6 answers

Is the Foreign Service Academy really selective and hard (ivy league hard) to get in?

Updated Rhome, Texas

Planning to be a diplomat but I would like to know if I will have to have a really amazing resume or is the academy only take testing scores. Something I would like to know before I am dead set on being a diplomat. #government #diplomat #foreign-service

6 answers

Michelle’s Answer

Updated Santa Clara, California

Hi! I'm a U.S. Foreign Service Officer and am happy to answer any of your questions. In order to become a Foreign Service generalist, you have to pass the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT). There are no other requirements. Check out the State Department's website (www.state.gov) where you can learn about the different career paths within the State Department -- there are generalists, specialists, consular fellows, etc. If you would like to become a Foreign Service Officer (generalist) , you might as well try your hand at the test. It's a rigorous, multi-step process, but the Department is looking for officers from different backgrounds and experiences.

Patrick’s Answer

Updated Vienna, Austria

Hi, I was a Career Diplomat in Belgium for 13 years. I passed the diplomatic exam, which is arguably one of the hardest government exams you can take in Belgium. The system is probably a little different in the US, but not all that much. You don't have to be Ivy League, but your interests and knowledge base should be quite broad: international politics, economics (in particular related to trade), history, international affairs.  I studied Philosophy (masters) and then did a postgraduate degree in international and EU affairs. I didn't have to attend any fancy universities. For the Belgian Foreign Service you need to master French, English and Dutch. I'm sure the US Foreign Service also values knowledge of a second language.   Do ask yourself why you want to become a Diplomat though and make sure your expectations can be met in reality.  It's not an easy life, especially not when you're not single anymore.  Also, as you proceed in the career, you may find that it's not hard work that is rewarded, but political connections and influence. Think about your values and about how you will feel in such an environment. I truly enjoyed this career, but made the switch to the private sector 4 years ago and I have never looked back with regret.

Patrick recommends the following next steps:

  • Ask the State Department about preparing for the Foreign Service. Try to get in touch with a US diplomat who can tell you how things work.

Katie’s Answer

Updated Austin, Texas

Patrick is correct. Your great credentials will help, but they won't automatically get you a job in the Foreign Service. You have to take the Foreign Service Officers Test. You can look that up online and see variations of it that will give you a good idea of what you should study. The FSOT hires folks to be generalists in the FS. The State Department also hires folks who are specialists in a variety of positions too. Let's say you want to study IT and are thinking that the FS is the job for you. There is a specialty for that. You should check out the State Department's website on careers: https://careers.state.gov/. It is very informative about the different options for entering the FS. While I never served as FS I did serve as Civil Service with the DOS and I can tell you it does get hard on your family moving so much and yourself. There is a lot to consider when thinking about the FS. Many colleges have Diplomats in Residence. If you are already in college look too see if you have a DIR in your area. That way you can ask them directly about their experience and get some more information about the FSOT from them.

Ruth’s Answer




Ruth recommends the following next steps:

  • Savings
  • Masters
  • Job
  • Volunteering

David’s Answer


Thanks for your question, Lindsay. As a former U.S. diplomat, I can tell you that yes -- the Foreign Service Officer exam is difficult, and the pass rate is quite low. But it is difficult in a fairly unique way: The State Department is not really looking for an expert in any particular area when it screens for potential diplomats. Instead, it is looking for people who are curious and self-motivated to learn about almost anything.

Let me give you two examples from my test experience: On the written exam, I had questions on a lot of predictable topics (foreign policy, government, economics, history, and English comprehension), but I also had questions touching upon early 19th century Russian literature, late 19th century urban architecture, business management theory, and three questions on modern dance (!). Seriously.

The point I would like to get across here is that I didn't need to be an expert in any of these areas. Rather, U.S. Foreign Service Officers need to be generalists; that is to say, people that are open, curious, and confident, and willing to carry those character traits to anywhere in the world, at any time, to do just about anything. The State Department will teach you specific necessary skills and languages, support you in your missions, and even tell you exactly what to say to foreign officials. What it can't do is make you a broadly interested -- and thus, broadly interesting -- person. The Department has to FIND those people. That's what the test is looking for. The scenario I encourage you to consider would be: Could our government teach you a foreign language, tell you six specific things to say and three to listen for, brief you on social customs, and then drop you off at a black-tie reception for 500 people you've never met before...and come pick you up three hours later confident that almost everyone of those people would say, "Hey, that Lindsay -- she was great! I'm really looking forward to talking with her again!" Could you achieve the same outcome after eating roasted goat in the Hindu Kush with fifty Taliban supporters? If so, we need you to become a diplomat. It is ALL about communication. And communicating with people more than once.

Why would people talk with you? Because you're interesting. You know about foreign policy...but you also know a little bit about Russian literature, architecture, fly-fishing, poker, antique cars, insect biology -- heck, even modern dance. And because you're so obviously interested in THEM, and in what they find interesting. That's it.

Sorry for the long answer. If you are still reading, I will close with the best advice I ever heard about taking the test: Pick a good "national" newspaper and read EVERY word of EVERY article in EVERY section EVERY day for one year. Worst case scenario: You'll learn about things you never thought of before. Best case: The FSO test will be merely an interesting little challenge on the way to a pretty terrific career.

Good luck!

Dave Fetter

Ken’s Answer


From what I've seen it is very selective, but you don't need an ivy league degree to get in. The main thing will be passing a difficult test- the Foreign Service Officer Test. Also keep in mind that you can always attend a prestigious graduate school and get a master's degree in international relations, regardless of where you go for undergrad.

Ken recommends the following next steps:

  • Language skills are incredible important if you want to be an FSO-- I'd recommend getting started immediately learning one of the languages that give you bonus points (Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, Korean..) https://careers.state.gov/faq-items/language-bonus-points/