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Foreign Service Welcomes Graduate Student Applicants

There are jobs available for students focusing on business, international relations, and more.

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Negotiating with college roommates can often resemble mediation, but some universities are home to a different kind of diplomat: the professional sort, who has cut his or her teeth for decades in the Foreign Service. 

Through its Diplomats in Residence (DIRs) program, the U.S. Department of State assigns 16 diplomats, who are either former ambassadors or other career Foreign Service officers, to regions across the country. The diplomats, whose offices are based on college campuses, are tasked with recruiting talent—including both graduate and undergraduate students—and dispelling misconceptions about the Foreign Service, says Linda Cheatham, coordinator of the program. 

"We're raising awareness that we are here—that we're not an elitist profession as it was once perceived," says Cheatham, who is also chief of the State Department's recruitment outreach branch.

Students tend to be surprised to hear of the wide range of academic training that can lead to embassy work, according to Cheatham. "One of my colleagues in the human resources bureau said, 'Make sure that your diplomats in residence tell people that we don't need everyone to be an international affairs major. We need budget analysts. We need human resources specialists. We need information technology specialists,'" she says. 

One of the main pools from which the Foreign Service is recruiting is graduate business students, says Tom Armbruster, a 22-year Foreign Service officer and the diplomat in residence assigned to the New York metro region. 

"[Students] should get in touch with us—especially, for example, business majors," says Armbruster, whose office is located on the CUNY—City College campus in New York. "Our management officers are basically chief operating officers at embassies around the world. That's an opportunity [students] don't often think about, but they're managing, sometimes, hundreds of people and multimillion dollar embassies. So it's a great job for a business person." 

[Read why M.B.A.'s tout benefits of studying politics.] 

But students outside of international relations departments don't necessarily know about the Diplomats in Residence program, Armbruster says. "There's not a neon light outside of the office," he says. "They do have to search us out a little bit, but we're certainly not closeted away by any means." 

The average age of an entering Foreign Service officer is 32, but the Foreign Service has "something for just about everybody," requiring only that applicants are U.S. citizens between 21 and 59 years of age who pass the Foreign Service exam, Armbruster says. He notes that the test is difficult, and many Foreign Services officers—including himself—took it multiple times before passing. Since there's no penalty for retaking the test, and because it's a "good intellectual challenge," Armbruster recommends that undergraduates sign up for the test as a trial run. 

The Foreign Service Officer Test, which is free, is administered three times each year, according to the State Department website, and after applicants pass the test, they then submit a written "personal narrative" and take a daylong oral assessment, which is also given three times each year. Applicants who pass both of those steps then need to get medical and security clearance, before having their application subjected to a final review panel. 

Even if students don't take the test, they can benefit from interacting with the diplomat in residence assigned to their region, says Kenzi Green, national communications director for the College Democrats of America

"I'd urge everyone with an interest in serving their country, whether through the Foreign or Civil Service, to reach out to their DIR," Green says. "The State Department is such an incredibly diverse body; it's not only for those who are studying politics or international affairs. In fact, many who are studying outside these fields bring such a dynamic perspective to the Department." 

[Check out the World's Best Universities for politics and international studies.]