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Foreign Service

The best-known international career is undoubtedly diplomacy. The lead institution here is the Foreign Service of the United States. This group of approximately 8,000 people staffs American embassies abroad and the State Department and the United States Information Agency in Washington. The Foreign Service offers an attractive career, but the selection process is extremely rigorous. Of the approximately 12,000 people who took the exam a few years ago, only about 200 were selected. The examination is interesting and free, so anyone interested should certainly take it, but realistically your chances of being selected are very slim indeed. The Foreign Service has been concerned about minority recruitment over the past few years, and such applications are particularly encouraged.

Entrance is by examination; there are no formal educational requirements. The first stage is a written exam given once a year which takes all day and uses the format of the SATs and other exams from the Educational Testing Service. Those who receive the required minimum grade are invited to participate in the second stage, which is a series of simulations and exercises with other candidates. The whole process takes about a year so you need to plan to get a job or go to school in the meantime.

The first stage stresses knowledge of American history and culture as well as International Relations or foreign countries. Many people think this is odd, but Foreign Service officers represent the United States and will often work with foreigners who have spent a lot of time studying this country; they must know their own history and culture very well indeed. If you are particularly interested in the Foreign Service, make sure you are knowledgeable about American history, literature, government, and economics. Environmental and scientific expertise are increasingly useful as well. Foreign language competence is required, although not necessarily at entry; nonetheless it makes sense to achieve competency before the exams.