Diplomatic Careers

For students of any major who have an interest in living and working abroad, diplomatic careers are an option worth considering. As long as you have U.S. citizenship, strong communication skills, and a genuine interest in improving American relations with other countries and communities abroad, chances are you’ll find a diplomatic path that will align with your skills and experience. Careers.state.gov has tons of information to help you figure out where you want to go, as well as recommended reading lists and exploration resources to help you figure out how


One of the best ways to prepare yourself for a diplomatic career during your time as a student is to take advantage of the many internship opportunities offered by the Department of State. These opportunities allow you to gain relevant experience working with the federal government, and to network with professionals who can offer an insider perspective of this field.

  • Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS): Virtual internships in a huge variety of areas that are completed 10 hours/week during the academic year. Applications are open July 1st-31st.
  • Department of State Student Internships: Intern in Washington D.C. or abroad at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Be aware that these opportunities are unpaid, and the security clearance process can take a long time, so you need to apply nearly a year in advance and work with your advisors through the process. 
  • Pathways Internships: Paid, full-time internships with DOS offices in the United States. Postings close after a certain number of candidates apply, so be ready to submit your materials quickly!

Foreign Service internship Program: This program, focused on recruiting underrepresented students to the Foreign Service, spans two years and provides a paid summer internship in Washington D.C. the first year and a paid summer internship abroad the second.

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Fellowships are a great way for recent graduates to fully-fund grad school and kickstart a career in the Foreign Service. Both the Pickering and Rangel Fellowships provide support for graduate school (limited to 2-year masters programs relevant to a career in the Foreign Service) and professional development opportunities for selected fellows. For students with IT skills, the Foreign Affairs Information Technology Fellowship provides funding for two years of a masters program OR bachelor’s degree in IT, along with internships and professional mentoring opportunities.

  • Though it’s easy to think about diplomatic careers as a singular role, there are actually several other paths possible within the Department of State. 
    • Foreign Service Officers are the most traditional “diplomats”, but within this title Officers specialize in political affairs, economics, consular management, and more. Even if you didn’t choose to major in poli sci, international studies, or a foreign language, you can still apply! The only requirements are that you’re a U.S. citizen, 20-59 years old, and available for worldwide service!
    • Foreign Service Specialists provide specialized technical, management, healthcare or administrative skills within the foreign service. These roles encompass everything from office management to law enforcement and medical treatment, and require different skills and training based on the role. 

    Civil Service Employees work with the Department of State in-country to train, inform, and support the diplomatic mission. Depending on your skills and area of expertise, there are a variety of different roles in political affairs, financial management, and more to consider.

If you decide that the Foreign Service is the path you want to pursue, make sure you understand the application process and timeline for becoming a Foreign Service Officer (FSO). After completing your application, which includes a series of short essays, you register for the FSOT (Foreign Service Officer Test). This test evaluates your knowledge of current affairs, writing skills, logical reasoning, and other skills you need to succeed as an FSO. If you score well on the test, your FSOT results and application are then reviewed by a panel, and you are invited to an interview. If you pass the interview, you will need to obtain the correct security and medical clearances. Finally, another panel will consider the entirety of your application, and determine your rank on the register for service. 

As you’ve probably gleaned, this is a long, intensive process that requires patience, flexibility, and dedication. In fact, it’s very common for Foreign Service Officers to apply 3-4 times (or more!) before they are offered a placement. What’s important to remember is that each time you apply, you can apply as a stronger candidate with more experience, new specialized knowledge, and a different perspective. The average age of an incoming Foreign Service Officer is 35, so don’t be deterred if you aren’t accepted right away! Just make sure that you have a backup plan, and take advantage of other opportunities to learn and grow until you’re ready to apply again.

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