CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become an ambassador.

Step 1

Is becoming an ambassador right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do ambassadors do?
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What are ambassadors like?

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Step 2

High School

If you are interested in pursuing a career as an ambassador, there are several high school courses that could be helpful in building a foundation of knowledge and skills. Some recommended courses include:

  • World History and Geography: These courses can provide you with an understanding of different cultures, political systems, and economic structures around the world. This knowledge can be crucial for a career in diplomacy and international relations.
  • Foreign Language: Learning a foreign language is essential for any career in diplomacy. It will help you to communicate with people from different cultures and build relationships with them.
  • Political Science and International Relations: These courses can help you to understand the workings of government and the global political landscape. They can also provide you with an understanding of the role of diplomacy in maintaining international peace and security.
  • Economics: Understanding the principles of economics can be beneficial for an ambassador in negotiating trade agreements and promoting economic growth.
  • Public Speaking and Debate: As an ambassador, you will need to be able to communicate effectively with others and make persuasive arguments. Courses in public speaking and debate can help you develop these skills.
  • Leadership and Teamwork: Ambassadors often work as part of a team, and leadership skills are crucial for success in this role. Taking courses that focus on leadership and teamwork can help you develop these skills.
Step 3

Formal Education Steps

Becoming an ambassador involves several formal education steps, as well as a combination of experience, skills, and personal attributes. Here are the basic formal education steps:

  • Earn a Bachelor's Degree: A bachelor's degree is typically the minimum educational requirement for becoming an ambassador. While there is no specific degree required, many ambassadors have earned degrees in fields such as international relations, political science, public administration, or a related field. Some ambassadors may also have degrees in business, law, or economics. In addition to completing a degree program, it is also helpful to participate in internships or other opportunities that provide experience in foreign affairs, international relations, or public service.
  • Gain Work Experience: After earning a bachelor's degree, it is important to gain relevant work experience in areas related to foreign affairs, international relations, or public service. Many ambassadors start their careers as foreign service officers or in other government agencies. Other potential career paths include working for international organizations, non-governmental organizations, or private companies with global operations. It is also helpful to gain experience living or working in foreign countries, as this provides a better understanding of cultural differences and international relations.
  • Obtain a Law Degree (Optional): While not always required, obtaining a law degree can be beneficial for some ambassador positions. A law degree provides a deeper understanding of legal issues, which can be important in countries where legal matters are a significant concern. It can also be helpful for ambassadors who will be negotiating international agreements or treaties.
  • Obtain a Master's Degree (Optional): A master's degree is not always required, but can enhance your qualifications for becoming an ambassador. A Master's degree in International Relations, Public Administration, or a related field can provide a deeper understanding of foreign policy and diplomacy.
  • Learn a Foreign Language: Being fluent in a foreign language is a significant advantage when seeking to become an ambassador. Language skills are particularly important for ambassadors who will be serving in countries where English is not the primary language. The ability to speak a foreign language can help build relationships with local leaders, improve communication with embassy staff, and demonstrate a commitment to the host country.
  • Pass the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT): The Foreign Service Officer Test is a comprehensive exam that assesses a candidate's knowledge, skills, and abilities in several areas, including writing, analysis, and situational judgment. Passing the FSOT is a requirement for becoming a foreign service officer, which is a common path to becoming an ambassador. The FSOT is typically administered several times per year, and candidates must receive a passing score to move on to the next stage of the selection process.
  • Serve as a Foreign Service Officer: Foreign service officers work in embassies and consulates around the world, promoting U.S. interests and providing assistance to U.S. citizens living or traveling abroad. Serving as a foreign service officer is an excellent way to gain experience and advance your career in foreign affairs. Foreign service officers are typically selected through a rigorous selection process that includes passing the FSOT, a panel interview, and a security clearance.
  • Obtain a Political Appointment: Most ambassador positions are filled through political appointments. This means that ambassadors are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Political appointees are usually individuals who have a close relationship with the President or have contributed significantly to their political party. Once appointed, ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the President and can be recalled at any time. Political appointments are highly competitive, and candidates must have a strong track record of achievement and leadership to be considered.
Step 4

Master's Degree

While a master's degree is not necessary to become an ambassador for the United States, it can be helpful in preparing for the role.

A master's degree in a relevant field such as international relations, diplomacy, or political science can provide a deeper understanding of the complexities of foreign policy and help to develop the analytical and critical thinking skills necessary for success in the role.

Furthermore, many individuals who have served as US ambassadors have held advanced degrees. For example, former US ambassadors to the United Nations Samantha Power and Susan Rice both have law degrees and Master's degrees in Public Policy, respectively.

However, it is important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for becoming an ambassador, and the selection process takes into account a range of factors, including qualifications, experience, and suitability for the specific position. So while a master's degree may be helpful, it is not necessarily a requirement or a guarantee for becoming a US ambassador.

