What Are the Requirements to Become a Diplomat?

Explore the career requirements for a diplomat. Get the facts about duties, education requirements and salary information to determine if this is the right field for you. Schools offering Global Leadership & Public Policy degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Diplomat?

Diplomats serve the United States by working for the State Department to help foster positive international relations and advance the interests of the U.S. globally. A diplomat's location will affect the duties and responsibilities that their job entails, and special language abilities or the needs of the department usually determine placement. Some of these placements may require reinforcing relationships with countries that are already friendly to the United States, while others may involve conflict zones and managing antagonistic relationships.

Duties of a diplomat include attending formal events on behalf of the United States, like dinners and meetings. They also meet with foreign leaders and report on situations of interest. U.S. diplomats work from one of 270 international embassies or consulates, though placements change frequently. The career requires a tremendous level of adaptability and superb interpersonal skills. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter the field.

Degree Required H.S. diploma minimum; degree improves marketability
Education Field of Study All disciplines, but must pass Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) examination
Key Skills Conscientiousness, dedication, willingness to uphold U.S. laws and policies, openness to new experiences and cultures
Salary range (2017) $28,545 - $134,776 (varies greatly by officer's class and step on the pay schedule)*

Source: *U.S. Department of State

How Does an Aspiring Diplomat Get Started?

If you're a high school student interested in this career, you can prepare by taking classes on U.S. and international law, history and politics. Learning a foreign language and even putting it to use in a job in a foreign country will greatly distinguish you from other potential diplomats as well, especially if it is in an Asian or Middle Eastern language and country. Pursuing an associate's, bachelor's and/or master's degree in history, political science, economics, business, communications, a foreign language, international affairs or another appropriate major in the humanities will exponentially increase your appeal to potential employers within the U.S. Department of State.

Additionally, at any of these levels of education, you can apply to work as a temporary employee or volunteer with the State Department, a position that could provide you key contacts for the application process later on. Contrary to popular notion, future diplomats do not have educational or foreign language requirements to meet; you simply must be between the ages of 20 and 59 and a U.S. citizen. However, additional accomplishments will boost you above the competition.

How Do I Become a Diplomat?

First, you choose your career track within the Foreign Service officer positions available through the U.S. Department of State. The five tracks, all of which denote future diplomats, are consular, economic, management, political or public diplomacy officer. Second, you register and take the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT); successful completion of the multiple choice and essay portions of the FSOT will qualify you to submit a personal narrative to a qualifications evaluation panel. Then, you complete a daylong oral examination. After getting security and medical clearances and the approval of your total file by a final review panel, the culmination of a roughly 4-month process, you are eligible for service with the U.S. Department of State as a diplomat.

What Will I Do as a Diplomat?

As a new U.S. diplomat, you need flexibility to work anywhere and knowledge of the mainstays and new trends within U.S. foreign policy. Depending on your career track, you could be involved in border patrol, immigration or human trafficking duties. You could deal with scientific, economic, environmental and other trade practices. You might manage and facilitate embassy operations. Alternatively, you could engage with political officials at higher and lower levels as you explain, negotiate and help further U.S. and international values and policies.

Is There a Downside to Becoming a Diplomat?

Diplomats can feel estranged and isolated after extended periods of time living overseas. Federal budget cuts can mean a pay cut for you as well. Also, U.S. embassies are often prime targets for protests, bombings and other political turmoil, which may put you in risky situations.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are interested in working for the U.S. government, you could also consider a career in one of the branches of the military. Depending on your educational background, you could become an officer in the army, navy, air force, or marines with a bachelor's degree. This job may also involve traveling to foreign countries on behalf of the United States. If you have an interest in the study of politics or international relations, you could also pursue a career as a political scientist, which requires at least a master's degree. These professionals study various governments and political systems to identify patterns and trends.

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