Here is something I hear often:
Everybody I meet in the Foreign Service has a Master’s degree, speaks several languages, served in the military, and… I cannot compete. So what is the point of signing up or even trying to join?
Yes, I hear this a lot. These thoughts may have even crossed your mind at some point, or you may be thinking about it now.
The reality is, the application process, the test, the essays, the orals, and the waiting are all very tough. This is because the State Department is looking for high caliber individuals to join their ranks.
But, do you know the one truth that most people don’t realize, or fail to realize?
Over 90% of U.S. citizens are eligible to apply and become Foreign Service Officers.
There are so many incorrect perceptions that potential applicants have that are holding them back from applying that some #truth is required.
This post is all about busting down those falsehoods to support you on your journey to join.
Before we get going, take just one minute. Just one minute. And answer this question:
Do you know the eligibility qualifications to apply to become a Foreign Service Officer? If so, what are they? Write them down, make a mental note…
Think about it now, thinking…
Alright, got it? Let’s break down some myths.
Myth 1: You are required to speak multiple languages
Absolutely not! All you have to know is English, which is a significant component of the FSOT.
Now you might be thinking, hey Jack, I have a friend of a friend who is in the Foreign Service, and he speaks three languages. I also read a statistic that a high percentage of Foreign Service Officers speak multiple languages. How is this not an eligibility requirement?
Well, you’re right. Most Officers do speak multiple languages. But many of them, if not all, receive training on the required language of their post before moving to their assigned country.
The Foreign Service Institute is the State Department’s training ground for current and newly hired Foreign Service Officers. They teach you what you need to know and provide you with the knowledge to serve in your role as Officer, and this includes languages.
Many Officers will spend several months taking part in intensive language training before leaving for assignment. And by intense, I mean every day where the only language spoken is the one under study.
They have an excellent track record, so if you believe you are unable to learn, think again.
Now, does knowing a language assist you in becoming an Officer?
It sure does.
After Orals, you are welcome to take a language test. If you pass, you can increase your score. If you know a “critical language”, which includes Chinese, Arabic, Swahili, Korean, and others, then you are likely to increase your score even more if you pass.
Myth 2: You need to have lived or traveled overseas before joining
Nope. Not an expectation. I have spoken with Officers who are about to leave for their first post and have never left their home state before beginning the process to join the Foreign Service. Wow!
But as this is the Foreign Service, it does help. Traveling or living abroad provides you with experience and perceptions that will assist you to write the personal narratives, answer questions during the Orals, and express how you meet the 13 dimensions.
If you have opportunities to study abroad, live abroad, or perhaps do the Peace Corps if it interests you, then you should consider it. Just don’t think you are required to if you are unable.
Myth 3: Be a veteran
The government prefers to hire veterans, as they should, they served our country. But it is not a requirement for you to have served in the military to become a Foreign Service Officer.
There are plenty of Officers who never went through the military. However, being a veteran does give you a boost.
First, there is the experience you gained in working with people. The military, among other things, is a prime opportunity to learn how to lead, manage, and work alongside others. This background is an excellent experience for you to reference when writing your narratives, answering questions during your orals, and trying to determine how you meet the 13 dimensions.
Second, you receive additional points after passing the orals. Nothing much to say but that. Just like the language component, extra points will improve your score, and thus increases the likelihood of hiring.
Myth 4: Have gone to college
Believe it or not, entrance into the Foreign Service does not require a Master’s degree. Surprising no? Ask around, and most folks will say you need to have at least a Bachelor’s, but this too isn’t so.
Though a degree helps, what the State Department is looking for is knowledge and experience, and you can attain both without an advanced degree.
Eligibility requirements to join the Foreign Service
Those are the top four myths I have heard from people who are thinking about joining the Foreign Service, and then not because of their belief in these myths.
So, what do you need to be eligible to enter the U.S. Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer?
There are only four, and the fourth is a “freebie”. Each candidate must be:
- A U.S. citizen on the date the candidate submits the registration package;
- At least 20 years old and no older than 59 years of age on the day the candidate submits the registration;
- At least 21 years old and not yet 60 on the day the candidate is appointed as a Foreign Service Officer; and
- Available for worldwide assignments, including Washington, D.C.
The fourth one is a “freebie” because if you are applying for this job, then I am assuming you have a keen interest in living overseas. However, do note the catch. Even though the State Department tries to assign you to locations you are interested in working at, through a bidding process, you are expected to go where you are told. So if they need you in Australia, but you want to go to Senegal, sorry mate.
By the way, where did I get that 90% statistic? Right here, “for the first time in U.S. history, 90% of the population age 25 and older have completed high school”. That’s according to the Educational Attainment data published by the U.S. census in Dec. 2017. Pretty cool!
If you are on the fence because of any of the above myths, don’t be!
As long as you are over the age of 20, a U.S. citizen, and willing to go where told, then submit your application!
Join the pFS Newsletter!
Receive 6 lessons to help you prep, study, and practice for the FSOT.
Plus! By signing-up you are also joining hundreds of other FSO applicants in a communal pursuit to join the Foreign Service.
4 thoughts on “4 Eligibility Myths Keeping you from Applying to the Foreign Service”
I have a Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University School of Journalism and am thinking of joining the Foreign Service even though am originally from an African country and just became naturalized citizen. Do I need to go get a degree in Foreign Service or what is the best way of going about this/
I’m no expert on this (I’m actually just a high schooler who is interested in perhaps pursuing an FSO job down the road) but if what I’ve read is to be believed, including this article, as long as you are currently a US citizen (congrats btw!) and have the drive to do the job well it’s worth applying at least. Like the article said, as I understand it, you definitely should try to educate yourself on the world and international relations (specific college majors to get the job would be, I’ve heard, Global Studies, International Relations, region specific Studies (like East Asian Studies or Latin American Studies), or maybe poli sci stuff), but if you can educate yourself without an advanced college degree and demonstrate your knowledge, you probably stand decent odds of getting in I’d say (again, no expert by any means).
Your posts are always an abundant source of motivation for me. Thanks Jack!
Thanks Azelle! Happy to hear!