Step 5


There are several internship programs available for students and recent graduates interested in pursuing a career in foreign affairs and international diplomacy:

  • US Department of State Internship Program: This program offers paid and unpaid internships to undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in pursuing a career in foreign affairs. Interns work in a variety of offices and bureaus within the Department of State, including the Office of the US Ambassador to the United Nations.
  • The White House Internship Program: This program offers unpaid internships to undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in learning about the operations of the White House and the federal government. While these internships are not specifically focused on international affairs, they can provide valuable experience and insights for individuals interested in pursuing a career in foreign policy.
  • The CIA Internship Program: This program offers paid internships to undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in pursuing a career in intelligence analysis or other related fields. While these internships are not focused on diplomacy per se, they can provide valuable experience and insights into the national security concerns that underlie much of US foreign policy.
  • The United Nations Internship Program: This program offers unpaid internships to undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in working at the United Nations. While these internships are not specifically focused on US diplomacy, they can provide valuable experience and insights into the workings of international organizations and the global issues that diplomats work to address.
Step 6

Becoming a Foreign Service Officer

Traditionally, US ambassadors are selected from the ranks of the US Foreign Service, which is a professional diplomatic corps that serves as the primary channel for conducting diplomacy on behalf of the United States.

The first step in becoming a foreign service officer is to take the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT). The test is designed to assess candidates' knowledge, skills, and abilities in areas such as English expression, situational judgment, and general knowledge of world affairs. The test is administered multiple times a year and can be taken online or in-person at designated testing centers.

After passing the FSOT, candidates move on to the next stage, which is the Qualifications Evaluation Panel (QEP). The QEP is a group of foreign service officers who review candidates' written submissions, including their personal narratives, resumes, and essays. The QEP evaluates candidates' qualifications based on the 13 dimensions of the foreign service officer role, which include leadership, adaptability, and cultural awareness.

If selected, candidates then move on to the oral assessment, which is a day-long series of interviews and exercises that evaluate candidates' skills and abilities in areas such as problem-solving, communication, and leadership. The oral assessment includes a group exercise, a structured interview, and a case management exercise.

After the oral assessment, successful candidates are placed on the Register of Eligibles, which is a list of candidates who are eligible for appointment as foreign service officers. Candidates on the register are ranked based on their scores and qualifications, and appointments are made based on the needs of the foreign service.

Once appointed, foreign service officers undergo a rigorous training program that includes both classroom instruction and practical exercises. The training program includes language instruction, leadership development, and practical exercises in areas such as consular work, political reporting, and public diplomacy.

Foreign service officers are assigned to a US embassy or consulate overseas, where they work to advance US foreign policy objectives and protect American citizens abroad. They may work in a variety of roles, including political officer, economic officer, consular officer, or public diplomacy officer. They may also be assigned to work in Washington, DC, or other locations within the United States.

Step 7

Associations and Organizations

There are several associations and organizations that support US ambassadors and those who work in the field of diplomacy. Here are some examples:

  • American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) - AFSA is a non-profit professional association that represents the interests of the US Foreign Service and its employees, including US ambassadors. They provide resources and support for Foreign Service professionals and advocate for policies that strengthen the US diplomatic corps.
  • Council of American Ambassadors (CAA) - The CAA is an exclusive association of US ambassadors, past and present, dedicated to advancing diplomacy and international relations. They provide a forum for ambassadors to exchange ideas and promote American foreign policy objectives.
  • Association of Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) - The ADST is a non-profit organization that preserves the history of American diplomacy and provides training and education for those involved in the field of diplomacy. They offer resources and programs to support US ambassadors and other diplomatic professionals.
  • Diplomatic and Consular Officers, Retired (DACOR) - DACOR is a private, non-profit organization that provides social, cultural, and educational programs for retired US ambassadors and other foreign service personnel. They also offer resources and support for current US ambassadors.
  • International Career Advancement Program (ICAP) - ICAP is a non-profit organization that provides career development resources and support for individuals interested in pursuing a career in international affairs, including diplomacy. They offer mentorship, training, and networking opportunities to help individuals achieve their career goals.
Step 8

Online Resources

There are a number of online resources available for US ambassadors to help them carry out their diplomatic responsibilities effectively. Here are some examples:

  • State Department's Diplomatic Portal: This is a secure online platform for diplomats to access information and tools necessary for their work. It includes a directory of US embassies and consulates, travel advisories, and resources for visa applications.
  • OpenNet: This is a secure network used by US government employees, including ambassadors, to communicate and share information with each other.
  • World Factbook: This is an online publication by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that provides information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities.
  • U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID): This is a federal agency responsible for providing economic, development, and humanitarian assistance around the world. Ambassadors can access information on USAID programs and initiatives on their website.
  • Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA): This is an agency within the Department of Defense that coordinates and oversees military-to-military relationships with allied and partner nations. Ambassadors can find information on DSCA programs and initiatives on their website.
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): The FBI has a legal attaché program that works with foreign law enforcement agencies to combat international crime. Ambassadors can find information on the FBI's international programs on their website.
  • National Security Council (NSC): The NSC is the President's principal forum for national security and foreign policy issues. Ambassadors can find information on NSC policies and initiatives on their website.