job they have. However, there are others who have only part-time political careers. Many state legislators, as well as members of city councils and county boards, participate on a part-time basis. These are often the easiest political office to run for, although the pay is not high.

Does all of that sound like a good career for you? Do you want to know how to start a political career? If so, keep reading to learn how to get started in politics.

Does a Politician Have to be a Member of a Party?

We usually consider a politician as a member of a political party, but there are many politicians who are not associated with any political party whatsoever. There are independent members of the U.S Congress, including Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. (That’s right, despite vying for the Democratic presidential ticket, Mr. Sanders is not, in fact, a Democrat.) Many local politicians are not members of a party system either.

Politician Education Requirements

What Degree Do Most Politicians Have?

What degree do most politicians have? As we have established, there is no one way to become a politician. However, there are some common ways to land a job working in government.

Again, there is no requirement as far as education. For good reason, there is no law or regulation that says you have to have a college degree, or even a high school degree, to become a politician. Getting a job in politics, however, is much easier with at least some college courses.

Most politicians will have at least a bachelor’s degree. In today’s marketplace, this has become standard education level for many positions, and a bachelor’s degree in any form is common for most people, including politicians.

Best Degrees for Politicians

So a bachelor’s degree or higher is preferred. But what should you study? If becoming a career politician is your ultimate goal, there are a few degrees you should consider.

Political Science

Probably the most obvious is a degree in political science. This subject, which is one of the best degrees for politicians, covers government and it roles and functions in society, including how it can help people and how government can become a hinderance to individuals.

Throughout a political science degree, you’ll learn how to develop effective policy, conduct research, collect and analyze data, and pass effective measures. If you want to become a career politician, this may be the best education. A political science degree online could be a good way to start your political career path. A political science degree salary can also be very lucrative, even if you don’t work in politics.

Courses in a political science program may include American politics, international relations, foreign policy, and political theory. Many programs will focus on the historical foundations of politics, such as the United State Constitution and how America’s ever-evolving culture shaped policy, elections, and governing bodies. From learning about local governments to studying international relations, a political science degree gives you a strong foundation for pursuing this interesting and engaging career. There are many jobs for political science majors right out of college, and a bachelor’s degree will prepare you for these positions.

A master’s degree is also a potential option. What can you do with a masters in political science? This education will increase your understanding of the political process and make you a more effective politician, advisor, or administrator.

Public Administration

Public administration, whether we realize it or not, has an impact on our lives every single day. Should a city build a recreation center? Should funding be spent on hiring fire fighters or purchasing more garbage trucks? Should a new bar and restaurant be allowed near a school? These are just a few of the millions of potential questions that are analyzed by public administrators.

In a public administration program, you’ll learn to tackle issues like human resource management, public finance, budgeting, legal issues, and community leadership. Courses may include organizational behavior, non-profit management, local government, and more.

Economics

While politics is not all about finances and budgeting, there’s no question that money plays an important role in this career. As a politician, you will be responsible for spending taxpayers’ money, making important decisions about which programs should be funded, how much should people be taxed, and how much should be spent in certain areas. This makes an economics degree essential.

Economists often work is supportive roles in the government, providing insight and influence while helping to shape policy. But it’s also possible for economic experts to not only work as advisors, but to become politicians themselves. Using their education in finances, market research, statistics, calculus, and more, economists are a vital part of our government.

Business Administration

Running a government, in many ways, is a lot like running a business. You need to put the right people in the right roles. You need to spend money wisely for the best results. You need to understand the complexities of large organizations.

With a business administration degree, you will be well-equipped to work as a politician. These programs develop your critical thinking skills, organizational understanding, and mathematical reasoning, and may include courses such as marketing, management, basic accounting, and finance. This degree is how to become a politician without studying politics.

Public Policy

An education in public policy is all about understanding what the voters are thinking and how to craft policies that help achieve specific goals. Therefore, it’s one of the best ways for how to become a politician. These programs teach you to develop policy from the ground up, starting with researching what goals to pursue, them moving into the preparations and final execution of a policy goal.

Public policy may sound a lot like public administration. They are, admittedly, very similar. However, a public policy education tends to be more focused and narrow. In this degree, you take a deep look at all aspects of policy, including infrastructure and public opinion. In administration, the education tends to be broader, focusing on leadership and communication. Policy tends to focus on the research, while administration focuses on implementing specific policy. These are just a few of the subtle differences.

How to Get Into Politics Without a Degree

Can you become a politician without a college education? The short answer is yes. The long answer is yes, but you will have a hard time achieving a sustained political career if you don’t have a college education of some kind. Getting into politics is difficult; it’s even harder if you don’t have an education.

In the past, there have been numerous politicians, including U.S. Presidents, who have not had formal college educations. George Washington, for example, never studied at a university. But that was in the late 18th century, when college education was extremely exclusive; other circumstances and qualities made Washington the right man for the job. Harry Truman is the last President to have no college education. While nothing is impossible, it seems unlikely that there will be another U.S. President without a college degree, as this has become the standard education, equivalent, in some ways, to a high school degree in decades past.

You could certainly serve in local and even state governments without a college degree, but there’s little doubt that a college education will help your chances if you are wondering how to become a politician.

Career Outlook

Pros & Cons of Becoming a Politician

Now you know how to become a politician. But is it right for you? Is getting into politics the right option for your future? As a politician, you will experience many ups and downs. On the positive side, you’ll be working in a career that can, when done right, have a major positive impact on others. You’ll get to meet new people, work with a variety of experts and professionals, and travel to various areas for your career.

But it’s extremely difficult as well, and life as a politician can be hard. It’s almost impossible to have a private life, and you’ll work under a lot of stress. There is a huge amount of paper work, and the job requirements will often take you away from home and family.

How Much Does a Politician Make?

Some careers have specific, predictable earnings. Others do not. As you may have guessed, politicians are one of those professions where earnings can vary widely.

According to Zip Recruiter, the average “political salary” is $38,673. But as you may have guessed, some make far more than that.

According to the U.S. House of Representatives Press Gallery, the President of the United States makes $400,000 a year, while the Vice President earns $230,700 annually. Members of the House of Representatives earn $174,000 a year, but ranking members, such as minority and majority leaders, as well as the speaker, can earn more.

State governors have different salaries based on the state. According to Ballotpedia, New York has the highest-paid governor, giving their elected executive $225,000 annually. Maine has the lowest-paid; in this state the governor earns $70,000 a year.

Pay for state legislators is even more far-ranging. California pays their state officials over $114,000 a year, while New Mexico pays no salary at all and only gives a per diem for travel and lodging expenses. (Pay depends heavily on whether the state requires full or part time work as a legislator.)

How Many Politicians Become Millionaires While in Office?

It is entirely possible, and perfectly legal, to become a millionaire while in office. While your salary may not be in the millions, book deals, speaking engagements, and similar income-generating efforts can propel your net worth to $1 million or more. Of course, everything needs to be legal and no payments can influence your political decisions, but it’s certainly possible, and common, to become a millionaire while in office. Exactly how many politicians become millionaires while in office is not certain, but there are many wealthy politicians at all levels of government.

Get the Education You Need to Change the World!

Whether you want to contribute to your local city council or have ambitions to be the President of the United States, the right education can make a big difference in your political career! If you are ready to become a politician, make sure you have a degree that sets you on the right path.

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