What Do Undergraduates Study at Sciences Po?

Multidisciplinarity. The third year abroad. History. Political Science. Studying in Paris. Studying outside Paris. Every student has their own reason to pursue their undergraduate studies at Sciences Po. So what are the social sciences and humanities that are taught at Sciences Po? What can this education lead to in the future? We interviewed Stéphanie Balme, Dean of the Undergraduate College, about Sciences Po’s distinctive education style.

What is unique about the three-year bachelor’s degree, also known as the undergraduate college?

Stéphanie Balme: We are a social science and humanities-centred university, and we believe that these disciplines establish a solid foundation to make an impact in the world in the 21st century. This is the degree’s singularity, which is simultaneously a result of Sciences Po’s history and the manner in which we anticipate our students’ futures. We would like them to become engaged citizens in their adult and professional lives. To this end, the studies we offer combine specialised and multidisciplinary teaching, openness to the world, and a commitment to community service - without forgetting the unique network of our seven campuses in France, each with their own geographical focus.

The class of 2020 was the first to have experienced the newly-created curriculum, which was launched in 2017. What does the student journey look like now?

S.B.: The first year is based on a core curriculum anchored in five disciplines: economics, history, law, political science, and sociology. This coursework offers an introduction to each of these disciplines. A sixth discipline, political humanities, is also a core focus of our curriculum, based on the traditions of our university that date back to the creation of Sciences Po in 1872. In the second year, students continue to receive a multidisciplinary education, while progressively specialising their study. 

What does this mean in concrete terms?

S.B.: Students choose one of three possible majors, that propose different fields of study and that are articulated around two core disciplines. Students are guided to root their knowledge in academic methods specific to each major as well. While the Politics & Government major is embedded in the traditional fields of Sciences Po’s DNA in Law and Political Science, nearly two thirds of our student body choose to study in the Economy & Society and Political Humanities majors for in-depth study with contemporary relevance. To give you a concrete example of what this looks like, a student pursuing the Economy & Society major on our Le Havre campus may take a multidisciplinary course in the sociological history of capitalism for fundamental perspectives and complement these with a workshop in intermediate methods in applied math for economists. During the third year abroad, students can also fine tune further to only one of the two core disciplines, if desired.

Are there still core curriculum requirements in the second year?

S.B.: Yes– students build on their common foundation from the first year of the degree with a course in 20th and 21st century history. In addition, all students complete two courses – “Science & Society” and “Cultures and Challenges of the Digital World” – that analyse the intersections and impacts of science and digital cultures in contemporary contexts. The second-year core curriculum offers opportunities to conduct research projects and deepen knowledge while creating common ground for students, who come from over 150 countries and sometimes have radically different cultural backgrounds!

Another Sciences Po tradition is the study of foreign languages. Is it possible to pursue the bachelor’s degree without speaking French?

S.B.: Mais oui! We’ve adopted an idea that originates from Scandinavian universities: all non-Francophone students take French language classes during the programme so as to become fluent in both working languages of our institution. Once mastered, students are encouraged to go further and take full advantage of the foreign languages we offer, by studying one of the multiple languages relevant to their academic interests. As an example of how this plays out, a student pursuing their BA on the Menton Campus may study Arabic for four semesters in order to finitely analyse the dynamics in Middle East-Europe relations.

The other major pillar of the bachelor’s degree is the Civic Learning Programme. Why was the programme created and what are its objectives?

S.B.: Via the Civic Learning Programme students engage in a mission to serve others and simultaneously are given an opportunity to learn about their own individual strengths and weaknesses. The idea is to anchor oneself in one’s society and surroundings. However, it is crucial to understand the context of one’s engagement that goes beyond volunteering. At the end of the degree, students complete a capstone oroject which aims to consolidate the theories studied over the course of the three years of study, and the first-hand experience they gained in their respective fields of engagement.

How would you describe the ideal graduate of this bachelor's degree? What are their qualities? What will they have learned?

S.B.We want graduates to be capable of analysing the major issues in our society from multiple perspectives. Sciences Po’s method trains students to go to the furthest extent of knowledge possible on any given subject. Our university seeks to encourage graduates who are capable of adapting themselves to different contexts and methods. It is this transition from one method to another that encourages creativity and recognizing that ultimately the most important thing is to know is how to ask the most appropriate questions.

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